“Your age, my dear friend, your age! Don’t forget you have grown old and have not kept pace with time.”
“But my mind has not aged,” I protested, “I can still think young and dream the dreams of a young man. And I still love all such things that touch the heart of today’s young men — despite their preoccupation with television, computer and mobile phones.”
Seeing a possibility for some kajj bahsi to while away the evening, Babboo decided to continue the assault on my advancing age and said: “The problem is in your waning years, you have not been able to keep abreast of modern literary trends and their complex theories. And since they are now beyond you, you must continue to remain lakeer ka faqeer.”
“Stop it, yaar! Shuroo ho jatey ho!” I said, but looking at me closely, he asked:
“Be honest — for a change, if for nothing else — and tell me, what is it that you find lacking in today’s literature?”
“I find lack of style, lack of expression, above all, lack of romance — qualities that one found in the writings of the old masters.”
“You mean lack of Sense and Sensibility, lack of Of Human Bondage, lack of Farewell to Arms, lack of Lady Chatterley’s Lover — perhaps the only books you read?”
I ignored his remark and said: “In poetry I don’t find any ‘Daffodils’ or ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’… and … as far as humour is concerned, where are Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, or where are Shafiqur Rehman’s Shaitan and Hukoomat Apa? The novels too are more autobiographical than anything else and read like travelogues or history.”
“This kind of a sweeping statement reeks of jehalat and is a testimony to the fact that you have diligently kept yourself uninformed about modern literature. How else could you say with such fathead authority that there was no sensibility, poetic imagination or consciousness of the issues facing the human race?”
I still ignored the provocation and continued: “Where is that touch of Charles Dickens, Guy de Maupassant, Asadullah Khan Ghalib, a Mir Taqi Mir, Rabindranath Tagore or Haafiz Shirazi?” I wanted to tell Babboo that contrary to his biased belief, these characters were no strangers to me.
“Please stop name dropping. It is considered bad manners. I can list up more impressive names. And remember, these guys are dead and gone. They created literature in and for a different time for readers living under the dark shadows of two World Wars, a number of bloody revolutions, slavery, and a period of massive exploitation. If they preached love and kindness it was because their readers were famished and needed to be bestowed upon with alms — not only to satisfy their hunger but to keep them in good humour.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean, unlike yesterday when the reader was famished, he is better off today. He is living in a more affluent world. No longer, he is hungry for love and relationship. Today, he yearns for experimentation and innovation. Today, both he and the writer have become avant-garde. They also know how to catch the bull by the horn,” said Babboo.
“What nonsense. Writers today might have turned more practical and candid, but for myself as a reader dil dhoondta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din!”
“Who is stopping you from reading Shakespeare, Milton, Mir Taqi Mir and Ghalib? Go lie down in your charpoy and read Manto, Krishn Chander, Ismat Chughtai, even Ibne Safi and Wahi Wahanvi.”
It is difficult to argue with Babboo. After sometime, however, I asked him: “Who rules the roost today?”
“Arundhati Roy, Fehmida Riaz, Zeeshan Sahil, Kishwar Naheed and many others. They have concerned themselves with today’s problems — men and matter,” he replied.
“You have forgotten Faraz.” I said.
“That’s because I find his poetry for teenagers,” Babboo commented.
“So what’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing. Only that the teenagers today do not read poetry!” he said.
“You are wrong. Man cannot live without romance, in other words, poetry and literature. Just as today your avant-garde writers have taken inspiration from yesterday’s Masters, tomorrow’s writers and poets will be inspired by the present day writers and poets.”
“Rubbish. There will be no literature and poetry tomorrow.”
“Because there will be no books.”
“How will they read then?”“Blackberry zindabad!” said Babboo. This brought to an end our kajj bahsi.