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Shab Khoon expires at forty


Shab Khoon, which recently wrapped up, was a star among Urdu literary magazines published on both sides of the border

By Abrar Ahmad

We can find hardly any radical difference between literary journalism in India and Pakistan. The magazines coming from India have more or less the same format, the same variable literary content, and identical limitations and handicaps. The number of such journals from India is much higher, though most of them fail to reach us. In spite of this limitation, it can be easily observed that only a few of them achieve the desired standard, impact and circulation. Our concern here is primarily with those that do.

'Shair' (Editor: Iftikhar Imam Siddiqi) is a seventy-seven-years-old monthly, very rarely failing to reach its readers. It is unique and uniform in its contents and standards. Perhaps the strongest point of this journal is its exceptionally wide circulation, reaching almost every corner of the world where the Urdu reader is to be found.

'Naya Daur' by Sajid Rashid, a modern short story writer, is known, in addition to formal literary expression, for reserving a substantial space for translations.

'Sehn-e-Jadid' (editor: Zubair Rizvi) devotes more than half of its volume to the arts besides writing. Hence we can find articles on film, theatre, music, dance, fine arts and contemporary socio-political topics of relevance. Zubair Rizvi is a celebrated poet and in spite of the progressive shade, his magazine is known to be aligned with modernism.

'Sher-o-Hikmat' is a prestigious magazine edited by the well-known poets Mughni Tabassum and Shehryar. Its voluminous issues give the reader a bulk of high-class literature to enjoy. It had three phases and was twice wound up. The third phase is continuing in its individualistic style; the current issue received consists of two volumes. 'Sher-o-Hikmat' is a journal highly rated by writers, since it promises to become an work of reference for the study of Urdu literature for all times.

'Saughat' (Editor: Mahmood Ayaz) has been a controversial magazine of exceptional importance, primarily due to its contents, but also because of the unmatched personality of the editor. He was a tough man, firm in his own opinions. He was perhaps the only editor who included a detailed editorial giving his own opinion about the writings included in the issue. It was not rare to read a note by him expressing his total or partial disagreement or dissatisfaction with an article or opinion presented in the same issue. His editorials are pieces of unique literary criticism. Unfortunately, since his demise a couple of years ago, 'Saughat' has ceased to appear.

'Istaara' (Editor: Salahudin Pervaiz) earns a special mention since it's an ideology based magazine with a religious tilt. Mohammad Salah-ud-Din Pervaiz is a modern poet himself and his magazine provides a ready platform for the propagation of Gopi Chand Narang's anti-modernism. 'Istaara' is considered as different from 'Shab Khoon' as 'Funoon' and 'Auraq' have been in our reference.

But 'Shab Khoon' (Editor: Shams-ur-Rehman Faruqi) stands out among literary journals of the subcontinent owing to its ideological stance and unique literary content. Around four decades ago, the world of Urdu letters started revolving around questions arising from the conflict between the progressive writers' movement (1936 -- 1960) and the modernism of the early 60's. The modernists position was that creative pursuits with a pre-determined conclusion in mind, such as advocated by the progressives, could not serve any useful purpose. The writer or creator of literature must have subjective freedom.

In India, modernism produced the phenomenon -- already history now --known as 'Shab Khoon'. Faruqi had his own opinion of modernism, as opposed to his comrades elsewhere. This magazine lasted for four decades, with a brief period of disruption.

Faruqi insists that his brand of modernism was not antagonistic to progressive thought. This claim can only be accepted with reservations. Undoubtedly he succeeded in involving progressive writers in the literary debates appearing on the pages of 'Shab Khoon' and gave liberal space to their creative works as well.

This co-operation increased with time and the polarisation became gradually subdued. It may be interesting to note that modernism got so heavily glued to 'Shab Khoon' that all those opposed to it, refer to it, though sarcastically, as 'Shab Khoon's jadidiyat'. It is an issue deserving detailed discussion. The term 'post-modernism' has been described as too vague elsewhere. If at all we have to give a name to the recent dominant trend, Neo-classicism seems to be a far more appropriate title. In fact classicism, progressivism, and modernism have all merged into a synthesis following the typical phenomenon of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

Anyway, in June 2006, the last Issue of 'Shab Khoon' appears exactly after forty years of its inception in 1966. It consists of two volumes. The first volume comprises of seven Issues collected in one book (Number 293 to 299). In the preface the editor describes briefly the history and the background of 'Shab Khoon'. The second volume is, in fact, an anthology, a huge one, of selected writings from the magazine. As stated in the preface, of the second volume, the first editorial board comprised of Faruqi, Jamila Faruqi, Hamed Hassan Hamad and Jafar Raza. These youngsters of that time were patronised by Dr. Syed Ejaz Hussain, who edited the first twelve Issues (June 66 -- May 67), Prof. Syed Ehtasham Hussain and Dr. Masihu Zaman. 'Shab Khoon' was preferred over 'Taysha' as the title of the magazine. Dr Syed Ejaz Hussain and Jafar Raza (Deputy Editor) were the first to quit, and the magazine was given in the charge of Shams-ur-Rehman Faruqi.

In its early days 'Shab Khoon' was alleged to be an America-sponsored project to counteract Progressive thought's gaining momentum, an allegation which was, understandably, strongly denied by the editor.

The second volume is of paramount importance, not only for the quantity of good creative work it carries but also as documentary proof of 'Shab Khoon' being the most involving of all the journals of the present time. A glossary appended to volume I gives valuable data about the writers and poets whose work has appeared in 'Shab Khoon' since 1966, and the frequency with which they were published. It's useful for research scholars in particular. Balraj Komal, an eminent senior poet from India, leads the list by appearing in seventy issues of 'Shab Khoon'. Almost every big name of Urdu literature can be seen in the list of contributors with varied frequency.

Why could the journal not continue while it was at the peak of its popularity? The simple answer is the failing health of the editor. Faruqi has a case of unstable Angina and has developed a strong feeling that he might be running short of time. Although his personal creative projects undoubtedly deserve his whole time and attention, Urdu literature will remain indebted to the excellent life long services rendered by him. But every beginning has an end. And from an end a new beginning can take heart.

'SYMBOL' (Editor: Ali Mohammad Farshi) is a Rawalpindi based magazine whose first Issue has just been received. Farshi, a known modern Urdu poet, dedicates his journal to 'Shab Khoon'. His editorial note displays his firm commitment to keep it in view as a role model for his journal.

Times have changed and new trends, issues and discussions are emerging. Our fresh literary magazines, catering to the new paradigms, are no less promising and impressive than the old ones. So the wheel moves on!

Zubair Rizvi editor 'Zehn-e-Jadid' and M.Hameed Shahid 


Ali Mohammad Farshi Editor SYMBOL


Shams-ur-Rehman Faruqi Editor'Shab Khoon and M.Hameed Shahid


M.Hameed Shahid, Sher Yaar editor Sher-o-Hekmat, Sajid Rashid and Jalil Aali 


Sajid Rasheed Editor Naya Waraq (Centre) with M.Hameed Shahid and Mansha Yad


Qamar Rais and M.Hameed Shahid


Istaara Writers Club