Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Visiting Patras Bokhari

June 2nd, 2018

Lot 16368.Section 177, Pocantino I-B-2, near Actors Fund of America. That is where it was. the place I visited 26 years back for the first time

Today I went to visit Patras Bokhari. His final resting place, I mean. It was after a long time. The last time I could not find my way and got lost in the crowd of graves in the Kensico Cemetery.  At that time I was relying on my memory which I thought will lead me straight to the site. I was wrong. So this time I went to the office first.

The first time was in 1992. We had recently moved to Valhalla. I commuted daily through the cemetery to Westchester County Medical Center, where I was doing my heme/onc fellowship.  Kensico Cemetery is very scenic, on the hill and always lush green. On his visit from Pakistan, my father in law had expressed the wish to go to the cemetery. He had read in Dawn an article about Patras Bokhari, It mentioned that he was buried in the Valhalla cemetery. We went to the office, and surprisingly the lady who assisted us remembered the events around this death. He worked in the United Nations as the first permanent representative of Pakistan, and later as the undersecretary general of Information and had died in New York. Some Muslim resident had a burial lot and donated it for his burial. It was a lonely Muslim grave in this non-denominational cemetery.  The tombstone simply told us that Ahmed S, Bokhari was born in Peshawar in 1898 and died in 1958. And then there is a verse from Robert Frost. More on that later, see below.

After that I had visited it many times for the five years I lived in Westchester County. I had taken my father and his elder brother, who  along with Faiz, was a student of Patras at one time. Many in my family and circle of friends visited the grave when they visited us.

Then we moved out and hardly visited the grave as it was out of the way. A few years back on our way back from upstate we tried to visit, but could not find it.

Today, I was in Westchester and was about to go home that I just thought of it. I had time. Why not attempt another visit. And I turned towards the cemetery. In the office a lady was able to locate the record and drew me the way on a map. It seemed to be a different area than I thought. I took the map and went to the graves. I spend one hour in a rather hot day by NY standards but could not find it. The area was mostly ‘inhabited’ by Chinese and Parsis which tombstones in Mandarin and Farsi. I had to go back to the office and they realized that they had sent me to section 77 instead of section 177. Now I did find the grave.

The cemetery is kept well. But the tombstone was a bit out of ink. There was a sign of ‘Extra Care” next to the grave. I spend some time, paid my respects and went back. His death anniversary was, I realized a couple of weeks back.

Growing up, his name was hard to miss. I remember reading his essasys , Patras Kay Mazameen ( Essays of Patras). A few of them were in our Urdu course. Remember one, kal sawary jo meri aankh khuley”.

Hailing from Peshawar, he and his brother made it to Dehli and the All India Radio. I heard a lot about him from my uncle and later learnt from NM Rashid's writings about the way he was as a teacher and an acting instructor. He was a peculiar person.

There is an interview with Prof Anwar Dil. On Patras Bukhari, he had a long association, initially in GC Lahore as his student, later a coworker with him in AIR Dehli and then in UNO in New York. We learn that Patras was very finicky, aloof and a private person. He was a theatre artist and performed often in the reproductions of English plays in GC College. He delved too much into the work of the government to the detriment to his literary life. Rashid thinks that Patras would have left a bigger legacy in literature had he not been a government employee. With Patras, it seems there were similarities although there were differences. Both had Urdu as a second language, both were anglophiles and worked for the government, British India and then Pakistan. Both were what we may label today as elitist.

Kensico Cemetery is home to many famous people. There is a cell phone tour of famous individuals buried there, http://www.kensico.org/cemetery-map/#KenCemMap
But Patras in not one of stops on the tour. Someone,  perhaps the Pakistan Consulate should look into it.

