Akmal Aleemi


Few people go by a single name and they are special.  Nawaz was born Karam Nawaz in Kathu Nangal, a small village near Amritsar and migrated to Lahore days before partition along with his family.  Soon after completing his school he shed the first name and began writing in Urdu and Punjabi.  He died in Lahore on May 10, 1995 of emphysema apparently caused by smoking.  It was a day of sacrifice, Eid-al-Azha.


He was inspired by Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chandar and A. Hamid. 

He is remembered as a member of the so-called Amritsari School of Thought which produced poets Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabbasum, Saif-ud-din Saif, Arif Abdul Mateen, Ahmed Rahi, Shahzad Ahmed, Ahmed Mushtaq, Zaheer Kashmiri: fictionists Saadat Hassan Manto,  Zahoor-al-Hassan Dar and A. Hamid and grammarian Zabt Qureshi.

Following in the footsteps of Bedi, like him he even took a job at the General Post Office.  On several occasions he gave me an unofficial tour of GPO and showed me the rooms where Bedi - and later he - briefly worked as clerks.  This was his first and the last job.  For a living he wrote scripts for film, plays for Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television and published his fiction in magazines and later in book form but the effort scarcely brought bread and butter to his family.  On occasions he was offered jobs in newspapers and Radio which he declined.  He was fiercely an independent person.

Syed Sibte Hassan encouraged Nawaz to write for Lail-o-Nihar when he was the editor of the weekly.  Nawaz wrote about the ordinary unsung people whom he knew well. They included a woman movie extra, a tonga driver, a fake doctor, a (professional)letter writer, a patwari, a cobbler, a postman, a sweetmeat maker, a linesman, an actor, a goldsmith, a peon, a poet, a journalist, a coolly, a waiter, a school master, a nurse and a beloved (woman).

Nawaz called these Swiftian style essays pictures-in-writing and put them in a collection with an introduction by Ishfaq Ahmed.  The book was dedicated to Anwar Jalal Shamza who was a close friend.  Shamza whose memorably drawn ‘S’ still appears on all Shezan advertising and products, migrated to Britain in the 1950s having made his mark as a painter and writer in Lahore.  He returned to Lahore sometime later along with his English wife, Mary, and a daughter, appropriately named by her artistic parents as Tasveer.   Nawaz brought the family to my place when I lived in our ancestral home in Delhi Gate.  The Shamzas wanted to see and study the walled city culture.  The house was built in a way that if you stood on the top storey and looked down, you could see a shaft of light fall to the ground, which also happened to be the last resting place of my grandfather.  Shamza’s wife, I recall standing up there, looking down and exclaiming, “it’s a good place to commit suicide.”

Home was the theme of Nawaz’s only Urdu novel, Ghar Peyara Ghar,  (Home,Sweet Home) whose second edition published in 1993 is dedicated to me.  He spun out the idea of this novel when he traveled to the U-S to visit me and some other friends.  In the epilogue, Nawaz, writes in his own nice hand writing: “The novel was made into a movie. Its screenplay, too, was penned by me.  Perhaps in view of its realism the film was accepted for a showing at a festival in Egypt.  It was said to be a revolutionary film.  But it could not bring about any revolution because revolutions require more than a script.  Since the film was bad it flopped on the box office.  But I think the novel is not all that bad.  Perhaps, therefore, it is being published for the second time.” 

He also wrote the script of film  “Mojiza” (The Miracle) which tried to  depict the fervour with which the people resisted the Indian invasion of Lahore in 1965.  Unfortunately, this movie, too, turned out to be a lemon

As the demand for Punjabi prose rose Nawaz  began to write exclusively in his mother tongue, his first work being  Sham Rangi Kurri (a girl in the evening color), a radio play.   He differed with the emerging Punjabi writers who were fond of bringing in Gurmukhi terms and expressions.  He insisted he would write in the Punjabi which is spoken in the Pakistani urbane Punjab.  In a prologue to the play, A. Hamid, wrote:  One should live in the City of Lahore, love trees and read the Punjabi prose of Nawaz.  This book was dedicated to Ikram Chaudhri, a Gawalmandi neighbor, who died in England where he had practiced medicine for many years.  Strangely, several of Nawaz’s friends were physicians who migrated to Middle East, Europe and the United States but kept a professional eye on his failing health.  When I visited him in early 1995, he had his bedding laid out in the ground floor drawing room.  He could not climb the stair to go to his bed room on the upper floor.  Breathing with great difficulty, he told me, “I can hear the foot steps of the approaching death and I am scared.”  During his last days when Nasir Malky called me and said Nawaz wanted a lunge transplant I promptly conveyed the message to our common friend, Dr. Ejaz Qureshi in New York who replied that it was not feasible.

Nawaz’s collection of short stories, Dhoongian Shaman ( Deep Evenings), was recommended by the Punjab University to students sitting for their master’s in Punjabi Language and Literature.  The Pakistan Times reviewed the book under the headline:  Focus on common man.  The blurb was made up of laudatory comments by Ishfaq Ahmed, Mirza Adeeb, Sajjad Haider and Ahmed Rahi.  The fifth edition of the book was published by the government funded Pakistan Punjabi Adabi Board, Lahore. Nawaz dedicated it to a friend from Amritsar, Rafiq Ahmed, who died a year after his marriage, of brain cancer on a Lahore-bound train from Karachi, where he had been operated upon by Dr. Jumma Khan.  Nawaz added the well known folk verse under his name:  Nahin labhne lal gwache, Mitti na phrol jogia  (Gems once lost are never to be found,  why dig through the earth, O wandering man. ) Nawaz was one of many Pakistani writers who tried to live of their writings but failed.  He dreamed of getting married and settling down in 1991 when his youngest brother, Rana Riaz Shahid, died of a heart attack leaving a widow and five small children behind.  He devoted rest of his life to taking care of the distressed family.

(Akmal Aleemi is a senior editor at Voice of America, Washington)

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