Mustansar Hussain Tarar - A vagabond writer
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

NOT only is Mustansar Hussain Tarar a familiar face in the television screen,he is also a publishers delight. Although more popular as a travel writer, with many best-sellers (to his credit like K-2 Kahani and Yaak Saraay.

Tarar refuses to be classified "I write what and when I feel like. I never think what audience I am writing for. My stories develop in the direction that I lead them to. I am not driven by papular demand. That my writings click with the readers is a different matter.'

But bestselling authors are often accused of producing what is reader friendly, sometimes compromising too much on popular demand "Well I do try to keep in mind that the message through my writings is put well across. I don't agree with writers who write for themselves and expect the readers to come up to their intellectual level - I can choose to be quite verbose but I don't want to do that. I don't lock symbols tightly either so that reader is not able to decipher them."

A recipient of the Pride of Performance Award, Tarar makes no bones about the fact that he never aspired to become a writer though reading was always his passion.

"I wrote my first couplet in grade six. The habit of being too descriptive runs in mv family If you ask my motherr or aunt what's for dinner, they will tell you a long story starting from how they went to the market, what vegetables were bought and how they were cooked. I have been nurtured in that environment and am also  very inspired bv it-" Much against his desire to be considered a writer and not be categorized, people have acclaimed him more for his travclogues.

"In 1957 when I was in England, I had the experience of going to Moscow. I was the first Pakistani to have crossed the iron curtain and my passport was issued by the Soviet Union - On my return, Majeed Nizami who was then the correspondent of an Urdu daily newspaper, approached me to write a report on my trip to the Soviet Union. I told him that my Urdu was very weak and my English wasn't dependable either But he still badgered me to write and so I did.

The series of articles was titled "London se Moscow Tak" and was published in the prestigious Qandeel which was a weekly magazine.This was one of my first stints in writing .

Among his first travelogues were Niklalay Teri Talash Mein, Khandabdosh and Undulus Mein Ajnabi which not only launched him as a travel writer but were also considered trendsetters in travelogues. "In 1969 I travelled and hitch-hiked through 17 countries over a period of one year. On, my return I felt the need to write more."

Why are readers hooked onto his travelogues? "People say that I tend to decorate or ornate them I find that to be true. I have travelled extensively which I feel gives me an edge over other travelogue writers. Having read many other such authors like Ibne Tnsha, Riazuddin.etc ,I realized that they could not be technically called travelogue authors as they had not travelled extensively, which I have, like a vagabond. I have always tried to feel the nuances of an area I was writing about. I have hitch-hiked which I feel was also important lo portray the minor details of the area. But with my broadcast media training that demands succinctness and coherence, I tend to sieve through the details I want to include in the text. I try not spilling over my whole diary on to the travelogue. I also don't believe in including details like how I stood in long queues to obtain a visa for a particular country or what I ate for lunch and how much it costs me. If I did that then I wouldn't be any different from an accountant whose job is to maintain records. As a writer I try to go beyond, for instance, the height or length of mountains.

"Contemporary travelogues on the other hand, seem to be description? If mountains, streams, flowers and stones. I remember reading somewhere that Imam Ghazali once said that when a dervish takes to the jungle, paraphernalia like the trees, etc. converse with him as he does with them.

I have written prolifically about the mountains as I feel that they talk to me and always have a new dimension to offer me when I see them.

This reciprocity, which Tarar shares in his travelogues, is a physical spirituality that he experi¬ence? It is an achievemenl on his part that his experience is also shared on a common wavelength by his readers. And this hasn't developed overnight. "Having written ficltion for almost 15 years, my readers and I have developed a bond ihat seems to be refreshed with every new book that I write, whether it is a travelogue, a novel or short stories. I have written about my family, my children, even the women that I met in the past — all this sustains interest and also lets readers relate to my writings. Unlike many other writers who live like hermils, detached from their readers and sending literature down as morsels for readers".

He has written almost 12 travelogues on the northern areas. Ratti Gali being the recent and some on Nepal. He is currenily working on a travelogue on India.

Tarar does lament that his novels and short stories have been overshadowed. Pyar ka Pehla Sheher was a novel that Tarar dabbled with which was a well received effort "I remember receiving threatening letters by readers about the protagonist of the novel who had left the heroine.

"This novel earned him his bread and butter. "Being a regular tax-payer, I can confidently claim that the book is running its 46th edition. My other books have also seen many runs-He wrote a novel called Gypsy and then Bahia which he remembers as a turning point in his life. That was when people began to acknowledge him also as a novelist. " I had a feeling that this novel will be appreciated." His next novel was Raakh which won him the Prime Minister's Award, and then Qurbat-i-Marg Meim Mahabbat, which Tarar explains, talk about the decline of civilization with the drying up of three major rivers of Pakistan. Qila Jungi was based on the Afghan war which was not received well. Daakia aur Jolaha is his recent effort.

Tarar feels that the writers of today are not giving readers what they want "Many argue that there are no readers today. I contend that there are no substantial writers these days. If the reader is not reading a writer, there has to be a problem with the way he writes. You cannot blame the reader for not being at par with your intellectual level. Secondly, ever since the price of books has increased, the reader is forced to become selective. In the past, people used to read a lot of books and the price of a book was not phenomenal either. The consciousness for the literary content of a piece of literature has also risen. People once used to read an author, good or bad. Today the reader tries to extract value from the money he has spent. If an author does not give him his money's worth, the reader moves on to another choice. So there is also a big challenge for the writer to maintain quality and content for the reader to keep a sustained interest in his writings.

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Once, while passing through Chamberlain Road, I was flabbergasted to find him sitting a shop Kissan Seed Store. I worn tied what such an articulate fellow was doing in that rustic environment. So I stopped by and he told me that this was his family business and those days he was looking after his father's interest. He offered me tea and we chatted for a while before I begged leave. One fine evening a few months later, I saw him acting in one of the plays being aired on TV, and then I thought he was headed for the most appropriate quarters. Soon he started compering TV programmes and became a celebrity in his own right With this he continued writing and his first novel, Pyar ka Pehla Shehr, appeared in 1972. In this and a few subsequent novels like Gypsy etc., he could not come out of die spell of travelogue writing and these appeared to be extensions of his travelogues. However, he flabbergasted every body by writing Bahao and Raakh. Though the latter novel bagged him awards, Bahao had its own dimension. It was praised by Quratulain Haider also.

Tarar is reminded of a painter, who was fed up with his contemporaries and used to ask him as to why his paintings sold like hot cakes. "He said that a creative and fortunate painter also creates some fools for himself. By creating fools I don't mean anything derogatory but the fact that there comes a liee when the reader and the writer share a common plane. I feel that I have achieved that with my readers.

Bestselling literature may not necessarily be great literature but it cannot be dismissed as bad literature either.

Bestselling writers these days include Krishan Chander, Manto, Ismat Chughtai, Quratul Ain Hyder, Bedi, elc. Their books are still big sellouts and people even purchase their pirated versions. Garcia Marque is a widely read author and also a great writer. Writers who still see their books perched on shelves in shops should rethink the way they write stories."

A combination of a media person and a prolific wriler. Mustansar Hussain Tarar has also been contributing columns in English which he feels have drawn much attention.

Birth: March 1,1939 in Lahore
Awards: Pride of Performance, Prime   Minister's Award and Farogh-i-Urdu
Selected works: Khanabadosh, Dayo   Saai,  Barfeeli  Bulundian, Pakhero (Punjabi novel). Ratti Gali

Written by Dr. Sumera S. Naqvi

Work of Mustansar Hussain Tarar shared by Salman Siddiqui : Pyar ka Pehla Shehar