On his tombstone is a couplet by Robert Frost who  wrote it for Patras. In his letter, posted on the website dedicated to Patras Bokhari, Frost writes on April 19, 1957;

     " Your visit would vibrate in my memory for the rest of my life, though I were never to see you again. I have taken my time with your undeclared request. I wonder if I would be far wrong in figuring it out to be for something like the following couplet--"

And then is the couplet, reproduced on Patras's tombstone as you can see in the picture, 

From Iron Tools and Weapons
To Ahmed S Bokhari
Nature within her inmost self divides
To trouble man with having to take sides 

I wonder what was the undeclared request to which Frost responded by writing a such a deep verse and dedicating it to Patras. It is on page 468 of his complete works, "The Poetry of Robert Frost"


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Leonardo da Vinci by Burno Nardini

Leonardo da Vinci by Bruno Nardini
Portrait of a Master

After waiting for a long time going through temperature controlled rooms, when you finally enter the old dining room of the priests in the monastery and look at masterpiece painted on the wall, it is a bit underwhelming. Although restored, the paint is faded and hazy in many areas. One has to look at the other forms of reproduction of "The Last Supper" like the one reproduced below, and to know the history to really appreciate the work. Here the moment is captured when Jesus reveals that one of his disciples will betray him. This painting, and of course, Mona Lisa. are the two by which Leonardo is known to the world. 

I bought the book in March 2016 in the gift shop of monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where The Last Supper adorns the wall, but it took me more than one year to finish the book.

An excerpt from the book.

Leonardo was a living contradiction. In a century rich in innovatory trends, leaving behind it a vast heritage of art, he impersonated in himself the themes of Humanism and the Renaissance, but also turned his back on that century to gaze far in to the future, anticipating an age still to come- our own, the twenty-first century.

I have a confession to make. I don't know much about Western art despite going to museums for a while. As I was not exposed to this side of art while growing up, it is hard to learn. So the following account is not for those who know art inside out. It is for many like me, as I learn along the way.

We learnt growing up that Renaissance, the "Fire in the Ashes"  took Europe out of dark ages on the path to enlightenment. I did not realize that it was Italy, and Florence to be precise, where it all started. Social and cultural renaissance happened earlier than the later roller coaster of scientific and industrial  innovations and inventions. Even in science, Leonardo and Galileo are connected to Florence and both have a museum to their names in the city.  

It is the emancipation of thoughts which lays the ground work for development in other fields. The concept of Humanism, fore bearer of modern ethics, is perhaps the first step in the 12th to 17th centuries of Renaissance.

Late 1400' were the days when many Greek scholars and others found a conducive environment in Florence, thanks to the trader-rulers Medici who came to power after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. So in some way, the Muslims indirectly led to the beginning of renaissance

It also meant that the merchants can be good rulers, can promote humanism and an atmosphere of culture and arts.

It was that conducive atmosphere where a young Leonardo, just moving from his town Vinci to Florence to join his father, found himself.

For a beginner like me it is not difficult to get confused between Leonardo and Michelangelo. It was not until I visited Italy and saw first hand that the difference was clear. Leonardo has Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Michelangelo is the one painted the ceiling of Sistine Chapel in Vatican and sculpted David in Florence.

Both were from Florence, and contemporaries. Leonardo was older. Although known to posterity for his paintings, he was an illiterate who self taught himself and had been an engineer, (conceived the first flying machine), sculptor, anatomist,. inventor of war machines, etc.

His grandfather was a notary of means and had influence in the town of Vinci. Leonardo was a love child, 'illegitimate". His grandfather took control of the situation and had his son, ( Leonardo's father) married somewhere else right away and influenced another person to marry Leonardo's mother. Later his status was legalized. That did not prevent, much later, his eleven or so legitimate siblings to keep him away from their father's inheritance.

He was illiterate by choice. Although son and grandson of notaries, he showed no interest in learning math and other subjects. His father realized that early on and showed his drawing to Verrocchio, an artist, who ran one of the successful workshops in Florence. Those workshops were residency institutions. where the students lived, worked and learnt the trade under the direct supervisor of the master who also acted as a guardian. Verrocchio realized the talent and took the young boy under his wings. Soon the teacher broke his brush when he saw that the pupil had painted an angel better than the master in a pair of angels.

It was in his workshop that Leo got the attention of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Medici king of Florence, who like his grandfather was a great patron of arts. Much of the Florentine Renaissance is credited to the conducive and nurturing atmosphere of the Medici's. Hard for me to accept, but it seems to be true that the early seeds of what became the fire in the ashes were laid by the lords of feudal system.

