‘Tasteer’ — well selected combination of poems and prose

Literary journal ‘Tasteer’ is now being published regularly with its quality contents. The December 2017 annual issue has been printed in fine thin paper with beautiful title by Aalia Mirza. The inside of title page consists of her introduction. She is an expert in painting landscapes with feminist themes. She has written columns as well as features for newspapers. She bagged first prize in PNCA Summer Camp Painting Competition in 2003. I first looked at the back of the title cover and saw paintings by Aalia Mirza. A few pages turned backwards from the back title brought me to a beautiful prose poem titled ‘Magar Main Tau Yehan Hun’ (but I am here) by Rubab Ali. This is a preferred form of writing poetry by editor Naseer Ahmad Nasir as well. Rubab wishes she was born 399 years before Christ in Socrates’ Athens to stand beside his shoulders to support his revolutionary slogans. Alas, she was not there. Then the poetess wishes that she was born in the era of Quraish when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was preaching the oneness of God. But the matter of fact was that she was not there then. Then she dreams of being born in Sir Syed Ahmad days in Aligarh and says if she had been there, she would have been happy to remove dust from his books. She desired to be a first year student at his university. But she was in Karachi of 2016 instead, among shops and computers. She was among people who liked counting notes instead of valuing relations. In the end, Rubab wished that she desired that she lived in any era before the present one when people had lines in the palms of their hands and not calculators. This simply depicts her disgruntled frame of mind (with the present era). The present issue of Tasteer includes Nasari Nazms (prose poems) from Pages 42 to 65 and then from pages 295 to 371 by Iqbal Faheem Jozi, Farrukh Yaar, Mustafa Arbab, Tabassum Kashmiri, Jalil Aali, Ayub Khawer, Anwaar Fitrat, Iftikhar Bukhari, Saeed Ahmad, Tanvir Qazi, Alia Mirza, Sidra Afzal, and others.

I was surprised to find two poems by Farhan Mushtaq whom I had known as a competent television programmes producer. A very nice poem titled ‘Dhund Aur Neend’ (fog and sleep) – is on page 353. The poet used to put words in front of his beloved and remained silent. Sleep used to hide in the fog waiting to outbreak at appropriate time. This poem has touched upon a unique combination of sleep and fog. Farrukh Yaar, a proficient poet cautions his literary friend Sarmad Sehbai to tread his feet with caution in his poem ‘Sarmed Sehbai Daikh Kei Chalna’ (be careful Sarmad Sehbai) – Page 53.

Scarecrows were once the go-to solution to protect crops from birds. Today their name is synonymous with farms and gardens. With scarecrows being an age old bird control method, the question is, do they really work? The answer is, yes, if you’re willing to devote hours of time and effort weekly. In Dr. Saleem Akhtar’s short story ‘Aik Aur Naqli Chawkidar’ (one more artificial guard) on page 66, the scarecrow (who disclosed his name as Bajoka) started talking to the narrator. He insisted that he was human. He lived once in a state whose king was fond of collecting gold, melt it and make rods. When he had collected enough, he built a special castle to store the gold rods. Since he had nothing else to do, he decided to visit with a wish a Holy person who had come and settled in his Kingdom. His queen refused to accompany him as she detested him being greedy. Instead, the king went with some of his cronies. He met the Holy person who was clad in white robe with white beard, hair and eyebrows and lived in a cave. Without knowing the king’s wish the Holy man stated that the king’s desire would be fulfilled. Upon return, anything the king touched turned into gold. Even when his small daughter came to sit in his lap, she turned into a golden doll. His kingdom had two rules; rich were beyond law and the poor were sent to gallows. One day Bajoka sensed that something worse was in the offing so he decided to convert into a scarecrow from human being. The temperature started rising. Everything including king’s golden castle was melting and started flowing like water. The king ran for his life, fell and the vultures and ants followed him. This short story is well written with a cause and simile can be given of a banana kingdom. The short stories section spreads from page 66 to 265 with 29 contributions by mostly new writers which is a very healthy sign.

