KARACHI: Critics believe that if layers of tradition are allowed to settle over the field of literature, it can become trapped in a particular era. Thankfully for Urdu literature, Prof. Syed Mumtaz Hussain was around to prevent this from happening.
Scholars paid tribute to Prof. Hussain’s contributions to Urdu literature at a lecture in his honour at the Arts Council on Wednesday. Acclaimed Urdu writer and critic, Dr Shamim Hanafi, who was visiting from India, presented his thesis on ‘Jadid Adabi Rujhanat aur Nau Abadyati Fikr’ (Modern literary trends and neocolonial thoughts) while discussing Prof. Hussain’s work and contributions.
According to Dr Hanafi, literature stagnated throughout the medieval ages but for South Asian writers, things did not improve much after the Renaissance as the region’s writers began looking towards the West for approval. “We do not value anyone until the West recognises them,” he said. Dr Hanafi added that literary heavyweights such as Prof. Hussain are not given as much adulation as they deserve.He blamed the colonial mindset for this and said it also had an adverse impact on Urdu literature.
“It had no obvious direction after the era of Iqbal and Prem Chand,” said Dr Hanafi. He said that the practice of separating tradition from our collective lives had put the people of the subcontinent into crises.
Other speakers said Prof. Hussain was among those eminent Urdu critics who were known for their scientific approach and their Marxist evaluation of literary works. They added that the quality of the critic depended on the quality of the literature to be scrutinised as the two are linked together. Eminent Urdu fiction writer, Intizar Hussain, remembered Prof. Hussain as an austere man who never displayed any emotion.
“I have seen him smiling only once,” he said. “And that was just a smile - not laughter.” He said he was happy that an event had being organised to remember such a critic. Researcher and critic Dr Aslam Farukhi said Prof. Hussain was very earnest and straightforward man. Like Dr Hanafi, he said that this city had not given Dr Hussain the status he deserved. Despite this, his name will be remembered forever for his literary contributions, he added. The speakers also celebrated the works of Deputy Nazir Ahmed and birth anniversary of poet Josh Malihabadi at the event.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2012.