That was the time that Renaissance was taking birth in Florence. He had the privilege to be in the companies of great artists, thinkers and philosophers, many had converged to the city from various parts of the world. That is where the early field of Humanism developed.

It helped his imaginations fly and they did fly.

The Medici King. in order to export the talent of Florence around, asked him to go to Milan to help Ludovico il Moro, the Sforza ruler, realize a dream of making a magnificent horse sculpture of his ancestor. Leonardo landed in Milan. After a long delay, as he got easily distracted, he could only make a clay model of it before the French moved in and the Sforzas ran away.

But in the meantime, he was asked to paint the Last Supper on the wall of the mess, the dining room of priests of the church.That turned out to be his classical masterpiece. That is where I bought this book by Bruno Nardini.

He had arranged great shows for the royal wedding where the planets revolved and actors played; a precursor to the mega million shows we seen these days at the opening and closing ceremonies of Olympics.

Sometime in Milan, his birth mother showed up and he took care of her till she died. That was for a brief time. He mentions that in his journals emotionlessly, and not acknowledging her as mother, only by her name, Catelina. He walked alone behind her funeral.

When Milan fell to the French, he moved to Venice and eventually to Florence. Back in Florence he had started to paint the young wife of a Francesco del Giocondo known as  Mona Lisa Gherardini.

Then there are years of wandering along with the General Giuliano with whom he moved to various cities. He was also accomapined by the famous Machiavilli of the "Prince' fame. Later the brother of the general, became the Pope. Like others Leo tried his luck in Rome for a while but was of now avail. Later as a part of a truce between the French King and the Pope, Leonardo was asked to accompany the entourage of Pope. The French King, Francis I, at that time was already impressed by Leonardo and asked Pope for Leonardo, Pope agreed and Leonardo moved to France to pass the last days of his life. He had to do nothing, just provide company to the King from time to time.

It is there in France that he died and was buried.

A life well spent is long.

He was particularly religious and doubted the doubts of agnostics. He thought both the believers and atheists were ignorant and much has to be learnt before one can make a determination. He however did think there was a Prime Mover.

He had no clear relationship with women. He was once accused of sodomy by an anonymous complaint. Charges could not be proven, and his father was helpful in getting him out of trouble. That episode left a mark on him and perhaps he became even more private in his personal affairs.

There were at least two pupils with whom he may have had romantic relationship, it could have been platonic. One of them, Salali, who inherited Mona Lisa portrait, may have been a muse of some of his works. Salali was a young arrogant, vivacious man whom Lenoardo had a sudden liking of. That was despite the fact that he stole from Leo and his friends all the times. Leonardo tolerated him all along; except in the end of his life, when he went to live as a guest of the King of France, that he did not take him along. Salali may have refused to go, as he realized that now another pupil, son of a Count Melzi was now the favorite of the Master.

Other realized that primarlily he was a painter, but he wanted to be much more than that. He had ventured into the fields: anatomy, (dissected the human body twice to know for sure how it is), engineer, inventor, sculptor. and much more.

He had a habit of documenting everything. His notes, recently discovered, provide much information on his attention to details. He took in things slow and was habitually late for things. That is why many of his works remained unfinished, One can imagine how much the world would have inherited had he been not as laid back as he was.

There is an interesting story about the story of a shield which he make out of a log, It was given to his father by a peasant. Leonardo painted a speculator demon on it which would put the viewer in awe. His father was impressed by it and realized the peasant was not worth getting it. He bought a cheap painting from the market at gave it to the peasant and sold the original painting of Leonardo at a much bigger prize. It showed the difference between a worldly father and an artist who was happy that he made his father feel scared at the first sight of the demon painting. That was a prize worth his work and he needed nothing more than that.

He had two prophetic dreams. One was that he saw a flying kite, It was a memory of infancy, that while lying in a cradle, a kite came down and opened his mouth with its tail and struck him many times with its tail between his lips. Full of symbolism.

