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Creating space for a legend

A much-needed book that encapsulates the life and works of the worthy Nisar Aziz Butt

Creating space for a legend

Nisar Aziz Butt is no stranger to the world of words as she made her presence felt with her four novels and autobiography. Her first novel Nagri Nagri Phira Musafir hit the newsstands in 1956 and received a positive nod from the redoubtable Muhammad Hasan Askari, the doyen of Urdu critics in Pakistan.

Three more novels followed in 1973, 1986 and 1990 respectively. Her memoir Gaye Dinon Ka Suragh was released in 2004 and that too was widely appreciated. The memoir chronicled an entire era in which she witnessed many episodes. Born in Mardan in 1927, Butt’s father was a book lover and an officer in the Revenue Department. He wanted his daughter to study which she did: she devoured authors like Abdul Halim Sharar, Rashidul Khairi, Hijab Imtiaz Ali, Mirza Adeeb to satiate her thirst for literature.

From an early age she had a deep fascination for literature and went on to devote her life to writing. Despite her lifelong commitment to literature, she wasn’t given the recognition she deserved.

The volume has been divided into two parts: Urdu and English. The major chunk of the book comprises Urdu articles which are both personal and critical in nature.

Karvan-e-Khayal-o-Jamal, Nisar Aziz Butt Fun Aur Shaksiat is a much-needed book that attempts to encapsulate the life and works of the esteemed writer. Dr Humaira Ashfaq, who compiled the volume, is an assistant professor of Urdu at International Islamic University Islamabad. Dr Ashfaq has written and compiled 14 books on various Urdu writers and by ferreting out Urdu and English pieces on Nisar Aziz Butt she has done a good job.

The volume has been divided into two parts: Urdu and English. The major chunk of the book comprises Urdu articles which are both personal and critical in nature. Mumtaz Mufti, Ada Jafri and Noorul Hasan Jafri share their personal camaraderie with Butt which they seemed to have enjoyed fully. Mumtaz Mufti felt thrilled by the fiction of Nisar Aziz Butt as he likened her style to that of Ismat Chughtai’s. From these personal essays, she appears to be someone who doesn’t care about self-projection and that is why she avoided the limelight.

Apart from these personal essays, critics evaluate her novels as well. Muhammad Hasan Askari, Mujtaba Hussain, Dr Muhammad Ali Siddiqui Mukhtar Zaman, Asloob Ansari, Mansha Yaad are a few top ranking writers who have scanned her oeuvre. Muhammad Ali Siddiqui admires her for not playing to the gallery as “she wrote whatever she could write best”. Masood Ashar admits he was initially in awe of her because her literary columns in the Dawn fascinated him beyond words. He remembers reading a review of Aag Ka Darya written by Nisar Aziz Butt which he terms as the best so far of the magnum opus.

The English section of the book contains essays from distinguished writers like Intizar Husain, Muhammad Salim-ur-Rahman, Khaled Ahmed, Sartaj Aziz (brother of Nisar Aziz Butt), Asif Farrukhi and others. Sartaj Aziz’s essay is a peep into the household where he and his sister were born. It was a traditional Pashtun society; all of NWFP didn’t have a single girl’s college in the 1940s. But that didn’t dampen the great writer’s spirit. She landed in Lahore and did her masters in Mathematics.

Muhammad Salim-ur-Rahman terms her novel Darya Kay Sang as her best because “it exudes composure and the narrative is relaxed, almost leisurely, the ideas are expressed clearly”. Khaled Ahmed’s three pieces on her works are illuminating as well as scholarly. Like Masood Ashar, he was enamoured by the literary columns she wrote in late 1960s. With the presence of these leading figures, the English section of the book is a real treat to read.

The compiler of the book has also shared nuggets from her novels and autobiography at the end of the Urdu section for those who are not familiar with the works of Nisar Aziz Butt. This book is a must read for common readers and students of literature alike because there is dearth of books on the worthy writer. The present volume may prod budding writers to re-assess the novels and autobiography of Nisar Aziz Butt which is much needed because she deserves more appreciation than we have bestowed upon her so far.

Karwan-e- Khayal-o-Jamal Nisar Aziz Butt Fun Aur Shaksiat
Compiled by: Dr Humaira Ashfaq
Publisher: Sang-e-Meel publications Lahore
Pages: 488
Price: Rs1800

Altaf Hussain Asad

altaf asad
The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.

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