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"Towards Idol-Bashing"
Abrar Hasan Interviewed in Paris, June 1990 and January 1992
by - Dr. Khalid Sohail

 

Sohail:   I thought I would take this opportunity to talk to you about both your literary and personal lives and ask you a few questions. Let me start by sharing my impression of your creative life that I have developed in the last few years I have known you. I think you go through two distinct phases: an active phase when you have an outburst of creative energy and you write a lot for a few weeks and a dry phase when you don't write anything at all. This dry or slow phase might last for a few weeks or months. Do you think my impression is correct?  

Abrar:   This is absolutely true. There have been several distinct periods when I have written a lot. The poems included in my volume of verses "Dairay" were essentially composed over a period of two years (1977-78). In late 1970s I was going through a transitional phase in my life and had lots of time to myself. Then again, I was very prolific during 1984-86. This was after my move to Paris. The periods when I am especially active often coincide with the absence of my family on extended vacations.  

Sohail:   Did you have a burst of creative energy when you first came to Paris?  

Abrar:    No, not immediately. It was after a few months following a period of adjustment to the new environment.  

Sohail:   You also mentioned that you did a lot of creative writing when your family was away and you were living by yourself. Do you see any association between the two?  

Abrar:     A very definite association. I am more productive when I am by myself. It gives me time to reflect intensively and without interruption. A reasonably long period of being alone is very important. And I have not had this now for some time. I am also very stimulated when I travel alone.  

Sohail:   Does that mean that in your routine day to day life when you are working and spending time with your family, you are quite distant from your creative work?  

Abrar:     That's right, on the average.  

Sohail:         How do you feel when you aren't able to devote time to your writing for several weeks?  

Abrar:          Well, recently it is more like several years! However, during this period my professional work, which is research oriented and quite demanding, has absorbed much of my after-work energies. So, I do not feel constipated. In literary writing I do not like to force the pace. And, by nature, I am more interested in quality than the sheer number of pieces I turn out. I am reminded of what a Professor at the University of Chicago, a Nobel Laureate, used to tell us. A friend of his wanted to shame him by pointing out that a particular former student of his had written five times as many articles as the Professor. He replied, "Yes, it is true; but you see, mine are all different".  

                   The last poem I wrote was five years ago. Since then I feel that I have left my mind as fallow land ... in a state of apparent inactivity while rejuvenating its creative potential, keeping my mind wide open in a state of perpetual bewilderment. I think in due course poems will flow again. The long period of hibernation is partly because of the fact that in Paris I am cut off from Urdu literary circles. Also, when I returned from my trip to Pakistan and India in early 1987 I was somewhat turned off. I met many genuine literary personalities,  but among the majority I found genuine interest in literature lacking, and too thickly overlaid by pointless group rivalries. It took me some time to get over this unpleasant taste.  

Sohail:         How would you summarize your creative experience?  

Abrar:          In light of what I have just said, my comment would have to be somewhat dated, based on recall. Several common features or patterns are apparent. First of all, the act of actual writing for me is an experience of intense unification of the whole being, in a way that one becomes oblivious of one's surroundings and the passage of time. It is both mental and physical to the point of being physically exhausting. The only close parallel I can draw is with sexual activity, at its peak, except that the latter is short-lived and more physical in comparison.  

                   The build-up though, is over a much longer time span -- it's hard to tell when it begins. For me, its roots are in conflicts of one sort or another. Typically, this has occurred in the form of collision of my inherited value structure with what I came across as I read more widely and especially as I came to Canada. I could not simply live with an opposing set of presuppositions and value structures ... the conflicts were just too great. My disposition is such that to be meaningful to me I must understand things at an intellectual level. In practical day to day life I can go on living with contradictions, and accepting them, as long as I am able to understand and resolve them mentally. The day to day conflicts to me are specific examples of broader life examples. Whenever I have found some ray of light in resolving these broader conflicts it has almost always resulted in my creating poetry. As if, in the process of creating poetry I was travelling from the mental to the emotional plane assimilating my ideas.  

