Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi: A man for All
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   
DR. AFZAL MIRZA profiles Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, the only writer in the tradition of the great European writers, who has written extensively in all genres of literature with equal facility.

Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi is a  story writer whose name is among the great Urdu writers of the second half of the last century. He is a poet who writes poetry of the highest standard and is considered among the top poets of the country. He is a journalist who edited the daily 'Imroz' for a long time, but resigned from it when Ayub Khan's regime expropriated the newspaper. Since then, he has been writing columns in various newspapers, poems, short stories and editing his personal literary magazine called "Funoon". Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi is one of the few Pakistani writers whose works have been translated into many languages. Many years ago, attended a meeting of some foreign writers in Zagreb, who were translating from Croatian literature into their respective languages. In an interlude between sessions, I asked a Czech writer whether he knew any Pakistani writer. "Yes, I know Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi. I have read the short stories of the latter which are very impressive", he answered. I was happy that Pakistan also has an identity of its own in the world of literature. Jamiluddin Aali once wrote that he was informed by Soviet writers about the Russian translation of Qasmi's book of short stories which was very popular. Ibrahim Jalees wrote about a function held in Moscow in 1966 to pay tributes to Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi who was a popular short story writer in Russia. "

When we entered the fully packed hall under the huge portrait of Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi saw Prof. Gankovski speaking on the art and personality of Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi,

" he wrote. Qasmi is our only writer, who in the tradition of great European writers, has written in all genres of literature, and that too, with equal facility.

Qasmi is one such living writer about whom volumes of articles have been written.

I first read about him in Shaista Suhrawardy's book "The Development of Urdu Short Story and Novel", in 1956 which was her doctoral thesis for Oxford University. In her book published in the late forties, Dr Suhrawardy had equated him with Prem Chand and had called him as Prem Chand of the Punjab. Dr Muhammad Sadiq also compared Qasmi with Prem Chand in his history of Urdu literature. Qasmi who wrote both poetry and prose was noticed by early critics for his graphic depiction of life in rural Punjab. All other writers of forties like Manto, Krishan Chandar, Ashk, Ismat Chughtai were writing about the middle or lower middle class of Indian cities but it was Prem Chand and Qasmi who introduced rural life of India in the Urdu literature by writing realistic stories about the peasantry highlighting their problems. His mastery of language and depiction of imagery was so perfect that at a very early age Qasmi shot into fame and though younger to Prem Chand by many years his name was mentioned with the important writers who started writing in the early forties.

The reason that Nadeem wrote about rural Punjab is that he was born in a place called Angah in district Sargodha on the 20th November 1916. His real name is Ahmad Shah. He had his early education in the village mosque where he learnt the Holy Quran. He was eight years old when his father died and his family shifted to his uncle's house in Campbellpur (now Attock) where he studied for some time and had to shift to Sheikhupura from where he did his matriculation. He got his college education in Sadiq Egerton College Bahawalpur from where he graduated in 1935.

The memories of these towns left a deep impression on him and in many of his stories he draws graphic pictures of these small towns and villages.

That was rite period of turmoil in India. The World War II had not yet started but Fascism was taking its roots in Europe. In India, the unemployment was at its peak and young graduates with their degrees were wandering in search of jobs. Nadeem undertook odd jobs as Muharrar in a Reform Commissioner's office in Lahore or telephone operator in Okara and then became a sub-inspector in Excise Department. Nadeem found that these jobs were not suited to him because some thing from inside compelled him to write. He worked as an Excise Inspector but got disgusted with the corruption and lawlessness prevailing in this department. His famous short story "Mukhbar" is a classic which exposes the psychology of an informer who gets rewards for spying on those who carry contraband material.

 


He could not last there for more than two years and after resigning plunged into the realm of writing. In this, he cannot forget the support of two literary giants of his time. One was Akhtar Shirani in whose magazine 'Rooman' he used to contribute. Shirani was an extremely popular poet of his time who wrote romantic poetry getting inspiration from Shelley, Keats and Byron. Qasmi's early poetry was also romantic. There was total contrast in the personalities of the two friendly poets. Shirani was always under the influence of booze while Qasmi was total teetotaller. Due to his religious background Qasmi shunned all the vices except "cigarette" that had been his weakness for most of his life. Another of his friend Manto also had the same weakness as Shirani but both of them used to be apologetic to Qasmi if found drinking. After leaving excise department, Abdul Majid Salik, editor of daily 'Inqilab,' came to the rescue of jobless writer who got him a job as editor of children's weekly 'Phool' and ladies weekly 'Tehzib-e-Niswan' owned by Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj's father Syed Mumtaz AM. He worked in these magazines until 1945. The World War II had started and its natural corollary that is inflation had hit the common man of India. In England Sajjad Zaheer and other Indian students laid the foundation of Progressive Writers Association. Its socialistic manifesto attracted every sensitive young man and it drew Qasmi also into its fold in spite of his religious background. It was not surprising because Maulana Hasrat Mohani had also lent his support to this movement However Qasmi served PWA quite actively and faced incarceration and restrictions.

