ENCOUNTERS WITH IKRAM BRELVI
The first time I met Ikram Brelvi and his family,
I felt as if I had known them for years. They welcomed me with open arms and
open hearts and showered me with affection. I felt so much at home that I
visited them frequently for a number of years.
As I got to know Ikram Brelvi in his own home and in literary and social
functions, he, as a person, as well as a writer, impressed me. I feel honored
that he shared with me a few glimpses of his personality and lifestyle that
other people, who, only know him through his creative works, may not have had a
chance to see.
Whenever I think of Ikram Brelvi, I think of a man who has the
…innocence of a child
…enthusiasm of a young adult
…wisdom of an old man
and these characteristics make him a unique man and a distinguished writer.
Ikram Brelvi, even in his old age, retains the innocence of a child. He tells
jokes and kids around. There is a mischievous side to him that adds to his
charming personality. He loves to dress up. It is refreshing to see an
accomplished Urdu writer in a nice suit, silk tie, overcoat, hat and polished
shoes. He looks handsome, charming, distinguished and gracefully sexy. He
reminds us that those days are gone when Urdu writers believed that unshaven
faces, shabby clothes, a drunk and disorderly conduct and bohemian lifestyle
were considered a source of pride and a sign of greatness. His lifestyle
highlights that an artist and a writer not only pays attention to the subtleties
of art and literature but also his life and human relationships. He is a
cultured and refined man.
Ikram Brelvi’s innocence as a child makes him an open, honest and outspoken man.
He is the creative child who can dare to say, “ The king is naked” and that
characteristic sometimes gets him into trouble because many people including
over-sensitive writers and artists cannot deal with honest comments and
constructive criticism. In the name of ‘political correctness’ hypocrisy and
diplomacy is promoted in social circles and many artists are scared to be fully
honest because they don’t want to ‘hurt other people’s feelings’. But Ikram
Brelvi with his sincerity knows the difference between a writer and a
politician. He likes to speak his mind and share his truth and takes the risk of
hurting other people’s feelings because his conscience is clear and he knows
that in life and literature there is no gain without pain. Only those writers
who are open-minded and democratic appreciate his honest and frank feedback.
Ikram Brelvi has the enthusiasm of a young adult. He is the only North American
Urdu writer I know who has the dedication, determination and discipline to sit
in his room or in a library for hours at a time to do research for his novel and
keep on writing and re-writing his story, until he is completely satisfied with
his creative product.
In my book Literary Encounters, a collection of Eastern writers living in the
West, comparing a poet, a short story writer and a novelist I wrote,
“While I was listening to different writers share their experiences of creating
literature, I realized that those experiences were not only reflections of their
personalities but also the type of creative work in which they were involved.
Those experiences varied dependent upon whether the artist was creating poetry,
short stories or novels. They reminded me of my late grandmother who used to
tell me that there were three ways of getting water in a village. Some people
preferred to get water through the wells: they dug the ground in their backyards
for weeks or even months to reach the desired depth to find water. Sometimes
they had to dig deeper to find pure water and each time they needed water they
had to throw the bucket in the well and then pull it out. Others did not want to
work that hard but they were willing to carry the bucket for a few miles to the
nearest river and then bring the water back. The third group consisted of those
people who relied on rain. They did not have to work hard but they did have to
wait. They had no control over the weather. Sometimes it didn’t rain for months,
while at other times it not only rained, it poured.
To me, poets are the artists who wait for the rain, short story writers go to
the river and novelists dig wells in the backyard”.
When I was interviewing Ikram Brelvi, the novelist, I felt as if I was talking
to the person digging a well in his backyard. He worked hard and consistently
for years to finish his novels. He said, “ When I was writing ‘Pul Siraat’ I
used to sit in the basement of my daughter’s house and write for six to eight
hours daily. I had to revise the novel again and again. I rewrote the novel six
times. I can show you six manuscripts. I changed the end as the calligraphist
was working on my novel.”
Ikram Brelvi has the endurance of a marathon runner. He is unlike those young
writers who want a short cut to fame and success. He is aware of the secret that
in art and literature ‘it is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent
Ikram Brelvi is also like that young adult who likes to break traditions. There
have been numerous occasions in his life when he did what he believed was right
and did not care about what others thought. He knew that an artist has to be
true to his own self. He has to be his own judge and critic.
Even in his personal life he followed his heart. Talking about his marriage he
shared, “I was the first man in my family life who brought his wife home without
a veil. I burnt the burqa (veil) because I did not like it. She came from Breily
to Delhi without a veil.”
