Literary notes: Political and literary history as mirrored in a writer's memoirs.

ABOUT a century ago, in our villages and small towns, especially in some areas in northern Punjab, educational facilities were at best dismal. Universities were something unheard of and colleges were few and far between.

But, surprisingly, these areas produced some of the finest scholars and authors we have today. Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik is one of them. Born on June 18, 1936, in a village near Talagang, some 125 kilometres from Rawalpindi, Prof Malik has taught at several Pakistani and foreign universities. One of the reasons why some backward areas lacking in education have produced some great scholars, poets and writers is, perhaps, a tradition of valuing knowledge and nurturing the taste for classical Urdu, Punjabi and Persian literature among youth. Back then, in these backward areas, even unlettered elders knew some Persian, Punjabi and Urdu verses and reciting mystical poetry was but natural to them. This Sufi touch nurtured a general attitude in the society that was receptive, tolerant and prejudice-free.

This atmosphere, apparently created unintentionally, would appeal the youngsters at subconscious level. It would kindle a love of arts and literature in young and it would somehow help them find their own beat in practical life. Or, at least, this is what this writer infers from memoirs of Prof Malik titled Aashiyana-i-Ghurbat Se Aashiyan Dar Aashiyan (From nest of poverty to nest to nest), just published by Lahore's Sang-i-Meel Publications.

Prof Malik narrates, in one of the incidents highlighting his childhood memories, how much his mother was upset and how badly she scolded him for his stepping, albeit unknowingly, on the clay-made stove of a Hindu neighbour, as it must had forced them to 'cleanse' the kitchen with much labour. Surprisingly, his mother did not mind that his son was believed to have 'defiled' the stove (since he was a Muslim) rather she was worried that it must had been laborious and painful for her neighbours.

This respect for other faiths was mutual in those days. One can trace its reverberations in Prof Malik's demeanour: polite, tolerant and amicable. It is a fact that he meets everyone with open arms, be it a progressive or a moulvi, but he is firmly grounded in his convictions. Although known to have left-wing political leanings, he is equally well-versed with Sufi thoughts, loves Allama Iqbal and his poetry and staunchly supports Pakistan and the philosophy behind creation of Pakistan.

While he has been...

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