Second was near the end of life. Breathing heavily, were his last words. " Yes, now I remember. I wanted to say that everything we know begins from feelings. Now I feel myself flowing away like the water in the rivers. I feel myself borne by the currents towards death. Now I am going to live it, to experience it."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Mirage of Power, by Mubashir Hasan


I finally finished reading Mirage of Power by Mubashir Hasan.  I was searching Shahrah-e-Inqilaab, a book of his, which I read as a young man as a part of a study circle during my medical college days.  That book had helped open up new windows of my mind and helped me understand history in a new light. Now I wanted to read it again and could not find it. In the process, I found this book on amazon.com so I bought it.

This book is a collection of memories by MH about the time Z.A. Bhutto was in power, from the fall of Dhaka to the military coup and then his execution. 

I had hoped this book will offer a closer look at the inner workings and the thought process of Bhutto in all those years. I got some of that but not much. Perhaps Mubashir Hasan was not that close to ZAB and hence you see the view from a distance all along. He does not tell the inner stories of important decisions; like why he sacked the provincial governments of foes and friends, why he sacked JA Rahim, why he decided to hold the elections early or late etc. It seems that while MH was not close to Bhutto, he still wanted MH to be by his side. He wanted MH to deliver on some promises he made in his manifesto, and wanted to keep feudals in check by having a leftist by his side. But MH was outside of the inner circle. Despite that he remained a loyalist and a bit meek one at that. He fails to be critical of ZAB on any decision of importance.

Regardless of that, it brought me back to the days of my youth and the names I saw as headlines on newspapers, heard on the radio and seen on the PTV screen all the times. Some pieces of information, mentioned below, were either new to me or I have already forgotten.

In the preface he tells of the group of young enthusiasts in Lahore who formed a study circle after the 65 war. They were in thirties and early forties and were from different walks of lives: poets, lawyers, principal of a girl’s college, architects and engineers. They wanted to see a progressive change in the country with a leftist manifesto. At the same time ZAB and JA Rahim had decided to make a new political party and approached this group which included MH. Bhutto and JA Rahim agreed to adopt their manifesto , “ A Declaration of the Unity of the People”. They joined en bloc. He does not mention the names of others in his group. On November 30th and Dec 1st  1967 a convention was held in the lawn of Mubashir Hasan’s house, and PPP was formed.

Chapter 1: The Dramatic Takeover
First cabinet was very democratic. Besides Jatoi there were no big land lords.
Bhutto attitude changed and slowly he started to adhere  to and perhaps enjoy the privilege of protocol. It started to create and increase distance between him and his close associates.

Chapter 2: State of the Nation
MH became the finance minister. Had no experience of finance.

Chapter 3:Meeting the Challenges I
Soon after taking over, the idea was to achieve as much as you can to fulfill the manifesto. Much was achieved even before the interim constitution was formed.
In 1972 there were nationalizations of electricity, land reforms, and banking reforms were planned.

Chapter 4: Meeting the Challenges II
Soon there were crisis: sugar crisis, police strike, civil servants’ crisis and clash between bureaucracy elites and populism.

At the same time there was difficulty in dealing with NAP and JUI who had Interim Govt. in Baluchistan and the Frontier. Later there was the infamous sacking of Gull Hasan and Air Marshal Rahiim. Tikka Khan was brought it as the Chief. MH went to pick him up from Okara. 

Chapter 5: Reconstructing the Economy I
In four months a lot of campaign promise was achieved; before interim constitution was formed. That includes reforms and military changes
Debt services were renegotiated with WB and IMF. McNamara visited to Pakistan and met with MH. They met at a neutral place, a barrack in Chaklala as neither wanted to meet at the other’s place.

Chapter 6: Reconstructing the Economy II
MM Ahmed out, a veteran bureaucrat, and Qamarul Islam was in. He was more competent, Unfortunately ZAB fired Qamarul islam in 73 and JA Rahim in 74.

Chapter 7:Accords and Discords
Mian Mahmood Ali Kasuri resigned before the constitution, in Oct 72.
Opposition did not get much it wanted in constitution as it relied a lot on Ghulam Farooq who did not really plead their cause.

POW issues. ZAB was worried if POW could be tried for war crimes in BD.
Language issue: In Sindh, before partition the language was English and Sindhi. After partition Sindhi was relegated to optional along with Urdu. And naturally Urdu got the preference.

