Prose fiction became the leading mode of writing in Urdu Literature after the partition and Intizar Hussain towers above all the story writers of this time. The legendary writer of Urdu fiction in the subcontinent has received many awards from Pakistan, India and the Middle East. His writings are full of symbolisms and his characters have different dimensions. He spent his childhood in India and this is the reason the element of remembrance is dominant in his writings. Some of his work has also been translated in other languages. He is also known for his literary columns which he regularly writes for newspapers. At the age of 87 he is still very active, drives his car and participates in all the literary activities. In an exclusive interview with Sunday Plus he talks about his childhood, his work and about Urdu Literature. Following are some excerpts of his interview:

How do you spend the day?

My activities are reading and writing and my day passes in these. Recently I finished writing an autobiography, some travelogues and some essays. Besides, I spend some time with my contemporaries in discussions and meetings.

Tell us something about your childhood.

I was born in a village of UP (Uttar Pradesh) on December 21, 1925 and lived there till the age of 10 or 11. It was the time when there was no electricity and motor car. Cycle was the only mean of transportation. Railway station was so far from us that we never even heard the whistle of the train. I saw the train for the first time when I was 10. The environment of that time was totally different. There were different birds. Days were spent in roaming from garden to garden. There was a nearness to nature which is no more now in this mechanical era.

Even the rainy season of that time was different. You can feel that ambiance of Sawan and Bhadon in old songs and poetry of that time. Now it neither rains like that nor is there any such ambiance. Now rain brings problems for us. We left that village when I was eleven and moved to Hapur. Its atmosphere was more of urban than rural because it was near Delhi. There were many motor cars and cycles. Then for higher education I went to Meerut.

Where did you get your education?

My interest was in literature so my emphasis was on learning languages. In graduation my subjects were Persian, English Literature end Urdu. Then I did master in Urdu. It was the time when Hindu-Muslim clashes had started and partition of the subcontinent had been announced. I wanted to do master in English also but unpleasant time of that era did not allow me. At the end of 1947 we migrated to Lahore.

Would you like to share some thing about your family?

I had five sisters and no brother. Four were elder to me and they have passed away. My only sister who is younger lives in Karachi.

When were your writings first published?

I wrote my first story in 1947. It was a time when everybody was confused about the future. The partition had just taken place and Hindu-Muslim clashes were at their peak. Muslims were leaving India.

When did your writing publish?

Initially my stories used to be published in different magazines. After a few years when I had enough stories then my first book was published, it was around 1950.

How do you write? Do you first think about the topic or is it kind of a spontaneous overflow?

There is always some situation or some incident in mind which becomes the source. It keeps ripening in the sub conscious. The process continues and may take a long time. When its picture becomes clear in mind then I start writing.

You are one of the last icons of the generation, which witnessed the partition of the subcontinent. How do you view the situation now?

It is not going well. Look at the present situation of Pakistan. It was never meant to be so at that time. The dream of Pakistan has gone with those who perceived it. They had something different in their minds and the coming generation which became the heir and made their governments had different vision in their minds. The dream of an ideal Pakistan in which we will live peacefully and with mutual harmony has been shattered. The dream of making progress and becoming a strong nation is no more. Now the process seems opposite. We are in worse condition than that of time when Pakistan was created.

I consider the first decade after creation of Pakistan as better than the present time. It was the time when there was a rehabilitation department; there was e spirit in people that we had made a new country end we had to do something for it. Those people had witnessed the bloody clashes yet they were hopeful about future.

The element of remembrance is dominant in your writings? What do you have to say about it?

Remembering past is in human nature and no one can negate it. Remembrance in my writings is because we migrated from India. After the partition we had to leave the place where we were born and brought up. We came here in a newly made country which is good; but we left behind a civilization and here we could not make new one (civilization). Now when I remember my past, some people think that I am not accepting the new country but this is not the case. Their demand of forgetting the past is nonsense. We had one thousand year old civilization and Pakistan is the product of that civilization. How can we forget all that?

