KARACHI: “Aap ke baghair Lahore aisa maloom ho raha hai jaisay fuse ura hua bulb ya Wapday ke husn kaarkardigi se gai hui bijli. [Without you Lahore seems like a bulb with a fused filament or power outage brought about thanks to Wapda’s excellent performance].”
Such is the timelessness of letters written by artist Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi in as early as the 70s. The simile used by the calligrapher — comparing the absence of his friend to a bulb of no use and the absence of electricity — still holds true today. And even though he died before many of us were even born, Sadequain managed a relatable connection — consciously or not, we shall never know.
This letter is on display among many others at Spaces Gallery in Clifton. The show — featuring a variety of letters, rubaiyyat (quatrains) and drawings — opened on Tuesday. The letters came from a private collection and were not for sale. According to gallery owner and curator Zainab Jafri, people from as far away as Landhi and Malir had phoned the gallery to inquire about the exhibition.
Another interesting sentence in one of Sadequain’s other letters reads: “Mujhse agli si woh raqmein meray maqrooz na maang [My debtor, don’t ask me for future loans].” The plea — an obvious play on Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s verse “Mujhse pehli si mohabbat meray mehboob na maang [My beloved, don’t ask me for the love that was]” — is well-played and well-placed in a discussion on borrowing money. Further on, Sadequain inquires if the letter reached its destination, and in case it didn’t he should redo the procedure. The reason he cites on a lighter note: “Taakay Saadaat ki izzat intact rahay [So that the respect of Saadaat remains intact].”
What is striking about the letters is how well they flow and engage the reader. The language is simple yet witty. It seems as if expression is his domain, and whichever medium he chooses — canvas and paint or paper and ink — he is an artist who is the epitome of perfection.
In yet another engaging but concise letter, the Amroha-born artist writes:
Ilhaam se sarshaar raha hoon, Abid
Asbaab bin bekaar raha hoon, Abid
Kya inn dinon kar raha hoon yeh mat pooch
Main inn dinon jhak maar raha hoon, Abid
[Divine word keeps me in ecstasy, Abid
Without resources I have been useless, Abid
Don’t ask me what I have been doing these days
I have been sitting idle these days, Abid]
A marker-on-paper drawing depicted three identical, conjoined faces. What strikes the viewer is that there were only four eyes that the three faces shared, but it is done so skilfully that it seems like each face is complete. The drawing seemed to be made of quick marker strokes.
There are a number of calligraphic works on display but one of them is more striking than the rest. It is the first work you see on your left when you enter the gallery, and under the Arabic calligraphy the translation reads: “There is no compulsion in religion / The right direction is henceforth distinct from error”.
The style of the calligraphy is such that it reminds you of the great ceiling of Frere Hall with all its vastness that the Naqqash painted before his death.
Jafri sums up the gist of the exhibition by saying that Sadequain was a friends’ friend. “He was a fun-loving guy,” she said. “His letters are very engaging, very loving and warm. He was an artist good at expressing himself. Be it prose and poetry or art [such as] calligraphy [and] sketches.”
The show will continue until September 20.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2015.