Wriggling out of Marxist charisma

Waris-fame playwright clarifies his convictions

Afzal Bokhari


Indian film director Gulzar forgot about the dinner and looked up in amazement at the remarks of his guest from Pakistan. In a satiric vein, the guest had ridiculed his host’s masterly craft of making art movies: “You champions of the parallel cinema are no better than the thugs of commercial world. They appeal to the baser elements of viewers by stripping naked their young attractive heroines. Art movie makers are doing the same by showing Shabana Azmi’s breasts bulging out of a tattered shirt. This is no way to glorify poverty.”

Writer Amjad Islam Amjad has his own style of convincing others by blending his spicy argument with the typically hair-raising sensation of his native Lahore. A lively display of this style was witnessed once again early this week when Amjad came to Peshawar on a brief visit to preside over the distribution ceremony of Khyber Medical College’s annual tri-lingual Cenna magazine.

Fidgeting with the ice cubes in his Pepsi, an excessively sweating Amjad battled with the early July power breakdowns and a barrage of unflattering questions. “Why has the angry firebrand revolutionary of late sixties in you taken a back seat and given place to an annoyingly contented Ashfaq Ahmad who stands upto guard the status quo almost like a mercenary”?

Amjad looked visibly incensed at the abrupt reference to a little-noticed but well-developed streak in him: “You are probably referring to my days in Lahore’s Halqa Arbab-i-Zauq when I used to breathe fire along with the late Dr. Azizul Haq. I may clarify here that I was never a communist with the usual Marxist discipline in me but I was extremely fascinated with the cause of the down-trodden championed by leaders like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Mian Iftekharuddin and Mazhar Ali Khan. But these people badly disillusioned me. They sat by the windows of expensive restaurants along Lahore’s Mall and thought that revolution would come marching from the Kim’s gun. They cried hoarse for the poor but moved about in Chevrolets and from Old Anarkali bazar had their 300-rupees-a-day pick of fresh fruit. And mind you those were the days when even the magistrates were handed down Rs. 300 a month as salary.”

The post mortem of the prime revolutionaries of our time seemed too ruthless to stand so one naturally felt like switching over to less controversial aspects of Amjad’s career. Sitting in a tiny side-room of his younger brother’s house in old Peshawar’s Dhakki Nalbandi, Amjad said that he had recently been promoted to associate professorship. By the time you read these lines, he may well have shifted from his modest home in Lahore’s crowded Garhi Shahu to a requisitioned residence in the prestigious GOR near Shadman.

It is chiefly due to his towering talent that a 55-year old shy college teacher rose from Garhi Shahu’s tiny Mumtaz Street and spread from Gwadar to Gilgit like fragrance. Out of a total of 27 books he is more possessive about his collections of poetry which, in chronological order, include Barzakh, Satwan dar, Fishar, Zara phir say kehna, Uss par, Itnay khwab kahan rakhoon ga.

Apart from 50 assorted and 10 long plays, he has written seven popular serials like Waris, Dehleez, Samandar, Waqt, Raat, Fishar and Din. Moreover, three of his new drama serials – Pul for PTV and Eendhan and Girah for NTM – are almost ready to be launched.

Besides, senior PTV men like Muhammad Nisar Hussain, Yawar Hayat and Nusrat Thakur, Amjad also praises the devotion and hard work of Sahira Kazmi, Shoaib Mansoor and Ayub Khawar.

Amjad did not have a good opinion about the present state of stage and theatre in the country which is one reason why after three plays he stopped writing for stage In spite of having a busy schedule, he found time to write films like Qurbani, Haq mehr, Ik sanam bewafa, Choron ki baraat and the expensive under- production Jo dar gaya wo mar gaya. In India he is impressed by such film directors as Satyajeet Ray, Bimal Roy and Gulzar while on this side of Wahga border he praises the work of men like Pervez Malik, Nazrul Islam and Javed Fazil.

The eldest in a family of two brothers and four sisters Amjad is a lovable human being. But massive fame has earned him powerful rivals as well. “Some elements in PPP dub me a remnant of Ziaul Haq and think that I thrived on martial law. Ironically, these very PPP wallahs came to pat me on the shoulder for writing on Zia’s television about things he didn’t like. Let them not forget that sooner or later there have got to be PPP remnants as well.”

Whenever Amjad feels sad he tries to drown his sorrows in the love of his family which includes his son Ali Zeeshan and daughters Tehseen (matric student) and Rosheen (in B.A.).