Annual issue 2018
Karachi is like an onion. The more you peel, the more you reveal. Karachi not only has a thriving literary scene, but a number of organisations work actively to promote literature in various Pakistani languages. Prior to Partition, literary activities in Karachi revolved around the two, then native languages of the city – Sindhi and Balochi. With an influx of Urdu-speaking migrants at Partition and the exodus of the city’s Sindhi Hindus, the situation changed. Karachi evolved into a centre of activity for the promotion of Urdu language and literature. Today, only a handful of the older groups promoting Sindhi and Balochi literature survive, but new organisations have sprung up over the decades, reflecting a multi-lingual city and people.
Sindhi Adabi Sangat is one of the older organisations that continues to thrive. An organisation of the poets and writers of Sindhi language, it is the largest literary body in Pakistan. It was founded in Karachi in the spring of 1947, but could not sustain its activities during the turbulent Partition years. It was successfully revived in 1952 by Noor-ud-din Sarki and Abdul Ghafoor Ansari. Its activities were then extended to other districts of Sindh, and it now has 130 branches across all districts of Sindh. Karachi has two weekly gatherings, one at the Arts Council Karachi every Thursday and the other at Gulshan-e-Hadeed every Sunday.
Ameen Magsi, information secretary of the Karachi chapter of the Sindhi Adabi Sangat, says, “We have literary gatherings across Sindh, a chapter in Islamabad, and an international chapter in Toronto. The Sangat holds sittings for literary activities every week in all the chapters; it also organises different events such as book launches, anniversaries, condolence references and functions to celebrate the works of literary personalities.”
Elections are held in December every year for organisational positions to oversee Sangat activities.
In the aftermath of Partition, Karachi became home to people who migrated from different parts of India, and brought with them their language and literature. Urdu gained ascendancy, as most of the new migrants were Urdu-speaking, and Karachi evolved into a centre of activity for the promotion of Urdu language and its literature.
A pre-Partition organisation, the Anjuman-e-Taraqqi Pasand Musanifeen (Progressive Writers Association), started by left-leaning poets and writers, was revived a couple of years ago, and it occasionally conducts events in Karachi. The Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq, another literary organisation, established in the 1940s by independent poets and writers after they fell out with the Anjuman, has a Karachi chapter, established in the ’50s. The Karachi chapter has held weekly sittings every Tuesday evening since it was reactivated six years back by renowned author, intellectual and head of the Urdu Dictionary Board Karachi, Aqeel Abbas Jafri, along with other literary figures. The organisation has around 60 members and a five-member organisational committee. Jafri served as the secretary for two years, to be replaced by poet and novelist, Syed Kashif Raza.
Rafaqat Hayat, author of the critically acclaimed Urdu novel Meerwah ki Raatain, says, “We had weekly gatherings at the Arts Council Karachi in the early years, but since the Arts Council developed a range of its own activities and events, we needed another venue. Officials in the Directorate of Electronic Media and Publications, Pakistan Secretariat Karachi, kindly offered us their hall for our weekly gatherings.”
A schedule of the weekly meetings and activities of the Halqa is publicised on social networking sites, and text messages are sent to members. Participation is free, anyone can walk in. In these meetings, poets and writers present their work for review and criticism by the participants. Regular visitors with minimum attendance of 10 sessions and two presentations in these meetings are eligible for membership, which is offered every year before or after the elections.
“Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq represents and showcases literary works without any specification of language or territory. Its doors are open for people with literary interests, irrespective of form and language. Essays on literary works in Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Marwari, Balochi, Hindko, Hindi, and many other languages are read; poets in these languages have presented their poetry; essays about their works are read by the participants,” says Syed Kashif Raza, poet and novelist, and a member of the Halqa’s organisational committee. “Also, literary personalities are remembered and condolence references held. A meeting was held in December, for example, to acknowledge the works of Karachi-based Pashto poet, Riyaz Tasneem, who passed away on December 4. In November, a meeting was held in appreciation of the works of distinguished Sindhi scholar and educationist, Ibrahim Joyo, after his demise on November 9 at the age of 102.”
