Tribute to legends: A tale of two rebels

Published: April 16, 2015
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ISLAMABAD: There are reasons to celebrate the literary greats of the South Asian Subcontinent, —Asrarul Haq Majaz, poet and short-story writer Saadat Hassan Manto— on their 60th death anniversaries.

Raza Naeem, social scientist and literary critic, narrated some of their works at a tribute organised by the Asian Study Group at Kuch Khaas the other day.

He rendered anecdotal accounts and bilingual readings from works of Manto and Majaz, before rounding off to talk about their relevance to the countries of their origin in the present era.

According to Naeem, there is a lot that unites and differentiates these two great rebels of their time, in terms of their lives, politics, works and their social and political milieu. Both were prominent members of the Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWA) and had a climatic relationship with the communist party. Both had contrasting fates.

Majaz is regarded as the poet of romanticism and revolution in India. “He was certainly head and shoulders above any of his peers in terms of popularity among young men and women during the 1930s and 1940s, when India was under British colonialism and was on the verge of independence,” said Naeem.

According to literary critics of the subcontinent, some of the poems that Majaz wrote have now entered the social history of the Indian subcontinent. “He became one of the founding members of the PWA in the second half of the 20th century, which later produced writers such as Manto, Krishan Chander, Ismat Chugtai, Ali Sardar Jafri, Makhdoom Mahiyouddin, Dr Rasheed Jahan, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Kaifi Azmi and Sahir Ludhianvi.

Majaz was the only poet in Urdu literature, whose jokes have become legendary. “He is probably the only poet among his peers who has combined the classic idiom with the idiom of revolution and in a way, it does not sound like a political sermon and preserved the beauty of poetry,” said Naeem.

He was popular among the young men and women of his time. In his poetry, he has asked the women to get rid of the veil and take their destiny into their own hands. Naeem rendered his own translation of Majaz’s “Naujawan aurat se” and the poem “Naujawan se”.

Naeem also read the poem “Pakistan ka qaumi tarana”. “When I first read it, I thought it was a satirical poem, but later on, when I researched, I found out that he was imbued with this idea that Pakistan would be a progressive version of India, where the dreams of the poorest of the society would be realised.”

Like Majaz, Manto had an off-and-on relationship with the communist party and the PWA. The relationship got aggravated when Manto migrated to Pakistan. Three of his stories were banned in India and three more in Pakistan. He got into trouble for writing stories on sexual topics.

According to Naeem, the doors of all publications were closed on Manto and the custodians of morality wanted to make an example out of him. “In the last years of his life, Manto termed two cancers that have destroyed Pakistan in my opinion – mullahs and Uncle Sam,” said Naeem.

In his famous letters to Uncle Sam, Manto wrote to the US which was becoming very involved with the affairs of the Indian sub-continent. Naeem said that unfortunately, critics at that time did not take the letters seriously, though it still presents a panoramic view of culture, politics and international relations, not only as they affect India and Pakistan, but the whole world.

Naeem concluded the session with a reading of Manto’s “Allah ka bara fazal hai” (God is Great), where he envisions a country where everything will be banned from newspapers to music, and the poetry of the national poet Allama Iqbal, to literally create the land of the pure.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2015.

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