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The West and politics of literary canonisation

KARACHI: Two very important discussions on Urdu poetry and fiction set the bar for the rest of the proceedings on the penultimate day of the 9th International Urdu Conference on Saturday.

The first segment was on tradition and the contemporary scenario of Urdu poetry. Dr Yasmeen Sultana spoke on contemporary ghazal which, she said, did not have a single voice.

Nasir Abbas Nayyar focused on poetics of the modern nazm. He said his paper was part of the thesis in one of his forthcoming books. He rejected the notion that modernity or modernism in the poetry written in our region came about as the result of colonialism and before that it did not exist. He said that was not so; modernity was not the domain of the West. It implied, he said, the West could boast of having a civilisation, knowledge and science whereas regions such as Asia and Africa did not have them. That was not the case, he insisted. He argued that the discourse created for the modern nazm had an implied connotation of binary opposites as espoused by Edward Said. The pre-colonial period, he said, meant that before that there was darkness (in our region). This, he inferred, created a politics of literary canonisation.

Mr Nayyar said modernity had nothing to do with a particular culture. To back up his argument, he quoted from Claude Levi-Strauss (the author of The Savage Mind) and Noam Chomsky’s works on the subject. He said it was a wrong notion that only abstract ideas led to the discovery of bigger ideas. He said Chomsky was of the view that the performance of a language was different from its competence; the competence aspect did not borrow or replicate things but achieved a kind of independence from the outside world. He gave examples from the works of Abul A’ala al Ma’ari, Ibn-i-Tufail and Karen Armstrong’s piece on Buddha to show how modern their ideas were. He remarked there were multiple modernities.

Tanveer Anjum talked about prose poetry (nasri nazm) and was of the view that today’s prose poem was in sync with the times we lived in.

Saba Ikram mentioned some of the poets who were contributing to the genre of ghazal.

Ahmed Fawad expressed his views on the issue of the new and the old, and opined that the new came out of the womb of the old.

Yasmeen Hameed read out a paper on contemporary poetry in a new world. She raised the question that what modern was. “How do others perceive what I think is new?” Also, she said, it was difficult to divide the eras in which poetry was created. She asked, when did the contemporary era begin?

Najib Jamal’s topic was the new styles in Urdu poetry. He quoted many a couplet by masters as well as present-day poets.

The second session of the day was on fiction. Shiba Syed said every novel was a complete document in itself. She lamented the type of concepts of culture that historical novels written in Urdu promoted.

Akhlaq Ahmed began his paper by quoting Plato. He said he (Ahmed) had now begun to understand what the philosopher was trying to say when he asked to keep a check on the stories because they (stories) affected people.

Amjad Tufail shed light on the new variations of styles in fiction.

Dr Ziaul Hasan said the short story was an existential narrative not a cultural one, though it encompassed the culture in which that particular existence (wujood) took root.

M. Hameed Shahid spoke on the different trends in Urdu fiction (symbolism, realism and modern).

Dr Najiba Arif said fiction provided one angle to view reality from, which was why while analysing its relation to politics or society, this aspect should not be overlooked.

Zahida Hina, who presided over the session, pointed towards certain omissions that speakers made (Altaf Fatima, Nisar Butt and Zakia Mash’hadi).

Next up was a segment dedicated to the centenary celebrations of distinguished man of letters Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. His daughter Nahid delivered the keynote speech in which she went down memory lane and informed the audience on his personality traits, especially the kind of father he was. She said he used to play hide and seek with her children and would always hide in the unlikeliest of places. She said in the field of literature he encouraged every one whose works he found worth publishing even if he did not know them well.

Qasmi sahib’s grandson Nayyar Qasmi said his father was a creative farmer (takhleeqi dehqaan).

The following two sessions were on the role of cultural institutions in society and Urdu’s literary landscape in other parts of the world. After that, Ahmed Shah moderated a conversation with poet and columnist Ataul Haq Qasmi.

The last two items on the programme’s list were the launch of five books and a mushaira.

courtesy : dawn news



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