The Authors Page introduces classic and contemporary writers from Urdu Literature, aiming to build a data base of biographical information.
List of authors:Ismat Chughtai, Saadat Hasan Manto, Ashraf Suboohi Dehlvi, Quratulain Hyder, Ghulam Abbas.
Ghulam Abbas (1909-1982)
Ghulam Abbas was born on the 17th of November 1909 in Amritsar. He received his early education in Lahore and at a very early age found himself responsible for the welfare of his family after his father ‘s untimely demise. An avid reader and writer, he soon found opportunities to publish translations in several Urdu literary journals in Lahore. By the time he was not quite twenty, writing had become a regular source of income for him. This interrupted his education and it was only years later that he completed his Intermediate degree in 1944 from the Punjab University in Lahore.
He soon became associated with Lahore’s well-known publishing house Darul Isha’at Punjab, established by Maulvi Mumtaz Ali (Imtiaz Ali Taj’s father). From 1928 to 1937, Ghulam Abbas served as the sub editor for the children’s magazine Phool and the women’s magazine Tehzeeb e Niswan. He wrote and translated several stories for children during this time, the most popularly received of which was his translation of Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra.
In 1938 Ghulam Abbas moved to Delhi where he became the editor for All India Radio’s magazine Awaaz. It was during this period that he also wrote his seminal short story Aanandi in 1933. (The story was adapted for the film Mandi by the Indian director Shyam Benegal). He continued to translate many texts and wrote several other original works until in 1948 his first collection of short stories, also titled Aanandi was published. The collection included Iss Hamaam Mein, which proved Ghulam Abbas’ mastery over lengthier stories.
With the creation of Pakistan, Ghulam Abbas moved to Karachi and initiated Radio Pakistan’s magazine Aahung. In 1949 he became associated with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and later with the BBC in London. Upon his return in 1952 he re-joined Radio Pakistan and remained there until his retirement in 1967. He published a collection of his stories Jaaray ki Chaandni in 1960 for which he was earned the Adamjee Literary Award.
In 1969 his third collection of stories Kun Russ was published in Lahore. The story Dhanak was also published in the same year. (This was adapted by Ajoka Theatre in 2011 under the title Hotel Mohen jo Daro). In 1986 the author revised an earlier version of his story Gondni wala Takiya and published it in a book form. In this last phase of his career, he wrote many stories, some of which were not included in any publication and are therefore lesser known. A memorable work from this period, Reengnay Walay was initially published in the journal Naya Daur and has since been published in a collection of Ghulam Abbas’ short stories by Oxford University Press Pakistan in 2013. Other works include Chaand Tara, a collection of poems for children and a selection from the children’s magazine Phool.
In 1967, Ghulam Abas was awarded the Sitara e Imtiaz Award by the Government of Pakistan. In the last years of his life he continued to live in Karachi and was associated several literary projects. A collection of his entire works, Zindagi Naqaab Chehray was compiled and published posthumously in 1984.
Quratulain Hyder calls Ghulam Abbas the ‘empire builder’ of the short story tradition. She describes his style to be distinct in its silent yet confident approach that captures a reader’s attention without relying on overt or sensational approaches.
Ghulam Abbas died in 1982 in Karachi.
The above text has been translated from Asif Farrukhi’s foreward from the book Intekhaab – Ghulam Abbas, compiled by Asif Farrukhi, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Muhammad Hasan Askari’s analysis of Ghulam Abbas as a short story writer clearly distinguishes him for the sense of serenity and restraint in his writing as compared to his younger contemporaries who wrote with a passion to bring change to society. Abbas’ modest approach failed to gain him the popularity that the younger writers received, but this did not deter him from writing powerful works such as Aanandi, which became one of the biggest successes of that period. His meticulous approach lent his style an unmatched strength, resulting in powerfully knit stories that thrived on detail. Inherent in his work was a prevailing sense of atmosphere that enlivened and transformed his accounts. His sense of foresightedness is reflected in Dhanak (1969), a futuristic tale that eerily demonstrates the present day conditions of Pakistan.
