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Ijaz Batalvi – The Story Teller

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Ijaz-i- Bayan
Selected essays of Ijaz Husain Batalvi
Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore
ISBN 969-35-1925-6
861pp. Rs1,200
 
Book Review by: Syeda Saleha
Republished from: DAWN Books & Authors, October 21, 2007
 
The late Ijaz Husain Batalvi was a multi-dimensional personality — a short story writer, critic, poet, essayist, broadcaster, barrister and a teacher at Law College, Lahore. His literary career was spread over a span of half a century but surprisingly, he never published his work in a book form during his lifetime. Intizar Husain, in his article ‘Lazzat ki talash mein’, once asked him why it was so and the humble Ijaz sahib replied, ‘Mein koi sikkaband adeeb nahi hoon. Apni koi adbi haseeyat manwani maqsood nahin hai. Tabiyat idhar aaye likh liya, nahi aayee na likha. Asal mein main aik weekend writer hoon.’ (‘I am not some sort of stamp approved Litterateur. My objective is not to get an approval of my literary standing as such. When the feeling comes I write, if it doesn’t come I don’t write. Actually, I consider myself a weekend writer’.)

Apart from short stories, Ijaz sahib wrote articles on various issues confronting the literary arena, critiques on the writings of his contemporaries and also poetry which was published in renowned magazines of his time like Adabi Duniya, Naqoosh, Humayun, Mah-i- Nau, Adab-i- Latif, Nusrat, Savera, Alaamat and Muasir. Now thanks to his son Salman Husain Batalvi, the younger generation has now been provided with an opportunity to read his work.

The collection has been divided into six segments according to particular themes. The collection also includes five articles; one by his son Salman Husain Batalvi and others by Daud Rehber, Intizar Husain, Shamim Mirza and Khurshid Rizvi which brief the readers about the person and art of the author.

The section entitled ‘Chand Afsane, Kutch Nafsane’ contains 23 short stories. They cover a variety of subjects, including individuals and their inhibitions, human psychology, male-female relationships, cultural ethos, partition and its aftermath, superstitions prevailing in the society and exploitation. ‘Shaikh Biratheran’, ‘Khera Bahadur ki jai’, ‘Lala dagh-i-saman hai’, ‘Jheel ke under, jheel ke bahar’, ‘Basi roti’, ‘Tariq ka karishma aur kale bakre’ can be regarded as some of his best short stories. ‘Shaikh Biratheran’ is a satire and exposes the exploitation of the novices by the publishers in our part of the world where it is unimaginable to earn a respectable living by simply being a writer. ‘Khera Bahadur ki jai’ is also a satire on partition and its aftermaths. Tariq ka karishma aur kale bakre is a journey into the world history in a lighter vein — slavery, colonisation, exodus of the people who are settled in new lands far from their ancestral abodes. Though experiencing a new mode of life, they are still bound to their ancestors’ customs, creeds and traditions seeking salvation through sacrificing animals, ie kale bakre. ‘Jheel ke under, jheel ke bahar’ represents the behavioural differences between people belonging to different cultures. Batalvi was closely associated with the Halqa-i-Arbab-i-Zauq in Lahore and we find many reminiscences of this association with the people there.

‘Saqia saqia, kitab kitab’ consists of reviews of books by contemporary writers written from 1945 to the present decade. They include the books of renowned and established writers such as Upandernath Ashk, Qurratul Ain Haider, Meeraji, N. M. Rashid, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Bano Qudsia. There are all in all 28 articles in this section. Some of these authors were his close friends. The articles display his deep understanding of the literary trends prevalent at the time.

In my opinion, the segment ‘Kutch adabi mazameen’ is the most representative of Batalvi’s literary thoughts and ideologies. Twenty-two articles are included in this section and they reveal the writer’s liberal and unbiased mind. He laments the attitude of those who feel shy in taking pride in their historical connections to the remote past simply because it belongs to the era of pre-Islamic culture, for example the rich civilisation of Moenjo Daro. His article ‘Faqa kush Buddah’ criticises the apathy of the people in power towards our cultural heritage. In another article titled ‘Chand taza adabi masael’ he points out the problems that have emerged since the partition. In his essay ‘Adeeb aur wafadari’ he raises the question whether a writer is loyal to the government or to the state. In his opinion there is a difference between the two. While loyalty to the state is indisputable, loyalty to the government is optional. Linked with this issue was the slogan of Qaumi Adab and Islami Adab. Forcing a peculiar view point on the writer will curtail writer’s freedom of expression . He invites our attention to another issue, the issue of Hindu tradition and Muslim tradition. This differentiation will result in rejecting the hierarchy we inherited from Premchand, Ratan Nath Sarshar and Chakbast etc causing an irreparable damage to Urdu literature.

‘Quaid-i-Azam aur hamari qaumi tarikh’, ‘Pakistan ke muashre pur martial law kay asaraat’ and ‘Islam aur tarikh Islam ki raushani mein’ are socio-political essays wherein the author objectively analysis the indifferent attitude of the people concerned towards our founder, the effects of martial law on our social and political structure and weakening of institution. In the last article he cites various examples from Islamic history and warns against curtailing freedom of expression, opposing ijtehad and social justice in the name of implementing shariah.

‘Maktoob-i-London’ comprises of his broadcasts from BBC from 1949 to 1954. They deal with aspects of life in the UK. These letters are a brief commentary on the political, social and cultural life of London. They may create nostalgia among the readers who have been regular listeners of the BBC Urdu service.

The segment ‘Aaj ki baat’ is a collection of the author’s broadcasts during the 1965 war with a foreword by Intizaar Husain. Apart from the outcome of the war and the shocks which the nation had to bear, the broadcasts are full of emotions that encouraged people to stay the course.

‘Dard-i-Zeestan’ contains poetic creations of the writer. This brief collection reflects the pains he had to live through his life. An air of sadness and loneliness prevails through most of the poems. ‘Yaadon ka shahr’ reflects his love for friends and acquaintances who have left him forever. Their presence was a source of joy for the poet. With time their memories too will be buried, but his end will be the same reflects the poet. The last segment of the book consists of photographs of family, friends, literary and political giants of his time.

Since this is the very first publication of Ijaz Husain Batalvi’s works in book form, there is a need to publish the different segments separately as well. This will make his writings accessible to the readers who cannot afford a high price tag. The aim should be not only to preserve but to disseminate literature far and wide.

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Written by Shahid Batalvi

June 17, 2008 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Book Review