Syed Mehtab Shah, a Hindko writer, actor and filmmaker, is a member of the Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq and participates in the weekly gatherings. Mehtab has the unique honour of making the first ever Hindko feature film, titled Chachi jull Karachi, which narrates the story of economic migrants coming to Karachi from Hazara division and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Mehtab shot his film just a few weeks before the tragic earthquake of October 8, 2005, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in Hazara Division and Azad Kashmir.
Mehtab Shah’s book of short stories in Hindko, Mahtabyaan, was well received. He has been writing Hindko plays and stage dramas since the ’80s, when he came to Karachi, which, incidentally is home to a huge population of Hindko speakers.
With growing industrialisation, Karachi attracted economic migrants from Punjab, KP, FATA and the Pashtun districts of Balochistan, along with refugees from Afghanistan, bringing the Punjabi, Seraiki, Pashto, and Hindko languages to the city. The Pashtun influx, which started in the ’60s during the Ayub era, has grown to the extent that they now constitute the city’s biggest labour force, and one of the largest ethnic groups in the city. Their localities in Karachi, mostly at the peripheries and surrounding the industrial estate, are clearly identifiable as Pashtun. The people who moved here brought along their own culture, food, traditional dresses, music and literary gatherings. Their icons are visible in the city and multiple replicas of the Khyber Pass can be spotted in outlying areas of Karachi. The Pashtuns have named some of these localities after their native places, like Swat Colony, Gulshan-e-Buner, Pathan Colony, Frontier Colony, Afridi Colony and Mansehra Colony.
An aspect of the culture they have brought along is the tradition of Majlis, a gathering of amateur musicians who can play the Rabab, a stringed instrument, and Mangay, somewhat like a tabla. At these gatherings, amateur singers depict folk tales and poetic genres such as Tappa, Charbait and Landai. Young Pashtun poets have emerged in Karachi who reflect on their lives in their poetic compositions, in another custom adopted by them, the Mushaira.
In the initial years, these gatherings were random and held at different places. In 1986, Fazal Khaliq Ghamgeen, a poet who ran a tea stall at Banaras Chowk, Shah Wali Saidu Waal, a poet and calligrapher of Pashto, and three other poets, Jameel Dad Nashad, Jalbal Ashnaghar and Raza Khan Nataar, came together to found the Ittefaq Pukhto Adabi Tolana (United Pashto Literary Organisation).
In the early ’90s, Tahir Afridi who brought out a Pashto quarterly, Jaras from Karachi, formed a literary organisation by the same name. Jaras’ approach was different, as it aimed to promote Pashto literature, irrespective of political and ideological leanings. Although the quarterly shut down, the literary organisation continues with monthly sittings held on the first Sunday of every month at the Frere Hall Park.
In 1992, another organisation, the Loya Pukhto Adabi Jirga (greater Pukhto literary gathering) was founded in Landhi by poets and writers from adjacent localities. Sarwar Shumal, Syed Rehman Toofan, Zalan Yousufzai, and Fazal Qadeem Ghamgeen were among the founders. It was later renamed Pukhto Adabi Cultoori Latoon.
In later years, various other organisations were founded; Drana Pukhto Adabi Jirga in Keamari Town now functions under its new name, Pak Pukhto Adabi Tehreek. In De Silva town, North Nazimabad, Zar Jan Mada Khai runs Torghar Pukhto Adabi Karwan, while Arshad Khan Sangar founded Ranra Pukhto Adabi Tolana. In Qasba Colony, Syed Ahmed Gul has Qalam Pukhto Adabi Jirga, and in Banaras there is Swat Pukhto Adabi Jirga.
Sagar Tanqidee, the president of Ittefaq Pukhto Adabi Tolana, a published poet, bureau chief of the Pashto political magazine Leekwal, published from Peshawar, and a jeweller by profession, has a shop in Karachi’s Frontier Colony with his nameplate in the Pashto script. Sagar Tanqidee cites the expansion of the city and great distances between Pashtun localities as a reason for the formation of these organisations. “Whenever we have bigger events, such as book launches, commemorating literary personalities, holding condolence references, or organising grand Mushairas, the various organisations join hands and coordinate with each other,” he says.
