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Sajjad Zaheer and Progressive Writers’ Movement
By Mushir Anwar
THAT literature will meet our criteria which has thought,
passion for freedom, beauty, a constructive spirit, the light of life’s
realities; that moves, creates a turmoil and turbulence, makes us restless,
does not put us to sleep since it would be akin to death if we sleep more.
Thus Munshi Premchand defined the objectives of the Progressive Writers’
Movement in his presidential address at the movement’s first congress held
in 1936. The standard bearer of this movement was Sajjad Zaheer, a scion
of nobility who renounced the advantages of his birth to work for the cause
of the downtrodden. Celebrations of his birth centenary beginning last
year have revived some spirit of the time and good men who are still there
have tottered to the aid of the Party.
The 41st edition of Irtiqa is devoted to Banney Bhai,
his pet name, and the Progressive Writers’ Movement that he founded. It
is a document of considerable interest for the present day reader who can
find a great deal of thoughtful material on the life and work of Sajjad
Zaheer as well as a candid discussion on the course of the movement, its
achievements, drawbacks and its likely future. The issue presents a selection
of the papers that were read at centenary conferences and seminars in the
subcontinent. A brief account of the proceedings of the conferences held
in Karachi and Lahore as well as in India has been covered for the issue
by Jamal Naqvi.
Sajjad Zaheer saw in literature that force which could
bring about a qualitative change in the life and thought of the people
since it anticipated the profound and the deep unseen as well as the surface
tensions springing from the font of ambition that not only make men dream
but goad them to their realisation. But that in effect meant changing the
aesthetics of art which some thought to be inflexible. Sajjad Zaheer who
believed in scientific thinking that changes with new discoveries and does
not remain wedded to old concepts saw no harm if literature could give
a helping hand in social transformation. Why should this be so abominable,
asks Dr Muhammad Ali Siddiqui since the artist has never been unconcerned
about the form and content of his creation and its relevance to society.
A piece of literature is after all a narrative. It is saying something.
It is an expression. It is not therefore possible for art to be dumb. Sajjad
Zaheer like other progressive thinkers wanted literature to be alive to
the human situation and its needs. What was so unliterary in that?
Wasn’t that that the Greek and Roman writers of yore sought
in their tales of the gods and goddesses and hasn’t that been the motive
in religious texts and hymns and dirges that embody the classic tradition?
And nobody seems to have any quarrel with that.
Irtiqa holds that Sajjad Zaheer with time’s passage has
become a leading symbol of the movement and its unending struggle for its
ideals. He will continue to inspire others to join the caravan. That may
be true, yet, it is a fact that the movement wilted which Ashfaq Saleem
Mirza, in his essay on its rise and fall, blames on the excessive optimism
of our armchair revolutionaries while Dr Qamar Rais sees it not so much
as a reaction to the inflexibility and extremism of the doctrinaires as
to the changes that came at the end of the colonial rule when it was thought
that a number of objectives of the movement had been achieved and the nationalist
governments banned the PWM and jailed its leaders leaving others disenchanted
and prone to pursue writing in the spirit of their own creative urges and
bent of mind.
Sajjad Zaheer’s centenary celebrations after years of
the demise of the Soviet Union serve as a reminder that neither has history
ended nor the class struggle ceased. The subjugated masses of Asia, Africa
and Latin America do not see the realisation of their dreams in the nightmare
of globalisation. Closer at home the voices of men like Sajjad Zaheer are
beginning to echo more resoundingly as the rude sight of corporate plunder
is bared to even the dim-eyed on the street. In any case the clouds of
dust from the debris of the Berlin wall seem to be settling down making
the vision of the dazzled and the dazed clearer. The success of Left parties
in South America and reassertion of the progressive politics even in Western
Europe and signs of renewal of stirrings in the Non-Aligned Movement as
was seen at the Havana summit are developments that should not surprise
anyone. What should be more worrying for the sages of statecraft and movers
and shakers of our world is the sight of a supine mass of humanity that
does not rise to claim its rights and where the intellectual class plays
* * * * *
AWAMI JAMHURI FORUM: The 31st issue of this Left monthly
magazine being published from Lahore features critical analyses of national
issues by eminent writers like Kaiser Bengali who dismisses the claims
of economic revival as temporary glitter which will soon fade, Salman Abid
who analyses Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) failure in the Punjab and
Ashfaq Saleem Mirza who reviews where we stand after 59 years of freedom.
Then there is a very candid interview with comrade Jam Saqi who rejects
the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat and declares he is not opposed
to Trotsky, whose political thought is examined in another essay by Khurshid
Javed. A juicy piece in the charming Punjabi of Iqbal Dhallon suggests
the biggest challenge is the promotion of democratic thinking in the society.
There are two other interesting studies, one on Maulana Sindhi who suggested
50 per cent tax on the rich and a secular federal government; and the other
on Lenin’s view of imperialism. Edited by Aamir Riaz, at Rs20 a copy it
helps sustain the glow on the horizon.