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Islamabad too 'polluted' with literature at last!


By Mufti Jamiluddin Ahmad


While people may be impatiently waiting for the joint sitting of the new National Assembly and the would be Senate to be held in Islamabad, what was described as a "joint sitting" of the "parliament" of the Halqa-i-Arbab-i-Zauq of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, was organized at the Pakistan Academy of Letters when the two Halqas jointly arranged their last meeting for this year on Saturday.

The parliamentary analogy - some may think - may have been merely drawn to catch the reader's attention. But the sentimental and the fiery speeches delivered at the function to celebrate the publication of a collection of writings read and evaluated in the Rawalpindi Halqa meetings during the years 2000-02 by its secretary Abid Sayal, created an aura of a well-attended assembly session with every thing put before the house in evaluating the more than sixty years history of the Halqa; sentimentally describing the zealousness with which they seemed to have served it, and even protesting, as it were, against the "intrigues" and the "dhandli" at some of the Halqa elections (only, what may be described in parliamentary journalese, with no "pandemonium", however).

Some members even recalled a situation in Lahore Halqa many years ago when from among the five who were present, none of them accepted the "presidentship" of the meeting and the old waiter of the hotel, where the Halqa meeting used to be held, presided over the function! Some of the members against whom "charges" were levelled replied in a parliamentary spirit, as if on a point of information or privilege, to clear their position.

One of the senior-most members of the Halqa, poet Zia Jullundhuri, who presided over the function, in his nostalgic address spoke about his association with the Halqa of more than sixty years. He spoke of its various branches in Karachi, Delhi, Srinagar, and even in London, and elsewhere; and spoke of the great names that were associated with it.

He talked of the way his English literature professors at his Government College would encourage students to attend these meetings to develop interest in literature. Tracing the history of the organization he spoke of the thirties and forties of the last century when Urdu literature was undergoing, what he described, a revolutionary change. He spoke of the publication of the famous collection of short stories Angarey, which was also much-criticized.

Zia Jullundhuri mentioned the establishment of the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) and Anjuman-i-Dastaan Goyaan, which some thought, was created to counter the PWA. He said the Dastaan Goyaan had nothing to do any kind of reaction, because none of those associated with the Anjuman-i-Dastaan Goyaan knew about the PWA. However, the Anjuman later grew into Halqa-i-Arbab-i-Zauq.

He spoke of its early founders, including Hafeez Hoshyarpuri, Tabish Siddiqi, Sher Mohammad Akhtar, Naseer Ahmed and others. Soon Qayyum Nazar, Yusuf Zafar and Meeraji also joined it. He also spoke of people like Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabbusum, Mumtaz Hasan and Altaf Gauhar who were associated with it.

The organization, he said, never accepted anything from the government or any other body, and explained that once Mumtaz Hasan, who was finance secretary and a man of letters himself got a provision of Rs20,000 made for it in the budget which was so resented by the members that the proposal was dropped.

According to Zia Sahab, Halqa did not believe in pursuing any particular direction in literature. So long as the creation met the required standards, it is discussed and debated on literary grounds. The "harsh" conventions of the Halqa sometimes led the young writers to tear out their papers in front of the audience and led some others to cry. And so the "legislators" of criticism (Dr Wazir Agha, someone at the meeting said, once called, as "legislative criticism" the exercise of criticism being carried out at these meetings) evaluated, for one, their own performance.

They also discussed literary organizations of writers that were either formed at "government's behest" or took grants from governments; and also men of "literature" who came in their official capacity; and Halqa members felt proud of being independent of all "patronage".

Masood Mufti, one of the senior members of the organization while reminiscing about his association with Halqa, also had a "lover's quarrel" with its members for not fighting for the right of the writers to struggle for the copyright and to get paid for their writings, a point which did not seem to be of significance to some members. And yet a number of them recounted the manner in which writers are fleeced by the publishers.

Short-story writer Mansha Yaad spoke of his passion to develop the Islamabad Halqa, and of the days when he used to bring writers from their homes for attending the Halqa meetings.

Prof Akbar Hameedi in his written paper also dealt with the development of Halqa, the "dhandli" done in some previous elections and the role some journalists played in projecting the activities of the Halqa.

According to short story writer Hameed Shahid Halqa was like a cradle (Gehwara), and Gehwara also sometimes meant the engraved wooden bed on which the dead body is taken to the graveyard. According to him, any one who came to this cradle of literature, and could hold on to it successfully he found the Halqa like the lap of the mother.

Asghar Abid, secretary of the Islamabad Halqa, spoke of its achievement and thanked the guests, and the joint secretary, Khaleequr Rehman spoke of the Halqa meetings and his passion for the organization. Abid Sayal, the secretary of the Pindi Halqa gave an introduction to his collection. A number of "stakeholders" including Rashid Nisar, Akhtar Usman, Rukhsana Saulat, Iqbal Afaqi, Rafiq Sandelvi and Anjum Khaleeque also spoke on the occasion.

And in sum, Islamabad, a city where, proverbially, politics in one form or the other seems to be the be-all and the end-all of your life, where your grade determines your worth as a human being, where the sector you live in indicates your station in life, seems at last, what Ibn-i-Insha, the great humorous writer and poet would say, is now being "polluted with literature".

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