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  • Oct 24th, 2009
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Syed Qasim Mehmood is not one person but a wonderful institution whose growing list of wonderful works is mind-boggling. A scholar who started off as a short story writer and attained great fame for being quite an eminent writer of the genre, he started Shahkar books series and published scores of best sellers in cheap, affordable editions. He brought out quite a few journals as well.

After having humble beginnings of his career with some of the great names of the journalism eg. Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Maulana Murtaza Ahmed Khan Maikash, Maulana Azhar Amritsari and Haji Laq Laq he joined his hard core profession as an assistant to Dr M Afzal and then with world famous Allama Muhammad Shafi, Editor-in-Chief of the 'Maarif-i-Islamia' project of Punjab University.

He worked with Syed Abid Ali Abid in fortnightly 'Sadiq' and then as an assistant Editor Weekly 'Lail-o-Nahar' with Faiz Ahmed Faiz and S.Sibte Hasan. His next destination was the editorship of Monthly Sayyara Digest and then he worked as Editor of the encyclopedia.

Under Shahkar publications his important publications, Islami Encyclopedia and Baby Encyclopedia also created tremendous ripples across the sub-continent. In 1981, he came up with Shahkar Foundation in Karachi and became Deputy Editor of Daily Nawa-i-Waqt. Islami Encyclopedia was a momentous publication of this period. The monthly science magazine was another milestone and so was the publication of Encyclopedia Falakiat and Encyclopedia Ijadat.

From 1987 he started publication of Quran series, One para a month in four languages English, Urdu, Hindi and Gujrati. In 1996 another gigantic publication came out and that was Encyclopedia Pakistan followed by Seerat-i-Nabi Encyclopedia. What a career and what a list of publications! I believe that no other Pakistani of our time has done so much for Urdu readers and his contribution cannot be imagined, let alone be comprehended. Nowadays he is busy with the processing of Quran Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Ahyaye Islam (Encyclopedia of Islamic Renaissance). Five of Quran Encyclopedia have been published so far.

Three collections of short stories 'Deewar Patthar ki', 'Qasim ki Mehndi', 'Qasim Mehmood ke Afsanay', a novel 'Chale Din Bahar k' and a novelette 'Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru' established him as an important short story writer.

As far as translation from English are concerned he steals the show by a very wide margin. The list is as follows; William Shakespeare's Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet and Julius Caesar, besides several works of Tolstoy, Maupassant, Dostoevsky Emile Bronte, Charles Dickens, John Galsworthy, John Masters, treatise of Darwin, Freud, T.S Eliot, C.E.M Joad and Dr Kenneth Walker etc-etc.

His present preoccupation with the Quran Encyclopedia should be an important undertaking. Almost all important reference books of Quran's translations, tafasir, biographies of the Prophet (P.B.U.H) and interpretative studies of Islam and comparative religion are grist to the mills of this giant of a scholar who has done what full-fledged Academies with a paraphernalia of library support and research assistants.

The number of works Syed Qasim Mahmood has authored, compiled and translated is very important it expands our consciousness. I have often wondered how it was possible for Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Hasan Nizami Ahmed Raza Khan, Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Maududi to write so much on so many topics. Mahatma Gandhi; 104-Volume work makes us wonder as to how he found time to write thousands of pages in the midst of his political engagements. Perhaps it is in the genes to be so prolific.

For me Syed Qasim Mehmood is the only writer who baffles my sense of wonder. After all there has been a limit to what one produces when quality is not to be sacrificed at the altar of quantity. Very few prose writers in our times have acquitted themselves equally well in academic as well as creative fields.

Syed Qasim Mehmood is truly an encyclopedic and it is hoped that the Pakistan Academy of Letters and Ministry of Education will honour him with the highest award for enriching our heritage when very few people appear to be appreciating the need for it, let alone doing something to preserve it the way he is doing.

MARX AND THE EAST Thanks to Dr Syed Jaffer Ahmed, the work of Late Syed Sibte Hasan's pen doesn't seem to be drying up even though he died in 1986. Dr Syed Jaffer Ahmed keeps on working on Syed Sibte Hasan papers and converting scattered papers on different topics in his archives and, thus, doesn't let us think that it is all over. Who knows there are still some works that are waiting to see light of the day.

'Marx Aur Mashriq' is another Sibte Hasan publication straight from the archives and it is a book worth reading. Marx's interest in the East was phenomenal. Even though his views about the revolutions in England and China did not come true but the scholarship which has gone with his studies of the East, in so far as the study of the East's past is concerned, is wonderful. No one can beat Marxists in their studies of the past of a society. The present and future have too many variables to contend with and one may lose control over one's guesses. One has to admire Dr Syed Jaffer Ahmed on his labour of love.

Dr Tahir Kamran's 'Democracy and Good Governance': Dr Tahir Kamran's book 'Democracy and Governance' has engaged my attention for its thought-provoking introduction. The way democracy has emerged as a challenge to us is sad for the very reason that some so-called champions of democracy have acted as harbingers of 'dictatorship' in this country.

Who can forget that the arch-democrat of today, Nawaz Sharif, tried to don the mantle of 'Amir-ul-Momineen' during his premiership. While Dr Kamran's introduction gives a good account of his commitment to Democracy and the people's rule in Pakistan, I think that he has not been even-handed in his criticism of Nawaz Sharif era.

The way Army operation in Karachi was conducted was simply unpardonable. It is not fair to say that the democratic government was not taken into confidence. Also, Nawaz government attack on the Supreme Court building has also been treated very briefly. It was more ruthless an attack on judiciary than the treatment meted out to the CJ's processions in Karachi and elsewhere.

Isn't it a fact that democracy has been ill-served by the political leaders and almost all important political leaders of the country were midwifed by the Khaki's. General Musharraf should be given the credit for introducing some good aspects of Local Bodies Ordinance.

I believe that the Local Bodies Ordinance should be supported by the liberal politicians because it is more 'democratic' than the system of the Local Bodies Government of the colonial days which envisaged tight control of bureaucracy. The idea of devolution is no different from the PPP's pledge in post-Zia-ul-Haq general elections. The old system is likely to strengthen 'feudal' power which thrives on 'captive' votes.

Literature, at least its 'engaged' version, cannot disassociate itself from the aspirations of the people and Dr Tahir Kamran, while discussing protest literature has named Josh Malihabad and Habib Jabib in this respect. I believe he could add more names to the list. The progressive literature was the most dependable supporter of democracy. Good governance will remain a mirage unless democratic norms are strengthened and it is not possible unless 'hereditary' power base is done away with.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2009

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