Quratulain Hyder (1927-2007)
Quratulain Hyder is regarded as one of the most distinguished writers of the subcontinent. With an immense body of work in her repertoire, Ainee Apa’s (as she was endearingly addressed) published works included novels, novellas, short stories, travelogues, literary criticism, and translations of works from English literature into Urdu as well as translations of her own works into English.
Born on 20 January 1927 in Aligarh, in a family where the appreciation of literature was a given, Quratulain Hyder wrote her first story at the age of eleven. Her father Sajjad Hyder Yildirim was a strong influence on her and her mother Nazre Sajjad Hyder, who was the editor of Phool, a children’s magazine, provided her with literary influences very early in her life. Her great-aunt Akbari Begum initiated the tradition of writing among Muslim women when she wrote a novel in 1898. (1)
Quratulain Hyder also wrote for Phool very initially in her career. She describes the atmosphere in her household as very literary where she grew up familiarised with literary journals such as Nairang e Khayal, Aalamgir and Humayun and met many distinguished writers who interacted with her parents. (2) Her father, Sajjad Hyder, was an enlightened man who expounded his liberal views on the education and welfare of women in essays and stories, and also through various organizations. He was a pioneer short-story writer in Urdu. As an undergraduate, he was the Assistant Editor for a magazine Ma’arif in Aligarh. Her mother Nazar Sajjad, was an equally liberal and socially concerned person who firmly believed in promoting education among Muslim women. She was a writer of fiction and wrote novels and short stories. (3)
“If both your parents and one great aunt have been eminent writers of their time, you grow up in an interesting kind of household. If you also have a near-photographic memory and almost total recall, and a lot of imagination, you can’t help but write, and go on writing for the rest of your life…” (4)
Rakhshanda Jalil describes Quratulain Hyder’s first collection of short stories, Sitaaron say Aagey, (published in 1945), as a work that established two singular qualities about her; “her steadfast refusal to write only on “womanly” subjects and […] her ability to consistently produce […] polished, lyrical prose at a time when poetry held sway. Despite the criticism she faced from the Progressive Writers, she steadfastly pursued her writing with an individuality that dismissed current trends in literature. (5)
Quratulain Hyder attended the Isabella Thoburn College (Lucknow) and graduated from the University of Lucknow with a master’s degree in English Literature. After her father’s demise in 1943, she moved to Pakistan with her mother in 1947. Here she worked on documentary films for the Department of Advertising, Films and Publications, and then went to England where she worked for the BBC. She moved to India in 1961 and worked in Bombay as the managing editor of Imprint and later as the Assistant Editor at the Illustrated Weekly of India. During her illustrious career, she held teaching posts at the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jamia Millia Islamia. (6)
A glance at her works will yield a series of well-known publications that include Mere bhiSanamkhanay, Safina-e-gham-e-dil, Sita Haran, Housing Society,Patjhar ki Awaaz, Agale Janam Mohe Bitiya Naa Keejo, Gardish-e-rang-e-chaman, Fasl-e-gul Aaye ya ajal aye, Kaar-e-jahan daraaz hai and Akhir-e-shab ke humsafar. Her last major work in Urdu, Chaandni Begum was published in 1990 and was followed by her translation of Hasan Shah’s novel The Nautch Girl (1992) and her own My Temples Too (2004). It was her seminal novel Aag ka Darya (1959) that propelled her career as she received tremendous recognition for it. The novel “traces the trajectory of the Indian people from the Mauryan period to modern times. Putting four sub-stories into one gigantic whole, this magnum opus portrays an immense and complex smorgasbord of cultures and identities while remaining true to the spirit of liberal humanism that was the hallmark of both her writing and her personality.” (7) Aag ka Darya has been translated into fifteen Indian languages, including an English translation, River of Fire, by the author herself. (8)
Hyder received numerous awards for her work during her lifetime. These include the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1968 for her collection of short stories Patjhar ki Aawaaz, the Padma Shri in 1984, India’s highest literary honour the Jnanpith Award in 1989, the Sahitya Akademi fellowship in 1994 and one of India’s highest civilian honours, the Padma Bhushan in 2005. (9)
As Rakhshanda Jalil succinctly sums up, “In her ceaseless exploration of the human predicament, past and present, ancient and modern, she was not just the teller of tales and presenter of facts; she was the eternal seeker. Time, for her, was a molten, flowing river, in which she would dive again and again for the grains of mystical truth.” (10)
Quratulain Hyder died in New Delhi on 21 August 2007.
