(downloaded Dec. 2006)

Times of India, Dec. 31, 2006

'We twist history but don't read it'

A renowned critic once wrote that Lahore-based Urdu writer Intizar Husain's fiction "digs deep, exposing layer after layer of an existence steeped in nostalgia, reverie and a sense of shadowy disquiet". Few authors can recreate memories as evocatively as the novelist of Basti and the short story writer of Gali Koochey. At 81, Husain remains remarkably fit. During a recent visit to New Delhi for an event organised by Katha, he spoke with Avijit Ghosh:

How do you look at the Urdu literary scene in India and Pakistan nowadays?

The literary scene is well spread out. There are no new movements. But stories and poetry are being written. Among top poets, there is Munir Niazi. Ahmed Mushtaq has taken ghazals to a stage of perfection. Zafar Iqbal is another great poet who has never stopped experimenting. Women's lib has found expression in our female writers such as Kishwar Nahid and Fehmida Riaz. The best in Urdu literary criticism is coming from India. Critics like Gopichand Narang, Shams-ur-Rahman Faruqi and M Shamim Hanafi are first-rate. Research work too is being carried out better in India.

As a writer, what is your main source of inspiration?

That's a difficult question. Lots of different sources inspire me. One is aware of something happening inside but it is difficult to pinpoint a particular source of inspiration. Old traditions of fiction have constantly inspired me. For instance, katha kahanis of ancient India and stories of Alif Laila from the Arabic-Persian tradition. I get inspired by both.

You wrote an essay, Between Me and The Story, after Pakistan's nuclear bomb blast where you explained why it became difficult for you to write. What is your state of mind now?

For me, peace is a very important issue. More people from India and Pakistan must visit each other. A Goswamiji in
Vrindavan told me recently that if people read history properly, a lot of misgivings about each other would be sorted out. Nowadays we twist history but don't read it. Literature can also play the role of a bridge. But then we don't read literature either.

What are your childhood memories of India?

I lived in a small village called Dibai Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh. It was a world in itself. After Partition, that life was cut short. We were reborn. When I saw the lights of Diwali this year, I remembered my childhood. I remembered the festivals celebrated there: Eid, Shab-e-barat, Holi, Diwali. When I look back I feel life was a procession of festivals. There are so many things to talk about: the trees, the birds. There were some birds that I never saw again.