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Passion For Writing
By Saulat Pervez
Aftab Ahmad believes in living a meaningful and useful life, in optimising both time and capabilities during our short span on earth. In line with this view, he chose to continue working from home after his retirement as a research economist. This time, he became a writer.
He was born in 1932 to a literary mother and a father who was a government employee. His mother, Tahira Khatoon, wrote poetry and articles for local papers and magazines, even though women were not encouraged to do so at the time. ‘So, you can say that literature was in my blood,’ Ahmad says, who spent his childhood surrounded by books.
In this context, it doesn’t seem very surprising that after acquiring a masters’ degree in economics, he felt a need to pursue another one in English. These he procured from Karachi University after migrating with his family to Pakistan in 1950. During the late 1950s, Ahmad, along with his brother, opened a coaching centre in Nazimabad, where they were residing.
Incidentally, a certain Nazeer Beg lived in the same locality with his uncle, Dr Beg. Nazeer Beg enrolled himself in Ahmad’s coaching centre while preparing for his matriculation examination. Years later, he turned into the famous film star Nadeem. ‘He was well- behaved and had a charming personality. He was also a very good singer and, at times, we asked him to sing a song and he always obliged us,’ Ahmad recalls. ‘He was always our first visitor on Eid day as long as we were there.’
Ahmad joined the Economist Group with the federal government in 1964. Even as he climbed the ladder of his career, he continued to feed his literary needs, albeit with limited time. He wrote occasional articles on economic issues, indulged in some poetry, and read quality books. After many promotions and relocation to Islamabad, Ahmad retired in 1992 as chief of the Economic Research Section, the third highest position in the institution.
With the onset of retirement he saw a classic opportunity to pursue writing full-time. Over the years, his writing had found a focus in the subject of economics, something he enjoys writing about to this day. At the same time, the ample time retirement afforded him enabled him to widen his vision and he began writing books on religion.
‘Now I had an opportunity to look around me and I was greatly disappointed to see the
low literacy percentage in the Muslim world, depriving Muslim women of the rights
given to them in Islam and the misleading interpretation of Islamic teachings, which had resulted in the present backwardness and pathetic condition of the Ummah. So it was this feeling of despair and disappointment that
provoked me to write on the subject of
religion,’ he comments.
So far he has written five books, four in Urdu and one in English. Jo ho Zauq-e-Yaqin Paida (1999) describes the importance of faith in one’s life and draws on Ahmad’s personal experiences. The Divine Umbrella for Women (2000) highlights the low literacy rates among women in Muslim countries, robbing them of their God-given right to be educated.
Qurani Surton ka Mukhtasar Ta’aruf aur Deegar Muzameen (2002) provides a summary of all the chapters in the Quran along with their background. ‘The idea was to provide an opportunity to all those people who had not gone through the translation and tafseer of the holy Quran, to acquire the basic knowledge about the meaning of the holy Quran,’ he explains.
The art of writing is necessarily followed by the craft of publishing. Ahmad faced an uphill battle here. ‘Publishers are generally reluctant to publish a book at their own cost, unless they see a strong possibility to earn profits from the sale of the book, which is only possible if the writer is very popular and wellknown’.
Ek Shajr-e-Saidar – Hawwa ki Betyon ke liye (2004) was written at the request of the National Book Foundation. Its central idea is the same as The Divine Umbrella for Women but it is an original book, not a translation. Ahmad’s most recent book Insani Rooh ka Safar – Aalam-e-Arwah se Aalam-e-Aakherat tak (2007) dwells on the immortality and accountability of the human soul.
The art of writing is necessarily followed by the craft of publishing. Ahmad faced an uphill battle here. ‘Publishers are generally reluctant to publish a book at their own cost, unless they see a strong possibility to earn profits from the sale of the book, which is only possible if the writer is very popular and wellknown,’ he remarks. ‘So, new writers have only two options. Either, they should wait for a publisher indefinitely to get their books published or they should make their own arrangements for the publication and marketing of their books.’
Except for one book which was published by the National Book Foundation, Ahmad has self-published and self-distributed the other four. In general, he feels disappointed by the lack of response from the publishers as well as readers.
‘No doubt, you feel great when you have completed your book. You have a sense of achievement and accomplishment. But, when it comes to the publication and marketing of the book, you feel a bitter taste in your mouth. And when after years you come to know that only a few hundred copies of your book were sold, you ask yourself ‘Did I write a book for a few hundred readers – in a country of 160 million people?’’ Ahmad wonders.
This after taste has made him so disenchanted that he admits he finds writing for the economic sections of national newspapers far more rewarding because he doesn’t have to worry about anything once he’s emailed the articles. ‘In spite of that,’ he said, ‘I write books because what I want to say in my books cannot be described in an article.’
Aftab Ahmad’s experience is representative of many other authors who write and are known on a small-scale. His struggles are shared by other unknown and unpublished writers who strive to penetrate the limited circle of sought-after authors, vying for attention both from the publishers as well as the readers.
Meanwhile, Ahmad continues to toil in his proverbial time of rest. For him, anything else would be unimaginable.
Aftab Ahmad’s first three books have been sold out. His fourth and fifth books are available at the National Book Foundation shops. All five books are also available in a limited quantity at House No. 48, Street 39, I-8/2 Sector, Islamabad. Phone number: 051-4443742.
‘LITTLE TIME FOR READING’ — Aftab Ahmed
‘I feel that the present age — characterised by materialistic pursuits — is not conducive to the development of literature. You can become a successful journalist or writer only if you love your job and work hard to make your dreams materialise. In our present scenario not only the effort but the desire is also lacking in the majority of cases.
‘[Today’s] world is characterised by a higher literacy percentage and a higher income level. However, the irony is that people do not have time. Video games, mobile phones and cable TV consume plenty of time. Besides, people want to socialise and [have] fun, as much as possible. They regularly visit restaurants and cinema halls. The above-mentioned activities leave little time for serious reading.
‘This is not to say that books are not read in modern times. Those who are interested do find time to read books. However, the taste has changed over the last five to six decades. Instead of literary books and poetry, there is now more demand for science fiction, horror stories and crime and war novels.
‘About 50-60 years ago, the literacy rates and income levels were considerably lower, particularly in the sub-continent. However, people then had plenty of time as life was simple and facilities and sources of entertainment such as Internet, mobile phones, video-games and cable-TV were not available, at that time. Besides, the majority of population could not afford to visit restaurants and cinema halls.
‘Those who were interested in reading but could not purchase books borrowed them from their relatives and friends. Often it happened that someone read from a book and many others listened. This was possible then because people had plenty of time.’