The Lockdown – Day Thirty-One


On April 23, 2020 – The International Book Day, writers shares the views on the vital role played by Progress Publishers, Moscow in shaping the progressive mind-frame of the intelligentsia and especially the youths of Sindh, and in developing their world view and understanding at a larger level through the books it published since 1940s  

Zaffar Junejo

Have you ever thought – why we do not thank authors, and publishing houses? Why we hold gratitude for too long? Are we conditioned to live with selective memory? It needs to be debated. Most of us who were born in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s at some point in time must have introduced themselves as ‘leftists,’ ‘progressives’ ‘socialists,’ or ‘communists.’ And none should forget the Russian Masters –Maxim Gorky, Alexander Pushkin, Ivan Turgenev, Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Leo Tolstoy, and Progress Publishers, Moscow. But, we have forgotten them, and our priority has done it.

Do not worry, dear. I am also part of the same flock. I hold the gratitude till thirty-four years and never told anyone how ABC series exposed me to new ideas and tilted my thinking-frame. Yes, 1986, Mr. Ghulam Qadir Mallah introduced me to ABC series. But before that let us praise Progress Publishers, Moscow, the then USSR. It was a state-run publishing house, which issued Russian literature – fiction, and non-fiction, books about political ideology, and the USSR in foreign languages. The ABC series was also its initiative.

I remember, Ghulam Qadir Mallah had rented a house near the Municipal Garden, Kotri. After university classes or holidays, I used to spend my days at that house. Another companion was Taj Joyo. I recall he used to work on Jeay Sindh Mahaz’s organ, and edit some literary works. Another attraction of the place was Ghulam Qadir’s library’s books. Almost all news books were available there. One day, Ghulam Qadir came early from the press and told me to come out to have a look around the city. He took his motorbike and straightly stopped at Memon Book Stall, Gadhi Khata Hyderabad. He stopped, and one person handed him an old newspaper-wrapped set of books. I do not remember, Ghulam Qadir had already purchased them from somewhere else and stored at the bookstall or Memon Book Stall owner was secretly selling them – I ‘m not exactly sure. However, we were happy. We had a cup of tea at the Sultan Hotel, near Memon Book Stall. Quickly, we finished the tea, went to see Naz Sahito and Taj Joyo. But we hid the books, in a black polythene bag, and resolved that if anyone asked, we have to say that these are photo copies of computer books. It was a believable lie because our out-side university friends knew that we are students of computer technology. It was a lucky day- we could not see them, there was none.

We came to Kotri, our abode. Hurriedly, we unpacked the wrapped bundle. Still, I recall, how happy we were! We opened it, there were eleven books. The generic title of the series was ‘ABC of Social and Political Knowledge.’ But I could only remember five books. These were ‘Classes and the Class Struggle,’ ‘What is the Party?’ What is the Working People’s Power?’ ‘What is Marxism-Leninism?’ and ‘What is Historical Materialism?’- The paperback matt- finished covers, fine-printing, and super-binding astonished us. The alignment of pages and display of words gave us the impression that, while we will read, the words would take way us to a different world, our minds would be charged with imaginations, and ideas would take lives’ and we would be authors’ companions. We were in a different state, which still I neither could explain nor forget. Ghulam Qadir Mallah took books with him, just to feel the company of newly bought books. He left ‘What is Historical Materialism?’ for me to read. I started reading. It was an awe-inspiring and breath-taking experience. Vaguely, I recall the book talked about the evolution of the societies, and systematically argued that instead of ideas, material conditions play an instrumental role in the development of the societies. I remember I noted down its glossary – ‘mode of production,’ ‘means of production,’ and ‘dialectical Materialism’ etc. The text was captivating and futuristic. Now, after a long silence, I thank Ghulam Qadir Mallah and Progress Publishers, Moscow for reshaping my perspective towards the world.

While I was writing this piece, a thought came into my mind, I should converse with my seniors that how Progress Publishers, Moscow conditioned their thoughts. Therefore, I phoned to Saeen Himat Ali Pitafi, who had been associated with progressive, nationalist and socialists’ groups/ parties, especially Sindh Watan Dost Inqlabi Party. He told me that from the early 1970s he was introduced to Russian fiction and political literature. He lovingly mentioned the name of Ali Ahmed Dogar was the one, who introduced him the Russian literature. However, in Khaipur Mir’s there also had been a literary environment. He recalled that Saeen Khadim Hussain Pathan, Saeen Ali Mutahir Jaffri, Saeen Baqir Shah, and Dr. Tanveer Abbasi took a lead role in promoting progressive ideas. He remembered that Progress Publishers, Moscow’s books were written in simple and precise language, and all of them were low-cost in comparison to other publishers’ books.

Saeen Himat Ali Pitafi told me that in 1973, he got admission in University of Sindh, Jamshoro. Therefore, it became more convenient for him to purchase Russian books. Fondly, he recalled that in Khairpur Mir’s one of the readers of Russian books was Mir Munwar Talpur. However, at Sindh University, he mentioned that Zahid Makhdom, Niranjan, and Akhtar Kakepoto were superb readers, who along with the Russian books also read other titles. He told, in Hyderabad at that time, there were three places from where he used to purchase the Russian books – one was Quomi Kitab Ghar, another bookshop was at the station road (near the Hyderabad Station), and third was beside Sindh University Model School (now Dr. Nabi Bux Baloch School) opposite to SP Office, where an aged Memon kept his push-card at the door of the basement.

Saeen Himat Pitafi told that the old man was so nice to him that he was trusted to go cellar and fetch any book. He recalled that reading of Progress Publishers’ book experience was a life-like experience, and fiction also kept him spellbinding. He thanked the Progress Publishers, Moscow for a vital role in developing his world view and understanding at a larger level. Likewise, it also helped numerous people around the world. The most cherished part of Progress Publishers, Moscow was titled in science and technology literature, he added. I thanked Saeen Himat Ali Pitafi and we ended the conversation.

I ‘am glad Ali Nawaz Nizamni convinced me to write about books. He emphasized so because today is international book day (23rd April 2020). Afterward, I took some mental notes. The vague ideas started to take shape, and finally, they matured. The pen-down of this thanking note has released overdue gratitude of the Progress Publishers, Moscow.

Just know, a thought has come into my mind that there should be a research study – the influence of Russian Literature (I am not talking about progressive literature) on Sindhi literature, regarding the Progress Publishers, Moscow. Another topic could be how Progress Publishers promoted rationality in Sindh. There may be a lot of topics, and I leave them to university scholars to generate fresh knowledge. Until any new knowledge comes in and becomes wisdom, meanwhile I appreciate Progress Publishers for its contribution.

Again, on behalf of my friends, who benefited from Progress Publishers books, I salute all writers, translators, the editors who presented world-class literature to our generation. THANK YOU, PROGRESS PUBLISHERS, MOSCOW.

(Zaffar Junejo is Ph.D. Scholar, Department of History, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur – The areas of interest: Peasants’ Studies, Social History, Cultural History, Colonial and Post-Colonial Periods)
For author’s previous blog click on Sindh Courier


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