It was a period when reading Naseem Hijazi was a craze. His novels Khaak Aur Khoon, Akhari Chattan and Muhammad Bin Qasim, passed hands in the school as secretly as classified documents. Most of the boys in our school believed that the books by this great Urdu novelist that touched our hearts and stirred our minds were banned. We thought that if spotted by snoops and sleuths while reading these novels, we would be thrown out of the school and even jailed. Away from the prying eyes of the boys who we believed could not stomach secrets, we carried them in our school bags deeply embedded under notebooks at their bottom. Fiction reading, particularly Urdu novels, had become part of the culture in our part of the city. Many other Urdu writers were famous in our childhood, but in our part of the city, Naseem Hijazi reigned supreme over the hearts and minds of a whole generation of youth. Today, decades later, I believe these novels taught me that our glorious history and fabulous culture were sinews of our strength, having the potential to take us out of many a predicament.
Books of Nasim Hijazi had carried out what I would like to call coup d’état of epics like Jang Nama, Rustum Suhrab Nama, Sam Nama that book vendors outside all shrines sold. I did admire coloured illustrated covers of these epics that had become part of our folklore. Novel reading was not only popular with youngsters, but some elders were also passionate about reading fiction. But authors like Ghulam Jeelani Barq dominated elders’ literary discourses in our part of the city. I would often see them engaged in fierce discussion over his books. The names of some of his books like Do Quran, Do Islam, Aik Islam and Mun Ki Duniya still live in my memory. I still remember Ghulam Moh-u-Din Naqash, a green turbaned, necktie wearing friend of my uncle, often talking about books of Ghulam Jeelani Barq. Naqash Sahib was a mystic in his own right. His bahtakh at Amira Kadal was visited by many of his followers on Thursday evenings.
I vividly remember that I also tried to go through perhaps Do Quran, but after going through a couple of pages, I was convinced that it was not my cup of tea, and after that, I never touched them. I think my tender mind could not understand the niceties of religion.
There was no top-notch writer in our locality- at least, I did not know any. There, however, were a couple of boring poetasters who mastered the art of parodying some film songs- they often made their presence felt on a barbershop at the main crossing in our Mohalla with their spoofs. Many boys from my birth burg had started writing stories in then prominent Urdu dailies, the Daily Aftab and the Daily Hamdard. After seeing short stories and columns of some of my friends and boys published in the newspaper, I also started dreaming of becoming a writer as good as Abdul Haleem Sharar, Sadiq Hussain Sardhunwi and Naseem Hijazi. I started dreaming of writing stories, ‘balefully direct, with unpleasant truths.’ I was not that good at Urdu as many other friends of mine. I did not also have good handwriting as my brother Muhammad Yusuf, and my ‘shop front’ friend Muhammad Ashraf Gupkari alias M.A. Gupkari had. They wrote as good as master calligraphist Ghulam Nabi Mahajan. He had a bookshop in our Mohalla. The books in the shop, mainly on Urdu literature, were rarely sold. He was a much sought after calligraphist; many newspaper editors, including Ghulam Nabi Khayal and Late Tahir Muztar, regularly visited his shop. I often watched him create art in writing on yellow paper known as ‘mistar’, but I never tried to improve my handwriting.
Encouraged by seeing articles and stories by my friends in print, I inked my ideas and wrote a short story. I titled it “Roushvat Layna Paap Nahi” (corruption is no sin?).
It was the story of a young man who believed that his hard work, merit commitment and dedication were his qualifications for getting a good job. His friends often reminded him that he was an idealist. They told him that his ideas had outlived their lives in a decadent society caught up in the morass of political, moral and material corruption. He would never get a job unless he pays big money to bespectacled tall as poplar officer of the Mohalla. Every Thursday, because of his family lineage, he would be distinctly visible sitting on the hem of the white cloth sheet busy in incantation inside the shrine of his family ancestor. They told him that his rosary was a pretension and a fraud. The young man thinks of revolt, but his poverty reminds him that if he fights against the established set up-, he will not get a job, and his family will starve. So he decides to surrender and become part of the set-up and part of then ‘mainstream’. He makes a statement to his friends, “Corruption is no Sin’, but fighting against it is sinning against yourself’.
The amateurish short story from an amateur got published in the daily Aftab, then most read a newspaper. But, I would have never dared to see myself in print, but for Khawaja Sanaullah, editor of the newspaper publishing my stories during my school and college days.
My first story in print made me popular with some Sarkari Noukar who visited barbers shop for reading newspapers every day before leaving for office. Two office goers who had read the story the next day asked me the same questions: ‘if I was Communist, a leftist and progressive.’
To my young mind, Communist meant infidel. So were three prominent Communists of our locality who were friends of my uncle were considered by people in our Mohalla. I did not understand leftist; to me, left meant left side or left arm. I did not know what progressive meant. I had not heard this word before. I often noticed these two gentlemen squatting inside the shop of a chain-smoking political activist known as Communist in the locality and a supporter of Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq and against Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. He had become more known in the locality after suffering the ordeal of ostracism when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, after his release in 1964, had asked people to boycott members of the Congress party socially- and denounced them as ‘worms of the gutter.’ My friends, my schoolmates and I also pooh-poohed at his shop.
I believe in Allah, and I say regular prayers.’ ‘I replied to them that I was not Communist and not progressive. Saying that was okay, they advised me to read the progressive literature. The next day at barbers shop, one of them presented me a copy of Gorky’s Mother and some glossy magazines.
But, I had already read Gorky’s Mother. I had liked it and loaned it to my friends. We liked it as we liked Naseem Hijazi’s novels.
Z.G.Muhammad is a noted writer and columnist