                   So, I would say that conflicts of one sort or another and their possible resolution have been an integral part of my creative process.   

                   The conflicts have most often surfaced during prolonged periods of loneliness. After all, loneliness is the essence of the human experience. The other period of a burst of creative activity was during the period of my romantic experience. Most of my ghazals are a product of this time, which were written in the late seventies.  

Sohail:         When did you visit India and Pakistan?  

Abrar:          In January 1987. When I came back from that trip I wrote a number of poems and by my standards good ones too. I found things disintegrating inside me so I wrote a poem named "Mohenjodaro". The main theme was that the "Khandarat" the ruins of `Mohenjodaro' are there for all to see. But we are also living in times when everything is disintegrating around us and that is a living `Mohenjodaro' ... all around us but invisible.  

Sohail:         That is a powerful theme.  

                   Let me come back to your lifestyle in Paris. Do you think it is significantly different than it was in Ottawa?  

Abrar:          Living in Paris has its positive and negative sides. The positive side is that living in a different society is a unique experience. The new people I meet and the beauty of Paris are so stimulating. A new job also gives me a sense of self-fulfilment. That has released a bit of energy in me.  

                   The negative side is that I don't have a Urdu literary atmosphere around me and I have difficulties going out and creating one for myself.  

                   The other thing that has limited me recently is my preoccupation with writing prose. I had some ideas that needed to be expressed in prose but they did not materialize. Rather I was involved with an English magazine named "Frank" and translated a few of my poems in English. I have also been wondering how far writing in Urdu would take me. The people who saw my translations were reasonably supportive and I wondered why I shouldn't try that medium of expression. So I composed a few poems in English but for some reason I have never finished them, leaving them halfway.  

                   During that period I also made contact with writers who wrote in English.  

Sohail:         So you have been contemplating writing in English from the very beginning rather than writing in Urdu and translating in English.  

Abrar:          I have been thinking about it.  

Sohail:         Would that be poetry or prose or both?  

Abrar:          Primarily prose.  

Sohail:         Didn't you start your literary journey by writing prose? I can remember reading some of your short stories in one of the leading magazines of Pakistan.  

Abrar:          Yes, they were short stories; impressions with rather ironic twists, written in semi-poetic style. I still regard them as some of my best writing. A selection was published in Afkar, Karachi and in Ahang, India.  

Sohail:         Then how did you switch to poetry?  

Abrar:          In my teenage years I used to compose poetry both in English and in Urdu. I was an Art student at the university and I particularly enjoyed English literature. I was very fond of the Romantic Poets and had memorized a lot of their works. I even translated some of their poems and the first act of Macbeth into Urdu. But when I started writing seriously, I began with prose. However, it was prose with a poetic flow to it ... something on the borderline.  

Sohail:         For how long did you spend writing prose seriously?  

Abrar:          It was again a burst of creative energy. I wrote about twenty short stories in three months.  

Sohail:         And then what happened? Did you decide one day that you were not going to write prose?  

Abrar:          No. It was not a conscious decision. There were informal mushairas held at people's homes to which I had been invited. So I started composing poems.  

Sohail:         What year was that?  

Abrar:          1975.  

Sohail:         You were in Ottawa at that time.  

Abrar:          Yes.  

Sohail:         So it was in Ottawa that you wrote poetry seriously.  

Abrar:          Yes.  

Sohail:         And for how long were you in Ottawa?  

Abrar:          Till October 1983.  

Sohail:         You were mentioning earlier that in the beginning you wrote ghazals.  

Abrar:          Yes. It was also 1975 when I met Roohi which coincided with my writing ghazals. Later on I switched to nazms. Actually there was a poet in Ottawa who wrote nazms. I used to wonder why I didn't write nazms. So one day I consciously decided that I should be writing nazms. Afterward, I felt the medium of nazms suited me better.  

