When hope was alive

Dr Manzur Ejaz recounts the flavour of the 1960s and ’70s and portrays some memorable characters of the time

I have rarely come across an intellectual and philosopher of the late Dr Aziz-ul-Haq’s calibre in Pakistan. His intellectual defiance resembled that of the 17th century mystic poet Shah Hussain, who defied the Mughals and danced in the city of Lahore, rousing the rabble. Hussain’s methodology was like Socrates, to lay bare the contradictions in society through questioning. Dr Aziz-ul-Haq was an intellectual cheetah. He would enter Lahore’s Pak Tea House, that hang-out of the literati in the 1960s and 1970s, target his victim, question him patiently, and then with swift logic and a high-pitched passionate tone, deliver a series of rapier-sharp ripostes. This would leave the other side speechless. He always made sure that his Marxist-Existentialist arguments carried the day and convinced his young audience. However, most of his contemporaries and writers from an older generation hated him. This included those who agreed with his politics and philosophy. They objected to his overbearing style, which had to silence the opposing side. It is ironic that I have met the intellectuals I adore through people who had no interest in them.

Meeting Dr Aziz-ul-Haq was no different. Somewhere in the mid-’60s, my friend Maulvi Amin, a moderate religious person, took me along one day to PCSIR Laboratories on Lahore’s Ferozpur Road, where Aziz worked as a ceramic scientist. When we entered the room, a short stubby person with thick glasses jumped from his chair, rushed over and shook hand so warmly that it seemed we had known each other for eternity. He asked the peon to bring tea and started discussing something. I don’t remember what he exactly talked about but when we left I knew that he was the person I was looking for in my search for “truth.” For Maulvi Amin, however that was his last visit to Aziz because I never saw the two together after that. From then onwards, till the time of his death, I don’t remember a day I did not meet Aziz.

I went regularly to his office or his home, whick was an upper portion of a Samanabad bungalow he had rented from a friend, Habib. He lived there with his wife Jamila – one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen – and their three children, Shahid, Asim and Uzma. Jamila was not only pretty on the outside, she also had great spirit. At the breakfast table, Aziz would look into her eyes and recite Ghalib non-stop. Sometimes he would ask me to sing Ghalib for them and I would comply. As our comrade Prof.Aziz-ud-Din told us later, Aziz had fallen in love with Jamila at first sight and would cry under the lamppost in front of her home. Later, when Jamila expressed doubts about his fidelity, Aziz would tell me, “She does not know that I can’t sleep without her smell around me.”

Occasionally, I accompanied Aziz on his wisits to his parents’ home in the ancient Miam Mir area of Lahore and to his in-laws, who lived on Bahawalpur Road. Aziz’s parents were modest and spiritual. I think his parents’ lifestyle had a lot to do with Aziz’s attraction to revolutionary ideology. I never noticed any contradiction between aziz’s ideology and the way he treated his entire family. His younger brother, Anwar-ul-Haque. nicknamed Badshah, was a lot like him and stood with him till his death. In the political arena, Dr Aziz-ul-Haq and prof Aziz-ud-din made a formidable team: the former was strong on the intellectual side while the other had great organisational skills.

With their help, a progressive literary forum, “Naey Log,” was started. It attracted bright budding writers at the Punjab University. Shahid Mohmood Nadeem, now deputy MD Pakistan Telivision, was its secretary and every sitting was very enriching. The pair of Azizes ran a History Study Circle in the office of the Pak-Korea Friendship Society, located on Lahore’s Mall, headed by one Mr Rahim. The purpose of this study circle was to teach progressive methodology to analyse history. Part of the study programme was to teach the right method of reading newspapers.

Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq said that, most of the time, the main news of the day is put opaquely somewhere on the inside pages with no catchy headline. The study circle lasted for quite a while till student politics took a radical turn and we began organising ourselves under the name of the Nationalist Students Organisation (NSO).

The National Student Federation (NSF) was dominant in Sindh and other provinces while the NSO emerged as the major student organisation in Lahore and other cities of the Punjab. During the same period, the late 60s and early 70s Pak Tea House and Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq were a hunting ground for the Azizes. Pak Tea House was full of the giants of Urdu laterature.