Lyari, the oldest settlement in Karachi and home to the native Baloch, has always served as the heart and soul of political activities, and its political personalities, social reformers and literary figures have played a great role in social and political movements. The history of labour and workers’ unions in Lyari dates back to the colonial era, as do the literary movements in the Balochi language that originated in Lyari.
During the colonial era, in the 1930s, Lyari had a periodical, Al-Baloch, published by Waja Ghulam Nooruddin in Urdu and Balochi, and another bilingual political magazine, Balochistan Jadeed, published by Naseem Talvi.
After Partition, the first ever Balochi literary magazine, Aumaan, was published from Lyari in 1951 by Khair Muhammad Nadvi and Maulana Muhammad Hussain Ajiz under the aegis of the Baloch Educational Society. Baloch writers from Karachi, Balochistan, Afghanistan and Iran contributed to the magazine. It was published for 11 years, but was banned after it published the Daad Shah Story. Daad Shah was a rebel who was killed while fighting against Reza Shah Pehlavi in Iran.
In June 1956, a prominent progressive Baloch writer, Abdul Wahid Azad Jamaldini, the elder brother of Abdullah Jan Jamaldini, another prominent Baloch intellectual, started a political magazine in Balochi, Mahtaag. It published original works and translations of international literature in Balochi. Azad Jamaldini, along with other progressive Baloch social and political figures like Akbar Barakzai and Lal Baksh Rind, laid the foundation of the Balochi Academy in Lyari, which published many books. Later, it shifted to Quetta, where the Balochi Academy is still active and has made valuable additions to Balochi literature.
Comrade Wahid Baloch, a publisher and former editor of Balochi periodicals, narrates the history of Balochi language publications and literary organisations in Lyari, Malir and Faqir Colony. Wahid Baloch himself has participated in these activities since the ’70s and is able to reel off the names of all Balochi publications, periodicals, and literary organisations.
He recalls the ’80s, when the Azad Jamaldini Academy in Lyari was founded, which also brought out a monthly magazine. He said that fortnightly literary gatherings of Balochi poetry and writings titled Tanqeedi Deewan were held under the Azad Jamaldini Academy.
“There was Awami Adabi Anjuman, run by Noor Muhammad Sheikh, which held its Tanqeedi Deewan in Lyari, and later shifted it to the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) Hall, where it still holds its monthly gatherings on the last Tuesday of every month.”
Comrade Wahid continues: “There is also a Lyari Literary Forum run by Majeed Baloch and Imran Fakhir. The Mistag Foundation was established six months ago and has published a book on Ustad Abdus Satar, a Baloch musician. There is not a single Baloch artist, musician or singer who has not been a disciple of Ustad Abdus Satar. In other Baloch localities of Malir and Orangi Town, we have similar activities. The well known Syed Hashmi Reference Library in Malir was established by prominent Baloch intellectual and literary figure, the late Saba Dashtiari. The library has a trove of books and publications on Balochi literature, and also conducts Balochi language classes every year during school vacations.”
Ameen Zaamin, a student of Karachi University’s Philosophy department, lives in Faqir Colony. He has served as visiting faculty in a government college in Turbat, Balochistan. Author of four books on philosophy in Balochi, Zaamin is the former president of the Balochi literary gathering, Nokap Labzanki Deewan, established in 2006 in Faqir Colony, Orangi Town.
Zaamin explains, “Nokap is a literary gathering, as the name suggests, but it has not restricted its debates and gatherings to the Balochi language. Other literary works which could be read and understood by our members were also presented for our learning, understanding and discussion.
“Nokap is a small organisation, we know our limitations, and organise small events which we can manage. We recently had our annual gathering in October. We call it Daad Deewan, in which we invite literary figures, and honour their work.”
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order