Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart, Russian literary genius Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in his 1866 novel Crime and Punishment. “The really great men must, I think, have great suffering on earth.”
Dostoevsky was an epileptic and perhaps more attuned to the suffering that he thought plagues intelligent, sensitive humans. But, as Shamim Ahmad explores in his debut book some 148 years later, the connection between pain and creativity might be the real, lived experience of most creative geniuses.
Ahmad’s non-fiction title “Torment and Creativity: A Psychoanalytic Study of Literature and Literati” was launched at a ceremony at the Islamabad Club on Saturday.
In the scholarly work, Ahmad, who is a distinguished retired civil servant, has combined his academic knowledge of literature and psychology to analyse the lives of some of the greatest writers and poets of both the Western world and South Asia.
The book is divided into nine sections and 20 chapters in which Ahmad views the pain and torment experienced by, and reflected in the writings of, literary wizards from Shakespeare to Noon Meem Rashid, from Keats to Iqbal and from Tennessee Williams to Shafiqur Rehman.
“I had a feeling that there’s something that drives people to write and create,” Ahmad said, discussing the motivation behind writing the book.
He said he used five sources of torment in the psychoanalytic review including the compensatory drive, in which a person compensates for weaknesses in one area of life by excelling in another area, and the bipolar disorder, which causes people to alternate between periods of happiness and depression.
But the dearest of these five sources for Ahmad himself appeared to be “the cognition of the universality of pain,” a condition in which a person rises above his individuality to realise the suffering of humanity.
He said on his selfishness-altruism spectrum, there were three groups of people: those who care about themselves and immediate family, those who care about their community or nation and finally, those very few “noble” people who care about pain in the universe.
The third group includes Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Jesus Christ and historical figures such as Buddha who sacrificed their lives for humanity. In literature, this group features poets such as Shelley and Faiz, Ahmad said.
Ahmad said his talk about pain might make his outlook on life sound pessimistic. But he quoted an anonymous author to suggest that ecstasy of creativity cannot be experienced without also experiencing the darkness of creativity.
Speaking on the occasion, S M Ghayasuddin, a friend of Ahmad’s, said the book is erudite and enlightening. He said the book reminded him of his fondness of writer Shafiqur Rehman and made him cry about the torment Rehman suffered during his writing career described in the book.
Poet and writer Harris Khalique said the book is “un-put-down-able,” “undoubtedly a distinctive work” and a refreshing book from Pakistan which he said is unfortunately turning into an “intellectual wasteland.”
Khalique said Western scholars have psycho-analysed great Western writers but Ahmad’s analysis is groundbreaking because his embrace extends to Urdu poets. “This has not happened before in this way,” he said. He said Ahmad’s objective analysis of the writers’ torment and subjective praise for their works makes for an absorbing read. Khalique said he disagreed with some aspects of the life and work of Faiz, Rashid and Iqbal mentioned in the book but he requested Ahmad to also analyse Mir Taqi Mir’s poetry and personality.
Federal Ombudsman Salman Farooqi said it is the inner joy of Ahmad’s life that has led him to this academic work.
The book has been published by Ushba Publishing International.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2014.