Intezar Hussain

Intezaar Hussain

An eminent Urdu fiction writer who writes short stories and novels, and also columns for newspapers in English.

Order of the day

I called a friend in Karachi the other day to ask how he was doing. He responded with a verse from Ghalib which talks of a sea of blood in front and fears of worse to come. Asked about the government’s efforts to prevent further aggravation, he read another verse by Ghalib complaining of the confusion caused by new rules being announced every day. You may not find the couplet in Ghalib’s Dewan. It is one of those verses buried in his letters describing what Delhi was going through after the 1857 Mutiny was put down. Soon after this friend ...

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Fasting in times of load shedding

Past Shab-e-Barat, brace yourself for the month of fasting. Actually, Shab-e-Barat is a festival in name only. Its real significance is to usher in Ramazan. The halvas you are treated to, point to the imminence of thirty testing days followed by thirty rewarding evenings. The mandatory fast, requiring that one neither eat a morsel nor take a sip of drink for a whole day, is a test in itself. It’s a vivid reminder of the nature of hunger and thirst. It is only at the end of a day of fasting that one fully appreciates food and drink as God’s great ...

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Buried under forewords

I have received a strange book of poetry. I started reading it: a foreword, a second foreword and another foreword. After that, yet another foreword. What kind of poetry can it be, I wondered, to need so many prefaces (and where is it hiding). The book is called Satre Nau, the author is Manzar Hussain Akhtar. Having encountered several forewords one after the other I thought maybe these were originally written for separate books and have now been compiled in a single volume. But then I turned another page and to my surprise came upon poetry. Why, I wondered, should poetry ...

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Of Shab-e-Barat fun

What a blessed festival our Shab-e-Barat is – or was. Let’s forget the bloodletting going on all around us for a while and the games people play around it and talk about the colourful lights associated with the festival – about its phuljharis (sparklers), mehtabis (flares), anars and patakhas (crackers). But today the Shab-e-Barat characterised by these fireworks is no more than a memory. It’s a sign of the times that the festivals that used to bring fun and happiness to Pakistani children are now so devoid of joy. What little remains, faces an imminent threat of an edict declaring it ...

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Smart power: Mango diplomacy and Khar

I said I wanted to write about our Chaunsa Diplomacy and was reminded that the accepted phrase for the season’s initiative was Mango Diplomacy. I still prefer Chaunsa Diplomacy, Chaunsa being the only variety amongst Pakistani mangoes to have been allowed market access in America. Also, I believe it sounds more native and therefore implies credit and ownership for the policy where it is due. And why have I not written about the new tint our diplomacy is taking vis a vis India? I can say that from the foreign minister’s purse to her blue scarf, the subject has been beaten ...

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Karachi violence: Murder on their mind

Several decades ago I read in an issue of the Time magazine about a murder in the woods somewhere probably in Ireland that frightened the song birds into silence. For nearly ten years no bird was heard chirping in the forest. For some days now I have been haunted by the report which I mentioned in a column in the good old days. When I visit Lawrence Gardens, the city’s central park, in the morning the thought that the birds continue to sing despite the many murders all around us is disturbing. Could it be that the birds here have grown ...

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Of surprising autobiographies

I am used to meeting Nathu, the mechanic, at the filling station where I get fuel for my car. He mends punctured tyres. One day he requested that I teach him how to write. “I am okay at reading. Writing is my only weakness,” he told me. I asked why he wanted to learn to write. “I want to write my autobiography,” he said. “An autobiography? Is that what you want to write?” I asked. “Yes sir,” he said. “I have been through a lot. When I am done writing, you’ll be amazed with the things I come out with.” It registered then how trends ...

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Saudi rights: Driving as feminist expression

Do the ladies who drive around in fast cars in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi have any idea of the day and age they live in? Let them just visit Saudi Arabia and see how every woman found driving a car gets arrested for it. The Arab ladies, however, have chosen to make a women’s liberation issue of it. They are not stopping. A feminist acquaintance of mine, who had always greeted me with some taunt or other about ‘your male chauvinist Pakistan’, told me today she was so happy with how liberal the country was. Alarmed, I asked for an ...

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Romancing the ordinary

The column last week about mangoes and jamuns got some unexpected attention. Qasim Jafri remembered and has shared several verses about mangoes by the late Syed Muhammad Jafri. Another friend, who read the column in translation, called just to hear Iqbal’s verse referred to in it. Yet another wanted to know more about the significance of Aung San Suu Kyi’s relish for jamuns. To answer the latter, let me refer to a short story by Krishan Chander. The protagonist, an artist, is described as having a romantic bent. Accordingly, the narrative about his romantic love proceeds. However, the story ends with ...

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June 13, 2011
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MF Hussain: A barefoot artist

From London we have received the report of painter MF Hussain’s death. He had been an unwelcome man in the country of his birth ever since he painted some nudes representing certain Hindu deities. He had been a globetrotter of sorts for quite some time but when he left India this time the doors were firmly shut on his return. I am reminded here of Ghalib’s verse he used for the opening of his memoir: The blisters in my weary feet had starting bothering me, it’s nice therefore to notice that the path ahead is quite thorny. The barefoot painter had long ...

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