Sohail:         What attracted you towards the form of nazms compared to ghazals?  

Abrar:          I was impressed by a poet named Majeed Amjad. I got hold of his book "Shab-e-Rafta" and read it thoroughly. In fact, my first nazm was very consciously and deliberately patterned like one of his nazms ... as a sort of tribute to him.  

Sohail:         Whenever I read your nazms I always found them closer to my mind than to my heart. They were always full of philosophical themes. Was that a conscious plan on your part of just a natural reflection of your personality?  

Abrar:          It was just natural I think. Those were the questions that were bothering me. I would be thinking about an issue for days on end, the existence of God for example, and suddenly I would understand a tiny part of something. So that part expressed itself in a nazm, like a ray of light was somehow captured and became part of me.  

Sohail:         I understand that during your stay in Ottawa your collection of nazms "Dairay" was published.  

                   How did that come about?  

Abrar:          I started writing nazms in early 1977. "Dairay" was a collection of forty of them, all written during 1977 and 1978. The publication of the book was brought about my a friend of mine who kept pushing me and suggesting that he could help me get a grant. So he looked after the application and I finally got financial help to publish the volume.  

Sohail:         When was it published?  

Abrar:          It was ready in 1979 but saw the light of day in 1981.  

Sohail:         Did you feel that publishing your book in Canada kept you at a distance from the Urdu community in India and Pakistan?  

Abrar:          I was writing entirely as an outsider, cut off from the Urdu creative currents flowing at the time, whether in Pakistan, India or Britain. This I regard as fortunate ... I was expressing what was me, the subject-matter was very markedly individual, and in a style which was all mine. Soon, however, I began examining contemporary writing in earnest. Thanks to Messrs. Shaheen and Ashfaq Hussain I developed many contacts with Urdu literary circles. I would like to emphasize the contribution of Urdu International in this process.  

Sohail:         After the book was published, did you get any formal feedback from literary circles in North America, India or Pakistan?  

Abrar:          Yes, the feedback came from many quarters. The book was introduced at a ceremony presided by Jaggannath Azad. Articles were read by Messrs. Mohammed Ali, Shaheen, Farooq Hassan and Ashfaque Hussain. I was pleasantly surprised by the appreciative comments from people like Professor Mohammed Hasan, Ali Sardar Jafri, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, and a number from the younger breed. Whenever I submitted poems to various literary magazines they were accepted for publication so I assumed that they were of a certain standard. Occasionally, I would hear from total strangers. For example, a San Francisco resident was much taken by my poem "Talaash" which appeared in Funoon, among other journals.  

                   Alongside the compliments, there was the common complaint that my poems were dry and difficult. I accept that. It is partly due to the subject matter and partly to a lack of command over expression. In my later writings I have made an effort for greater lucidity and flow. I have some seventy-odd nazms which I have not yet published. They have been ready for some five years now. I have collected them under the title Naqsh Bar Aab. One of these days when I have the opportunity I hope to publish them.  

Sohail:         The preface to your collection of verses, "Dairay", gives details of what has motivated your poems. In concluding the preface you said that your audience will be duly informed should your thinking make further progress. Has it progressed since "Dairay", and if so, how would you characterise this development?  

Abrar:          It has, indeed. Put very simply, "Dairay" reflected the destructive phase ... I was engaged in destroying the old superstructure of my thought-world and was experiencing all the attendant wrenching feelings. What I am launched on since then is to construct an edifice of thought with which I can be reasonably satisfied ... I would like to underscore the word "reasonably" because the process is an unending one. In the classic lines of Matthew Arnold, in "Dairay" I was "caught between two worlds. One dead, the other powerless to be born. I now have the glimmering of a new commitment.  

