Literary criticism: Yousaf Hasan’s favourite themes and dreams about literature

Poet and critic discusses progressivism in Urdu, Punjabi.

Zahid Rabbani July 26, 2013
Yousaf Hasan


Yousaf Hasan is a man of great intellect and integrity. Born in Kala Gujran, Jhelum, the Urdu and Punjabi language poet and critic, started writing literary criticism under the guidance of Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, and considers Iqbal Kausar his mentor.

The Express Tribune tried to explore his favourite themes and dreams about literature.

From a literary point of view, Yousaf Hasan said Urdu has established its own tradition in Punjab. “I must confess my information is confined to Punjab, but let me say the situation of Urdu literary criticism is not satisfactory here.”

He felt that artistic and aesthetic concepts need to be made more scientific. “Literary criticism must highlight the distinctive artistic and aesthetic qualities of a piece, but amazingly, in our region, the poetic form is recognised only by radeef, qafia (opening and closing stanzas) and the number of lines. The analysis of poetic composition and rhythm is also necessary.”

To a question on poets serving as critics, he said, “In every language, informed prose, poetry and fictional literature blooms quite late. Urdu and Punjabi literary criticism was primarily written by poets. For example, Mian Muhammad Bakhsh in his famous masnavi Safarul Ishq, generally known as Saiful Maluk, posted literary comments on the poets of earlier period and his contemporaries.”

“Every poet’s literary concept is formed by his outlook,” he said. His literary awareness helps him polish his poetry. Several Urdu poets in Punjab have written good literary criticism, but its quality has gone down, as now, they write just for book launching ceremonies. “In reality, it is the poets who can write better literary criticism, but without philosophical content, criticism remains deprived of depth and significance.”

Talking on the prospects of progressive literature in the internet age he said, “The definition of progressivism presented by progressive scholars and literary figures is incomplete if not totally wrong. The targets of progressivism have not been well-defined. While general progressivism forms social relationships which can help individuals in developing their multi-dimensional intellectual and natural qualities, literary progressivism is concerned with literary concept-building, literary criticism and literary creativity. In all the three branches, artistic and aesthetic aspects are more important.

“Today’s progressive literature lacks past glory. In fact, both general and literary progressivism needs to reject exchange value and free market economics, as under their influence, all cultural manifestations including literature are becoming a market commodity. The internet has provided better avenues to understand and promote progressivism.”

On the status of progressive literature in the languages spoken in Pakistan, he said, “Urdu arrived in Pakistan from outside. Every language spoken in Pakistan is the national language of its speaker. Pakistan is a multilingual state. Punjabi civilisation being 4,000 years old, its language and literary heritage is very rich. The strength of any language results from the number of its singular verbs, which make compound and complex verbs. In Punjabi, there are around 2,500 singular verbs, while in Urdu, the number of singular verbs is about 350.  I think Punjabi can describe progressivism better.”

About the official patronage of literature and the status it enjoys, he said, “Since the creation of Pakistan, the ruling elite has been using every cultural manifestation for their own aims. They want to turn literature into a market commodity. Under these conditions, we cannot expect real and free growth of literature. All the literary men, especially progressive writers, should establish new kinds of organisations which remain free of the influence of state institutions. This is the only way real literary creativity can grow.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2013.


Saima Kanwal | 10 years ago | Reply

I fully agree with Maryam Pathan. Urdu literature is at par with any literature of the world.

Maryam Pathan | 10 years ago | Reply

Shafqat Abbas: Dude! Urdu literary scene has not been so dull as you have put it. If some literary productions lack aesthetic value, it doesn't mean all lack it. It may have been true that in many languages, informed prose, poetry and fictional literature bloomed quite late, but Urdu saw the growth of its literature much early and has the distinction of being written and spoken in all the continents of the world.

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