Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi | August 20 November 1916, 10 July 2006

Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi with Qateel shifai
Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi with Qateel shifai
Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi

Dawar-e hashr! mujhe teri qasam  (O Lord of the Day of Judgment, I swear by you)
Umr bhar mein ne ibadat ki hay  (I have worshipped all my life)
Tu mera namaa-e-amaal tau dekh  (Look at my balance sheet)
Mein ne insaan se mohabbat ki hay  (I have loved mankind)

A humanist and a revolutionary, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi was one of the literary giants of the contemporary Urdu Literature. He was a celebrated poet, journalist, literary critic, playwright, short-story writer and editor. Qasmi remained a left-leaning writer through his life. His work mirrored his desire for a just and egalitarian society.

He wrote as many as 50 books on the various genres under his belt. His prolific prose won him respect of readers and critics alike. Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi not only wrote excellent poetry but produced prolific prose and dramas. His use of realism while depicting rural life was so remarkably accurate that it was deemed akin to Munshi Prem Chand. His drama for Pakistan Television Gandasa is regarded as the inspiration for the famous cult film Maula Jatt.

Qasmi played an active part as the secretary general of the Anjuman-e-Taraqqi Pasand Musannifeen (Progressive Writers Movement) for Punjab in 1948. In the subsequent year he was elected the secretary-general of the organisation for Pakistan, a position he kept for 6 more years. However, the Progressive Writers Movement was linked to the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, and he was imprisoned for six months under the Safety Act for his association with the group in 1951.

Observing the difficulties facing him and other writers of his ilk, Qasmi decided to gradually move away from the Progressive writers movement. He however never let his creativity be compromised by the ideological dictum, and never discredited the work of his peers. Until his last, he was known and respected for his leftist progressive work.

Sabz ho, surkh ho, key unnabi  (Whether it is green, red or magenta)
phool ka rang uski baas mein hai (The colour of a flower lives in its fragrance)

In 1974, he was appointed secretary-general of the Majlis-Taraqee-Adab – a Board of Advancement of Literature established by the government of West Pakistan in 1958, a position he held until his final day.

Qasmi edited several journals Phool, Tehzeeb-i-Niswaan, Adab-i-Lateef, Savera, Naqoosh. He was also editor for newspaper Imroz, where he vigorously wrote about the plight of the common man, a position he left when general Ayub came to power. Later Qasmi continued to contribute columns to the Urdu newspaper Jang.

In 1962, he also launched his own journal with the help of many renowned literary friends, Funoon, introducing many budding writers and still publishes under the leadership of Qasmi’s protégé, poet Mansoora Ahmed.

We are alive

Alive in the age of Nadeem, Noshee Gillani in her tribute to her mentor.

Funoon was and is a testament to Qasmi’s mentorship. It became an exemplary platform that shaped the careers of many creative writers carrying a variety of styles. Parveen Shakir, Amjad Islam Amjad, Ataulhaq Qasmi, Munnoo Bhai and Nazeer Naji, Mansoora Ahmed, and Noshi Gilani, Khalid Ahmed, Najeeb Ahmed, Qaim Naqvi, etc., were some of his protégés. Qasmi’s style and mentorship was so unique that he became immensely popular among young writers across the globe. Gulzar, considered Qasmi as his guru. In 2013, upon his visit to attend the literary festivals in Lahore and Karachi, Gulzar cut his visit short. Apologising to the Karachi festival’s team he wrote,

Perhaps by now you may be aware that while at Lahore, I had taken the opportunity to visit Dina to have a look at the house where I was born and spent my teens and of course the Qaber of my late guru and mentor Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi to pay my respects. I was moved very much by these two visits. As ill luck would have it, I felt very uneasy in the chest, courtesy Dawn.

Sadly, not all of his protégés remained grateful for their mentor and some reverted to criticising him. Qasmi’s genuine personality and popularity as a mentor also won him criticism and exploitation for his mentorship of young women writers. However, Qasmi truly believed in helping those young writers who even the opportunistic ones from his tribe and forgave easily. Parveen Shakir and Qasmi fell apart later in her life for personal reasons. She, however, had attributed her first collection of poetry Khusboo to him.

Qasmi’s era was that when various writers’ groups had emerged on the map. They competed against each other and published literary journals. While many writers worked in harmony with each other, there were some noted adverseries of Qasmi as well. Noted poets from other groups, Anwar Sadeed and Dr Wazir Agha, were committed in their opposition. Munir Niazi was also known for his dislike for Qasmi. In turn, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi was seen as a critic of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, due to a controversial article by him where allegedly his praise for Faiz was misinterpreted by the readers.

However, it is worthwhile to note that the tussle amongst different groups of writers produced an environment, which was congenial for producing quality literature, and could be easily regarded as one of the defining periods in history of Pakistani literature.

For his services for as an intellectual and writer, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi was awarded the Pride of Performance in 1968 and Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 1980 and the Lifetime achievement Award by the Pakistan Academy of Letters. The government named 7th Avenue in Islamabad after the noted writer.

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