In a very interesting essay, Dr Uzma Saleem talks to Anwar Masood, Muhammad Hameed Shahid and Basir Kazmi about their childhood – Page 21-27. Anwar Masood was amused when he mentioned his paternal uncle Younis of Younis Fans with the comments that his uncle made fans of iron and he of human beings. Muhammad Hammed Shahid recalled his huge house in Pindi Khaip where he played in the lawn with his two brothers. Basir Kazmi was student of Government College, Lahore from 1963 to 1968. According to his Papa’s diary, the family had moved to their Krishen Nagar house in March 1957 when Basir was just three and half years old. He remembers his simple life when the entire luggage shifted to this house filled only two tongas. In his school days, he got four annas as pocket money from Baji (his mother) which was considered a lavish amount then.

‘Afsanchas’ a term used for small short stories, form a section in Tasteer. For example Qasim Yaqub just narrates an incidence in his afsancha ‘Aik Jaan Ka Ziyan’ (loss of a life). A child witnesses a bitch feeding her four children. Next day he finds out that the bitch had died after being crushed by some vehicle. He returns to his mother and asks if he could give his milk bottle to the children as whatever milk was present in their mother’s stomach was spilt on the road. If a short story is an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot, then an afsancha (short-short story) is a narrative shorter than a short story. Such efforts encourage writers to write and convey whatever they want to in fewer words. In this domain, Qasim Yaqub has contributed seven stories, Munir Ahmad Firdaus, three, FJ Faizi three, Saba Kazmi, Azmat Shahzad Azmi, Bushra Shirin and Hala Zafar one each.

Neelum Ahmad Basheer’s nostalgia is reflected in her submission ‘Wapsi’ (return) – Page 384. She remembers the day in America when her children advised her to go for knee replacement surgery. She went to Dr. Sood, an Indian American surgeon who was crude in his behaviour but very professional in his surgery. After some time she went to a Pakistan American surgeon in Ohio for the other knee surgery, who was courteous and spoke in Urdu but his operation brought lot of pain after the operation. Nevertheless, Neelum is proud to be symbol of Indo-Pak friendship and humorously expresses her one leg as Indian and the other as Pakistani. The rest of the discourse is concentrated on the plight of American Asians living in America. Witnessing the disparities among parents and siblings makes her pray for her last leg of life in her native country, Pakistan. Another memory shared by Samina Tabassum is about life in Ontario, Canada.

The present issue of Tasteer has travelogue by Salma Awan and five mini-travelogues by Irfan Shahood. The domain of long poem is bagged by Simil Baloch. Naseer Ahmad offers five poems from his diary. The poem ‘Time Capsule’ is strangely interesting in the sense that the poet wishes to be buried in dust or in basement of a plaza, under a building or made to float in the ocean. When his remains shall be discovered, many stories of his time would be revealed. Criticism by Shams ur Rehman Farooqi, Attiq Ullah, Abul Kalaam Qasmi, Naeem Baig, Muhammad Abbas, Umer Farhat, Awais Maloom and Ali Usman Bajwa appear in a separate section. The latter provides a deep insight into the poetic translation of Bhagwat Geeta by Khwaja Dil Muhammad. He mentions that reading Bhagwat Geeta could be a respite from the disturbed minds of the twentieth first century. An interesting dialogue on WhatsApp with Dr. Ghaffir Shahzad appears on page 501. So, literary endeavours have been exploited from the modern mobile apps. Finally, ghazals form a large section in this journal from page 525 to 548, translations from page 549 to page 589 followed by Sindhi literature, children literature, literary column and music in separate sections. I contributed a detailed essay on the singing excellence of singer Geeta Dutt – Page 616. I would wind up this review by quoting the introductory para of my submission. “While remembering Geeta Roy (later Dutt), my memories go back to 1955 movie Mr. and Mrs. 55 where her song ‘Preetum Aan Milo’ was filmed on pretty Madhubala in the climax of the film when she runs to airport to look for Guru Dutt. The song was played in the background. This song was originally created for another movie and sung by C. H. Atma. It was adapted for this movie and sung again by Geeta Roy. Lyrics are by Saroj Mohini Nayyar.

Title: Tasteer (Book No. 03) December 2017

Editor: Naseer Ahmad Nasir

Coordinators: Gagan Shahid, Amar Shahid

Publishers: Book Corner, Jhelum, Pakistan

Pages: 640, Price: Rs. 700/–

The writer is an award-winning musician and author. He tweets at @amjadparvez and can be reached at doc_amjad@hotmail.com

Published in Daily Times, March 6th 2018.