If you see a small, rotund man, wearing a check suit, whose watch chain has lost all its luster, whose coat collar has a large rose in its hole, whose two innocent, nervous eyes peep from his square rimless glasses, whose face is guileless and pure like that of a suckling babe, and whose head is adorned with a Turkish cap (redder than the rose on his collar) with swaying tassels—then know immediately that this is my uncle, Abdul Baqi, BA LLB. He is not my real uncle but one of those uncles who, with their laudable advice and invaluable recommendations, make the excruciating journey of life bearable and pleasant. Without these uncles, life is a thing utterly insipid and meaningless, and living a mere waste of time.
Uncle Abdul Baqi is a man of many talents and abilities. If you are idling around in unfavorable conditions and counting your life's hours on your father's meager monthly allowance, or, if you desire to become rich overnight, then you must seek Uncle Abdul Baqi immediately. He has countless such valuable proposals by which means you can produce five to six hundred rupees every month sitting at home. You must make the investment. He will arrange the business and run it for you. You can leave everything to him. In exchange, Uncle Abdul Baqi will take half the profits.
Uncle Abdul Baqi's schemes usually start yielding profits in about a year, year and a half. So, if you have the courage, patience, and forbearance to invest your father's money for the said amount of time, there is no reason why success should not land at your feet.
Uncle Abdul Baqi has also written a book under the pseudonym of Maulvi Noordin, titled One Thousand Ways of Producing Money. Embellished with the necessary annotations and explanatory images, it has been published by “Maulvi Noordin and Sons Publishers.” You can get this book delivered to your home for free by sending in a money order for five rupees. (I have written the book's preface.)
The apparent reason why Uncle Abdul Baqi has been unable to become wealthy in life, and attain more than a condition of uneasy satisfaction, seems to be that he has spent all his life explaining to others how they can make money. Even according to him, his life has been devoted to other people. From trading in leather and bones, to the business of salt and fish, he has seen and experienced all kinds of hardships. He ventured into poultry farming once. It failed, according to him, because of his partners' lack of imagination, and certain investors' hesitation and pusillanimity; eventually, one by one, he was obliged to eat all the chickens in his farm himself.
He once came up with an unusual idea and successfully incited me to participate in it. I am mentioning this so that you know how brilliant and avant-garde Uncle Abdul Baqi's schemes are, and how they dazzle one's imagination. His scheme was to import zebras from Africa and nourish and train them for use in Victorias and tongas. He estimated that this way, in less than five months, every Victoria in Karachi would be driven by stripe-coated, dappled, fresh, and spirited zebras, instead of jaded bay horses… And everyone would forget the horses.
“My nephew Bakhtiyar Khilji!” he had said to me, stretching his small legs out on the chair in front of him, seeing the beautiful vision through his square spectacles. “Imagine! If Victoria owners can get handsome striped zebras, instead of listless brown horses, who would give a second thought to the horses? How pleasant life would become! If we set up a zebra farm here, train and nourish them, we can become millionaires within a year. Even if we have, for instance, two hundred zebras at the end of the year—now I am taking the lowest possible estimates; it is quite possible we will have two thousand zebras—and even if we sell each zebra for five hundred rupees, calculate how much we will be able to earn? There is a pencil and notebook lying in front of you, calculate on this.”
(The pencil and notebook belong to Uncle's older son Abdul Rahman who studies in the seventh grade and has just gone out on an errand.) “And what would be our cost on zebras? Almost next to nothing! There are hordes and hordes of them waiting for us in Africa. We only need to go and catch them. At most, we will incur the cost of shipping them to Karachi. On that table in front of you there is a book on import customs and duties. I think there is probably no import duty on zebras. But even if there is a duty, how much could it cost us to import something we get for free? You will have to go to Nigeria yourself for a couple of months to arrange for the supply and shipping of zebras…”
Such a man is Uncle Abdul Baqi. But I will relate the zebra story some other time. For now, I will present an account of a joint “expedition” that Uncle and I undertook in our publication of the Monthly Ulloo1; and narrate how, due to the conspiracies of some irresponsible people, the Ulloo reached its woe-begotten end without Urdu literature profiting from its services. It is a very painful story.