                   I might explain this with reference to some statements (or assertions) I have made in he preface to "Dairay". If you permit me this indulgence, I would like to recall three statements that I made:  (i) all assumptions that underlie a system of thought, values and institutions are created by human beings; (ii) the formation and choice of these values is the single most important responsibility of an individual; and (iii) there is a battlefield of ideas, as ferocious as other battlefields we know, where ideas clash with each other, are destroyed or are victorious.  

                   These assertions are the cornerstone of a new commitment. The post-Dairay process has been one of deepening rather than widening. It has taken a more qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, direction. During the Dairay period I had perceived these ideas as a first ray of light; now they are increasingly a part of my thinking; and this is a continuous process of every-deepening assimilation.  

                   Take the fundamental issue of revelation versus historical experience as providing the appropriate basis of knowledge-formation. In "Dairay" I asserted that all values and institutions are man-made. I have refined that a little bit now. I look upon religious thought as providing a set of underlying assumptions to support a set of implications. They are what I like to describe as "if ... then" models. If abc then xyz. The change in my thinking is the following. I am no longer very excited about the "if" part ... for example, the nature and source of revelation, or what God is or is not like. Choose whatever "ifs" you like. My concern is with the "then" part. In other words, what are the implications of the underlying ifs about human values, institutions and behaviour? Do they stand up to scrutiny?  

                   On what basis should they be scrutinised though?  My belief - and it is nothing more than an assertion - is that the full spectrum of the human experience, taken as a unity, including the dictates of rationality and rules of evidence, provides a basis for this scrutiny. I am persuaded to regard all human experience as one whole, and leading to a unified set of codes for evaluation. Some very simple dictates should suffice - an enormous body of legalistic literature is not needed to tell me that if racism is bad, it is bad everywhere ... not "more" bad in South Africa and "less" so in Pakistan. If trampling upon human rights is undesirable, it is equally undesirable whether it applies to men, women or children. There is little to choose between holocausts which affect different people. So, choose whatever ifs you like, the implications they have for human values are certainly open to scrutiny on the basis of the human experience. This is now a positive faith for me ... wherever it may lead.  

                   The word doubt pervades my poems included in "Dairay". But, as I said in the preface, doubt nulifies action. Action demands something positive, a faith, if you like. I have used the word commitment for it: perhaps Iqbal's use of the word "Ishq" is in the same vein. And this commitment need not wait for the day when a whole body of thought and values, free of internal contradictions, is in place. That may never be. All that is needed is a commitment to the next signpost. Around late 1986 I wrote a poem entitled "Commitment". It portrays in symbolic terms why slogan-mongering or paying lip service to bid adieu to the dead world is insufficient. The poem reflects the importance of desiring something with one's whole being.  

                   Similarly, my perception about the ruthlessness of the battle of ideas was rather vague in the Dairay period. I now appreciate better the universality of this battle and how gory it can be. There is no mistake about it. The "bloodiness" arises because a system of ideas and institutions are supported by a web of vested interests ... in economists' language I would call that a monopoly position (and attendant profits). In battle it is rare that one column or one weapon or any one factor alone is that decisive. In the same way I think it is the systems of ideas that collide. What wins out is not one idea, but a collection of ideas. What this means is that among the victors are some "good" and some "bad" ideas; as also among the vanquished which should provide pause for some thought. The point is that it is a continuous process of weeding and re-shaping. And the process is painful and not achieved without a fight. No room for armchair romanticism here!  

Sohail:         Do you feel that since the publication of your book there is any significant change in your poetry either in expression or in content?  

Abrar:          There are some noteworthy changes in both the style and the content. My style has assumed greater simplicity and makes less use of persianised words. Without being immodest, I think I can say that the artistic expression has improved significantly. The change in the content is equally marked. It seems as if, after having explored the inner world of conflicts and ideas, I have begun to peer at the surrounding environment. Poems written about Paris, its parks, about France's southern coast are symptomatic. The canvas has widened in another direction ... I have treated some political themes more explicitly. Poems about Israel, South Africa, Islamabad, the bloodletting in Karachi are some examples. I have also written about individuals who have had a impact on me.  