Is this the same reason that Hindu mythology has much influence in your writings?

There are many references of Hindu mythology in my writings. Its reason is that Hindus and Muslims lived together for a long time so taking influence from each other was natural. There are lot of books which tell that Hindus made many changes in their religion after taking inspiration from the Muslims but we are also inspired by them. They took our inspirations and we took theirs. Most of the people are unable to understand this point. Every religion and every society always has some geographical effects. The beliefs remain the same but the culture develops according to your geographical circumstances and the era in which you are living. For example, Islam is different in Arab countries and it is different in Indonesia. Islamic civilization is different in Saudi Arabia and it is different in Egypt even though the language — Arabic — is the same.

Your stories have many dimensions and so is the case with characters. Does anyone follow you in this style?

Every writer has his own style of writing. Those who follow someone remain follower forever. Every writer learns from his seniors and then makes his own way of writing and connects with the tradition. For example, Manto, Ismat Chughtai, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander and Ghulam Abbas were my seniors. I studied them and learnt the art of writing and distinguished myself in my writing. My story is not like that of Manto and Ismat Chughtai because I have different experiences. So every writer has his own style.

Symbolism is another strong feature of you work do you think readers understand it easily?

It has never been the matter of concern for a writer or a poet that either someone understands him or not. Ghalib never thought that either his poetry was understandable or not: rather he was accused of difficult poetry. In contrast the poetry of Zauq was very easy. It was in common language which was understandable for everyone. But there was a depth in Ghalib’s poetry that was why Ghalib once said that he would be understood in the time to come. Now there is hardly as much written as on Ghalib or Iqbal because these were the great poets. Every one finds some different meaning whenever they read them. The same is the case with short story.

The techniques of writing novels and short stories have also been changing. First there were simple stories and people understood them easily. Even though there were deeper meanings people used to read superficially like Manto’s stories. Read the fiction of great writers of 19th century like Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, you will get the whole story of war which runs smoothly. This was realism in literature. Then new techniques in fiction were introduced. The fiction of 20th century is totally different from the fiction of 19th century. Writers started to write symbolic stories and people got perturbed with these techniques because they were unable to understand the stories. Literature of 20th century changed because there were some scientific inventions.

In my writings the symbolism is derived from the Quran as in Akhari Adami or from Muslim traditions and Hindu Mythology. Almost every reader has these things in his mind so they easily understand my stories.

Does it ever happen that you write something and then you did not like it yourself?

The entire work of any writer or a poet does not carry the equal standard. They are not on same level. Sometimes the writer feels satisfaction and sometimes not.

Do you have any such scripts which you never gave for publication?

Yes there were many stories of my initial days which I realized as weak stories and did not come to the standard. So I did not give those for publication.

Have you saved those manuscripts?

Some of them may be lying around and some have been wasted.

Do you ever think about the purpose of your writings?

There is always some incident or certain circumstances which instigate the writer. We do not live as any common man lives. We observe deeply everything around us and these observations come alive in our writings and it will carry some message and theme. We do not add any purpose or aim from our side as the writers of Progressive movements used to do. We think in form of story and the story makes its own shape.

Every writer is a critic. What do you say about your work as a critic?

Every writer should be his own critic but he should not tell his own criticism. It is the duty of the critics to criticise. Sometimes a writer does not know some aspects of his own work and critics bring those points in the limelight. It is because when he is writing, his conscious and subconscious both work. When he finishes his story then he realises that it is different than the story he conceived. Often critics or the readers explore some meanings which often writer does not put at the time of writing.

Which novel or story or character represents you most?

I never tell that my certain novel or story is representing me most. Again I will say that it is the task of a critic or the reader. Critics have debated that certain stories are representing me most but I will never say anything about it. I have written four novels and among those Basti is the mostly discussed by critics. But I will not say that it is my best novel.