I don't remember how the idea of the Monthly Ulloo occurred to Uncle. The scheme had probably been taking shape in his mind for some time. (Ever since he has authored that book, One Thousand Ways of Earning Money, Or: Are You a Loafer?, he thinks of himself as a literary personality and is convinced that if he wants he can become a novelist, critic, and ghazal poet of the highest caliber.) Before launching the Monthly Ulloo, he had occasionally sent his literary labors to various magazine editors with the aim of getting published. Some of these articles were returned; others were not graced with a reply. Uncle Abdul Baqi was angry at such indifference. It was perhaps for this reason that he decided that the best and surest way of getting his articles published was to start a literary magazine himself.
“All right, so what will be our policy?””What do you mean by policy? Are you asking if it will be pro- or anti-government?” I asked.”No!” Abdul Baqi said, annoyed. “What does the government care about literature—or whether or not it is in its favor? Literary monthlies have three kinds of policies: either they are progressive, conservative, or else they are flag-bearers of Islamic literature. We have to choose between these three.”
“Conservative policy seems to be the best,” I said. “This is a safe policy. Progressives constantly remain under government rebuke, and let's not even talk about the Islamic literature fellows.”
After contemplating for a while, Uncle Abdul Baqi said, “Ulloo's policy should be such that the progressives should consider it progressive, the conservatives and government should consider it conservative, and the Islamic literature folks think of it as a flag-bearer of Islamic literature. I think there can be an essay or two on subjects such as the 'Rights of the Spouse' as well. Ulloo must be nonpartisan.”
“Yes, Ulloo must be nonpartisan,” I affirmed.
“Our magazine should show innovation. It should have something for every school of thought. We will print things which will astonish people: Stuff that will hit them right on their heads. DHAP! “
“Hit them right on their heads!” I agreed.
“And, Bakhtiyar! I just recalled another thing. What should be our Aims and Objectives? It is true that some literary magazines don't have Aims and Objectives, but it doesn't mean that the Ulloo should be deprived of them as well. Get that pencil and notebook from the floor. I will dictate to you the Aims and Objectives now.”
“Write down! Number one!” Uncle Abdul Baqi said, getting his revelation from the back pages of the Monthly Shaheen.2 “Yes, so have you written ènumber one?'””Number one.””The Monthly Ulloo is published regularly on the last date of every month.”
“Shaheen is published the first of every month. Ulloo must show some innovation.
“Number two. Write number two. All contributors must send with their articles postage stamps of one rupee and fifty paisa, otherwise their articles will be disqualified from consideration.
“Number three. The decision to publish articles will be made by the editor and there can be no appeal against it. The editor also reserves the right to make necessary changes and corrections in the articles, and publish them under his own name, or as editorials.
“Number four. Ulloo's objective is to serve literature, and it is the only journal which is simultaneously progressive, conservative and a representative of Islamic literature.
“Number five. Letters to the Editor must not reference the magazine issue number otherwise the letter will not be answered.”
After a good deal of argument over the Aims and Objectives, we were able to give them a final shape.
The next day I wrote an intensely loving letter to my respected father, in which, after recounting and acknowledging all the earlier favors and kindnesses bestowed by his Highness on this unworthy subject, I requested that an arrangement be made to dispatch me six hundred rupees immediately; and that the step I was now taking was after a lot of thought and deliberation; and success is so assured that I can feel it right now just by fumbling in my coat pocket. I wrote to two or three of my friends as well, notifying them that the time had come when they could prove their friendship by helping me financially, in accordance with their means.Around ten o'clock the next morning, Uncle Abdul Baqi arrived looking like the living incarnation of optimism and joy.The first thing we had to do for the monthly was obtain a license. Uncle and I hailed a Victoria and reached the court of the District Magistrate behind Engel Road (I paid the fare). We found our way upstairs to a clerk.
“What is the name of your magazine?” the clerk asked.
“Ulloo,” I said.
“Are you referring to me?” His face reddened around the temples and his nostrils flared.
