By Mudassir Raja
His work has a universal appeal. His subjects are people with all their characteristics, instincts, emotions and responses; their hatred, love, lust, selfishness, dreams and deprivations that are beyond the confines of time and space.
An Urdu poet, lyricist, playwright, and columnist, septuagenarian Amjad Islam Amjad stands out in the galaxy of men of letters in Pakistan. Raised to lasting fame in 1979 when his drama Waris became instant success with Pakistan Television (PTV), Amjad’s enduring literary works have proven his worth.
Born in 1944, the iconic literary figure has been bestowed upon with Sitara-e-Imtiaz for his literary contributions that span over half a century. Author of more than 40 books, he has received many other awards for his literary work and screenplay for TV, including the prestigious Pride of Performance.
Amjad was born in Lahore of British India, but now Pakistan. His family originally hails from Sialkot. He received his secondary education in Lahore, and graduated from Government Islamia College Civil Lines, Lahore.
With MA in Urdu Literature from Punjab University, Amjad began his career as a lecturer in Government M.A.O College Lahore. He worked as a director in Pakistan Television Corporation from 1975 to 1979, before returning to teaching.
In 1989, Amjad was appointed as Director General of Urdu Science Board. He has also worked as a project director of the Children Library Complex. Amjad is the writer of many celebrated drama series for PTV while his main focus remained writing Urdu nazms. Among his most notable dramas are Waris, Dehleez, Samandar, Raat, Waqt and Apnay Loug.
Amjad, who is also very well-known for a specific genre of poetry called azad nazm (free verse) taking the genre to a next level, expressed his uneasiness over the current trends and tendencies in Urdu literature.
“Our literary traditions have been very rich. We have influences from the British and other European literature. In fiction, we particularly see the influence of Russian literature especially post-Russian Revolution. We also have strong traditions coming from Turkish, Iranian and Hindi literature. The world has fast shrunk to a small place thanks to the Internet and social media. The fast changing world has brought different cultures closer. It is an emergency like situation,” said Amjad while talking to Community during his recent visit to Qatar.
He was here to preside over the silver jubilee annual mushaira arranged by the Majlis-e-Frogh-e-Urdu Adab (MFUA). Incidentally, Amjad is the only poet who attended the first poetic session held by MFUA and its 25th symposium.
Amjad continued: “I however, hope this situation is going to be temporary. The concept of the audience has changed though. Earlier, the literary audience was made up of real poetry lovers and trained listeners. It used to be necessary for a good listener or reader to have due literary training. Now, this tradition does not receive much importance. I think there is now more noise than real appreciation. For me, this has led to the creation of what they call “popular trend”. However, I still believe that we have a very strong tradition. Slowly but surely, the modern trends are getting merged with the traditions.”
The major concern of Amjad however, is the fast dwindling reading habits among people.
“The worst thing is that due to unfair promotion of English, our new generation has been unable to read Urdu script. I fear after 20 years, we will not be able to have such an enthusiastic Urdu literature audience that we see in Doha every year. However, currently our literature is not lagging far behind other contemporary literature. Like the beauty of other eastern Semantic languages, Urdu keeps a particular singularity. Poetry still dominates eastern literature. We have been trying to keep up pace with the modern trends and retain our literary identity at the same time.”
He insists that literature all around the world isn’t passing through the best of times. He does not blame the writers or poets for it but prevalent materialism. “The significance of material things have increased manifold in our lives. I am not against material gains but the trend should not be lopsided. You cannot evaluate a good poem or song in terms of money. When you treat a creative piece as a materialistic thing, it loses its real spirit.
“Nonetheless, I still believe that our language and culture have enough strength to cope with the new challenges. Perhaps, we will be able to absorb these shocks.”
The prolific writer is all praise for poetry symposiums when it comes to promotion of Urdu language and literature. “The mushaira has always been very important and will remain so. I have visited major world educational and literary institutions. If they have about 50 people in a poetic reading session, they see it as very encouraging. On the other hand, thousands of people attend our poetic sessions. I see a positive role of these symposiums in tackling with the decline in literary trends. A common man somehow gets associated with literature through these sessions.”
The uninterrupted poetic sessions arranged by MFUA for 25 years have earned Amjad’s appreciation. “The uninterrupted continuity is their best achievement. It is amazing that there is no gap for 25 years. They have been able to maintain and sustain the literary activities. That is why, this mushaira is counted among some of the leading poetic sessions arranged in Urdu-speaking world.” Amjad, whose literary stint spans over half a century, has seen development of many new literary genres. “Creative people continue to experiment with their techniques. Nowadays, prose-poetry is getting popular — though, I am not a fan of the genre. I believe poetic thought is not the exclusive property of a poet. Any individual can have a beautiful poetic thought. The actual ability is how to transform the thought into poetic form. Lyricism is a very important component of our poetic form.”
The celebrated dramatist stopped writing plays 15 years ago after he got disillusioned with the rise of modern TV drama. “I am very sad to see the quality of TV plays in Pakistan. I grew up with the PTV dramas. The influx of commercial and news TV channels in the last 20 years has damaged the quality of drama. Further, the drama has gone into the hands of businesspeople. They do not care much for quality. They focus only what is for sale. They have actually overstressed the TV drama. They do not care for aesthetics. They only care for financial gains.
“However, there is a ray of hope. In last four to five years, we have seen a strong reaction from the audience. Let us hope this gives way to a middle course.”
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