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An association of more than 50 years

TNS talks to three of Intizar Husain's closest friends — Masood Ashar, Zahid Dar and Ikramullah — about their perceptions and memories of the literary legend

An association of more than 50 years
Ikramullah, Masood Ashar, and Zahid Dar.

“I consider Intizar Husain ‘Nayi nasl mai aik hazaron saal purana admi.’” — Masood Ashar

My friendship with Intizar Husain dates back to late 1950s. I met him for the first time when he was working at Afaq. Famous critic Muhammad Hasan Askari was also present in his office during our first meeting. Later, we would often meet at Pak Tea House, the meeting point for intellectuals, authors and free-thinkers. However, after I moved to Multan to work at Daily Imroze, the interaction with Intizar Husain was limited to reading his novels and short stories.

During Ziaul Haq’s era, when I was ousted from Daily Imroze because of my differing views and criticism of martial law regime, I moved back to Lahore. I began meeting Intizar Husain every day at the Pak Tea House. On Thursday evenings, we would gather at Kishwar Naheed’s place at Krishan Nagar.

Since the past few years, we had made Nairang Art Gallery our meeting point. Every Sunday, I would get together with Intizar, Eruj Mubarak, Shahid Hameed, Ikramullah, and Zahid Dar. Also, we would spend Thursday evenings at Eruj Mubarak’s residence.

I have had several disagreements with Intizar Husain because I was associated with the Progressive Writers Association while he was opposed to it. Despite the differences and disagreements, we shared a good bond. I have always been captivated by his literary works, be it ‘Qaiyuma ki Dukan’, ‘Zard Kutta’ or any other piece of writing. It is interesting to note that in all his short stories and novels, apart from the human and non-human characters, the narration itself takes the form of a character.

I was in Karachi to read an essay on modern writings, where I said that the progressive writers always wanted to establish a modern/developed society. Writers like Intizar Husain have also played their role by trying to divert us towards tradition, hence, turning us reactionary as they were.

(Isme Intizar sb jese logon ka bhi kasur hai ke inho ne humey riwait ki taraf raghib karke aik kisam ki ruja’at pasandi ki taraf raghib kardiya hai)

People reacted to my remark but I told them that, despite our friendship, we do have disagreements.

After the partition of India, non-progressive writers would criticise the progressive writers’ literature depicting the human cost of partition. At that time, Mumtaz Shireen had published a book titled, Zulmat-e-Neem Roz comprising writings by Muhammad Hasan Askari, Intizar Husain and several others. In that book, Intizar Husain had rebuked Krishan Chander and other progressive writers. He had labelled Krishan Chandar as maha sabayi (Hindu fanatic).

However, over the past few years, there was a huge change in his way of thinking. Once prejudiced towards Krishan Chander, he started admiring him. He acknowledged the contribution of progressive authors in literature.

Earlier, he strongly believed that commitment to any particular ideology or idea is dangerous. However, looking at how he presented contemporary social, political, and cultural issues in his novels and stories, I am not sure if it was a commitment to a cause or not. His novels Basti and Agey Samundar Hai both come across as political statements.

I consider Intizar Husain ‘Nayi nasl mai aik hazaron saal purana admi.’

He was deeply engrossed in the ancient Indian civilisation as well as Islamic history. I believe he was the last man in Pakistan who had an in-depth knowledge of our composite culture which is also known as ganga jamani/hind Islami culture. There is no one left behind to take this culture forward.

Read also: A man called Intizar Husain by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

In an interview, Intizar Husain had once exclaimed, “I am made up of three layers: Ancient Indian, Islamic, and Western. I have inculcated the knowledge of these three layers to become what I am.” His best works include the translations of Chekov’s writings. He would narrate tales from Mahabharata and Ramayana. He would also tell stories of the Islamic era, particularly the incident of Karbala. He was a mythological man who had the ability to speak to 2000 years old characters.

He once said about his nostalgia: “While residing in our home we don’t realise what it means to be separated. It’s only after the separation that the memories keep enticing us.”

Very few people know about this incident. When Intizar Husain migrated to Lahore after partition, Manto and Askari launched a magazine. After its first edition was published, Askari asked Intizar Husain to write a short story for them. Intizar Husain was initially scared but he sent his short story to Manto who was the editor. Manto called Intizar and said: “what have you written?” On his explanation, Manto said, “yeh tum khud to samjh sakte ho parhne waley nahi samjhenge.” Intizar brought his story back and edited it accordingly.

He again went to meet Manto to deliver his story. Manto liked the story but this time he reacted to the title which was, ‘Woh.’ “What does this title mean? It’s doesn’t look good,” Manto commented. Manto changed the title to ‘Woh Phir Ayegi.’ The story was about a girl whom a character meets at a majlis and is intensely infatuated by her. The proceedings at the majlis continue while he keeps looking at her. Eventually, the majlis culminates and she leaves. He stands there thinking when would she return?”

 On the next page: “I will not talk about him” — Zahid Dar, life-long companion

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