Qasmi delved into all the genres of ' literature but he became known as short story writer earlier because his first book of short stories "Chopal" was published in 1940. In 1941, he published his quartets (Qataat) under the name of "Dharkanen" which were reprinted a few years later as "Rimjhim". These were instantaneous hits .The book carried both romantic as well as realistic verses.

Woh sabz khet ke us paar ik chalan ke pas
Karakti dhoop men baithi hai ek charvahi
Pare chatan se pagdandion ke jaalon men
Bhatakta phirta hai woh ek naujawan rahi



During the pre-Partition days, he edited 'Adab-e-Latif. After 1947, PWA 's activity surged and they started magazine "Savera" which he edited for a year. The same year his second book of poetry "Jalal-o-Jamal" appeared which contained his poems from early days to 1947. It was a voluminous book and carried all of his poems irrespective their quality. Thus his stature as a short story writer got more boost because he had by the time of the partition already published as many as six books of short stories. From 1946 to 1948 Qasmi served in Radio Pakistan and ironically his writings remained banned for Radio for nearly fifteen years thereafter. During this period he became active in PWA and started his own magazine "Naqoosh" which was edited by Qasmi and Hajira Masroor. The magazine was banned after it published Manto's famous story "Khol Do". Later on it reappeared under the editorship of Syed Waqar Azim,a politically neutral writer. The period between the fifties and sixties was very hard for progressive writers. During this period, Qasmi and Faiz and other writers were in and out of jail many times.

 

 

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He had a comparatively peaceful period between 1953 and 1958 when he edited daily 'Imroz'. This newspaper was being edited by famous intellectual Maulana Chiragh Hasan Hasrat whom Qasmi replaced. He wrote its humorous column as well. Then in October 1958 Iskandar Mirza and Ayub Khan staged a coup in the country and the first to be hauled up were socialist writers. Progressive Papers Ltd was taken over by the government under the direct supervision of Qudratullah Shahab, the then secretary to the president and all the top men from both English and Urdu papers of this organisation were either sent home or made to resign. So did Qasmi who did not like to be dictated in writing editorials. He was imprisoned and there again began a bad patch in his life. By then he had produced another four books of short stories and a book of poetry called "Shola-e-Gul". The decade from fifty to sixty was the most  productive period of Qasmi's literary output when he wrote masterpieces like Parmeshar Singh Gandasa, Alhamdolilla, Raees Khana, Kanjri Hiroshima se pehle Hiroshima ke baad etc. In poetry though his better poetry was yet to come in Dasht-e-Wafa but in Shola e-Gul, he wrote some inspiring poems like Insan azim hai khudaya (O', God the man is great) or Root bekran to nahin (The night is not everlasting).

His book "Dasht-e-wafa" published in the peak days of Ayub Khan's dictatorship was acclaimed by critics and public alike and he was awarded Adamji Literary Prize.

People who knew his long struggle for socialism thought that he would not accept this award being associated with the name of a capitalist. But he accepted it because the award was not coming directly from the capitalist but through the Pakistan Writers Guild. Dasht-e-Wafa carries some of his poems written during imprisonment

Kunj-e- zindan men para sochta hun
Kitna dilchasp rtaiara hoga Yeh salakhon men chamakta hua chand


Tere angan men bhi nikla hoga Qasmi's works have been translated into many languages including English, Russian, Czech, Chinese, Japanese, Bangali Marathi etc. Though a socialist Qasmi has always taken an independent stance and declined many invitations from the former Union of Soviet Socialisl Republics to visit the country. The reason was that he did not like Russia's policy on Kashmir. However, he visited Peoples Republic of China and wrote inspiring travelogue on his visit. For the last many years, he has distanced himself from hard core activism. He says that over and above all he beheves in Pakistanism. He has been recipient of Pride of Performance which is the highest award for life time achievement. The former award he received from Zia-ul-Haq to the surprise and disappointment of his admirers. He sums up his ideology in these verses:

Hum siyasat se muhabbat ka chalan mangte hen
Shab-e-sahra se magar subhe chaman mangte hen
Kuch nahin mangte hum log bajuizne kalam
Hum to insan ka besakhta pan mante hen



Qasmi Sahib is now writing his autobiography which his fans are eagerly waiting as that will give the details of an eventful life of this living legend of Pakistan.

 

By Dr. Afzal Mirza

 

Work of Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi shared by Salman Siddiqui : Neela Pathar

 

 

Work of Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi shared by Salman Siddiqui : Neela Pathar