Sorry, I wasn’t at home last evening. Hence my absence and a day off for you. It happens sometimes, you know.
And now to our story.
Muhmammad Saleemur Rehman .also got two other books reviewed by me. One was Urdu version of a Nobel Prize winning novel by the renowned French novelist Albert Camus. The famous translator, Muhammad Umar Memon, had done this Urdu version. I read the novel and wrote a critical review of it. The novelist was extremely liberal. To be honest, I didn’t like his view of life, and said so in my review. People appreciated my approach.
I forgot to tell you earlier that The Pakistan Times paid me Rs 300/- for each review or column. Rs 300/- of 1980’s was almost equal to Rs 3000/- of today.1 February 2017
After publication of my second book review, The Pakistan Times engaged me as a book reviewer. They used to send me some of the books that they received for review It was an honour, indeed.
One of the most important books that I reviewed was “ آدھے سیارے پر “, a collection of poetry by Sarwat Hussain. Sarwat was a superbly talented poet from Karachi. He was an engineer by profession. Some personal tragedies resulted in loss of his mental balance.
When my review appeared in The Pakistan Times, Muhammad Saleemur Rehman wrote to me :
” Let’s hope your review will encourage Sarwat to stay on in this world a little longer. He has made two attempts to commit suicide, but was saved by timely rescue.”
Sarwat’s third attempt was successful. Seven years after publication of my review, he threw himself before a running train, and was crushed to death- 2 February 2017
My weekly columns in The Pakistan were very popular among people of literary taste. They were richly humorous with a definite sting of satire. Through these columns I ridiculed our national hypocrisy, targeting politicians, bureaucrats, educationists, poets, artists, people of showbiz and the masses in general.
Most of my columns were delightful little stories in the form of amusing dialogue. My satire made the targeted persons and their actions look ridiculous. Usually each column had its own title. Then I launched a series of columns in the form of letters from a newspaper correspondent posted abroad, under the general title ” Letter from Alkamunia “. I got the name Alkamunia from a popular TV serial. It was entirely my own idea.3 February 2017
Sad news for students, teachers and readers of Urdu literature. The renowned novelist, Bano Qudsia has passed away. She was one of the greatest novelists, short story writers and playwrights of today. She was 88. She was the wife of the celebrated story-writer, playwright and religious intellectual Ashfaq Ahmed.
Bano’s masterpiece راجہ گدھ is a superb novel, almost next to Abdullah Hussain’s اداس نسلیں . She also wrote stories in Punjabi. Her TV play آدھی بات is known as a calssic.
May her noble soul be richly blessed,4 February 2017
One of my columns caused a loud stir in The Pakistan Times office. The column was about a terrible bomb blast in Pindi. It was probably the first in Pakistan. In my column I suggested that the Afghan refugees should be restricted to their camps.
Now, to say that during the rule of Gen Zia was like inviting trouble. The executive editor of The Pakistan Times caught sight of my column just as the newspaper was on its way to the printing press. He was furious. He called the magazine editor, Syed Iqbal Jafari, and said,
” Mr Jafari, what the hell is this ? Don’t you know that you and I would lose our jobs if that column got printed. The Boss (Gen Zia) won’t tolerate anything against the Afghan refugees, you know. I’ve stopped its publication. Tell the columnist that from today The Pakistan Times won’t publish anything from his pen”.
More of this tomorrow, InshaALLAH. Till then you are free to guess what happened after that. 5 February 2017
The magazine editor, Syed Iqbal Jafari, sent me the composed press copy of my column which the executive editor had pulled out of the press. In his letter enclosed with the press copy, Jafari Sahib told me what had happened. The last paragraph of the letter said:
” Although Mr Durrani (executive editor) has banned your writings for the Pakistan Times , yet I don’t like to deprive the fans of your delightful prose. Keep writing under a changed name and column title. I won’t allow anybody to ban you as long as I am the magazine editor.
How nice of Jafari Sahib, you see ! A great friend he was, indeed.
