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 perspiration’.
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.