MY FEELINGS,MY EMOTIONS ,MY THOUGHTS AND MY WORDS JUNE 2018

OFF AND ON   –     MY MAN-ON-THE-SPOT  –  MUNAWAR ALI MALIK

 

 

Never saw him. Never knew him but by the name. and yet I must write about him. A sort of debt, you know. A debt of gratitude long overdue, alas, because he is no longer there at the receiving end.

Mohammad Idrees was my mentor. It was he who introduced me to The Pakistan Times almost a decade back. Not that he knew who the devil I was. The only communication between us was a letter from me. That letter accompanied a light-vein story by me. Not much of a story, to be honest. Just an amateurish exercise in letters. The letter was not a request to get the thing published. It was a request to read the thing and then let me know what it was worth.

I never got his reply. But he did let me know what he thought of the story. He got it published in the Magazine Section of The Pakistan Times.

“ I never knew you were a writer,” said one of my colleagues.

“Nor did I” was my honest retort.

“you seem to have built up a pretty effective PR with The Pakistan Times,”said another. “will you please tell us who is your man-on-the-spot?”

Don’t know him, but there is one, certainly”, I admitted. “Mohammad Idress is the name. And that is all I know about him.

I intended to make my gratitude known to him through a letter. But I don’t know why I could never write that letter.

And then, months later, I got an occasion to see him at his office. But the occasion was all I got, because he was not there. He was away somewhere, they told me, attending a sort of refresher course “ though he is far ahead of such professional grooming”, said Mohammad Saleem-ur-Rehman with a smile.

About a year later I made my second call. Again to no purpose, for he was not in his office.

“Does he come here only off and on?” I asked one of his colleagues.

“No.sir, your own visits are too  few and far between,” he said.

Yes, I want to blame, I now realize.

His appointment as Chief Editor of The Pakistan Times was, I felt, the happiest development in the changeful affairs of the newspaper.

“Happy news, isn’t it?” I wrote to the magazine editor.

“Yes”,he wrote back, “For the first time in my career feel at home where I am.”

This time I can’t miss him. I surmised, thinking of my next visit to Lahore.A Chief Editor is too busy in his office to go gallivanting about the city.So this time I am sure to find him there.

“well”, said Fate with an ugly lee,”but I know what I know”

And so, one morning, they told me I’ll never see him. It was a shock too strong for words. Inspite of my distaste for Shelly some of the lines in his Adonais seemed very relevant to my sorrow. I wished I could write something of that sort. But I never could.

I know his death should have come as a personal loss to all who knew him intimately—his PT colleagues and Tea House cronies in particular. But was the loss mourned as it ought to have been?

Curt obituaries appearing in newspapers are nothing deeper than a matter of form. The writer community was never so shock-proof as it is these days. Apity, isn’t it? Sahir’s death went unnoticed. Siraj Munir was disposed of with a barely audible groan. The grudging notice Idrees got was hardly commensurate with his merit.

Few people know that a book of Tea House columns by Idrees was published last year by a friend of his. The only notice it was allowed to receive was a restricted opening ceremony in the premises of The Pakistan Times.the book, Night Was not Loveless, was then given such loveless treatment that it was neither offered for review to newspapers nor was it put on the stalls for sale. On that occasion, it was offered to buyers on the spot on payment of Rs.375 per copy.

Mohammad Idrees was never a pennywise man. Had he published the book, It would have been given away to quite a few people who knew him. But his friend who published the book offered it only at full price and only through few conduits. This is like stifling a voice that was ever strong, bantering and rang with laughter. The killing of the book, for a price, was hardly the tribute to a man whose voice rang loud and clear, minced no words, and hid no rancour.

  THE IMPOSSIBLE CAT

“Did you see today’s Dashed Times?” 

“Yes”

“My latest short story appeared on page 5. The Green Monkey’s the title. You must read that story.”

“I did see something under your name. It’s short all right, but where’s the story?”

