By Intizar Husain
THE gathering organised in memory of Mumtaz Husain, which preceded the Art Council’s annual Urdu Conference, should not go unnoticed. Though not as big as the conference, it had its own significance. Apart from Husain’s distinguished position as an Urdu literary critic, he was also the leading critic of the Progressive Writers’ Movement. Because of his scholarly posture in contrast to the emotionally charged attitude of his fellow travellers, he commanded more respect in literary circles in general and his critical opinions attracted serious attention.
Professor Shamim Hanafi, the well-known writer and critic from India, was invited as the chief guest and he presented the keynote address. Armughan-i-Mumtaz, a volume devoted to Mumtaz Husain and Dr Jamal Naqvi, was also released on this occasion.
Hanafi paid tribute to Husain and his paper was a critical review of the tradition of literary criticism, right from the times of Maulana Hali and Maulana Mohammad Husain Azad. He started with the observation that the reformers appearing in the post-1857 era seemed to be suffering from the loss of collective memory. They too, like Lord Macaulay, had read their history wrong. According to Hanafi, we should not deny the historical significance of what they were saying, but their dismissive approach towards Urdu’s well-established literary tradition was unjustified. They did not care to know that each literary tradition demands to be studied in an independent way, in light of its own historical perspective.
Coming to the literary period of the thirties and forties, Hanafi said that perhaps the early progressives were also judging their past in the Macaulian way. They seemed to have developed a sense of guilt with respect to their literary past. According to him, these early stalwarts were expected to explore new ways of understanding and expression in the light of their own historical vision. But it was left for those in the West to guide us in our new literary journey. Relying on their wisdom we rejected our classics and our traditional ways of evaluation and got rid of “a living cultural memory”.
However, Hanafi discriminates between the attitude of the creative writers and that of the critics. The creative writers, according to him, tried to remain faithful to their own creative self. But in the realm of criticism, right from Maulana Hali’s Muqadma to Akhtar Husain Raipuri’s Adab aur Zindgi, our critics are succumbing to the awe inspiring philosophies and literary theories offered by western minds.
But at the same time, Hanafi pointed out a significant change of attitude in the later writings of Mumtaz Husain. He quoted from the collection titled Adab Aur Shaoor which was published in 1958. Here emphasis is laid on the inevitability of historical study: “no other study,” he says, “not even that of Marxism, can provide an alternative to the historical study. Much has been written on the history of Europe, while not much has been written about the history of Asia”. He reminds us that “there was a time when here in Asia [there] was an upsurge of cultural flood which was flowing towards the West. Our poetry influenced the poetry of the West. Of course, in face of the new thought, our old thoughts and ideas have paled in insignificance. But it does not mean that all what had been produced here in that age of cultural upsurge has now turned redundant”.
We can well see that this change of attitude had brought a great change in Mumtaz Husain’s approach to our classical literature. He seriously engaged in the study of the major works of the past. He worked on Mir Amman’s Bagh-o-Bahar and compiled it anew. His study of Ghalib titled Ghalib, Aik Mutalia, came out in 1969. His research work on the life and poetry of Amir Khusrau was published in 1976. In his last years he was engaged in the study of Mir though his death did not allow him to finish it. So Mumtaz Husain comes to us in his later years as a mature mind possessed with a wider progressive vision and a new awareness of his cultural past. That imparted a new depth to his later critical works.