By Syed M. Aslam
Aug 05 - 11, 2002


Azhar Abbas Hashmi is a well known personality in the literary circles of Karachi, Pakistan and beyond. He is one of the founder and coordinator of the famous "Alami Mushaira (International Poetry recitation event)" organized by Sakinnan-e-Shahray Quaid (The residents of the city of Great Leader the Father of the Nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah) every year except 1997 since 1989. The annual event for which the prominent Urdu poets, including many whose mother tongue are not Urdu, participate not only from within Karachi but also across the country and as far away as the US, Canada, Middle East and the rest of the world has become a permanent feature of Karachi. Azhar joined Karachi University in 1958, finished his Honours in Geology three years later and completed his Masters in it from KU in 1963. He was much active in the literary activities during his study at the University and was elected first Secretary General of Inter Universities Literary Forum. He attended the 9th World Youth Festival in Bulgaria in 1968 and travelled to Russia in 1968, a time when it was highly unwelcomed, and wrote a travelogue 'Safar Hay Shart' which was published as a serial in a reputed Urdu Weekly Akhbar-e-Jahan.

PAGE: Alami Mushaira has become a major literary event of Karachi over the years. How it all started?

Azhar: During the late eighties the city was in a grip of rampant violence. In particular 1988 was the year when Karachi started to be recognized as a violent prone city after the general elections held after a decade. We at the Unikarians, the organization of former students of Karachi University, analyzed the situation and come up with the idea to organize a Mushaira to help erase our identity as a lawless city, a city where the cream of the country live. The first event was held in March 1989.

PAGE: What you feel the event has achieved with regard to do improving the situation in the city?

Azhar: It has helped create an atmosphere of understanding, the necessity for dialogue no matter how acute are the differences. I have met you for the first time and we may not agree of a whole range of issues and yet this opportunity to interact, nevertheless, help us discover some common grounds. The event provides a venue to let us sit together on an intellectual level the common link of which is the language, the Urdu language. Our very first event back in 1989 included poets from India only but since then we have invited them from all across the world. In the context of Pak-India relations, it may be realized that long-term socio-political communication can come only from literature. I like to mention that the two most popular national songs including saray jahan say accha is penned by Iqbal who is our national poet. If we can not afford to live as friends the least we could do is to try to co-exist.

PAGE: What's the event contribution to promote the Urdu language?

Azhar: I would like to the late great Urdu poet of Karachi, Dilawar Figar, who said that Urdu has the power to unite the whole world. Today poets whose mother tongue is not Urdu are participating in the event. Mr Ataka of Japan is one such poet and he will be present in the event held on the 10th of this month. It has also provided us a platform for promoting Karachi as the city of the founder of the nation. We were the ones who first proposed to call The City of the Quaid. It has also promoted universal unity with reference to Pakistan Day vide the most efficient medium, the Urdu language and last but not least it has put the city on the world map to help recognition for the poets of the city and beyond.

PAGE: How do you feel about Urdu as the most widely used language for communication in the context of Pakistan, which has over a dozen other languages and dialect?

Azhar: Yes we strongly feel that Urdu as the single most important common communication link has an important role to keep the people of Pakistan united. In one of our events the powerful chief of Bugti tribe of Balochistan, Akbar Bugti, was one of the guest. Akbar Bugti who, for one reason or the other, was not so happy with the language having his own perceptions. However, after the event he appreciated it and went as far as saying that such events should also be held in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. This event is an extension of our belief that Urdu is the biggest means of communication between the people of the country. Perhaps the only means.

PAGE: What is the social impact of literature?

Azhar: The recourse for the individual problems lies in the registering of FIR with the police but the literature records and registers the FIR of collective problems of the masses. Literature not only highlights the aspirations, inspirations and problems of the people but also suggests a way how to resolve these issues for the benfit of the people. Most of all as mentioned earlier it provides a platform for better understanding and communication between all segments of the society.

PAGE: What's been the performance of the event over the years?

Azhar: Thus far some 357 distinguished poets and poetesses have participated in the event. Over 80 poets and poetesses have participated from India alone and a similar number has participated from other areas of the country. Some 57 poets have participated from a number of other countries while 120 poets from Karachi have also captivated the huge crowds over the years.