“Don’t you regard it as a story?”

“I wish I could.”

“Why, by my soul — and yours too, it’s a story from the first word to the last full stop. That full stop, mind you, has a hell of meaning in it.”

“Skillfully handled punctuation does wonders, they say.”

“Mine, for instance, means more than my word.”

“I always thought so, because words — your words in particular — never lead me anywhere. The punctuation, therefore, comes as a welcome relief. Why, I often wonder, don’t you try to compose a story entirely of punctuation marks? The word you know, is the only trace of convention that still hangs on to modern literature. Why not get rid of it? The modern writer can, if he tries. It only wants initiative and he’s got deuced lot of that.”

“Now you have broached the subject I must tell you that I am already well on my way to that end. Only last week I wrote a devilish good short story of five foolscap pages with no more than five words in it. All the rest of the job was done by commas, full stops, colons and all that.”

“Wonderful, no doubt ! But why don’t you get it published? Somebody must step forth as a pioneer. Why not you?”

“Oh, I did send it to that to weekly Crazy Mods. But they sent it back with a note. “Even we”, the note said, “can’t go that far.” And now about that story of mine in the Dashed Times. Did you get the hang of it?”

“Sorry, I was just going to ask you to explain it.”

“Why, it’s damned too simple. An intelligent reader like you—.”

“Honestly, I am sort of losing my hold on things, short stories not expected. Age, worries, want of time and all that, you know. So much so that the other day I tried to make a go with Great Expectations, and dashed if I got half the head or tail of what I read.”

“Great Expectations? What’s that?”

“A novel by Charles Dickens.”

“And who the Dickens is this chap supposed to be?”

“A giant in 19th-century fiction”

Nineteenth-century fiction! Why, man, you’re really doomed. Let me inform you, sir, that there’s never been anything worth the name fiction before the late 1970s. Nineteenth-century fiction, pah! You might just as well as say seventh-century TV or fifth-century VCR. Fiction, my chick, came to be written only in the late 70s. And now back to that short story of mine. Do you know what the twelve-tailed green monkey stands for?”

“I’m not quite sure.”

“And the rabbit in green overcoat?”

“And the triangular sun?”

“Must be a symbol for———I don’t know what.”

“Now that beats me quite to bits.”

“Poor taste. Not keeping pace with things. Instead, running backwards alongside. The process of evolution reversed at break-neck aped. A few days more of this decline and you’ll be a vegetable if not something more primitive.”

“I know I’ll be reduced to something like that but I wish to be saved. I need somebody to pull me back.”

“I’ll do that. You just listen to me as I explain that story.”

And he rattled on for full three hours, highlighting the modern trends and techniques in fiction. It took me three cups of strong tea and three aspirins to survive that fiendish lecture.

A couple of days later, his next short story; The Impossible Cat, appeared in Dashed Times. Three days after that they told me he was in hospital, thrashed to within an inch of death by the son of an admirer. That admirer, a retired old police officer, had not been quite himself since the moment he had gone through the Impossible Cat. The first indication of his not being quite himself has come as the murder of his wife. He shot her dead because she, he said, had killed the Impossible Cat. At first they thought that the Impossible Cat was just a piece of madman’s nonsense. But then his eldest son had suddenly come upon the title in a three-day-old copy of the Dashed Times. He did not read the whole story. He just walked into the office of the Dashed Times, got the author’s address and walked quietly out.

And just an hour ago I was with the author in the hospital. He is really in a sore condition, bruises, scratches, fractures and all that, but nothing likely to prove fatal unless the assailant makes another attempt. Mentally, however, he is still as close to normal as he ever was. The incident, he says was the last violent struggle of a receding crestfallen realism against dynamic overriding symbolism. In the history of fiction he is sure, it would go with a bunch of laurels for him.

Man with a Commission

What a family Mr. Alkamands belongs to; some of the top-notch Alkamunian VIPs some of that noble stock. his uncle, Prof. Alkmush, for instance, is Chairman of the Education Commission.