I changed my name to M A Malik, and column title to ” Off and On “,and kept writing for The Pakistan Times regularly every week. 6 February 2017
Besides columns and book-reviews, I also wrote two features (special articles) for the Pakistan Times. The articles were illustrated (with relevant pictures).
The first was A LIBRARY IN THE DESERT. It was about the richly stocked library in Khanqah Sirajiyah. The well-known poet and writer, Mansoor Afaq, was with me to make the requisite pictures with his camera.
The owner of the library, Prof Hamid Siraj, welcomed and facilitated us with his comments on some of the rare books The library is a rich collection of Islamic books as well as Urdu literature, A few beautifully decorated copies of the Holy Quran are the chief attraction of this library. These hundreds of years old hand-written antiques are not available anywhere else.
My richly informative feature was enthusiastically appreciated by the readers of The Pakistan Times.7 February 2017
My second feature published in The Pakistan Times was titled KAFIR KOT (قلعہ کافر کوٹ).
Kafir Kot is a 1000 years old fort on the top of the mountain along the right bank of the river Indus, about 5 miles upstream from Chashma Barrage. It looms into view as a sudden surprise as you go along the road that leads to Isakhel via Kundal. The fort was built by a Kashmiri Hindu Raja who ruled over this area about 1000 years ago.
My colleague Prof Saleem Ahsan told me about it , and I said I would like to write a feature about this relic of the past.
So, next week we visited Kafir Kot.The fort is now in ruins (ویران).
I collected relevant information from an Urdu book by the famous archaeologist (ماھر آثار قد یمہ ) , Wali Ullah Khan. Prof Saleem gave me some pictures of the fort, and I wrote my feature. It was a detailed research article.A copy of this feature is available in the Lahore Museum.
The picture below shows the remains of a part of the fort.8 February 2017
I used to visit the office of The Pakistan Times whenever I went to Lahore during the 1980s and 1990s. It was a huge building across the street at the back of Mayo Hospital. The offices of the editorial staff were on the first floor.
My destination used to be the office of magazine editor. There I enjoyed the delightful company of the magazine editor, Syed Iqbal Jafari, and Muhammad Saleemur Rehman. I loved the delicious strong tea prepared by the office attendant. Jafari Sahib’s jokes (mostly unprintable) made up a lively atmosphere,
Sometimes Jafari Sahib gave us a task, It was to correct the errors of language in the articles received for publication. That too was a pleasure in the jolly atmosphere of our company.9 February 2017
As neither email, nor Fax was available in Mianwali in those days, I used to send my columns, book-reviews and features to The Pakistan Times by post. I wrote with a pen because I had no typewriter.
Jafari Sahib and Muhammad Saleemur Rehman were kind enough to get my things composed meticulously and published promptly. Their cooperation and appreciation encouraged me to keep it up. It was, therefore, a labour of love for me to write.11 February 2017
My grand-daughter Aliza, a student of Class Five, was very busy yesterday. Rejecting all offers of help, she kept decorating the hall for my birthday with everything nice she could lay her hands on.
From an early morning visit to the bazaar she had brought balloons, buntings, a couple of banners and coloured lights.
From her own stock at home she pulled out a few bhaaloos and rosy cheeked dolls.
All these she arranged behind the stage with a lean, sickly yellow plastic doggy in the middle. Brushing aside all suggestions, she did the whole job on her own. And then she led me to the hall to cut the cake etc.
So you see it was not a joke when I called her my Birthday Manager in a post last night.13 February 2017
February 15 was the day my soul-mate, Bhai Mumtaz Hussain Malik, left this world, 8 years ago, leaving a gap in our family that would never be filled up. To me he was much more than a cousin. He was my literary mentor and a lot more.
I hope he is not a stranger to you, for he has been the subject of about a dozen of my English posts last year. Let us pray for the noble soul to rest in Eternal Peace. 16February 2017
One day, as I entered the office of Iqbal Jafari, he said to me, “Malik, my chief wants to see you.”
