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A Conversation With Literary Icon Shamim Hanafi Who Recently Passed Away

The leading Urdu scholar and literary critic Shamim Hanafi died on Thursday. He was 81 and was suffering from COVID-19 . Zaman Khan met him during Hanafi’s last visit to Lahore. Here are a few notes from that meeting.

Professor Shamim Hanafi is widely known as a critic but not many know he is also a poet, fiction writer, radio screenwriter, translator, potter and a painter. Hanafi believes the novel has dominated all forms of literature. He has a number of books to his credit which have carved a space for him alongside veteran Urdu writers of the subcontinent.

He has written khaka (pen sketches) of his teachers, friends and writers of both India and Pakistan, along with children books. Many of his books have also been printed in Pakistan. The Reading, Lahore, is publishing a new edition of his book Humsafaron Ke Darmayan.

Born in Sultanpur in 1938, Professor Hanafi first completed an MA in History and then Urdu, followed by a D. Phil from Allahabad University. While he was at this university, his professors were so impressed that he was offered membership of ‘Thursday Club’, a literary society that met once a week.

Hanafi was very close to Firaq Gorakhpuri, a great English teacher and an even greater poet. He edited two books on Firaq Sahib which generated a lot of controversy. But asked about it, he says that “ there is no use criticizing dead people. Firaq wrote both good and bad poetry”. He also wrote a book on Meeraji which was also published by Dunyazad. His favourite poets are Faiz, Rashid and Meeraji but he has a special interest in Faiz.

After completing his MA, for a while he taught at a college affiliated to Indore University. While there , Ameeq Hanfee, a friend who later retired as the Director Archives of All India Radio, asked him to write plays for the Radio, to earn some extra money. His first play was called Aakhri Kush which was produced but Hanfee himself in 1965. The play instantly became popular.

Hanafi prefers the medium of radio over television. He also wrote a play titled Apni Apni Zanjeer which was based on character that resembled General Ziaul Haq and qualifies as political satire.

Since then, the Professor taught at Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. Recently, he served as Professor Emeritus Jamia Milia and has been residing in Delhi.

The Professor who is widely travelled, says that he “must have walked even more than he has travelled”, is also a connoisseur of classical music. In his opinion, “classical singers are more devoted and humble than writers”. Among the modern singers, his favourites include Mallikarjun Mansur and Bhimsen Joshi, along with Kishori Amonkar and Kumar Gandharva.

He was both happy and sad about his visit to cultural capital of Pakistan – happy because he was visiting Lahore but sad because Intizar Hussain was no more.

The Professor still has sharp memory and recites the poetry of ‘Asateza’ and modern poets with ease. Although he has achieved a lot already, one looks forward to his future plans which involve writing books on Intizar Hussain and Qurratulain Hyder.

Prof Shamim knew all leading writers personally and would call them by their name during conversation. Although he has written a lot but he had planned to write a book on Intizar Hussain and Qurratulain Hyder. He has also bought paraphernalia to Dakkni in Urdu but would not accept Kabir as an Urdu writer.

His father was a lawyer, and an old graduate of Aligarh and mother, a house wife but literate. Many magazines were available at home but his father would prepare a list of books to be read monthly which he would bring from District Library.

A wooden box would be at home which increased curiosity of a boy. One day he mustered courage and opened it and to his utter surprise it was packed with books and on the top was “Zahar-e-ishq”. He picked it up and enjoyed it thoroughly and it left an indelible mark on the innocent boy.

He came to Lahore in 1986 with his family and stayed with Intizar Hussain. Intizar Sahib would also stay at his Delhi residence with his wife.

He was happy and sad on his arrival to Lahore. Happy because he is visiting Lahore but sad because Intizar is no more.

He calls himself a mediocre while narrating how he started writing while in school teacher gave topic to students to write an essay. He was asked to write ‘mjahay ghasa kuyun aata hai.’ Next day teacher called him and said that he should start writing.

He first did Masters in History and then Urdu. He was so outstanding that he was offered membership of ‘ Thursday Club’ by his professors.

He was very close to Firaq Gorakhpuri, a great teacher of English and a great poet. Hanafi wrote a book on Firaq Sahib which generated lot of controversy.

After doing Masters he got a teaching job at Indor where a friend asked him to write plays for Radio to generate some income. Which instantly became very popular. Hanafi himself prefers Radio plays on TV .

In recent years, Hanafi played a vital role in the organization of ‘Jashan e Rekhta.’

He is against printing ‘Kulyiat.’ He thinks Ghalib was a very wise man who made selection of his poetry himself and discarded many good poems.

He told that India has 22 languages and a lot of literature is being produced in other languages particularly in Tamil. In his opinion, everything is being translated into Hindi.

He particularly mentioned one South woman Muslim writer Salma whose novel has been translated into English and became instant hit. She was invited to England and UK. He said it is very difficult to make choice between Faiz, Rashid and Meeraji although Faiz is his favorite poet. Faiz is very popular in Hind readers.

He has also written a book on Meeraji. Among the contemporary fiction Pakistani writers he likes Mirza Athar Beg. He upholds feminist writers and believes that women had been oppressed through out history. He also admires ‘Dalit literature.’

According to him, Arundhati’s latest novel ‘Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ is better than her first novel ‘God of Small Things’. He said Ch. Ikram Ullah is one of the best fiction writer of Pakistan who is very popular in India.

His most favourite poet is ‘Kabir. He thinks ‘Mahabharat was a great poem.

Although he has written a lot against Progressive Writers, he differentiates between Progressive Writers Association and progressive literature. He thinks there cannot be a literature devoid of life.

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