A week ago Mr. Alkamand told me this illustrious personage was due in the town and was scheduled to occupy a room on the second floor of hotel Alkamand.

Great news, to be sure. I thanked Mr. Alkamand, adding a desire to be introduced to the great educationist.

“I wish I could, arrange it”, sighed Mr. Alkamand, shaking his head hopelessly. “If there’s one thing my uncle stands in mortal horror of, it’s a tete-a-tete with a newsman. See no reason why he should be so allergic to this particular species of mankind. But he is, all the same.”

“Never mind his allergy, Alkamand”, said I brightening up with a flash of ingenuity. “You should introduce me as a teacher from Pakistan.” “Wonderful!” ejaculated Mr. ALkamand, You’ve hit it, Malik, right on the head. Okay, you shall have the honour of my uncle’s august company.”

And so, two days later, the honour was mine. For a memorable half hour I had Mr. Alkamush all to myself.

“A great occasion in my life, sir”, I began. “Education, you know, is my chief concern, and I am sure I have a lot to learn—-.

“From me!”

“Yes, sir, and who could guide me better than an educationist of your caliber?”

A burst of laughter from the great man took me quite unawares, I admit.

“Well, by the ghost of Orison Hyde, whoever he was”, continued Mr. Alkamush, “this is the best joke I’ve ever heard. I tell you anything about education! Ha, ha, ha! Why, man, you might as well apply to the grocer across the street.”

A mark of the greatness, this self-depreciation, I assured myself and said so.

“You mistake me, child”, protested Mr. Alkamush, “but not without reason; I can see. Anyway, you must believe me when I tell you it was not my knowledge of education that put me in my present office. It was just seniority, I assure you, and nothing else. I am, as luck would have it, the oldest retired officer of the Education Department living.”

“But, excuse me, sir, you are known as Professor Alkamush, which means you have, to your credit, a long and varied experience in the field of teaching.”

“Nothing of the sort, Mr.—.”

“Malik”

“Thank you, my experience—long, though not varied — has been of quite another sort. Some fifty years ago I entered the Education Department as a lecturer. Only six months later I was posted as Assistant Director of Education, and I kept moving on till, thirty-five years later, I retired as Additional Secretary. And all this long while I had nothing to do but sign letters of appointment, transfer and promotion, and all the other balderdash that came my way. That, you see, was all I had to do with education throughout the length of my service.”

“Then how, I wonder, sir, did you manage to compile that report which, they tell me, is the last word on the theory and practice of education?”

“Yes, an impressive affair, that report. At least length-wise it is impressive. Full five hundred and thirty pages of a venerable jargon. And it came to us all cut and dried. In our desperate search for guidelines one of my colleagues stumbled into Professor Slug’s book Suggestions for improvement of Education in Developing Countries. And then it was all plain-sailing. We had the work translated into our own language. To make it look more original and relevant to things down here we added twenty pages of specific recommendations.”

“Yes, some of the measures we proposed are likely to give rise to pretty heated discussion for some time. But that is quite natural, you see. People never like things to change, even for the better. And, ironically enough, they are most vocal about things that are least their business.”

“You mistake me sir,” said I,”I did not mean to say people were critical of your report. On the contrary, they are all praise for the revolutionary measures recommended by the commission. By the way, would you tell me details of one or two of your recommendations?”

“Most gladly, Mr. Malik. One of the highlights of our recommendations is the one pertaining to Grade 19 for lecturers.”

“Grade 19 for lecturers! But why, sir?”

“Because my son-in-law’s one.”

Alas! The arrival of few intimate friends of Mr. Alkamush broke up the interview a bit to soon. And I was again pitying Alkamunia and eulogising Pakistan where education is too well managed to need any professor Alkamush to suggest measures for its improvements.

 

Your words for Mianwali and Mianwalians