In these days of thought denudation, it’s a real joy to receive books from friends who happen to be authors. Not many have heard of Gujarat Thinkers’ Forum, just as the Campbellpur school of thought is off the radar. Such analogues of Lahore’s famous intellectual gatherings have existed in other cities and towns as nurseries of developing social consciousness. Iftikhar Ahmad Bhutta from Gujrat has written two books in Urdu. The latest, Fifty Years of My Intellectual Journey, is an attempt to explain to the younger generation the role of key players in our society. Having worked as a banker, Iftikhar was able to expose the exploitative role of big money in an earlier book, Insaan, Samaj aur Ma’ash. In this very vein, Jamil Nasir has gone after the elite structures in another book, Political Economy of Bad Governance. Fazlullah Qureshi, in his Memoirs and Reminiscences has gone after me. He writes: “I was nominated to join Price Commission Islamabad in January 1976, where Dr Pervez Tahir was working as an Economic Expert. I found it difficult to work with him, so I tried to stay away from that Commission. Dr Tahir again remained my Joint Chief Economist and then Acting Chief Economist in the Planning Division, but our temperament could not match. Dr Tahir later became acting Secretary and later Chief Economist.”
The next book is from Asadullah Ghalib, my class fellow at Government College, Lahore. Its title says it all, Ae Watan ke Sajeelay Jawano! Invitation, Shehryar Fazli’s debut novel, is a hair-raiser. The central character, who left the country in childhood and returns as a young man, takes us through the worst days in our existence, the non-velvet divorce between East and West Pakistan. Here is a flavour of one side: “‘Anyway, I haven’t forgotten all my Shakespeare. The army didn’t take it all.’ He trapped his skull with his finger. ‘There is one line I remember well. “Blood will have blood.” I think it’s from Macbeth. “Blood…’ He stopped, again put his hand on my arm to make sure I was listening. ‘…will have blood.’” Kamila Shamsie aptly describes it “as an allegory of the moment Pakistan decisively took the wrongest of wrong turns.” How did the other side feel, is expressed by the Bengali driver of the main character, Shahbaz, in Karachi: “He knows he won’t be what he was before. That time is gone. Whatever it was, it is gone from his body. Now, what does he do?”
Last, but not the least, is Kishwar Naheed’s latest collection, Darya ki Tishnagi, meaning ‘The Thirst of the River’. It is dedicated, appropriately, to four tributaries of the River — Samr Minallah, Fauzia Saeed, Tahira Abdullah and Fauzia Minallah. It is vintage Kishwar, a rebel from day one. One starts reading and can’t stop till finish. Too bad the editor won’t allow me to reproduce the entire collection. I had to pick and choose but believe you me, dear reader, it wasn’t cherry-picking. While the original in Urdu is poetry par excellence, here is my clumsy attempt at translating the poem captioned, “The old woman on the moon is watching” — “For months there was no knock at the door/What was I looking for by opening the door/Again and again/A face, or the sound of footsteps/But out there was once seen a cat pass by/And once a lizard/All inmates so scared/That they don’t even look through the window/First scared of Corona/Now even of human shadow/Don’t even open the door/For fear of death/How innocent or timid of them/Why would death need a door!”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2021.