Ikram Brelvi was lucky to have a woman in his life who was not only his spouse
but also a friend and honest critic of his creative works. Ikram Brelvi knows
that literature, like any other passion, is not just a hobby or a pastime, it
demands sacrifice. Ikram Brelvi’s life is full of sacrifices. He had to write
under a pseudonym of A. H. Parvana because his family disapproved of his
creative interests and when he moved to Pakistan from India he lost all his
manuscripts. In that process he not only changed his nationality he also changed
his identity. During his interview the following dialogue took place:
Sohail: When did you change your name from A. H. Parvana to Ikram Brelvi.
Ikram: That was in 1947 when I moved to Pakistan. I must tell you an interesting
story. There is a friend of mine by the name of Muzaffar Hussain Berni. He used
to read my writings in magazines and listened to my programmes on radio under
the name of Parvana. When he did not see my writings for a while he thought I
was dead. One day he listened to my voice on the radio. He wrote a letter to
Radio Pakistan Rawalpindi inquiring about me. He mentioned the time and date of
the broadcast and asked if Ikram Brelvi was the same person as A. H. Pervana.
Mukhtar Siddiqi a friend of mine used to know my pseudonym. He confirmed my
identity, so I got a letter from Berni. I wrote him back and told him that
Parvana and Brelvi both were alive. Then he sent me his books. He had written a
book about Iqbal proving Iqbal to be a nationalistic poet.
Sohail: What made you change your identity from Parvana to Brelvi?
Ikram: When I changed my nationality, I changed my identity too.
Sohail: What happened to all those writings that you had produced as Parvana?
Ikram: All those writings have perished. I suffered a lot during partition. I
had written some articles about Indian languages. They were published in `Ajkal'.
I lost them too, along with many plays. When I came to Pakistan I was so upset,
I stopped writing for a while. Then Intizar Hussain motivated me to write again.
He was the editor of `Nazam' in Lahore at that time. He inspired me to write
about partition and communal riots. So I wrote a play, `Aur Shaitan Nachta Raha'
(The Devil Kept On Dancing). I had seen in Delhi that one chapatti was sold for
one rupee and even water cost money. They were all Muslims selling to Muslims.
Those were hard times. But when I came to Pakistan I got "Pulao". I was on a
train for three whole days travelling from Delhi to Lahore. I stayed in Lahore
for a couple of days and then went to Rawalpindi. Let me tell you another
interesting story. There was a tailor by the name of Abdur Rehman in Rawalpindi.
There was also a Kashmiri cloth merchant there. I went in my underclothes to the
market. I told Abdur Rehman that I didn't have any clothes. He took my
measurements, bought cloth from that cloth merchant, worked the whole night and
gave me two shirts and two trousers the next morning. He was not willing to
accept any money from me. I told him that I could pay him and I had money but he
would not accept anything. I will never forget Abdur Rehman. I don't know where
those days have gone. It was the beginning of Pakistan.
Ikram Brelvi also has the wisdom of an old man. He has witnessed and experienced
ups and downs of twentieth century. He has seen the rise and fall of empires,
social movements and political dynasties. His keen interest in history,
philosophy, psychology and politics has given him insights in life that he in
turn offers as literary gifts in his creative works.
For me it has been a literary feast to listen to him for hours about different
literary events and creative personalities. Whether it is Meera ji or Faiz Ahmed
Faiz, Akhter Shirani or Mukhtar Siddiqi, he shares his dialogues with the
legends and giants of the Urdu world. He is an encyclopedia of Urdu literature
and he is generous in sharing his knowledge and wisdom. Ikram Brelvi’s kindness
and generosity with the younger generation is exemplary. He never hesitates in
encouraging the younger writers and poets and believes that the next generation
starts the struggle where the last generation leaves off. He is aware that
artists and writers inherit ideas, insights, philosophies and books rather than
houses and cars and real estate.
One of the things that inspires me about Ikram Brelvi is that in spite of having
a wealth of knowledge and experience he, like a genuine artist, is still thirsty
for more. He feels very comfortable discussing issues with writers and
intellectuals twenty and thirty years junior to him. He has an open heart and an
open mind. That attitude is not only a part of his lifestyle but also a part of
his philosophy. He had transcended the linguistic, ethnic, racial and religious
biases and adopted a genuine humanistic attitude. Like a genuine intellectual he
once said, “ Religion is something to be experienced not believed.” and ‘my main
religion is humanity. I cannot tolerate social injustice. I cannot tolerate
human beings exploiting other human beings.”
Ikram Brelvi is a gold mine of literature and a constant source of inspiration
for students of literature and psychology like myself. He is such a prolific
writer that I hope that he keeps on writing till the last days of his life.
Ikram Brelvi does not write literature, he lives it. I feel honored that I have
spent some precious moments of my life in the company of a wonderful human being
and writer, Ikram Brelvi.