Four new autobiographies make past come alive

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Rauf Parekh

MUSHTAQ Ahmed Yousufi in the preface to his memoirs Aab-i-gum wrote: “It is the golden era of Urdu fiction. The best Urdu fiction is being written these days — in the form of autobiographies and travel accounts.”

Well, it reminds me of a joke that Amjad Islam Amjad has narrated in one of his books. It says: “Once I was travelling in a bus in a European country. The seat next to me was empty but soon a very attractive young girl occupied it. We exchanged pleasantries and introduced ourselves to each other. After a few minutes she felt sleepy and her head dropped on my shoulder. Upon which I shook her and said ‘listen baby, do not do that. I am a Pakistani indeed, but my name is not Mustansar Hussain Tarar’. ”

But it is all in lighter vein and this is not to say that Mustansar Hussain Tarar’s travel accounts are as ‘imaginative’ as fiction. Also, not all Urdu travelogues are part of ‘best fiction’, though a few of Urdu travel accounts written some 40 years ago were considered ‘stranger than fiction’. Dr Anwer Sadeed in his research work on Urdu travel accounts has mentioned a couple of travelogues that are fakes, for instance, ‘Paris 205 kilometres’.

A travel account can easily be accused of fictionalising the events but autobiography is a genre that is ever in more danger of becoming ‘imaginative non-fiction’ because there can hardly be a few witnesses. As for travelogues, as Colonel Muhammad Khan has put it, nowadays almost every other reader has travelled abroad and travelogues written these days cannot be studded with those “beautiful, little lies” that used to adorn the travelogues in the past. A person writing an autobiography also runs the risk of becoming ‘hero’ of the book and the account of life events can be dubbed as too egocentric. But the problem with an autobiography is that the author has to be the main character, notwithstanding the fact that the repetition of ‘I’ can sometimes mar an otherwise brilliant piece of writing.

According to Dr Syed Abdullah, a good autobiography is the one that narrates the events of one’s life candidly and without any tall claims. A good autobiography, then, can offer a whole new world between the covers as it not only describes a person’s life events and the wisdom that he or she might have gathered along the way, but it also presents the vivid scenes from the historical, political and cultural arenas. Recently, we have seen a renewed interest in autobiographies among the authors of Urdu and during the last few months at least four new autobiographies in Urdu have been published. They are:Zindagi nama. Just published by Media Graphics, Karachi, it is Prof Haroon-ur-Rasheed’s autobiography. A veteran scholar, poet, fiction writer and academic, Haroon-ur-Rasheed was born on July 3, 1937 in Calcutta (now Kolkata). An author of at least 22 books, he spent his early life in East Bengal and then in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). After the fall of Dacca (now Dhaka), he was arrested and could migrate to Karachi only after enduring great hardships. The book narrates the events of the tragedy of 1971 in simple, plain but very impressive style. The book introduces many writers and poets of Urdu who lived in East Pakistan. Prof Haroon-ur-Rasheed is still actively pursuing his literary and academic interests.

Awaz-i-pa. It is by senior journalist, columnist, humorist and fiction writer Najm-ul-Hasan Rizvi. Born on April 23, 1943, in a village situated in Azamgarh district, UP, Mr Rizvi migrated to Pakistan in 1947 with his parents. Having obtained a master’s degree from Karachi University in journalism, he first joined the PPA (now PPI). He later worked for Morning News, the press information department and Khaleej Times. In addition to experiences gained in the world of journalism, the book narrates many anecdotes and introduces many authors and celebrities. Mr Rizvi’s style is lively and his sense of humour is able to see the lighter side of events, some of which may be tragic. Some rare photographs adorn the book published by Karachi’s Academy Bazyaft.

Kahan kahan se guzar gae. Looking through the eyes of a woman at an era gone by can be an exhilarating and saddening experience at the same time. But until the latter half of the 20th century, the autobiographies written by women were not very common in Urdu. During the last few decades, however, many women writers penned their autobiographies and reading them is quite an experience. The latest addition to the list is Hamra Khaleeq’s autobiography. Born on April 8, 1938, in Delhi, Hamra Khaleeq is a fiction writer, translator and playwright. Titled Kahan kahan se guzar gae and published by Lahore’s Saanjh Publications, her autobiography makes one see the world from a different angle and one realises that in our society being a woman means being in a disadvantageous position.

Hava ke dosh par. Its writer Dr Feroze Alam was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India, on Oct 13, 1945. After independence, the family migrated and settled in Mirpurkhas, Sindh. Coming from a lower middle class family, he could only dream of higher education but somehow he finished his education and lived a successful life. He lives in California these days. His autobiography — published from Karachi by Bazm-i-Takhleeq-i-Adab and aptly subtitled Aik aam aadmi ki dastan-i-hayat (the life story of a common man) — is in fact the story of his journey from poverty to success, from Mirpurkhas to California.

Rauf Parekh, “Four new autobiographies make past come alive,” in Dawn, August 10, 2015. Accessed on August 23, 2015, at:

The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on August 10, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on August 23, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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