He made alliance in Baluchistan with Raisani and Bugti, and in Frontier, Qayyum was the collaborator. Bezinjo/Mengal govt was sacked. Jam Lasbella became CM and Akbar Bugti as governor in April 73
In the same month, on  4/12/73 constitution was approved
4/29/73 action in Baluchistan

Chapter 8: All Not Well
Around the same time Bhutto started getting angry at ministers as they were not delivering, There was definitely a role of agencies in creating rift between ZAB and his close associates.

Chapter 9: Feeling Free
NWFP/Baluchistan govt were already sacked before the constitution was approved.

For the constitution Hafeez Peerzada and Rafi Raza were the work horses. The deadline was Dec 31, 1973 but the task was completed by mid April.
March 23, Liaquat Bagh firing. MH came to know 25 years later that there was a plan to disrupt the meeting. Who fired?  He implies it was FSF.

Constitution was unanimously approved. Only one Maulana (not named) asked for money. Bhutto refused. 
1973 Floods
MH was personally involved in trips. Gone to Panjnad, Guddo Sukkhur. He physically helped close breach in Sukkur

It was a year to reach out to the provinces. There were trips to Gilgit and Baltistan and helped them get reforms, ie electricity and utilities. Trip to Baluchistan and networking with Bugti. Tour of FATA with help of IG of FC Naseerallah Babar.

MH resigned that year, but not accepted.

Chapter 10: The Year of Change
Islamic Summit in 1974. JA Rahim opposed the word Islamic in the summit.
Shah of Iran did not attend the meeting. He send his representative
There was a resolution on Palestine in the summit. No resolution on Kashmir

 Chapter 11: All Power to the Establishment
By 74, the old guard was gone and Bhutto was firmly encircled by establishment.

He was very suspicious of Mumtaz Bhutto and Sherpao, thanks to the misinformation by the agencies.

Many Civil servants had now surrounded him, notable mentions are Aziz Ahmed, who later joined the party, Mian Anwar Ali,(police) Saeed Ahmed and Masood Mahmood, who ultimately was instrumental in Bhutto’s conviction.
Others in establishment were KB Bucha, Fairoz Khan Qaiser, Yahya Bakhtiyar, GIK, Veqar Ahmed, General Ghulam Gilani,  Kausar Niazi and Mahboob ul Haq, who later left, rather soon.

Chapter 12: The Losing Battle
By 1974 ZAB realized that establishment had him over. His house was bugged.
MH become GS of the party. Office bureau shifted to Lahore. Wrote Sharahe Inqilaab.

Took up the case of land mafia and kachi abadis. Hanif Ramay lead a big procession. Bhutto got angry and sacked him as CM, replaced him with Sadiq Qureshi
1975: Gen Zia as COAC

Bhutto opened another office in Rawalpindi making a feudal lord in charge of it

Chapter 13: The Battle Lost
1976; Weekly supplement to Musawat Siyasi Musawat for the workers

He mentions a strange trip to US Ambassador’s house in Islamabad. ZAB took MH with him and while having tea he suddenly asked MH ‘” why you people are against me?” Later, MH realized that ZAB always needed a witness to his communications even if it were a foreign ambassador.

ZAB changed constitution of the party without the input from the GS.

Elections of 77, MH thinks they were won fairly and intelligence reports were wrong

Chapter 14: The Economic Legacy
Then there is a long chapter in the end about the economic legacy of ZAB. As most of the decisions for nationalized and industrialization were with his input, MH takes to trouble to make a case that ZAB’s economic policies eventually brought a lot of prosperity, Many effects were obvious many years later during Zia’s regime.

Overall, a book I enjoyed reading, even if it turned out different than what I thought.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mottled Dawn: Fifty Stories on Partition by Manto

I just finished reading " Mottled Dawn", translation of fifty sketches and short stories of Saadat HasanManto by Khalid Hasan, written in 1996 and with a forward by Daniyal Mueenuddin in 2011.

The title is the translation of Faiz's verse Dhaag Dhaag Ujala about the Independence of Pakistan.
While questions of Independence abound and what exactly it mean for Pakistan to be independent is hotly debated, (an ideological religious state vs secular state etc), the trauma of Partition has largely been shelved. People do not talk much about it, partly due to shared guilt or due to apparent disconnect with the present day situation.

