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Urdu is very much alive

The 9th International Urdu Conference at Karachi Arts Council was attended by many stars but not by enough star-struck fans

Urdu is very much alive
Anwar Maqsood speaks at the closing ceremony of the 9th International Urdu Conference. — Photos by Naqeeb Ur Rehman

The Urdu Conference has become a permanent fixture in Karachi’s literary and cultural scene. This time too, the four day long 9th International Urdu Conference was attended by well-known authors who spoke about diverse issues in different sessions held at the Karachi Arts Council.

Speaking at the first session, Ahmed Shah, the Arts Council’s former secretary who now heads its events committee, lamented that the lovers of Urdu literature across the border had to suffer because of the tension between Pakistan and India. He made sure the keynote speaker, Shamim Hanafi, who hails from Delhi and had attended last year’s conference, was able to address the audience via telephone.

Hanafi echoed Shah’s sentiments by saying that writers can’t be restricted to borders. “The best way to express any sentiment is by turning toward literature, and it’s unfortunate that we were unable to reach Lahore when Intizar sahib passed away.”

He said misery filled the air because the sense of being far away weighed down everything. “The ties that bind us all are very strong and keep us close, but this distance pulls us apart. How long will it take for the spring to arrive?”

A variety of topics were discussed in more than two dozen sessions at the conference. A session on the ‘Effects of new media on society’, one of the most thought-provoking sessions had a panel that comprised journalists Ghazi Salahuddin, Wusatullah Khan, Mazhar Abbas and Raza Ali Abidi. They spoke at length on how excessive use of social media was bogging down activism.

Historian and scholar Dr Nauman Naqvi talked about how social media was causing the downfall of written and verbal communication. The speakers discussed how the new media was simultaneously bringing people closer through a virtual reality but increasing the distance among people living closer.

“Urdu is very much alive despite the conditions we live in. Urdu can never die, because literature can’t cease to exist even when we do”

“My son places his head on my lap and asks me to tell him stories but only during a power outage. As soon as the power is back, he runs towards the internet and I keep asking him to listen to the unfinished story,” said Wusatullah Khan.

A session on the role of cultural centres and contemporary needs was much-awaited, However, the takeaways from that session were reduced to few clichés: creating coordination among cultural institutions, working hard to promote cultural activities and, above all, appointing enthusiastic and passionate heads of cultural centres. The speakers didn’t talk about the elephant in the room: lack of accountability in the cultural centres.

Writer, poet and columnist Ataul Haq Qasmi speaks at a session of the 9th International Urdu Conference under way at the Arts Council.

Writer, poet and columnist Ataul Haq Qasmi speaks at a session of the 9th International Urdu Conference under way at the Arts Council.

An important session on the third day was on the memories of celebrated poet Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi. His daughter, Naheed Qasmi, and grandson, Nayyar Hayat Qasmi, reminisced about him.

The session on ‘Film, Television, Theatre and the Modern Age’ could have done without some speakers. The discussion was long-drawn. Playwrights Haseena Moin and Noorul Huda Shah however, managed to talk about how commercialisation was deteriorating drama. TV producer Akhtar Waqas Azeem made an important point about how writers like Amjad Islam Amjad and Asghar Nadeem Syed should resume writing drama “to rescue it from people with capitalist and commercialised approaches”.

Yaad-e-Raftagaan left the audience in tears and smiles, evoking memories of distinguished individuals, including noted writers, who passed away after the 8thInternational Urdu Conference.

Teary-eyed, writer Asif Farrukhi shared the memories of his father, noted author Aslam Farrukhi. Recalling an intriguing conversation between his father and poet Ahmad Faraz, he said the former had asked the latter to cut back on liquor. Faraz retorted the older Farrukhi should cut down on his prayers if he wished him to stop drinking.

When Aslam Farrukhi left the room, Faraz told the younger Farrukhi that he wouldn’t cut down on liquor on his father’s advice, adding on a lighter note, “Maybe your father will cut down on his prayers after my assurance”. Aslam Farrukhi later told his son, “I’m not going to cut down on my prayers. I just agreed to the deal so that he’d cut back on his drinking.” The conversation was captivatingly narrated, receiving applause at several points.

At the end of the session, Ahmed Shah told the audience: “I have just received a call from [former Sindh governor] Ishrat-ul-Ebad. He is watching the programme online. He wants to talk to the panelists.” Shah was immediately interrupted by renowned author Anwar Maqsood. “Maybe he wants to talk about Altaf Hussain,” adding after a pause, “Hali”. A storm of applause and cheers erupted in the hall.

Amongst literary circles, one often hears “we are living in the age of Yousufi”, which is why it was heart-warming to see the living legend, Mushtaq Ahmad Yousufi, at the conference. Despite being ill, he attend the conference. Dastango, a theatre group, had presented pieces from his writings Haveli.

Other eminent authors who graced the occasion included Atta-ul Haq Qasmi, Asghar Nadeem Syed, Zehra Nigah, Anwar Maqsood, Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui, Shadab Ehsani and Fatima Hasan.

Despite the presence of such luminaries, the event did not see a big turnout. Amongst those who came, the youngsters were few and far between. Journalist and author Mubashir Ali Zaidi, famous for his 100-word stories, said that “social media could have been utilised better to garner the attention of youngsters.”

Asif Farrukhi lauded the Arts Council lamented the lack of coordination between the council and educational institutes, which, in his opinion, was the cause of fewer students attending it.

Both writers believe that Karachi’s literati must go the extra mile; literary activities must be held regularly in educational institutes to inculcate the habit of reading books and attending literary seminars in young people.

Although this year’s conference saw more book-stalls than last year, Zaidi said it made him uncomfortable to witness the deserted stalls. Farrukhi added the majority of visitors didn’t appear to be buying books.

“There has been a drop in publishing and an even bigger drop in sales, which proves that people are not even reading the content produced.

“Urdu is very much alive despite the conditions we live in. Urdu can never die, because literature can’t cease to exist even when we do,” Farrukhi had remarked at the inaugural session of the conference.

Najam Soharwardi

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