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Stylisation of our literature

The latest issue of Tasteer is dedicated to an old debate: what constitutes literature in particular reference to its relevance?

Stylisation of our literature

The two volumes of Tasteer that were published with a gap of half a year carry plenty of material. This is a positive indication that literary magazines are being published and people are still writing for them. These comprise afsanas, poems of all varieties from the ghazal to prose poetry, the more conventional nazm and also include articles written by way of criticism on various issues that preoccupy creative writers these days. Naseer Ahmad Nasir, whose name figures on the title as someone who has compiled it rather than edited it, has been assisted by Gugan Shahid and Amar Shahid.

The editorial stresses on the fact that our literature and its canons are too closely derived from British or English backgrounds. The debate about form including the realism that may be present in other literatures, especially US and Latin American literature, largely goes unnoticed. Even Marquez’s writing can fall in this category because he writes about human nature, the need to fall in love and the aspirations to create a revolution all understood in this context. Actually, in today’s world, English literature should imply all literature written in English, and should not be limited to literature produced in the British Isles. This is also a plea to include all this literature in our syllabi.


In all likelihood, this latest issue is dedicated to a debate that is more than a century old and has become poignant with the onset of colonial rule. What constitutes literature in particular reference to its relevance?

The Europeans found the extreme stylisation of our literature, both prose and poetry, beyond their comprehension and ascribed many causes to it including a tendency to escape the reality of the times. Instead of banking and drawing on their own artistic and literary consciousness the Europeans introduced many new critical canons while wanting to make literature and the other arts more open and accessible. For many, the trend or the movement that was ushered in, inspired by the objective study of nature, was poo-pooed upon and some in derision called the likes of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan as ‘nature’.

According to Hafeez Siddiqui the term ‘nature’ has been used in four different meanings or contexts like its objective form, the laws of nature, essential characteristics and human traits. Gradually with the passage of time ‘nature’ or natural in the arts was used for realism. As a form in arts, including literature it was adopted or taken over by the French writers by the middle of the 19th Century like Maupassant and Zola, and it granted freedom of choice of content and free reign to the expression of human emotions.

As the basics of aesthetics in arts, the relationship of nature and its aesthetic expression are organically linked. Its first imprint of this in our poetry was in the works of Azad and Hali.

As the basics of aesthetics in arts, the relationship of nature and its aesthetic expression are organically linked. Its first imprint of this in our poetry was in the works of Azad and Hali. In the making of modern poem it was Nazeer Akbarabadi followed by Abdul Haleem Sharar, Ismail Merathi, Iqbal, Zafar Ali Khan, Akhter Sheerani, Hafeez Jalandhari and Ehsan Danish. Anees’ and Mir Hasan’s masnavis can also be seen in this light.

Afsana is not a very old genre in Urdu literature and the first phase so to say is based on realism and trying to place what goes on with man and society in the shape of some law of nature. The second phase which is not that different is also based on the spirit of the times, modernism and a new formal structure being the more prominent sticking points in this regards.

The realism is not about form but about content. Its formal structures are more symbolic and metaphoric. And this does not lend itself easily to comprehension. There is no shared and instant understanding or comprehension but appears to be obtuse and intractable. One of the characteristics of this new afsana is that it has divorced itself from the reader and does not account for its comfort. According to Meeraji, comprehension or communication with the writing is a supplementary value, not integral to art because the authenticity of what the writer or the poet writes is more important than efforts to make readers understand what has been written. It has been proven time and again that a poet or a writer who is not understood in this age becomes the representative voice of the next and is profusely quoted, read and admired.

The 21st Century afsana too is different and should not be the replica of the 20th Century. It need not be a clone of the form but an honest criticism of what is being written.

Tasteer (2 volumes) Compiled by: Naseer Ahmed Nasir, Guggan Shahid, Amar Shahid
Publisher: Corner
Pages: 950
Price: Volume 1, Rs700; Volume 2, Rs600

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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