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Through the eyes of a writer

A sprawling account of the life of Rasheed Amjad

Through the eyes of a writer

Rasheed Amjad, primarily a short story writer, when quizzed as to why he did not write a novel replied that the habit of short story had conditioned him in a manner that he found himself incapable of writing much longer works of fiction. He mentioned the discipline and the focusing of attention as two key requirements of writing a novel which he failed to develop.

Ironically, when it came to writing his autobiography he defied all that and wrote more than six hundred pages.

Aashiqi Sabr Talab is a sprawling account of the life of Rasheed Amjad. It appears that it is a sequel to an earlier edition that was titled Tamana Betaab, initially published in the year 2000. Many editions were printed and, according to the author, there were many errors by the composers and he attempted to correct them in the subsequent edition. From then on since ten years had passed, he thought that he had to write more about himself and his times. The current edition with the above title was finally published and includes the earlier Tamana too.

He confessed that he lacked the patience to write a closely-knotted book and the title Tamana Betaab appeared to be more apt, though he pointed to the compulsion of sabr which the entire enterprise of love demanded. He was not apologetic about the length and the lack of unified design because it all came from the bottom of his heart.

The most significant part of the sprawl is the reason as to why he wrote. Writing for him was the reason for his existence. It appears that he was more aligned to the left and therefore had been a part of the so called progressive writers circle. He has also, in the same vein, pointed to the many shortcomings, both of the movement and also the people associated with it. He too dreamt of an equitable order where merit would be rewarded. His own creative process was closer to the one attributed to poetry rather than prose.

Nevertheless, the book takes us through his life and the large number of incidents and accidents. It is left to the readers to analyse and understand as to what is important for him, what is of a secondary nature, and then track it down to the sources of his inspiration from this heap of apparently scattered experiences.

Usually, writers select and only present what they want the world to know about them. There is plenty of editing of one’s experiences that goes on when penning details. But it seems that Rasheed Amjad has not been very strict while editing his own life’s experiences because there is much that might have qualified to be trivia or not really merited to be in the account of a writer.

He belongs to a generation that was born just before independence and coming to intellectual adolescence in the mid 1960s and early 70s. He started to express himself in the same time period to emerge as one of the leading short story writers of that phase. That period was not an ordinary period — it first saw the new country finding its feet and then its dismemberment, a new beginning again with the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but a plunge back into a regressive phase with Zia ul Haq’s martial law and a brutal push towards a more oppressive order in the name of religious ideology.scan0028

Rasheed Amjad, ideologically, found himself to be on the wrong side of the government and those factions that wanted Pakistan to be shoved into the mould of a regimented society.

The best thing about his book is the depiction of life in that period as seen through the eyes of a writer. He grew up in Rawalpindi and spent his entire life there, both as a student and then as a teacher in various institutions. Usually in Pakistan, much has been written about Lahore and Karachi, while the other cities or towns get a short shrift. There has been a steady exodus from these towns to cities as the writers or artistes feel that they have to be in these cities to prosper and to be recognised. This has denuded our towns of the much intellectual wealth. He has written about Rawalpindi, the life of the city, its intellectuals, its writers and poets and also of the peril embedded for them of it being so close to the capital, Islamabad.

Though the city was in a way neglected but then one living in Rawalpindi could easily write about the literary and artistic life in Islamabad. His account of Rawalpindi is full of artistic verve while that of Islamabad is perceived as a slow sell out of the writers to the lure offered by the authorities.

What the writers went through, their deprivations, their failings, their ambitions, their temptations and how they coped with all this has been discussed threadbare. The various haunts of the writers and poets, their daily routine, their relationship to places where they made their living, their jobs, so brilliantly told come to life. Similarly, in the same tone, so many of the famous and not so famous have been written about — their sketches fazing down the differences between the public persona and the reality of an individual man. These individuals in a way sum up the entire intellectual life of a city and so of an era.

His analysis of the changing situation and the role of the writer have been discussed, not in the dogmatic fashion of those sympathetic to a cause but with sensitivity to the changing demands and responsibilities.

Aashiqi Sabr Talab (Autobiography)
Author: Rasheed Amjad
Saanjh Publication
Price: Rs1100
Pages: 638


Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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