PST Urdu Literature Festival

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Munir Ahmed 

On December 28, 2021, the Parveen Shakir Trust Urdu Literature Festival peaked with 14 national literary awards coupled with cash prizes. Initiated with Aks-e-Khushboo award in 1996 to mark the death anniversary of our late blunt and feminine poetess Parveen Shakir, the brain behind the PST Urdu Literature Festival is Mazhar ul Islam, a great innovatively creative short story writer of our times. His dedicated creativity has given fairly a new flare and flavour to the fiction in Urdu language. From giving life to the written words to make special the stories of ordinary characters from the down trodden tier of our society, to give a design of life to a literary page of an Urdu daily, and to make the covers of the published books to express their stories, Mazhar ul Islam has given a life to the PST Urdu Literature Festival. Even a common person can well appreciate the creativity of design and the content from its invitation card to its brochure, and to the designing of the sessions of the festival. Well done Murshad Mazhar ul Islam.          

Parveen Shakir lost her life in an accident at Faisal chowk on the Margalla Road in Islamabad on December 26, 1994. It has been raining since last night even at the moment of the accident. Inclement weather could not stop duty-bound Parveen Shakir to leave for her office but she could not reach. Her body was taken to the house of her boss Parveen Qadir Agha, a senior officer at the Federal Board of Revenue, at Bazar Road (now known as Begum Sarfraz Iqbal Road) in G-6/4 from PIMs (Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences) for last rituals. The news of her death had spread like a jungle fire. In no time, her friends, colleagues and fans had gathered at Ms. Agha’s house to mourn Parveen Shakir’s death. Since then Ms. Agha has proved to be a genuine and sincere friend to Parveen Shakir by assembling and leading the group of friends to take care of Parveen’s son and her poetic work.

Just a few days before her death, Parveen Shakir’s column on death was published in Jang, an Urdu language daily. She showed her fascination and love for the ultimate phenomenon every living creature has to pass through one day and that is unknown. The couplets she mentioned in her column were the reflection of her inner gloom – the agony of solitude and physical aloneness, the partial and biassed behaviours, and life’s tug of war. Her columns were equally popular among the readers because of rhythmic flow and poetic flavour.  

Parveen Qadir Agha was the only social and professional safety shield for Parveen Shakir, not at office but a guide and a mentor in her personal confusions too. In the last 27 years, Ms. Agha has proved that a sincere friend is an asset. She gathered Ms. Shakir’s other friends to form the Parveen Shakir Trust (PST) in 1994 that had two premier objectives. Firstly to take care of her son Murad and her unpublished poetic verses. Later, PST launched an annual Aks-e-Khushboo Award in 1996, two years after her death, for the two best books of poetry published in the year to mark Parveen Shakir’s death anniversary. Some years back, the award-only ceremony was shaped up to a full-length literature festival.

We shall congratulate the guru of many Mazhar ul Islam, Parvee Qadir Agha, Ra’na Seerat, Anwar Jahangir, Seema Majid, Majid Qureshi, Ambassador Qazi Humayun, Rafaqat Javed, Nafeesa Satti, Rukhsana Usman, and Riffat Haider for taking up the Parveen Shakir Urdu Literature Festival to its peak on December 28, 2021 with a heavily loaded day-long event. Without having Parvee Qadir Agha, Ra’na Seerat and Mazhar ul Islam leading the PST Urdu Literature Festival selflessly from the front, it could have not been a big success. Ironically, it has no patronage from the government, foreign donors or any corporate sector giant. Dedicated friendship is an asset indeed that makes great things happen.

A 3-day long festival was curtailed to a day by shrinking the sessions and omitting some of the very important discussions and launchings solely because of the paucity of funds, not COVID-19 SOPs though mostly they were observed. Some eminent poets and writers of the country including Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Amjad Islam Amjad, Asghar Nadeem sayed and many others came all the way from different cities to attend the festival. The Parveen Shakir fans and literature lovers remained attentive in the hall for 12-hours marathon sessions.

Good to see PST literature festival growing to the level. It is the country’s only private sector annual literary event that also recognizes and appreciates the good literary works with prestigious awards with cash money. On the last weekend of 2021, as many as 14 awards were given away. The winners included poets Shazia Akbar, Dr. Asad Naseer, Rehman Faris, Shaeen Abbas and short story writers Shoaib Khaliq, Muhammad Jamil Akhtar, Tahira Iqbal, Dr Shahida Sardar, Dr Muhammad Amin, Saeed Ahmed.  Amjad Islam Amjad was awarded with the lifetime achievement while Mustansar Hussain Tarar and Asghar Nadeem Sayed for their best books.

A Turkish scholar and writer Dr. Davut Sahbaz for his book, “Mazhar ul Islam – Life, Style and Selected Stories”. It was the author’s PhD thesis work at the Ankara University that culminated in a book. His translations of Mazhar ul Islam’s short stories have been published in Turkish literary journals. Good news is that many Turkish natives are taking interest in reading, writing and understanding the Urdu language. We are only limited to some translated Turkish drama serials into Urdu. Our national literary and cultural institutions shall enhance literary and cultural ties with Turkey and other friendly countries in the region. It would promote bilateral people-to-people contact and political understandings too.   

Parveen Shakir Trust and Parveen Shakir Urdu Literature Festival is a good example of remembering a friend, and promoting the tradition of friendship for a cause – promoting Urdu literature and litrati. Every district of our country shall have a person’s achievements and work of whom shall be remembered and celebrated. Look around your city to find a name to gather your friends and his/her fans to establish a trust on his/her name and launch a literature festival. Great things happen with you taking the first step. Dare to take it now.     

The writer is a freelance journalist and broadcaster, and Director Devcom-Pakistan. He can be reached at devcom.pakistan@gmail.com and tweets @EmmayeSyed