Mustansar Hussain Tarar is many things. From a pioneer morning show host to a playwright and from a novelist to a column writer, there are different shades to this great man’s personality. However, one shade really sets him apart. He is first and foremost a travel enthusiast and mainly famous for writing travelogues which have now reached a number of many dozens. Tarar happens to be the best selling Urdu author of Pakistan for nearly three decades now. From a soldier serving at Siachen to a farmer’s daughter in a Sindhi village, his audiences are common people of Pakistan. They hold a fascinating journey in their hands when they read a Tarar travelogue.

More than anything else, Tarar likes to think of himself as a vagabond travel enthusiast which is nothing but true. He has been travelling since he was a teenager and seen the world from Alaska to Australia. Within Pakistan, he has travelled from the plains and deserts of Sindh and Balochistan to the base camp of K2 and all high mountains and valleys of the north. He has written a dozen travelogues on northern areas of Pakistan only.

The story doesn’t end here. Tarar has written some dozen novels too, some of them are excellent works of fiction. His major novels are Bahaoo, Raakh, Qurbat-e-Marg mein Mohabbat, Qila Jungi, Khas-o-Khashaak Zamanay and Aey Ghazaal-e-Shab. Unfortunately, Tarar’s travelogues have overshadowed his novels in public perception. He is and will always be known primarily as a travelogue writer. This is how it always is. Quratulain Haider will always be remembered for her great novels regardless of the fact that she has written some masterpieces in short story. Exact opposite is the case with the great Ismat Chughtai who wrote a major novel Terhi Lakeer but wasn’t famous for it.

Every reader has a personal relationship with the writers he reads. I honestly admit here that I started reading Tarar as a last resort just a few years ago. By then I had read all the great Urdu literature available to me. To read more, I had limited choices. Tarar was one of them. Somehow, I had an unfavorable impression of his works. I found his travelogues boring and monotonous although they were very popular. So I started with the novels. His content was rich and ideas thought provoking, but I did not quite agree with his style and language. Tarar’s prose lacks a flow. There is always a struggle between ideas that are left behind and words which move on losing their essence. Reading one book after the other I kept resisting the idea of accepting him as a great writer until I read his latest novel Ae Ghazaal-e-Shab. It is a fascinating story of the fall of communism, an end to one of humanity’s greatest dreams. Finally, Tarar had written a perfect novel. I gave up and went to meet him to get the book signed.

27th March 2013, it was a Wednesday. In response to my request, Mr Tarar had given me an appointment at the beautiful Model Town Park where he comes every morning to take a walk and share a cup of tea with his friends.

Just like every celebrity, Tarar was quite different from his television appearance. Although a smart man, he has a tummy. Some of his teeth are missing, other are stained because of smoking. And of course, you can’t expect someone to look good so early in the morning. “What’s your name and occupation? Where have you come from?” He asked three questions in a single breath in fine Punjabi while taking the chair in front of me. I started responding involuntarily in Punjabi, then switched to Urdu. He immediately interrupted me. “You speak good Punjabi. Talk in your own language”. So we did for the rest of the time. Having an idea of my age from my occupation (which was student), he frowned and said “you are quite young, your beard is deceiving”. The original Punjabi remark was “Kafi kum umar ain tu. Darhi rakh ke awain moatabir hoeya bethya en”.

He gave beautiful autographs on his books. My copy of Pyar ka Pehla Shehr which I had found on a footpath in Anarkali, was an original earliest edition of 1974. Tarar was extremely happy to see it and told me the interesting tale behind the writing and publishing of this beautiful romantic novel. “To this day” he said “royalties from this book cover half the expense of my kitchen.”

We talked about Quratulain Haider who became a friend of Tarar’s on her visits to Pakistan. Tarar hosted a dinner in honor of the great author at his house and took her to see the Fakir Khana private museum in Lahore. We also talked about his association with Saadat Hassan Manto, who was Tarar’s neighbor at Laxmi Mansion in early 1950s. Tarar was an early teenager and Manto saheb was in his final years. Manto is one of the many characters of Tarar’s semi autobiographical novel Raakh. He also gave the now famous autograph on Tarar’s autograph book in 1953 "Duniya mein jab husn tha tou aainay nahi they. Ab aainay hain, par husn kahan hai?” (When there was beauty, there were no mirrors. Now there are mirrors, where is the beauty?).

More than once, Tarar wondered how at this young I have read such serious literature. He himself was reading War and Peace and Brothers Karamazov in his teenage. I presented him a magazine in which my short story was published. He wondered “I thought this magazine had stopped publishing long ago”. He liked the title of the story which was from a Faiz poem. “We too loved choosing our titles from famous poems” he smiled. One pearl of wisdom which I received that day from the great man, he said “A novelist must have a vast experience, from a waliullah (a man of God) to a tawaif (prostitute). Only then true and timeless literature would be written.”

Tarar is a man of strong opinions. That day during discussion he said “Urdu is a limited language. I earn my living from Urdu. Can I be dishonest in this regard? I still think I would have done more justice if I had written my novels especially Raakh in Punjabi. But you know Punjabi has a very limited readership. Except Quratulain Haider, all great Urdu writers were Punjabis”. Later on, he expressed these opinions publicly at a literary festival which resulted in a controversy and an unpleasant exchange between Tarar and another great writer Intezar Hussain.

Our meeting lasted for nearly an hour. Mustansar Hussain Tarar concluded the discussion, got up to leave and said “my wife is giving me angry looks. I must leave before she divorces me” and walked away laughing.