“No, this is the name of our monthly,” Uncle made a timely intervention.
The clerk had difficulty swallowing it. He thought we were joking with him; but when Uncle Abdul Baqi convinced him that our monthly was indeed called Ulloo, he gave us two forms, without bothering to examine his register for the list of names already licensed to monthlies and magazines. I filled out the form as per Uncle's instructions, and after submitting a slip of paper, we were summoned to appear before the magistrate.
The magistrate was a man with smiling eyes, a lively demeanor, and prominent teeth. He asked us to sit down by pointing to the chairs before him.
“So you want to launch an Urdu monthly?” he asked, ignoring me (naturally) and addressing Uncle's dignified and awe-inspiring personality. “What is the name of your magazine?”
“Ulloo,” Uncle answered.
“Are you calling me that?” The magistrate's jovial smile disappeared from his face.
“It is the name of our monthly, sir,” Uncle responded in an extremely relaxed tone.
“This is a very strange name then.” He looked at my face suspiciously and said, “Didn't a better name occur to you gentlemen?”
This question gave Uncle the opportunity to repeat the same reasons for his choice that he had given me earlier. He recounted the names of the various journals and magazines named after birds, and recounted the shameful fact that until now not only has “ulloo” been ignored by publications, but that it has also been unjustly maligned and vilified.
The district magistrate next inquired if we had had any previous experience operating a literary magazine. Uncle Abdul Baqi said he was an author of a book: One Thousand Ways of Earning Money, Or: Are You a Loafer?, and that he had personal relations with three or four editors. (Here he took the names of the editors who had returned his articles.) I told the magistrate I was the assistant editor of my college magazine, Badr-e Kamil—The Full Moon.
Without doubt, the magistrate must have thought us a pair of dunces; but he gave us the license, assuming that a magazine called Ulloo would be a light-humor magazine like The Spittoon and The Pecking Beak, and would not pose a threat to the government, in any manner whatsoever.
Not one of the writers returned the acknowledgment receipt, even though we had sent them postage stamps. For advertisements, Uncle Abdul Baqi did some running around and was able to obtain four or five advertisements to print in the magazine for free. Keeping in view the best samples from other literary magazines, I penned the preface, happenings and highlights, film commentaries, etc., with great difficulty. As I am unfamiliar with the art of writing, I suffered a headache for the next few days because of these literary exertions, and my heart and liver ceased to function properly. When I showed my written pieces to Uncle Abdul Baqi, he shook his large head in a “No,” and without even moving from his seat, rewrote them from start to end, in about ten minutes. In all probability, these were literary masterpieces of their kind. I would have copied them here, but sadly, they have been lost. By the end of the month, I had the following articles ready for Ulloo:
Preface—Editorial Happenings and Highlights—Editorial Do You Want to Earn Money?—Professor Abdul Baqi Ways to Catch Zebras—Dr. Abdul Baqi The Difference Between Love and love—Haji Abdul Baqi BA LLB Ghazal—Ustad Abdul Baqi Baqi Jhang Maghyanvi The Man With a She-Camel—A Romance—Abdul Baqi
“We have enough articles,” Uncle Abdul Baqi said. “Now, Bakhtiyar, give them to the printer and remember, for the first publication our photos are absolutely necessary. For this we'll need to get a photo taken, and get a block made of it.”
Uncle and I had the opportunity to get our photos taken as a result. We had been meaning to do so for quite some time. As prudence demanded, we got them taken from an eight-minute-service photographer in the Bolton Market neighborhood.
The photos came out looking like someone else's, and the airplane in the background looked quite hideous. Uncle tore up these photos and suggested that the photos be taken at home. The photos were taken at my expense at Uncle's house, and Uncle included his family members in the photo as well. In my photo, Uncle wanted his son Abdul Rahman to sit on my lap, but I refused, and for the first time, proved the mettle of my character.
1Ulloo literally means an owl in Urdu but it has negative connotations. It is commonly used to refer to a foolish person.
2Shaheen is a falcon. A common Urdu literary symbol for valor, courage, loftiness of ideals, etc.