Sohail:         What are your observations about the state of contemporary Urdu literature?  

Abrar:          I have not been doing much reading for the last three or four years; however, there are clear signals that a great deal of experimentation is going on from Nasri Nazms, Inshaiias, collages to short-short stories and the like. On a per-capita basis, with respect to Urdu literature, there are a large percentage of Urdu readers who engage in creative writing. Getting one's word printed is perhaps easier now that it has ever been. A more important development is that the writers come from a very diverse set of lands, ranging from Scandinavia to South Africa and from North America to the eastern recesses of Asia. Inevitably, along with the varied social and cultural landscape, the personal experiences these writers can draw upon is very rich and varied.  

                   I believe it was Napoleon who said that he found the Emperor's crown in the street and simply picked it up. The crown of Urdu literature, I think, is lying in the street, and the street extends over many a continent. The person who is likely to pick this crown up is unlikely to emerge from old established Gahwaras whose literature is unfortunately stagnant, in that its sources of inspiration cover a rather limited range of experiences.  

                   The trouble with contemporary Urdu literature is that those who have mastered the techniques of expression appear to lack the breadth of experience, and those who have a wider range of ideas and experiences to share are lacking in the mastery of expression. The sum total is a lot of experimentation but of diluted literary quality. This is inevitable ... as the circle of writers expands, there necessarily would be some watering down of quality. I do not see this as inherently bad, or something to sneer at. It is the hallmark of a transition phase. The question is how quickly will we get out of it to produce high quality literature.  

                   The one thing that could help is a healthy tradition of literary criticism. And that is a dismal scene at best. Unless improved, criticism is likely to retard Urdu's progress. Another major problem is Urdu's limited readership. A vast majority of readers are interested in journals of the Digest variety not of the journals that carry the more creative types of works. Urdu creative writing is almost entirely read by other Urdu writers themselves. This fosters in-breeding and a tendency to form mutual admiration societies. In the absence of independent critical assessments, this tendency could be very damaging.  

Sohail:         When you wrote about politics, was it related to your trip to Pakistan?  

Abrar:          Political issues relating to the Third world have never been far away from my mind. The trip to Pakistan probably activated some dull roots.  

Sohail:         I always wondered where you got your keen interest for serious matters in life. Was your family interested in philosophical subjects?  

Abrar:          Let me give you a bit of background. I left my parents and parental home in 1952, at the age of ten, to migrate to Pakistan. This was to join my eldest brother, Mr. Ibnul Hasan. I grew up under his tutelage till I was about 18. My brother is a liberal thinker with a philosophical bend of mind, and an accomplished poet. His poetical works include Joo-e-Tashna and Aabgeena. His volume of essays are entitled Shama Aur Dareecha, and Jaam-e-Sifal. Thus, from very early childhood there was a strong literary tradition around me.       

                   Another significant thing was that my migration was in a large way a result of my insistence. My brother who had been in Pakistan since 1947 was visiting us in India. I made a big fuss that I wanted to join him on his return to Pakistan.  

Sohail:         I am getting curious now. What kind of lifestyle did you have that you wanted to leave your parents at the age of ten?  

Abrar:          On looking back I myself wonder about my sense of adventure. In part this must have come about from the excitement attached to the creation of Pakistan, which was very much in the air. This after all was the promised land for Indian Muslims. It was only a matter of time when the whole family would be migrating. There was a general atmosphere of fear among Muslims in Bihar. The memories of recent riots were very fresh. We had lost relatives in the fray. Moreover the prospects of proper schooling were also in jeopardy. My father was in the educational service and he was frequently transferred on duty. Often during transitional periods it was deemed safer for my mother and younger children to stay at the ancestral home. My early schooling was entirely through tutors at home. But at about age ten I was ready to be enroled for formal schooling.  

Sohail:         How many brothers and sisters did you have?  

Abrar:          We were, including my younger sister who died at seven, four brothers and three sisters.  

