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Ink Paper Think
By Asif Farrukhi and Sehba Sarwar
He turns over a new leaf. In the literal sense. Hasan Manzar puts the finishing touches to one book and immediately takes up the next one. His long awaited novel Dhani Bux Kay Baitay follows on the heels of the new edition of his first book Rehai. His latest collection of short stories, Khaak Ka Rutba, won the Academy of Letters’ Moulvi Abdul Haq Prize for the best book of prose published in 2007. Two short novels await publication. A few months back he completed Waba which is set in a city in the grip of an epidemic. He is currently working on the third draft of a novel, tentatively called Habs. ‘Something is drawing me towards it,’ he says. ‘I could have done more work in the period I spent on this book, but if I complete it, I will feel that I have paid my share of a long standing debt.’
As evening approaches dust begins to settle after a hot, stuffy day in Hyderabad. As he sits back in his lawn after a long day at his clinic, my conversation with the versatile and gregarious Hasan Manzar ranges from medicine, common ailments, long watched films, old musicals, books to be read, people one could have known and places where one should have been. He even offers a rare glimpse of his writer’s studio.
The Edinburgh trained psychiatrist has an alter ego, and he happens to be one of the leading fiction writers of the day. ‘The very things which inspire me, also hinder my work. I enjoy my practice, but sometimes an idea comes to my mind when I am seeing patients. If I jot it down immediately, then it stays with me otherwise it is lost. Fatigue after a day’s work bothers me more than it used to previously,’ he says as he explains his daily routine. ‘I spend about an hour or so reading the newspaper in the morning. This is sheer luxury for me. My other recreation is watching TV in the evening or some old movie. I can work anywhere I get the chance. Previously I used to write on Sundays but now I get to write on Friday and Saturday afternoons. I spend some time on my desk in the evenings, but not on a daily basis.’ He likes to write in his library, where he is by himself. He writes in longhand using pen and paper. No gadgets for him as he does not even like to use the cell phone.
For Hasan Manzar, writing is an act of responsibility. ‘I never want to write carelessly or without taking full responsibility, and nothing which could fan hatred or brew trouble. If I have said something against anybody, I have preferred not to name them.’
In fact he has been extraordinarily patient with his writings. His first books were self-published and even these came many years after he had been writing steadily and publishing scarcely. He agrees that there is a dearth of readers, but says that an ‘even fewer number of people who buy a book actually read it. How many people buy literary magazines?’ he asks. ‘Such conditions could hardly exist in any other language of the world. Sindhi does much better as there are more buyers for literary journals.’
Only one of his books has been published outside Pakistan, a volume of selected tales in English translation which was published by Katha in India. ‘I received no feedback on it. I do not know if it received any reviews. However, they made the payments they had promised.’
Many of his writings have been translated into English, Sindhi, Hindi and a Hindi version of Al-Asifa is expected to be published soon. ‘When you begin to write something, it comes out from the depths inside you. It compels you,’ he explains. He began Al-Asifa in 1963 and completed it in 2005, while it took him three years to complete the final version of Dhani Bux Kay Baitay.
‘Whatever I wrote, I would put it away and avoid publishing anything. I have been holding on to much stuff which I am now slowly taking out,’ he says of his work. ‘I have many unfinished stories. I had thought of destroying them but now I want to leave behind my themes. Somebody else may take up the challenge and say to himself or herself, let me complete what he started.’