When he speaks with gravity, the crowd listens intently. When he is in a jovial mood, they respond with roars of laughter. He is a like a ringmaster, a conductor who controls the orchestra. With decades going by, we are yet to see anyone come even closer to the hallmark of master orator, Zia Mohyeddin.
On the invitation of Liaquat National Hospital and Medical College’s Literary and Debating Society, he made a public appearance on Monday morning, making the attendees forget work blues for the entire duration of the session that was held in his honour at the college’s Convention Centre.
Introducing Mohyeddin, noted critic and writer Asif Farrukhi said, “His work has immense cultural and literary standing. His command over language, be it Urdu, English or Punjabi is remarkable.”
Mohyeddin started off his recitals with a couple of letters of Mirza Ghalib and spoke about the master poet’s ability to make others laugh.
This was followed by a writing of Zaheer Dehlavi. Dehlavi wrote about Maula Bakhsh Haathi – the royal elephant of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s court. “He was the most loyal servant of the emperor who would stand at his doorstep. Children would gather around him and he would play with them. However, things took a turn when the Englishmen arrived. Haathi refused to eat and was as a result banished from the court. He was put up for auction and when he came to know that a man who makes turmeric bid for him, he fell to the ground and died.”
Classics of Urdu weren’t the only arrows in Mohyeddin’s quiver. He also read out a translation of a piece of German writer Rainer Maria Rilke in which he states, “Poems comprise emotionally entwined lines that make one travel the world, see the sun rise, birds fly.”
Narrating a Patras Bukhari essay, he said, “Children are of different kinds and I am talking about those of humans. They stay up for longer durations. Their five senses work like an alarm clock. Take the example of my neighbor Mirza’s six children. Not a moment goes by without someone crying. You could hear from afar. If one stops, the other starts on the same note… the loud volume is for the night. Although that doesn’t disturb the sleep of my neighbours, it surely affects my writing!”
He finished off the session with a Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi piece. Before beginning the recital, he stated that there are some who do not consider Yousufi’s works part of classical Urdu prose, however, that should not be the case. He goes on to narrate an anecdote written by the humour writer. “Agha sahib once bought an old Ford from a Parsi. The car’s engine was not in the best of conditions but it was still running. Soon Agha sahib wanted to dump the vehicle. He decided to leave it under a tree however; the police found out and drove the car back to his place. Then Ford company announced that they would take the old car back and replace it with a new one. It was then that Agha sahib realised the worth of the vehicle and demanded the manufacturer to give him two new cars in place of the old one!”
With back-to-back recitals, Mohyeddin in his on-point diction enchanted the audience and once again, showed why he is hailed as the most consequential orator of our times.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2016.