Sohail:         And what number were you?  

Abrar:          I was the second youngest.  

Sohail:         So for the first few years of your life you didn't have a normal type of schooling. Do you think that affected your socialization?  

Abrar:          Very much so. I missed the regular socialization that happens at school. The first few months in Pakistan were a period of total alienation and it left an indelible mark on me. You can imagine that I had travelled across hundreds of miles. The host culture, language, manners were all very foreign. I was desperately missing my parents and friends I had left behind. I was alone with my brother who was away during office hours and often during evenings with friends. Our servant sustained me with some companionship. During this period I made very good use of the library my brother had built up at home. Poetry was my favourite. I memorised good portions of Iqbal and Faiz.  

Sohail:         So you did not make very many friends at that age.  

Abrar:          Not very many initially. We lived in the Cantonment area, where houses were well separated from each other and there were not many friends of my age to be found nearby. When I did join regular school after about six months things began to change but cultural barriers were there. Moreover, there were breaks caused by summer vacations when I would go back to India for long periods, sometimes six months.  

Sohail:         After you finished your matriculation what kind of ambitions and dreams did you have?  

Abrar:          Right from the very beginning it was very apparent that I was not going to take science subjects partly because my brother was an artsy type. When I entered college I took economics. I had dreamed of writing a book like "Das Kapital" one day.  

Sohail:         How did you get introduced to Marx?  

Abrar:          From reading the kind of books my brother had.  

Sohail:         Did your brother have long philosophical discussions with you?  

Abrar:          No. Not with me but I would listen to the discussions he had with his friends. I also used to go with him to the various libraries and borrow books.  

Sohail:         Then what happened? Did you do your B.A.?  

Abrar:          Yes. I studied two years in Pindi and two years in Lahore and finally graduated from Pindi.  

Sohail:         What direction did you choose after that?  

Abrar:          Then I chose to do my Masters in Economics.  

Sohail:         What was the university life like for you?  

Abrar:          It was very enjoyable. I made close friends and we had great fun. I was among the leaders of a group of students who were serious about studies as well as took part in student activities. There was active and genuinely friendly competition among us, and I was usually helping out others. More importantly, I had a first taste of a real crush. There was this co-ed I had a crush on and quite inadvertently slid into writing poems. The medium was English.  

Sohail:         Did you send them to her?  

Abrar:          No, back then you didn't do those things. She was my study partner but on a very formal and correct basis. The infatuation was entirely on my part. When she did get some hints indirectly the relationship became even more formal but never snapped. But certainly I never verbalised my infatuation to her.  

Sohail:         Did you write when you were infatuated or when you were broken-hearted?  

Abrar:          Both, but mostly in the later period.  

Sohail:         Did you publish those poems?  

Abrar:          No, not myself but one of my friends had one of them published in his name (with my permission). Personally, I didn't think they were very mature. They were very much in the style of the late English romanticists, especially Robert Browning.  

Sohail:         You were mentioning earlier that you had a sense of intense loneliness as a child. Did you get over that when you entered the university?  

Abrar:          Yes, I did. When I was broken-hearted, I had the support of a good group of close friends. I used to have a following at that time. They were very supportive.  

Sohail:         How did you come to leave Pakistan?  

Abrar:          Again it was very symbolic. I just wanted to get out. After finishing my Masters in economics I took up teaching in the University's Commerce College. Then I applied to different universities and the very first scholarship I got from abroad was from a university in Canada and I took it.  

Sohail:         Which university?  

Abrar:          The University of British Columbia.  

Sohail:         What year?  

Abrar:          1963.  

Sohail:         What kind of memories do you have of your earlier days in British Columbia?  