Ashraf Suboohi Dehlvi (1905-1990) Born Syed Vali Ashraf, Ashraf Suboohi is recognised for his short stories, essays, sketches and poetry. The son of Syed Ali Ashrafullah, Suboohi lived in Delhi and later migrated to Lahore after the formation of Pakistan.
He received his education under the tutelage of his father and his uncle Maulvi Bashiruddin Ahmed Dehlvi who inspired his interest in writing. He later studied at the Anglo Arabic School in Delhi and his writing was inspired by his observations of the traditional culture of Jehanabad and its inhabitants.
Suboohi began his employment with the Postal Department in 1928 and worked there for thirty-six years. Unambitious in nature and a recluse at heart, he continued his way of life after migrating to Lahore. Upon retirement he worked for the Hamdard Factory in Lahore and was responsible for organising the Shaam e Hamdard. He spent the last few years of his life in Karachi.
Suboohi is remembered for his amiable personality and lived a simple life with no aspirations for success and fame. It was unfortunate that he did not receive any support for his work in Pakistan and he endeavoured to publish his works on his own expense. His younger brother Syed Vasi Ashraf owned the publishing house Maktaba e Ilm o Adab in India, which published his books. Additionally, his book Delhi ki Chund Ajeeb Hastiyaan was published by Anjuman e Taraqqi e Urdu (India). Bereft of this support in Pakistan, he turned to publishing the second edition of this book in Pakistan on his own initiative and suffered immense financial losses.
Suboohi’s writing career spanned approximately sixty years and his first published work was an introductory essay for Deevaan e Bashir in 1924. He pursued his interest in writing following the encouragement he received for this essay. In 1929 he initiated a literary journal in Delhi under the title Armughan, which was printed by his brother’s publishing house. The journal, which featured the writings of Delhi’s writers and poets, included works by Shaukat Thanvi, Kausar Chaandpuri, Shafiuddin Nayyer and Nasir Nazeer Firaq. During its short-lived but individualistic span the journal also published seminal essays by personalities such as Khwaja Hasan Nizami and Professor Mirza Mehmood Baig. Armughan proved to be Suboohi’s learning ground and while his style matured as a writer he also found opportunities to interact with the writers and poets of Shahjahanabad. When in 1930 Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi introduced the literary journal Saqi, Suboohi decided to abandon Armughan’s publication.
Suboohi’s style that reflected the colloquial language of Delhi and became his recognition is evident in his essay Khwaab tha jo kuch keh dekha, published in Saqi in 1931. The 1940s and 50s established him at the peak of his career and he wrote innumerable essays, stories for children and short stories. His well-known work Delhi ki Chund Ajeeb Hastiyaan (1943), and translations Bun Baasi Devi and Baghdaad ka Johari amongst others were published during this time period along with a collection of sketches and short stories (1944).
Suboohi was deeply interested in the bygone era of the court and sought people who had experienced that age to inform his work. Residing in the vicinity of the Jamia Mosque in Delhi, he encountered people from all walks of life and it was ultimately the common man that became the protagonist in his writings. Craftsmen, food sellers, birdcage makers, storytellers, wrestlers all became integral to his tales. Suboohi’s stories also allow us an insight into the domestic lives of households in the post 1857 period. He presents distinctive female characters such as Saydaani Bibi, Deevani Apa and Naani Basti in narratives that present them in a humane and naturalistic light. His varied interactions allowed him to infuse his narratives with a use of language that faithfully represented the world of his characters.
