In the present times, the only works considered valuable are those that expose the underbelly of a person, preferably a famous person, and the exposure usually revolves around transgressions of power, sexual deviation, issues with orientation or some other violation of the norm in terms of public life. If there is nothing or not enough of such material, the work is considered insipid and not worthy of attention.
And the best insider to do this is a wife, husband or a partner. In a world where relationships fall apart before they are built, and where marriages go sour before the honeymoon is over, the private side of an individual is exposed with bitterness and rancour. It is mostly a kiss-and-tell affair which may offer much titillation and no real substance. So when a wife writes about a husband, as Imrana Maqsood does about Anwar Maqsood in Uljhe Suljhe Anwar, it is expected that she will bare all, and if she does not, it is assumed that she is not telling the truth.
Therefore, all books written by wives should be taken with a bucket of salt, especially of people who have a public persona. If no man is great before his valet, he is totally naked before his wife. At best, what can be achieved by such an account is a dressing-down of the person, to say the least. Though the book under review is a very sympathetic account by a wife for a husband who is known to the world for his wit and humour, it contains an undercurrent that betrays much more than has been explicitly stated.
It is rarely that wives and husbands write about each other while alive.
This short account for a book includes many writings of Anwar Maqsood, mainly his famous plays, columns and other short pieces. Anwar Maqsood’s writings are available elsewhere in plenty, so one does not understand the logic behind the particular inclusion of these writings. Neither is the basis of the selection very clear or explicitly stated.
The usefulness of the book probably rests on the few snippets from the early years of Anwar Maqsood’s life — those carefree years when he often cut the branch on which he was sitting for multiple reasons: embedded rebellion, winning a few laughs, or just boredom. The truant and mischievous Anwar Maqsood, despite the responsibility of being a married man, played pranks on his bosses and destroyed the reputation of the organisations he worked for. He was lucky that he was well-connected and often landed up with a reasonable job despite hindering his own prospects as well as the prospects of the organisation, with great speed. But time and again, he got another job or an assignment through the connections of his family (brother and brother-in-law being senior bureaucrats), until eventually these jobs, too, would meet the same fate.
It could be that Anwar Maqsood was a total misfit. Once he took up journalism, he settled down to do what he could with some purpose. His initial attempts were too revolutionary to be digested but then he learnt the craft of saying controversial things that were hidden between the lines. His writings for television grew as he was asked to script the Zia Mohyeddin Show in the early 1970s. He began to make a name for himself which also meant that his financial conditions began to show an upward curve. Fifty-Fifty, a weekly satire show on television, made him a household name and his appearance as a media person made his face recognisable.
Like so many others, Imrana Maqsood’s family migrated to Pakistan from Budaun in Uttar Pradesh and started to build their life anew in the new country. Anwar Maqsood’s family also migrated to Pakistan and since both were not from the Punjab, both came after the two-to-three months of bloody holocaust which the Punjabi refugees waded through.
An enterprising family, Anwar Maqsood’s brothers and sisters are quite famous and well-settled in various walks of life. Both Fatima Surayya Bajia as a writer and Zehra Nigah as one of the early female poets of Urdu, made headlines for being talented enterprising women. Though by that time women had started to write fiction, they came to poetry a little later with probably Ada Jafri pioneering the form.
Anwar Maqsood’s life as a writer has been written about but his life as a painter has basically gone by ignored. It seems that he is a writer who also paints but if one looks at his paintings, considering that he had not really been formally tutored, they are quite original and striking. Perhaps, if he had more time to devote to his visual expression he could have emerged as one of the foremost painters of the country.
Imrana Maqsood did not remain a housewife; she too started to write, mainly plays for television and became her own person with the passage of years. But the book is mainly about Anwar Maqsood and the life she spent with him. Initially, there were many hardships, primarily financial but things eased gradually. She writes that while on the one hand her husband’s desire to be a writer and choose a profession that is risky and had an unsteady flow of income caused them some difficulties, on the other, dropping his name was also extremely useful. People came forward for help in procedures that would otherwise be tedious and time-consuming.
Although Imrana Maqsood’s son was free to choose his own profession, when her daughter wanted to turn her passion into a profession, questions were raised. Her son is a musician but when the daughter wanted to be one, there was discrimination at play. The logic was that she needed more protection and security, physical more than anything else, and hence their daughter was forbidden from exercising her freedom of choice. The men in the family were not willing to take on the responsibility of a female musician, and hence they were tacitly complicit in not letting her be her own woman.
Author: Imrana Maqsood
Publisher: Maktaba-e-Daniyal, Karachi