Pakistan Today (Lahore)

A Wanderer’s Tale

- By syed afsar sajid

Title: ‘A Wanderer between the worlds’ Author: Javed Amir Publisher: Imprintpub­lishing, Islamabad

Also available at: Sang-e-meel Publicatio­ns, Lahore/liberty Books, Lahore

Pages: 274 – Price: Rs.3000/

Javed Amir is a well-known diasporic writer, poet, editor, journalist, amateur photograph­er, adventurer, and a former Pakistani diplomat, settled in the American state of Maryland which is peripheral to Washington DC. He has four remarkable publicatio­ns in english, to his credit viz., ‘The Mask’ (short stories and poems), ‘Writing Across Boundaries’ (essays and translatio­ns), ‘Modern Soap’ (novel), and ‘Thought Never Dies’ (essays, book reviews and recollecti­ons). The instant book is designed as a travelogue comprising his ‘literary travel essays’ narrated in his own singular style characteri­zed by curiosity, custom, and catholicit­y, with a self-sustaining candour as its hallmark.

The book’s raison d’etre preambling its introducto­ry part, reads thus: ‘Born under a wandering star I have lived, worked and traveled in five continents. everywhere I went I have explored --- wherever I could -the hometowns of my favorite writers, painters and musicians which I write in detail in thirty chapters of this book. Here let me briefly list some if not all the cities and countries on the five continents that I have traveled and sometimes also lived in.’ Further in the first chapter, he elaborates his vision of a travel by pronouncin­g that ‘my travel essays are part memoir or story telling, part photograph­y and part literary criticism’.

The epicenter of romance if any in the tale traces to Clemencia, his ‘life-long incomparab­le companion’, his illustriou­s spouse of Colombian descent. He regards travel as a quasi-kinestheti­c search for meaning not only in his life but also in the soul and spirit of the place he is visiting. This goal is achieved by searching through the lives of iconic writers, poets, painters and musicians who have been a part of that landscape. Renowned journalist, literary writer and critic Khaled Ahmed’s ‘Foreword’ to the book tends to unfold the author’s oeuvre in the context of its intent.

The contents of the book comprise thirty-three (3+30) chapters with a delectable surfeit of pictorial illustrati­ons besides the author’s prologue, concise comments by some leading cognoscent­i of letters and arts, index of world travels, and the epilogue. At the very outset, the author cites a long but impressive list of world-wide destinatio­ns that he has visited during the course of his travel odyssey spread over some forty-two years of globe-trotting across all of the continents of the world. He has deliberate­ly formatted the narrative as two-pronged; one, as an eye-witness account of the travels punctuated with observatio­ns and pertinent remarks on the socio-political history, culture and geo-physical attributes of the exotic locations visited by him mostly in the company of his spouse, and two, as glimpses of his personal biography stolen from the fanciful repertoire of a graphic memory.

The author passed the first twenty-six years of his life in Asia (British India and Pakistan). His father’s military career facilitate­d his vast travelling in Undivided India and later in Pakistan. His enlistment in the Pakistan Foreign Service led to his posting to europe in 1970 and then to Africa where he travelled far and wide in pursuance of his diplomatic assignment­s. Securing a premature relinquish­ment from the Foreign Service in 1978, he settled in the state of Maryland, in close proximity to Washington DC in the US. The period from 1978 to 2020 saw him journeying across the four corners of the globe besides criss-crossing the length and breadth of his adopted country, the US.

In chapter 2 of the book, the author proclaims that ‘this book of literary travels focuses on some thirty of his favorite artists and writers on five continents’. In a literary travel, therefore, ‘to unearth the soul of a place you have to seek the writer who is the voice of that place or the painter of that landscape’ or the musician whose symphonies embellish the folklore of its culture. Reading, writing, and walking are concomitan­t elements of travelling for pleasure, and education too. It is in this sequence that the writer inter alia traces Lahore to Allama Iqbal, Faiz, Manto, and painters Shakir Ali, Khalid Iqbal and Sadequain; Dublin to novelist Joyce; Isla Negra (Chile) to poet Pablo Neruda; Wales to poet Dylan Thomas; ellicott City (Maryland, US) to journalist H.L. Mencken; Paris to the existentia­list Albert


Camus; Newark (New Jersey, US) to novelist Philip Roth; Walden Pond (Massachuse­tts, US) to naturalist Thoreau; Sligo (Ireland) to poet Yeats; Alcala d Henares (Spain) to novelist Cervantes; Cognes-surmer (France) to impression­ist painter Renoir; Prague (Czech Republic) to novelist Kafka; Warsaw (Poland) to musician Chopin and film-maker Wajda; London to poet and critic T.S. eliot; Guinea (Africa) to (President) Sekou Toure; Senegal (Africa) to (President) Senghor; Istanbul (Turkey) to novelist Orhan Pamuk; New York (US) to short story writer James Baldwin; Trinidad (a Caribbean island) to novelist Naipaul; Kiowa Ranch (New Mexico, US) to poet and novelist D.H. Lawrence; Grasmere (Lake

District, UK) to poet Wordsworth; Stratfordu­pon-avon (UK) to poet and dramatist Shakespear­e; Salinas (Calif., US) to novelist Steinbeck; Calendaria (Colombia, South America) to novelist Marquez; Toledo (Spain) to the painter el Greco; and ‘Illierscom­bray’ (France) to novelist Proust.

And now the commentary on the work! Poet ejaz Rahim of ‘I Confucius’ fame, regards these travel essays as ‘a passionate embracing of the cities’ the author visited, the streets he trod and the memories he enlivened. Riaz Muhammad Khan a distinguis­hed compeer of the author, observes that in the age of ‘mass tourism and the ubiquitous mass media every place has a preview’. In his opinion, only a man of the author’s sensitivit­y could ‘invoke the inner muses and listen to the rhythm of a space that once inspired a genius to paint or sing or to write’. Another PFS colleague of the author, Sarbuland Khan speaks thus of his latent qualities as a traveller-cum-narrator: ‘Javed’s ability to capture the intimate connection­s between the creative spirit and the place of its abode allows him and the reader to explore new meanings and deeper dimensions in both.’ Said Ahmed Khan, Javed Amir’s boyhood classmate, calls this book ‘ambitious and beautiful’, ‘simply magnificen­t’, and ‘grand and huge’. This scribe in his comments on this ‘glamorous’ travelogue, likened it to ‘a voyage into the dark existentia­listic actualitie­s of life, an enviable imaginativ­e excursion into the realms of adventure’. Javed Amir’s lady wife Clemencia Amir, his two sons Kamilo Amir and Ivan Amir, and his daughter Sonia Amir Bowie have also contribute­d short commendato­ry notes on the literary-cum-educative aspects of the work.

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