Sibte Hassan begins his encompassing criticism of Professor Askari with “Professor Mohammad Hasan Askari was a distinguished writer of Urdu” and then traces his “deterioration” into metaphysics, ending up with Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and his Bahishti Zewar.

Well. Why not? And this is not the only case of one going to the extreme when changing tracks. After all, Askari did not need to prove himself. His early short stories still delight. They were among the early heralds of our progressive writing. And he occupies a high place in Urdu literary criticism.

Sibte Hasan, who did not like Askari reading, or at least liking, Ashraf Ali Thanvi, had, I am certain, continued to enjoy his literary criticism. But there is more to literature than a fascination with metaphysics.

Am I being drawn back to the problem of “alienation”? How I enjoyed discoursing on it in my college days; even philosophy can be a joy when one is young: “It follows from the relation between alienated labour and private property, that the emancipation of the society from private property, from servitude, takes the political form of the emancipation of the working class…….”(K.M.).

No! I am not ashamed to confess to a liking of romance, e.g:

“Magar uss shokh kay aahista say khhultay huay hont.”

(Faiz)

Or

“J’ai reve d’une grande route,

Ou tu etais seule a passer,

L’oiseau blanchi par la rosee,

S’eveillait a tes premiers pas.”

 (Matines, Eluard)

(I dreamt of a big road, which you were the only one to traverse, the bird whitened by the dew, was stirred by the sound of your first step.)

Actually, the mankind has not yet got over the memory of his early days in the forests. After all, he lived in them hundreds of thousands of years, hunting and gathering, while he started producing food only about 10,000 years ago.

I imagine, Professor Askari would have placed the basic split in the human condition at the place where production began. He says the present time is extremely complex because the technological inventions have found the means to satisfy the humans’ physical needs, on the one hand, and all the tendencies and thoughts have mixed up inextricably together with their contradictions, on the other. And this jumble is devoid of any system of grading. He regrets that, after the Second World War, even the peoples of Africa and Asia became prisoners of the Western mode of thought, i.e. materialism.

It is obvious that he sees spiritualism and materialism as mutually contradictory, instead of being each other’s reflection. After all, materiality is the only mode in which the existence is experienced by the consciousness, i.e. by our spiritual being. I think here Diderot found the most reasonable solution, when, towards the end, his hard pronouncements of scepticism were softened by tolerant humanity.

    The writer is a retired             ambassador.

    Email: abul_f@hotmail.com