Our arts councils
Our literary institutions are in a state of limbo impeding their promotion of arts and literature within the country.
Lahore Arts Council has completed three years under the current management. At a farewell reception for the soon-to-be-replaced governing council Ataul Haq Qasmi, the chairman, was congratulated by one and all for the changes he has brought about. Just one decision, to end the exclusion of literature from its programmes, made so much difference. Several international conferences were held successfully at a time when the security situation was considered anything but hospitable with guests even from India participating.
Not that the other arts were ignored. The most recent literary conference included papers and discussions on music, painting and theatre. It also started annual awards. The two laureates I remember were Abdullah Hussain for literature and Qavi Khan for acting.
I too congratulated Qasmi for taking upon himself what the Academy of Letters is expected to do. Who, if it were not for the Arts Council, would have looked after A Hameed during his last days?
Spurred apparently by the Academy of Letters’ apathy towards literature and the literati the Arts Council in Karachi has already been involved with literature. Under Ahmed Shah it has hosted a couple of international conferences.
Meanwhile, the removal of heads of literary and scholarly institutions under the recent orders has been nearly completed. Fehmeeda Riaz has thus retired from the Urdu Dictionary Board. Iftikhar Arif has resigned from the National Language Authority and been replaced by Prof Anwaar Ahmed who was recently in Lahore discussing his plans with virtually everybody.
Poor Academy of Letters. It alone appears to be in limbo. It’s still not clear who is in charge there. Visiting Islamabad last month in connection with the launch of Najmus Saqib’s novel, I witnessed it firsthand. Najm, a published poet, told me the ceremony was being held at the Academy at its insistence. He said he had had the invitations printed and delivered them at the Academy to send out. As the day approached it was learnt that nobody had received the invitation. Asked about it, the Academy apologised saying it had been unable to mail the invitations because it was out of postage stamps! The author and his friends were left making last minute phone calls.
Invited to the Lahore chapter of the Academy, however, I was surprised to see the large number of ladies in attendance, wondering whether it was Prof Sabir Lodhi’s students or the late Farkhanda Lodhi’s admirers.
Sabir has chosen to be recognised as a writer at a strange time – having turned grey, retired from teaching and lost his spouse. Could it be that he was holding back to avoid competition with her? One of the critics actually said he had so far known him as just a husband, not a writer. Truth be told, I too had recognised him as just a wonderful husband. Farkhanda Lodhi, I thought, was the most fortunate amongst the women writers in this respect. Our women writers in general have not been very lucky with husbands. The potential husbands are so proud of the writer bride but later the same literary recognition becomes a problem. Becoming another Ismat Chughtai is one way of dealing with this problem but it is not given to everyone.
But Sabir was amazing. Where does one find such a husband in our society? While Farkhanda lived he remained an admirer of her fiction. Only after she had passed away did he seem to remember that he himself had been a writer. His sketches of his colleagues and teachers at Government College, where he taught, and at Oriental College, where he studies, are splendid. But had he stopped after he wrote about his wife his place in literature would still be secure.
*Translated from Urdu
Published in The Express Tribune.