Courtesy: Dawn

There is a running thread that links some of the legendary columnists in Urdu-language newspapers: literary finesse. From Abul Kalam Azad to Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, from Abdul Majeed Salik to Ibne Insha and from Irshad Ahmed Haqqani to Ataul Haq Qasmi, they all dealt with varying subject matters in different time spans, but what they had common in their approach was the vehicle of their expressions. The quality of their linguistics was always coated with literary finesse. In recent years, Wajahat Masood is a name that has cropped up from among those who have tried to walk the same road.

A journalist who is senior, analytical and articulate enough to have a designated column to his name is a powerful individual. Unencumbered by the many limitations that are part and parcel of news coverage, the columnist has the liberty to be subjective, to make a case for what he believes in and to lobby for his own take on happenings. In doing so, he shapes or alters the opinions of his readers in a nuanced and gradual manner. It is indeed a most influential position for a writer, or any person, to have.

In this era of live talk shows where analysts and pundits rule the airwaves and add to the sensory overload around us, the sanctity of the written word comes under threat every now and then. It can be argued that the written word is actually under constant threat, for if there are not going to be any newspapers — as has been said for quite some time now — then where would the columnists be?

Having said that, there is no dearth of websites now that feature Urdu columns and there is every hope that although the medium of delivery might change, the power of the written word will survive. Columnists such as Masood, in any case, are under no threat of extinction, for they command an audience regardless of the medium — newspaper or website. This collection of his newspaper columns, titled Mahaasray Ka Roznaamcha, Volume I, underlines the reasons why he — who was honoured with the President’s Pride of Performance award for journalism in 2016 — has been able to make such a respected space for himself.

Mahaasray Ka Roznaamcha — comprising 82 of his columns published in 2012-13 — provides a saturated taste of Masood’s craft that involves fine expression and his ability to inform and educate the opinion of his compatriots while keeping them engaged with literary references. His is not quite the Persianised, Arabicised diction of, say, Azad, or the sprinkling, sparkling narrative of, say, Insha. Instead, Masood says what he says in his own sedate, serene manner with a touch not so much of humour as of satire.

He comes forth as a learned soul with a mind of his own. He thinks, and apparently thinks long and hard, on the basis of his readings. As such, when he touches upon a subject, it is almost always an informed touch backed by a research-oriented understanding of the larger picture, rather than a brief glimpse taken by a peeping Tom.

It does not take much to call Masood a hardcore democrat in terms of political orientation. The same applies to the left-of-centre tilt that marks his sense of observation and interpretation. The good thing is that Masood makes no effort at all to conceal such truths. There is no whitewashing. He is what he is. He thinks what he does. And he wants the reader to be absolutely clear about it all. There is nothing between the lines. The reader may agree with him or reject his narrative, but there is no intention on the part of Masood to wilfully and consciously misinform his reader in any sense. He is no apologist for anyone.

In column after column — in the present collection as well as his current writings — he puts his faith in the power of democracy and derides the usurpers of power who, as he points out often, come in many shapes and forms. In a certain sense, he is the chronicler of the troubled history of democracy in the country and his pen is not too kind on those who, at least in his view, are responsible for that: the usurpers, opportunists, hypocrites and others of the ilk.

For example, in a column dated Jan 19, 2013, titled ‘Aik Aankh, Aik Hasti’, Masood tears into Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, calling them “needless instruments that allow misinterpretation” and “tools to derail the democratic process in the country.” Events that have taken place in recent times in the wake of the Panama Papers make one admire the columnist’s prescience. He believes it just as he believes in the rising of the sun. The message is clear: if you learn nothing from history, don’t blame it when it repeats itself.

In his preface to the book, I.A. Rehman, a leading columnist himself, has talked highly of the art and craft of Masood which, according to him, not just informs the readers, but also helps them build a narrative of their own in the context of the larger picture. To anyone reading this collection, it will be clear that this praise is very well-deserved indeed.

The reviewer is a physician with an avid interest in everything Urdu
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 7th, 2017

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