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Late Dr Wazir Agha: Obituaries to Renowned Urdu critic

Dailytimes: Life and times of Dr Wazir Agha – Urdu’s most noted critic

By Dr Amjad Parvez

Late Dr Wazir Agha

It pains me to add the word ‘late’ to Dr Wazir Agha’s name, whom I found to be a great intellectual, a good friend and an excellent human being. Dr Agha’s journey in literature is aptly summed up by his couplet: kehney ko chandgaam tha yeh arsa-e-hyayat, lekin tamaam umr hi chalna para mujhey.

Dr Wazir Agha saw his destination only a few steps away, but he had to walk (struggle) all his life to accomplish what he desired to achieve. Perhaps that is true for all of us. He started his journey in this world on May 18, 1922 in a village in Sargodha district. In his autobiography ‘Shaam Ki Mundair Sey’, Dr Wazir relates how his father obtained a janam patri from a pandit at his birth. However, he did not open it all his life.

He also reveals that his father was a businessman who dealt in horses from the Persian-speaking Qizilbash family. Dr Agha’s father obtained 750 acres of land from the British government in Sargodha district. His father used to speak in Farsi with his elder sisters, but would converse in Punjabi with his mother, who was a Punjabi.

So, Wazir Agha picked up Farsi from his father, Punjabi from his mother and the English language from his British friends. He was entrusted to the care of a family friend, Shah Saheb, who was a teacher in a far-flung Sikh village.

During his school years, Dr Agha developed a strong fondness for Urdu ghazals and started composing poetry on his own.

Dr Agha was introduced to literary circles in 1948 when his poems were published in Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad’s then famous literary magazine ‘Adabi Duniya’. Later, he served as the co-editor of the magazine from 1960 to 1963.

He did his graduation from the Government College, Jhang and later masters in Economics from Government College, Lahore. He was awarded the degree of doctorate by the University of Punjab in Urdu Literature (humour) in 1956.

Renowned physicist Dr Abdul Salam, who was also studying at Government College, Jhang at the time, was recognised by Dr Agha as a young man of outstanding intellectual qualities. Wazir Agha was the editor of the college magazine ‘Chanab’ and on his request, Salam wrote a play for the magazine. Next year, Agha left for Lahore. In his book ‘Inshai Tanqeed’, Professor Jamil Aazar equated Wazir Agha’s ‘Dastak Us Key Darwazey Par’ with Hermann Hesse’s novel ‘Journey to the East’, and an evening with words and their meanings behind them, amongst others.

Dr Wazir Agha is a great name in criticism and his best-known Urdu works are: Adam Mein Tanz-o-Mazah (1958), Takhleequi Amal (1970), Urdu Shairi Ka Mizaaj (1965), Tasawuraat-e- Ishq-o- Khird – Iqbal Ki Nazar Mein (1977), Majeed Amjad Ki Dastaan-e-Muhabbat (1991) and Ghalib Ka Zauq-e-Tamasha (1997).

His essays titled ‘Nazam-e-Jadeed Ki Karwatein (1963), Tanqeed Aur Ehtesaab (1968), ‘Naye Maqaalaat’ (1972), ‘Naye Tanaazur’ (1979), ‘Ma’ani Aur Tanaazur (1998), ‘Tanqeed Aur Majlisi Tanqeed’ (1975), ‘Daairey Aur Lakirein’ (1986), ‘Tanqeed Aur Jadeed Urdu Tanqeed’ (1989), ‘Inshaiye Kei Khad-o-Khaal’ (1990), ‘Saakhtiat Aur Science’ (1991), ‘Dastak Us Darwaazey Par’ (1994) and ‘Imtizaji Tanqeed Ka Scienci Aur Fikri Tanaazur’ (2006) fall in the same category.

In 2007, I had observed while commenting on his book ‘Imtizaaji Tanqeed’ that Dr Wazir Agha promoted the concept of the artist’s presence in his creation. Later, he went a step ahead and challenged the theory of negating artist’s presence in the literary text. He believed that without expressing one’s person in the creative process, a piece of literature cannot be created. With the decline of post-modernism, Western critics seem to have accepted this point of view as well. According to Colin Davis’ book ‘After Post-structuralism’ it was Julia Kristeva who was the propagator of the extinction of artist from the centre and who declared the creator as anti-essentialist or anti-universalistic. Over time, she has amended her point of view and now says that instead of centrality.

This change occurred in Kristiva when she herself wrote a novel. However, the interesting fact is before Julia Kristiva changed her mind, Dr Wazir Agha had fully understood and comprehended the concept of presence of the author in his creation in the milieu of creative process. He had also negated the concept of gradual diminishing of the artist’s presence in his creativity as forwarded by Roland Barthes. So, in the context of Urdu literature, Dr Agha contended that the intelligence of critics of the present era was exposed when they kept on repeating the concepts of structuralism. Dr Agha stuck to the principles of synthesis in the creative process and has stayed away from the limitations imposed by earlier theories in criticism.

It will take a lot of time and space to cover Dr Agha’s poetry (15 books) and kuliyaat (four books). Famous poet Naseer Ahmad Nasir introduced me to Dr Agha two decades ago and I had the privilege of studying all his books and commenting on them. It was only a month ago that Dr Agha called me and asked me to visit him at his residence on Sarwar Road, Lahore Cantonment. Due a personal engagement, I could not visit him and I will regret missing this opportunity for the rest of my life. Dr Agha passed away on September 7. His literary legacy will live on and his contribution to Urdu literature will continue to inspire poets, writers and critics alike for a long time to come.

Daily Aajkal: In memories of Dr Wazir Agha

By Farooq Adil