Intezar Hussain - Haunted by the past
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

IMRAN MUNIR AWAN takes outstanding Pakistani fiction writer down memory lane and raws him out on a host of interesting issues, including the events writers and movements that have influenced him, as well as the present!

The Progressive Writers dubbed Intezar Husain as a rijjat pasand, or a regressive, because of the nostalgic strain in his writings. His stories, he himself admits, ere a conscious attempt to plunge into the turbulent experiences of his past. In most of them, there is a flurry of emotions struggling to break free following his migration from India to Pakistan. He is a living witness to the events following the period of Petition and cannot think of pulling himself apart from the past.

Taking pride in whatever he was writing at that time, Intezar Husain makes no bones about the fact that he is called a rijjat passand and And when they (the Progressives) started calling me that, I said '

Ok, if you want to call me that, I have no objection to it. Because, after all, I am not connected with your school of thought. And if my separation is determined by this label, then you are free to call me that.

Intezar Husain is sitting on a sofa on my right in his'drawing room. It is about five o' clock in the afternoon and outside, the weather is a bit cloudy (I can see it right through the window panes). Deep silence fills the air in the moments when we are both quiet And, when one of us speaks, it feels as if a heavy stone were dropped from great heights on to the brittle surface of a silently running brook.

Intezar strains to listen to the questions being asked him (perhaps, in an attempt to be , absolutely cautious). Every now i and then, he perks up in the middle of a conversation, like an easily excitable teenager, but never, for a moment, loses the literary strain in which he is ulking. Though pushing 70, he is remarkably active and agile. I ask him how he would describe his relationship with the Progressive writers, and he says, "I never attempted to erect ideological divides between the Progressive and the non-Progressive writers when I was a student. For example I would read Faiz and Mira Ji with the same zeal I only knew that I was reading the literature of that period. But gradually, when I woke up to all the debates and controversies surrounding naya adab (New Literature), only then was I able to differentiate between a Progressive and a non-Progressive. 

"There were people, belonging to the old traditional school of thought, raising objections against the naya adab" he continues. They didn't have a eke about the viewpoint of Faiz or that of Mira Ji. They would saw the new poetry as meaningless. And they would take every new writer for a progressive."

He pauses for a while to reflect. "But a controversy began within the naya adab and I could see then that there were some new writers who were Progressive or non-Progressive in their own right. And, at that poiint, I was convinced that if I wanted to relate to any school of thought, it would have to be non-Progressive. Then came a time when I even criticised the Progressives in my writings. " He pauses again, stares deep into the vast emptiness of the room and speaks. "But now when I look back, I feel that the Progressive literature has had a big role in the history of Urdu literature. It gave a new life to our literature and, also, a new way of thinking."

What exactly amounted to a Progressive attitude, according to the prevalent conception of the time, and what differentiated it from the non-Progressive way of thinking ? "

When I started writing, the Progressive Movement was in a phase where the party above used to decide and determine the way writers should think and write. This was clearly a regimentation of literature and I could not come to terms with it.

Intezar Husain can barely hide his indignation at this point. "I was writing stories on what I had Left behind, the environment and the people among whom I had grown up before partition. They used to say it was nostalgia and that I should be writing about the contemporary political situation and about what kind of changes were required. I  insisted I was only writing about what haunted me: the charaeters, personalities and the environment that I had left behind. Whether or not Pakistan should be a socialist state is not my cup of tea. I was not involved, mentally or emotionally, in that kind of debates.

However, Intezar Husain claims, not all his stories have the nostalgic strain.

He invites the readers to read his later stories that are quite distinct from the ones he wrote about his past in the immediate post-Partition period. 'For example,' he explains, "my novel Bati deals with the tumultuous events of 1970-71 and the separation of East Pakistan. And my other novels, too, incorporate various conflicts and problems in our history." His first published piece of writing was a critical essay in 'Saqi' while he was still in India. And soon, he wrote his first short story. "During that period, strife started and the division of the Sub-continent was announced. A series of migrations began. The basti and the social environment in which I grown up became desolatet in front of my eyes. It wan as if the whole society was disintegrating and fear was the dominant element in the air. That entire experience urged me to write about it and that's how I wrote my first short story." Intezar Husain then became the editor of Nizam, a weekly magazine, soon after he migrated to Pakistan. Having spent nearly one and a half year at Nizam, he moved to Imroz and from there on his attach¬ment to journalism became permanent He spent nearly 25 years in Mashriq and still writes a literary column for Dawn. But he was never a journalist at heart.

"I had always felt that I should stay away from journalism because literature and journalism are two diffeisnt fields. But, you know, we also have our limitations and compulsions. One has to be in some profession and I came into journalism under compulsion; it was not my choice", he reveals.

He considers journalism as an enemy of literature. "Literature is completely at odds with journalism. Journalism is a profession that makes it extremely hard for you to maintain your literary consciousness and experience. Literature calls for one attitude and journalism demands a totally different attitude." Does he feel that the literary environment has deteriorated in our country over the years?

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When I set foot in this city,there used to be tremendous activity, not just in the city, but entire World of Urdu literature,

he recalls fondly. "There was intensity in literary expression and the writers' involvement in their creative experiences was deep and sincere. Besides, the partition of the sub-continent was a major event So, the writers had just had a big experience, and they were guided by a strong impulse to write, too. Now it seems as if the writers have no experience. Their involvement in creative expression seems to have declined a great deal. I feel they have more interests outside the domain of literature than they have within it. Now literature is being treated mostly as a social activity."

Why do these people have to take up literature if their interests lie somewhere else? "Remember," he speaks out, "literature could bring you both profit and loss." He gives me a meaningful smile and prefers to keep his ambiguous tone "It is a bargain that can be turned either way. Now a single ghazal can earn you the air tickets to the US and Canada."

Another thing Intezar Husain misses in the world of literature today is the ideological battle.

"There are no fights or controversies in today's world over literary point of view or ideology. There are only, personal fights, or group Fighting but nothing like literary thinking. There are tussles to secure personal benefits. For example, a couple of years ago, there was a controversy over why a certain writer got the Pride of Performance and not the other,

" he does not go far into it.

Written by Imran Munir Awan

Work of Intezar Hussain shared by Salman Siddiqui : Kankari