Abrar:          That's when alienation overpowered me rather strongly. For the first few weeks it was exhilarating. Everything was so new and exciting. Walking on the western most coast of Canada was a thrill in itself! But then a feeling of "me" and "them" developed. The "me" being the fifteen Pakistani students: the "them" being the other sixteen thousand students. What seems so childish now, was that there was such a rivalry with the Indian students who far out-numbered us. The Indo-Pakistani war of 1965 did not help matters either. The one island of comfort was the International House ... there everyone smiled a benign patronising smile all the time.  

Sohail:         When did you move to Ottawa?  

Abrar:          I was in B.C. for two and a half years and in the summer of 1966 I moved to Ottawa.  

Sohail:         What were you studying in B.C.?  

Abrar:          I was doing my Ph.D. but when I visited Ottawa, I had an offer for a permanent job and gladly accepted it; I welcomed a change, and a break from my studies.  

Sohail:         You've shared the experience of being broken-hearted when you were a student at the university. Do you think it was just a passing phase or did it affect your decision to get married?  

Abrar:          I think it must have affected me. It was not a passing thing. It is probable that I became wary of close personal relationships. It might explain my focus on understanding issues at the intellectual rather than the emotional level. However, things changed rather dramatically around mid 1970s when a real romantic involvement took hold of me, and I got married.  

Sohail:         How do children affect you?  

Abrar:          They are a great pleasure and a source of utter joy. I have often felt that if I have experienced God it is in the sharing of tender loving relationships with my family. This transmittal of love binds one to an unbroken chain of the hereafter. I have learnt a lot from observing my children grow and develop. The importance of the uninhibited need to make mistakes in the process of learning, is a case in point. I have observed how an infant attempts to gauge heights or distances by dropping his/her toys or spoon from a high position numerous times. This is but one among countless examples. I cite this because I use to be literally horrified at the prospect of making mistakes, and yet it turns out to be an essential element in the learning process - the reasonable freedom to make reasonable mistakes a reasonable number of times.  

Sohail:         Did you ever think of writing your experiences with your family and children?  

Abrar:          You mean an autobiography.  

Sohail:         Autobiography or in fiction or in poetry.  

Abrar:          I always wanted to write about my children, and have some half finished poems. I very much liked Ashfaq Hussain's poem "A Love Poem For My Son" which portrays some of my experiences as well.  

Sohail:         I feel that anyone who meets you will consider you a successful person. You have your Ph.D. in Economics, a prestigious job and a nice family. I sometimes wonder whether you consider yourself a successful person?  

Abrar:          As a person yes. More recently I have had a major development in my professional career which has been very gratifying.  

                   At the same time, there is another side to the story which is in relation to what I expect of myself; with respect to this, there has been one major failure. I have this gnawing feeling that I have not been assertive enough in expressing my ideas, that I have not rebelled enough, that I have not smashed the idols that have lost their meaningfulness. This is a matter of degree of course; for examples, my preface to "Dairay" is clear to some, while others may need to read between the lines. I feel that I should not have minced my words, but made myself more clear.  

                   Earlier, I alluded to the cut and thrust of the battle of ideas. It is perhaps this element of violence that I have felt at the most elemental level and have not coped with it. This is a failure, in my opinion. On an even more personal level I feel that I have this image of being a nice guy. Deep down I feel there is a rebellious, even somewhat ferocious, spirit in me, but the age old superstructure of my inherited culture values has imbued me with such a strong sense of what is "appropriate behaviour" that much of my energy is spent in simply taming the wild spirit inside me. As an illustration of this, I tend to look for converging ideas rather than divergent ones, to similarities rather than differences. I now feel there is enough of that. This is my new commitment:  to break down the idols. Perhaps in the year 1992 I will begin to call a spade a spade more often and be mean and nasty if necessary.  