His chief was Mr Maqbool Sharif, Chief Editor of The Pakistan Times. I had never seen him, for my visits to The Pakistan Times had so far been confined to the office of Mr Jafari. Without explaining why the Chief wanted to see me, Jafari Sahib got up from his seat, and led me into the Chief’s room. The Chief looked pleased to see me.16 February 2017
The Chief Editor said to me, ” Mr Malik, I’m pleased to see that you write delightful light vein satire. The Pakistan Times needs that touch of humour. How about giving us a daily column ? We’ll pay you Rs 300 per column.”
Rs 300 a day! That would be Rs 9000 a month . It was a nice bit more than the salary I was getting as lecturer !!
But I couldn’t take the handsome offer, for I couldn’t ensure daily delivery of my columns. Sitting in Mianwali, I could only send my columns by post, which normally took two or three days to reach its destination,
I thanked the Chief Editor for his kind offer, and explained the position, with a promise to keep writing a weekly column regularly as usual. That was all I could do, and I kept my promise. I kept writing for The Pakistan Times till it cosed down in 1996.–17 February 2017
Leaving for Lahore tomorrow morning, InshaALLAH. Will rejoin you from Lahore on Monday.18 February 2017
Besides The Pakistan Times, I also wrote a few articles and columns for The News and The Nation. By the Grace of ALLAH, they never refused to publish anything from my pen. But it was not easy to keep up writing for three newspapers. I, therefore, chose to keep up with The Pakistan Times, because it was a sort of my first love. Moreover, they paid me regularly for every word from me that they published.
The closure of The Pakistan Times in 1996 almost broke my heart. My romance with journalism came abruptly to an end in its 13th year. Quite a jolting shock, you know .
But I did not stop writing in English. I turned to writing books for MA English. From tomorrow I’ll start telling you how I came to do that job. 20 February 2017
BHERA Motorway Food Point-19 February 2017
Selection of English books for the college library was one of my assignments at Government College Mianwali. So, I accompanied the college librarian, Haji Muhammad Aslam Khan every year on his book-hunt tour of Lahore. It was thus I became known to Shah Ji (Syed Sardar Javaid, proprietor of Kitab Mahal in Urdu Bazar Lahore).
Kitab Mahal was the biggest publisher of books related to MA English.
One day Shah Ji said to me, ” Malik Sahib,I hear that you write for English newspapers. Why not do something for us as well ? ”
I welcomed the suggestion, because it was related to my job as
teacher of English literature.
Shah Ji lost no time in finding work for me to do. He asked me to paraphrase Chrisopher Marlowe’s play The Jew of Malta as my first assignment from Kitab Mahal. I readily agreed to do that.
Shah Ji gave me the book and some money as advance payment for the work.
I had never thought of advance payment, but Shah Ji insisted I should take it.21 February 2017
I completed my assignment in about two weeks. My publisher, Shah Ji, was very happy. My work got very good feedback from students and teachers across the Punjab. ShahJi decided to engage me permanently as a member of the Kitab Mahal Board of professors / writers.
Writing paraphrase as well as critical analysis of the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles was my next assignment. Oedipus Rex was written about 2500 years ago. It is a heart-rending tragedy. I loved working on this challenging play. By the Grace of ALLAH, my work was appreciated all around. Shah Ji was so highly pleased that he promoted me as Head of the NKM Board of professors.22 February 2017
In 1992 the Punjab University included Margaret Drabble’s novel, The Ice Age, in the novel course of study for MA , Part-2.
Teaching this novel was a challenge, because no critical discussion of this novel was available in our library. I went to the Punjab University to consult the Chairman, Department of English. The Chairman, Dr Nasim Riaz Butt, was a frank and straightforward gentleman. I told him that I wanted a book about The Ice Age.
With a hearty laugh Dr Sahib said,
“ ملک ، سونہہ رب دی ساڈے کول وی ایس ناول دے بارے کجھ نی ھیگا “
He explained that the novel was recommended by some of the teachers at Kinnaird’s College, Lahore. They too had read just the text of the novel.