Do you think the present literature is fulfilling its demands?

All the time in literature is not always the same. There are ups and downs in life and so is the case with the history of literature. There comes such period when creative capabilities become prominent like the period of thirties and forties when suddenly a new way of expression started like of Noon Meem Rashid and Meera Jee. Then under them the new generation which emerged had new vision. That was our rich period.

Which is more important according to you, the language or the idea?

Both carry equal importance. During the Progressive Movement a debate started about language and creative power or the idea. Writers of the movement were of the view that the real thing was idea and language had a secondary importance. They divided both and it was wrong. Language has the key importance because any idea needs language to be conveyed. Ghalib or Mir never made any difference between the language and idea. They gave equal importance to both. They decorated the language and so was the case with the idea.

Language is our tool. We have to give shape to our work with it. If our tools are not correct or we do not know the right way to use them, then we cannot give proper shape to our work. We should be aware about its correct usage. There are examples of such writers who gave importance to the idea and their language remained week and ultimately they have gone into oblivion.

Which other short story writers have impressed you?

When I was student Krishan Chander was considered as superstar of short story writing. There was sweetness in his language and was easy to understand. I was one of his big fans. His style became very famous and many writers followed him. A Hameed wrote under his influence. But slowly his style became very common and started to lose its charisma.

What do you say about the criticism in Urdu fiction?

History of poetry is very old like there was period of Ghalib and Mir. But there was no criticism. It came very late in the subcontinent. People used to appreciate poetry but there were only a few sentences like 'marvelous language', 'depth in poetry' or 'sad elements are there'; etc., used to be written.

Criticism came here from the West in which proper critical analysis is presented and the deeper meanings are discussed. This criticism started from Maulana Hali. He wrote the first book of criticism 'Muqadma-e-Sher-o-Shairi'.

Criticism on novels started even after poetry. In fact critics could not understand the techniques of writing criticism on novel or short story. However, in India there is now more criticism on fiction than poetry. Shamim Hanafi, Gopi Chand Narang, Sabtu Zaman Farooqi are big names in this regard.

Do you see any upcoming writer among the new generation?

There is a state of stagnation at the time, Good poetry is coming especially the young girls are very motivated. Some of them seem as if they are the missionaries of some cause. Their poetry has some freshness in it. But this is not the case in prose.

Journalism describes the way of society. What do you have to say about today’s journalism? Is it fulfilling the journalistic demands or describes only day to day affairs?

English journalism progressed in our country. Our journalists do not carry the equal resources and facilities as the journalists in the West. Reporters are facilitated, columnists are well equipped there but this is not the case here in Pakistan. In spite of the limitations our English journalism is good. Whereas the Urdu journalism made progress in term of circulation which has increased and in term of standard it deteriorated. Its case is exactly the same as the case is with our film industry. When you ask the producers that why you are making sub-standard films, they say people like this. The likeness of people has become standard. Same is the case with TV. The number of channels has increased and the standard has decreased.

If you think for a while the old PTV, when there was no other private TV channels, you will realise the standard at that time was high in spite of dictators’ restrictions. Now watching TV makes you feel as if you are standing in a fish market. There are no etiquettes of talking to each other. Sometimes, they are abusing each other. It never happened before. Every topic was discussed with seriousness.

People’s interest toward literature and reading books is decreasing? How do you see it?

People used to read books at night and now that time is occupied by TV. Reading a good book makes you think but when you are watching TV you are guided by those people who do not have any literary background and your point of view also becomes superficial. That is why there is superficiality in everything.

It is said that great people become lonely in their old age. What do you say about it?

I do not have any child and my wife also passed away a few years back. But I do not feel lonely and it never harasses me. In fact writers never feel like that because books are their only companions which remain with them till death. Secondly, I have great affiliation with my relatives like nephews and nieces and I have a strong bond with them.