Sohail:         That has been my impression too. I have always enjoyed your poetry because of its ideas and philosophy but whenever I read your poems I feel as if I am shaking hands with you while you are wearing gloves. I embrace you but you are wearing an overcoat. That's why I sometimes wish for more direct contact. I feel that all your emotions whether they are feelings of frustration, anger or affection, go through a lengthy process before they are expressed. They are not expressed directly. They are quite sophisticated but there seems to be some intellectualization. Your feelings don't seem to come directly from the heart. However, I do feel that in the last few years there is a significant change in your poems. You are becoming more direct but overall in your life I feel you have always avoided emotional closeness. Sometimes I wonder whether the fact that you do no permanently locate in one place is also an expression of the same attitude. Perhaps that's the way you deal with your life.  

Abrar:          These are very interesting observations. You are making two distinct points:  one that a process of intellectualization exists, and the second point relates to its causes.  

                   I do like to perceive issues at the intellectual level, yet I am unsure as to whether you can label it "intellectualization". The term seems to have pejorative connotations, implying a prescription about how issues ought to be perceived. I would question that.  

                   As to why my personality places such a high priority on comprehending the reality at an intellectual rather than at the emotional level, I think the rough sketch of background I have given you may hold some clues. Migration certainly has a role to play.  

                   Talking to a psychiatrist like you I am on perilous grounds, but you can forgive my amateurishness. I consider the guilt of one sort or another has lurked not too far in the background. It has found expression in a number of poems. I have tried to understand this feeling and there may be several possible explanations, all equally speculative and, it is fun to speculate on these things. On occasion, I have asked myself the question: what makes me deserve this gift of life I have received? And there is the corollary burden that goes with it; I must take appropriate action to justify my existence by recompensing the benefactor. Now, why would any sane person ask questions like these? One possibility is that I was deeply affected by the death at an early age (five years) of my younger sister. As is quite normal, she was eulogised and praises were heaped on her in death. I, in my small way, concluded that death should have spared such a nice person, and taken me instead who, in comparison, was apparently less deserving.  

Sohail:         Do you sometimes wish to have more intimate friends?  

Abrar:          Of course I do. You are the one friend with whom I can talk openly and freely. Your friendship reminds me of my close friendships of my student days.  

Sohail:         What do you foresee for yourself in the next few years?  

Abrar:          Let me recall another statement in the preface of Dairay. I said that a reasonable degree of harmony between the internal and external worlds which an individual cohabits is essential for charting out a new identity. I have begun to have some thoughts about that statement now. I feel that at the dawn of 1992, many years after the 1977-79 period when Dairay was put together, I am one "whole", at peace with myself, more so than ever before. What I had described inarticulately and imprecisely as the internal and the external worlds of an individual, are in harmony for me as never before. They are pulling in the same direction; and yet, being at peace with myself has not yielded a harvest of poems in recent years. The last little composition I did was some five years ago, and that too was done grudgingly. A certain creative tension is missing.  

                   However, the new found harmony may provide fertile soil for creative activity in a different medium; perhaps I will produce more substantive works in prose. Clearly, that remains to be seen!  

                   I have mentioned to you how I have defined commitment for myself ... it is to seek and demolish outworn idols. Over the next few years I would like to pick up portions of this vague exercise and give it some concrete shape. In terms of creative work outside of my professional activities, I would like to spend some time understanding the economic and political significance of the rise of sub-regionalism and the waning of the concept of the nation state.  

Sohail:         I also came to know that you have some interest in painting and music.  

Abrar:          I took a few music lessons in Ottawa and then I taught myself to play the Harmonium. Recently I have been practising every day and that's a substitute for writing. I have some books on classical music and have tried to understand the ragas system.  

Sohail:         I also see some of your paintings hanging on the walls.  

Abrar:          I did some painting in school and when I was in Ottawa I used to draw and sketch portraits. I was involved in that for about a year. I designed the cover of my book as well.  

Sohail:         Do you think you will come back to Canada one day?  

Abrar:          I think so. I am planning my return to the university to teach. I taught for a couple of years and enjoyed it but then I went into Public Service and left the university atmosphere. I hope that I can return to teaching.  

Sohail:         Do you think we could end the interview here? I would like to hear some of your poems.  

Abrar:          Let me find them.

 

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