” Well ,” said I, ” There ought to be a book for teachers and students.”
Again Dr Sahib laughed and said,
“ فیر تسی ای لکھ دیو- ساریاں دا بھلا ھو جائے گا“-
I promised that I would try. It was a pretty interesting experience.
24 February 2017
From the Punjab University I went to Kitab Mahal in Urdu Bazar and told Shah Ji (my publisher, Syed Sardar Javaid) that Dr Nasim Riaz Butt had asked me to write a critical study of The Ice Age.
” Most welcome, Malik Sahib,” said Shah Ji ,” People are already pestering us to bring out a book about this novel. Please go ahead, we’ll publish your book immediately.”
” But Shah Ji,” said I, ” I need at least one book to see what critics say about this novel.”
” Well, I hope you may find something at Sang e Meel on the Lower Mall.” said Shah Ji, “They keep importing latest books.”
Shah Ji was right. At Sang e Meel I found a small book of 90 pages titled “Margaret Drabble”.
But it offered pretty little about The Ice Age ; just a small chapter of 6 pages.
Anyway, I picked up that book just to see what it said about The Ice Age. By now I had made up my mind to write my own book. As a teacher I knew what my book should contain. And so I set to work.
Picture: Syed Muhammad Ali Javaid, (s/o Syed Sardar Javaid) MD, Kitab Mahal
24 February 2017
I studied the novel twice, and underlined the important passages for quotations. Then I started writing my book. It contained a life-sketch of the novelist, Margaret Drabble, a survey of her other works, a summary of The Ice Age, analysis of the theme, plot and characters, and some important issues related to this novel. All this material made up a book of about 100 pages. Shah Ji published it within a couple of weeks. It was a small book, but it covered every salient aspect of the novel.
The book was widely appreciated by the students and teachers. By the Grace of ALLAH I was able to achieve a goal which most people thought was impossible.25 February 2017
Morning in Daudkhel
25 February 2017
Writing a critical study of Paul Scott’s novel The Jewel in the Crown was another challenge for me, because no book related to it was available in Pakistan. In those days I had no access to Google/ Wikipedia etc. I had to work entirely on my own.
But it was rather a delight for me, because The Jewel in the Crown was ( and still is) one of my most favourite novels.The novel is almost an objective analysis of British Raj in the Sub-continent (Pakistan and India). It is also remarkable for the writer’s wonderful technique of story-telling.
Teaching and analyzing this novel was a pleasure for me. My book therefore got a very good reception from teachers and students across the Punjab.
26 February 2017
I specially enjoyed working on John Donne and Coleridge. These two have always been my favourite poets. I have followed Donne unconsciously in my Urdu poetry. Almost all my Nazms are in dramatic monologue form, which Donne used in most of his poetry. My two English poems in my collection are also in this form. In dramatic monologue form a person speaks to someone about a critical issue of his life. While writing those poems I never realized I was using the dramatic monologue form. Creation of poetry is a semi-conscious action , you know.
I am still working with Kitab Mahal. To me Shah Ji’s house is my second house in Lahore. Before my son, Prof Muhammad Akram Ali Malik, settled in Lahore, I used to stay with Shah Ji in E Block, Model Town- 27 February 2017
Visited Kitab Mahal in Urdu Bazar Lahore to share a cup of tea, and discuss my next assignment with the CEO, Syed Muhammad Ali Javaid. Glad to see the beautiful new getup of Kitab Mahal books.
I’ll now be working on Chekhov’s wonderful play ” The Cherry Orchard ” It is about the decline of feudal aristocracy and rise of the middle class in Russia at the start of the 20th century.
The interesting thing about this play is that the writer, Chekhov, called it a comedy, but the people left the theatre in tears when the play was first staged in 1904. An interesting job for me to decide who was right, the playwright or the producer. 28 February 2017