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Wajahat’s voice

By November 20, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu   –   Kuldeep Kumar

A sensitive writer who bares his soul only through his work, Asghar Wajahat conveys humanistic values to his readers without trying to send out an explicit message

Although Asghar Wajahat has received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for playwriting and the Delhi government’s Hindi Academy’s highest award Shikhar Samman among several other honours, yet he has somehow never been at the centre of literary discussions or celebrations. That’s why, when a year ago well-known young writer Pallav brought out a special number of his magazine “Banaas Jan” on Wajahat, it came as a pleasant surprise. Recently, Ananya Prakashan came out with “Sanchayan”a three-volume set of his selected works, to offer his most important writings to his admirers and future researchers. Pallav, who teaches Hindi literature at the Delhi University’s Hindu College, has edited these volumes too. While the first volume contains his novels and literary-historical narratives, the second and third volumes offer plays and short stories, and memoirs and articles respectively.

Looks are deceptive

When I came to Delhi in 1973 to study ancient Indian history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Asghar Wajahat was one of those writers whom I came in contact with and whose writings were being noticed and talked about at that time. I still remember that his short story “Cake” was receiving considerable attention. He had recently returned from the United States and looked very unassuming, quiet and, to a large extent, indifferent to his surroundings. I used to wonder how a wonderful fiction writer could be so lukewarm.

However, in the course of several decades of knowing him through our rather infrequent meetings, I realised that his exterior was largely deceptive as it successfully hid a highly sensitive, imaginative and warm human being who wanted to reveal himself only through his creative work. Even today, he remains a man of few words, with a tentative half-smile on his lips, and an endearingly informal way of talking in a low-pitched voice. Little wonder that Asghar Wajahat has kept himself away from literary politics and self-promotion, and has savoured his self-effacingly low profile.

Born in 1945 in an aristocratic Syed family of Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh, Asghar Wajahat studied in local Hindi-medium government schools and went to the Aligarh Muslim University to do B.Sc. However, having realised that his heart was not into studying science subjects, he did M. A. and Ph. D. in Hindi literature. It was here that he became friends with Muzaffar Ali who later acquired fame as director of film “Umrao Jaan”, one of the iconic Bollywood films on the life of a courtesan. And, it was in Aligarh that young Asghar began to draw and paint. At the same time, he also started writing short stories and plays in Hindi and, as they were published in top-rung magazines like Kalpana and Dharmyug, he began to be noticed in the literary world.

In 1968, he came to Delhi and tried his hand at journalism as a freelancer. Within a year, he realised that it was not possible to survive as a freelancer. So, he went back to Fatehpur but could not succeed in farming. He contested the local municipal election as a CPI(M) candidate but lost to an illiterate Ghosi because a large number of voters belonged to his caste. Ultimately, he joined the Hindi Department at Jamia Millia Islamia and retired from there after serving as professor and head of the department.

The first collection of his short stories “Andhere Se” (To the Darkness) came out in 1977 as a joint venture with another emerging short story writer Pankaj Bisht who was his close friend. This book was received well and he did not look back ever after. His oeuvre includes nine novels, six collections of short stories, seven plays, two collections of essays, three travelogues, one memoir and book of literary criticism. Besides this, he has exhibited his paintings in places like Budapest where he taught Hindi for five years at the university. His plays “Jisne Lahore Nai Vekhya Wo Janmyaee Nai” (Whoever has not seen Lahore was never born) and “Inna Ki Awaz” (Inna’s voice) have acquired iconic status and so has his novel “Saat Aasmaan” (Seven skies).

Humanistic approach

A Leftist by inclination, Asghar Wajahat is a staunch opponent of casteist, communal and divisive ideologies and politics. His human concerns permeate all his writings and he conveys his humanistic values to his readers without trying to send out an explicit message. His works often transcend the artificial barriers erected by national borders and bring us face-to-face with the ironies of our times. ‘Main Hindu Hoon’ (I am a Hindu) makes us aware of the changing face of communalism and its Saifu (Saifuddin) reminds us of Bishan Singh of Saadat Hasan Manto’s story ‘Toba Tek Singh’. His novel “Saat Aasmaan” (Seven skies) is not on the Partition but it brings out in sharp relief the pain and suffering of those Muslims who chose to stay behind and not migrate to Pakistan.

Abba Miyan, a zamindar, is one of its main characters whose feudal values have taught him to respect other person’s religion and dietary habits and who does not get offended if Hindus do not eat food touched by a Muslim and vice versa. When communal riots break out, Abba Miyan offers his protection to all irrespective of caste or creed. Wajahat’s literary-historical narrative “Baakarganj ke Syed” (The Syeds of Baakarganj) is an absolutely delightful read. And so are his plays and travelogues. At 73, he is still active and one looks forward to reading more of his works.

The writer is a seasoned literary critic

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