In additional to humorous short stories and essays, Suboohi’s repertoire includes stories for children that are reminiscent of the storytelling tradition practiced in many a household. Laal Sabz Kabootar, Anda Baadshahzadi, Paristaan ki Sayr and Bilori Jooti are exemplary in their narrative style and use of language. These stories are vital not only for their literary contribution but also in their representation of the traditions, culture and aspirations of a bygone era.
In the last years of his life, Suboohi suffered from a failing eyesight and his final essay Muraqqa e Khayal was transcribed. Ashraf Suboohi died in Karachi on 22nd April 1990.
This text is summarised and translated from the essay “Ashraf Suboohi. Shakhsiat aur Fun” by Dr. Aslam Farrukhi, from the book Bazm e Suboohi. Ashraf Suboohi Dehlvi ki Numainda Tehriroan ka Intekhaab, published by Schehrzade, Karachi, 2008
Image: http://www.urdustudies.com/auinfo/dehlavi.html, accessed 25 May 2013
Zambeel Dramatic Readings is grateful to Asif Aslam Farrukhi for permission to use this text.
Saadat Hasan Manto (1912 – 1955) Saadat Hasan Manto was born on 11 May 1912 in United Punjab’s Ludhiana district, India. He was the son of Ghulam Hasan Manto, a judge, and his second wife, Sardar. He was of Kashmiri descent and his ancestral home was in Koocha Wukeelan, Amritsar.
Manto had a difficult childhood and the hostile attitude of his stepbrothers and his father’s strict nature affected him immensely. He received a sparse education at home until the age of ten. He then attended a local Muslim school, then Government Muslim High School, Amritsar, and finally Aligarh Muslim University, which he left without taking a degree.
Manto began his career as a translator. This direction was influenced by his friend Abdul Bari Alig, a journalist and scriptwriter, who encouraged him to read both in English and Urdu and to write translations of Victor Hugo and Oscar Wilde into Urdu. He read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Zola, Chekov, Balzac and Maupassant and learned to master the craft of the short story from these writers. His short story Tamasha was published in the first number of the journal Khulq in 1934. Further stories followed in the Aligarh Magazine Saqi and other literary journals. The first collection of his short stories, Atishparay was published in 1936. This was also the time around which Manto moved to Bombay and began a career in the film industry. He edited a monthly film magazine Musawwir and worked as a scriptwriter for companies such as Filmistan Limited and Bombay Talkies. He also worked for All India Radio as a feature and drama writer from 1941 to 1942 and as a journalist for the newspapers Daily Masawat, Humayun, and Alamgir. His short stories from this period were collected in successful volumes including Manto kay Afsanay (1940), Dhuaan (1941), Afsanay aur Dramay (1943), and Luzut-e-sung (1947). He married in April 1938 and he and his wife Safia had three daughters. In 1948, following the horrors of Partition, Manto moved to Lahore.
