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Hajira Masroor: Bold & Beautiful

The literary reference for eminent progressive writer Hajira Masroor (1930-2012) was a befitting tribute to a writer who was one of the architects of modern Urdu fiction. As some one who followed in the footsteps of Ismat Chugtai, Hajira Masroor also stunned the fiction readers with some of her short stories in the 70s. She proved to be quite a bold and intimate portrayer of the middle-class Muslim middle-class of Northern India, which was fed on Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi's Bhashti Zaiwar.

This popular book reflected the view point of upper middle-class towards its womanfolks. In the first half of the 20th Century, its influence sought that only those Muslim women deserved veneration who didn't challenge male chauvinism and regarded their husbands as the demigods.

The women of the early days of Islam were eloquent and worldly-wise. They could trade. They could participate in religious wars as nurses and medical attendants. They could keep their fathers' names as their surnames. The surnames of historian Tibri and Imam Taimya show but in the northern India even women writers couldn't write under their original names. Names such Ze Khe Sheen and Noon Khatoon were the proofs of their reverence to the male-chauvinism of those days. If one goes through the files of monthly Ismat one will come across many acronyms to prove my point.

Ismat Chugtai and Dr Rahseed Jahan of Angarey were the torch-bearer of women's awakening. They showed that they could also express their feelings which were thought to be well expressed when they were not expressed or were, at best, muffled. The case of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras women was a bit different, Atiya Faizi, Begum Tayyabji, Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz and Shaista Suhrawardy could be cited as some examples who came out of the Purdah and asserted but it was for themselves.

Hajira Masroor and her sister Khadija Mastur belonged to a noble middle-class family of Lucknow but they were also purdah-compliant when they entered the progressive literary circles of Bombay. They gave vent to the muffled voice of middle-class women and tried to portray the lives they had to live. They portrayed even sexual repression they suffered from in a discreet manner. It was unbearable for those readers who treated sex as a forbidden subject. They were hypocrites to a fault.

Manto was man enough to express whatever he wanted to express, but the women writers were thought to be indulging in pornography if they discussed it the way Ismat did or Hajra suggested through one of her characters whether marriage was necessary for the satisfaction of sexual urges. The reference organised by the PWA, Karachi, Hajira was one of whose patrons was addressed by Dr Jamal Naqvi, Secretary of the Karachi PWA, Mumtaz Mahar, a well-known Sindhi writer and critic, Firdous Haider, a short story writer, Saba Ikram, a well known poet and short story writer and this writer. Dr Naveed Ahmed Tahir, former Director of the Area Study Centre for Europe, Karachi University also spoke.

Dr Naveed being the elder daughter of Hajira Masroor said that it was very different for her to speak about her mother. She said that she was more of a friend than a mother and believed in forthrightness and fair play. This trait, she thought, may not have been liked by some but she didn't care when it came to express her opinion on some issues.

Hajira Masroor belonged to the third generation (Teesri Peehri) of modern Urdu fiction.

Her other peers in this group are Jogender Paul, Ramlal, Ashfaq Ahmed and Quratul ain Haider.

Hajira Masroor has left behind a number of books besides her two daughters. Her stories Chiragh Ki Lau Per, Sargoshian, Chand Ki Doosri Taraf, Paurana Masih, Othi, Hai Allah, and Chori Chupey will keep her alive in Urdu fiction. She will also be remembered as the co-editor of Urdu's monumental magazine 'Naqoosh' along with Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi.

Politician-writers The idea is good. Generally it is thought that Urdu literature doesn't have many writers who have contributed to Prison literature. Starting with Maulvi Syed Muhammad Baqar, father of Muhammad Husain Azad, who for his pro-Bahadur Shah Zafar attitude in his Dehli Urdu Akhbar, was charged with sedition and done away with. Then we have to wait for Hasrat Mohani, Maulana Muhammad Ali Johar, Abdul Kalam Azad, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Maulana Mazharuddin Shaheed, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and Ahmed Bashir etc-etc who made a name for being forthright and critical in circumstances, which warranted restraint and squeamishness. The list is not complete but what distinguishes the above list is the fact that all of them were men of letters. Now-a-days there are very few writers who are professional journalists. Their names can be counted on finger-tips.

The book I am discussing in this column has been penned by Muhammad Khawar Nawazish. The name of the book is Mashahir-i-Adab, Kharzar-i-Siasat mein. The writer has confined himself to writers who entered politics and made a name for themselves by enriching literature. Those writers include Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, father of Urdu Journalism, Maulana Johar, Maulana Azad, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Habib Jalib.

This is the first authoritatively written book on the subject as a M.Phil research thesis under the supervision of Dr Anwar Ahmed of Bahauddin Zikriya University Multan. A university thesis has to pass through many academics before the grant of the degree. Hence it has to have some substance.

I am happy that Dr Muhammad Khawar Nawazish has produced a well-written and well-researched thesis and the National Language Authority has lived up to its reputation by publishing it. The selections from the literary works of the writers discussed in this book make it quite a pleasant reading.

Dr Muhammad Khawar Nawazish belongs to that category of writers who don't like to be known for their metaphysical approach, resulting in their designed distancing from the politically conscious readers. He has studied each one of writers from the point of difference they made to our lives.

They expected us to do something to make this world a better place to live in. This mission calls for making sacrifices and the more they are made they emerge as the models of courage asking us to follow in their footsteps. I think that this work should have been a Ph.D thesis accommodating many more persons. Examples from other languages could have made it still better and rewarding. However what this book aims at achieving is no less commendable.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2012