Poets and writers Nasir Kazmi, Munir Niazi, Zaheer Kashmiri, Intizar Hussain, Iftikhar Jalib, Habib Jalib, Shahzad Ahmad, Munoon Bhai, Zahid Dar, Anis Nagi, Abbas Athar, Ahmad Mustaq, Adeem Hashmi, Agha Suhail Ahmad Khan, Kishwar Naheed, Yousaf Kamran and many other whom I have not mentioned, were regulars at Pak Tea House, There were many new recruits like Saadat Saeed, Iqbal Jozi and myself. While most engaged in verbal duels inside the tea house, a boozy party would always be going on outside the door on the pavement. Munir Niazi and Habib Jalib were part of both parties.

Most times, the shagird pesha (apprentices) like us, with some contribution from our seniors, would arrange the umm-ul-khabais (Mother of All Evils), Munir Niazi’s preferred name for alcohol. Occasionally, on our way back from Punjab University, New Campus, Iqbal Jozi and I would pick up the poet Munir Niazi from his residence which was located on ganda nala (sewerage channel) near Shama Cinema on Ferozpur Road, Munir Niazi would pull out his wallet and give us Rs 5, expecting us to pitch in the rest from our own pockets, for the umm-ul-khabais. It was not a bad deal since some rich fan of Munir Niazi’s would inevitably supply the booze and there would be plenty left for us after the maestro had his fill. Of course, we had to share it with the great populist poet Habib Jalib, who did not care where the stuff came from.

Dr Aziz-ul-Haq had a unique relationship with Munir Niazi. He interpreted the fear of witches and jinni, repeated over and over in Munir Niazi’s Punjabi poetry, as the overwhelming terror of the prevalent feudalistic culture. Knowing his sensitivities, once the two Azizes and Jammal visited Munir Niazi when his wife was ill in hospital and he was afraid to visit her. They took some flowers and fruits to her. Munir Niazi said that, “Now I have the courage to see her (his wife). Take me there,” and of course, the Azizes followed the orders of their adored poet.

As the political movements were heating up all around the world, Pak Tea House and Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq was being politicized as well. Dr.Aziz-ul-Haq and Iftikhar Jalib were the leaders of new literary movement to restructure the language and literature according to the modern realities and political needs. Under Aziz-ul-Haq’s influence most of Tea House writers started claiming to be Existentialist-Marxists with a few exceptions. The conservative group was lead by Nasir Kazmi, Intizar Hussain and few others from the older generation. Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq, the main forum of recognized writers and poets used to become a battlefield where the ideologues from both sides fought fierce intellectual battles. Aziz was following a strategy to form a group of revolutionary intellectuals. He believed that this was a prerequistite for any revolution: once the revolutionary intellectual group is in place, labor unions, professional organizations and broad range of masses can be won easily.

Following Leninist approach he used to exphasize that the oppressed labor class does not need lecturing on low wages or better conditions: The labor knows it better than the middle class intellectuals. However, what labor and other oppressed classes do not know is how the oppressive state structure works and how it can be overturned because without capturing it no meaningful change can take place. He did not adhere to the idea that labor unions are the only starting point for a Socialist revolution. He had developed ties with some Kala Shah Kaku labor fronts but he ended up intellectualizing the labor leaders like Rana Zubair. This was the main reason he took Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq as the battle ground for revolution.

Bythe way, the Halqa weekly meetings were open to everyone but membership was quite limited: besides, having proven writing skills, the new members had to be sponsored by some old members and it required general body approval. I was lucky to have the honor of being a member of that most respected literary body although, with passage of time, I become more interested in Punjabi Adabi Sangat which used to meet in the next room to Halqa. Therefore, I would go to Halqa meeting only when our group, led by Aziz, needed every foot soldier.

The ideological conflict in Halqa intensified and culminated in very fractious annual meetings. I remember one annual meeting when Nasir Kazmi was presiding and Iftikhar Jalib wwas reciting a poem directly hitting the chair “Sahib-i-Sadar! Aapki soorat badal rahi hey…..” I don’t remember the whole poem but it was sheer cursing. I think that much overt politicization took its tool and ultimately, the conservative group stopped coming to Halqa meeting and it died slowly. In retrospect, I feel we should have avoided destroying Halqa. But history does not accept ifs and buts and it cannot be rewritten.

Dr Manzur Ejaz is a former academic who lives in Virginia, USA