Manto is known predominantly as a short story writer, but he also wrote in different genres such as personality sketches, essays and radio plays. He is described as the chronicler of fiction on Partition and many of his memorable stories are woven around the horrors of the event. Thanda Gosht, Siyah Haashiay, Khol Do and Toba Tek Singh are only a few of his seminal works on the subject. Manto is described by the historian Ayesha Jalal as a rebel, whose primary interest was to expose the deception and hypocrisy in a society. Manto desired that the society should be able to see its own face in his writings. His stories that addressed prostitution asked searing questions about a society’s responsibility towards individuals who were products of the society itself. His Partition stories asked salient questions about humanity and conscience. The characters in his stories came out of the ordinary and often the detritus of society; the prostitute, the pimp, the street bully. He wrote about religious bigotry and his stories, both on Partition and prostitutes had a riveting political and social relevance. His series of Letters to Uncle Sam (nine letters under sequential titles, Chacha Sam kay Naam Aik Khat to Chacha Sam Kay Naam Nava Khat) reveal that Manto was very alive and sensitive to political currents. Written between 1951 and 1954, these letters reflect his political views and concerns and are enlivened by his caustic and sometimes savage wit. The subjects he addressed in his stories met with criticism from the state as well as literary colleagues. As Ayesha Jalal says Manto was considered ‘vulgar’ because what he saw in his surroundings was vulgar to him. It was the environment that caused him to attain that degree of directness in his writings. Manto was faced with over half a dozen charges of obscenity, three of which occurred before Partition and three after he moved to Pakistan. Of these, the court found only two stories in which he had transgressed the law and was liable to punishment. The stories for which he was charged and tried for obscenity include Dhuaan, Bu, Kaali Shalwaar, Khol Do, Thanda Gosht and Uupar Neechay aur Darmiyaan. Jalal describes Manto as an awkward writer for the conservatives as well as the elite who did not like his tendency to repeatedly remind them of the higher truths of society. During his lifetime Manto published 22 collections of short stories, one novel, 5 collections of radio plays, 3 collections of essays, and 2 collections of personal sketches. 2012 was Manto’s centenary year and the Government of Pakistan finally decided to honour Manto with the Nishan-e Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian honour. Saadat Hasan Manto died of liver failure in Lahore on 18 January 1955.
Ismat Chughtai (1915 – 1991) Ismat Chughtai was born on August 15, 1915 into a middle class family in Badayun India. The ninth of ten children, Ismat spent a large portion of her childhood in the company of her brothers, which according to her contributed to the boldness in her nature and writing. Her early influences primarily consisted of her elder brother Azeem Beig Chughtai, who was an established writer when Ismat was in her teens. Others included Thomas Hardy, Dostoyevsky, Somerset Maugham, Chekhov, Hijab Imtiaz Ali, Majnun Gorakhpuri and Niaz Fatehpuri. One of her favourite writers, Munshi Premchand was influential because of his attention to the craft and technique of the short story.
While she read avidly and studied Greek drama, Shakespeare, Ibsen and Bernard in college, she ventured towards writing her first short story Fasaadi, which was published in the literary magazine Saaqi. Another person who left a lasting impression on Ismat was Rasheed Jahan, a doctor and writer whom she met at the first meeting of the Progressive Writers’ Association in Lucknow in 1936. Following her B.A and B.T (Bachelors in Education) she was appointed principal of a girls’ college and later Inspectress of schools in Bombay. It was here that she met Shahid Latif and they were married in 1942.
Ismat wrote the short story Lihaaf two months before her marriage. The story addresses the subject of lesbianism and is cleverly told from the viewpoint of a nine year old girl, who can relate everything she sees without being burdened by the restraint an adult narrator might experience in recounting such a tale. The story created a controversy for its subject matter and Ismat was condemned by readers and critics alike. She was charged with obscenity and taken to court. The trial was held in Lahore and lasted two years, but the case was ultimately dismissed because no offensive words could be found in the story.
Ismat’s first two collection of short stories Kaliyaan and Chotein were published in her brother Azeem Beig Chughtai’s lifetime. Others that followed include Aik Baat, Chhui Muee, Dhaani Baankein, Do Haath, Khareed Lo, Aik Qatra Khuun and Thori si Paagal. She wrote novels Terhi Lakeer and Saudaai and novellas Ziddi, Dil ki Duniya and Masooma. Her other works include Hum Loge (short stories and essays), Yahaan se Vahaan Tuk (essays), Shaitaan (collection of plays) and Afsaanay Draamay (stories and plays).
Ismat also write twelve film scripts in collaboration with her husband and made five films independently. She may be seen acting in Shashi Kapoor’s film Junoon (1979). She received the Samman Award for Urdu Literature in 1990 when she turned seventy five.
Ismat Chughtai died on October 24, 1991.
The importance of Ismat Chughtai’s craft, her greatness as the grand dame of Urdu fiction and as the indomitable spirit of the Urdu afsana is continually affirmed by the interest in her writing today and by tributes paid to her by contemporaries and present day readers and writers.