For those who are interested in Partition, and there is an increasing demand in certain circles to explore and research it more, not much is out there in objective way. Most of the accounts are jingoistic and clearly partisan, blaming the others for the starting of atrocities or otherwise minimizing and looking the other way. Other accounts are devoid of human stories, being just statistics and bland numbers.  People present at that time who are still alive and can provide oral histories are rapidly vanishing.
In this dearth of real information, strangely, Manto's stories come to the rescue, almost as a collection of people's history. Here you see an honest and impartial depiction of what happened. Manto is able to take the essence of the time, and tell us what was going on in peoples heart and minds. How a relatively normal person gets drawn into the rage of revenge and hatred and commits atrocious crimes. At the same time how brief moments of humanism show up amidst that time of violence and make the person human again.

It starts with 'Toba Tek Singh', his seminal story; how a lunatic refuses to be transferred to India from Pakistan in exchange of residents of lunatic asylums as he wanted to be nowhere else but in his Toba Tek Singh.

In 'Return' (Shalwar), the father is mad with joy to find out his daughter is alive, ignorant or oblivious of the fact that she had been repeated raped and mutilated. In 'Colder than Ice' (thanda gosht), for which he was tried in the courts, he tells how a person felt impotent after realizing he had raped someone who was dead all along. Many more including the 'Assignment', 'Dutiful Daughter', 'Mozail' ( the Jewish girl in Bombay who helps rescue a Sikh girl for his ex boyfriend) 'Dog of Ttitwal' and 'The Last Salute' are a treat to read.

In the 'Last Salute', Indian and Pakistan soldiers who were members of the same regiment before the partition face each other in war in Kashmir, and the dying Ram Singh cannot help but salute the Pakistani Captain as he was his previous officer .

In the 'Tale of 1947', the main character is based on Manto himself. Mumtaz leaves Bombay for Pakistan after he realizes that his own best friend had admitted that he could have killed him in revenge of his uncle's murder in Lahore at the hands of a Muslim.

The sketches are from his book 'Siyah Hashie', composed of short stories, some are only a line or two long. They all tell the story of Partition tersely.

The best way to describe Manto is in the words of Khalid Hasan in his introduction and I reproduce below:

"--- to Manto, what mattered was not what religion people were, what ritual they followed or which gods they worshipped, but where they stood as human beings. If a man killed, it did not matter whether he killed in the name of his gods or for the glory of his country or his way of life. To Manto, he was a killer, In Manto's book, nothing could justify inhumanity, cruelty or the taking of life. In the holocaust of 1947 he finds no heroes except those whose humanity occasionally and at the most unexpected times caught up with them as they pillaged, raped and killed those who had done them no personal harm and whom they did not even known. Manto saw the vast tragedy of 1947 with detachment, but not indifference because he cared deeply." 

Khalid Hasan has done a great job in translation and having read some of the stories in Urdu before, it was a pleasure to read them in English. It opens up a larger readership to Manto which he has deserved for a long time.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Sunlight on a Broken Column by Attia Hosain

 I finished reading the book the second time, read it first thirty years back.
Written by Attia Hosain, a member of a Taluqdari family of Oudh, who decided to move to Britain and not to Pakistan after the Partition, the title is drawn from a line of T S Elliot, 'There the Eyes are Sunlight on a Broken Column".

Set in Lucknow of 1930's it tells the story of people of privilege: a group of cousins and their friends. Told in first person by a character who shares much of her background with the author, it takes you back to the lives of a decaying class, the feudals of North India. Known as Taluqdars they had hereditary lands from Mughals and later from British Empire. Loyal to Crown, they had an almost total control on the lives of their land tenets and serfs.
By the turn of 20th century, many had personally moved to bigger cities and controlled the rural fiefdoms remotely, each generation bringing a different set of values and vision, although still subscribing to the same sense of privilege and authority.

Connection to the rural estate was for getting grains and rents, burying the dead, and later to get votes for elections.

The estate of Hasanpur is not that far away from the city and the description of the journey from the city to the estate looked like any other road trip to any of Punjab villages.
Syed Mohammed Hasan, Baba Jan, the old feudal lord is slowly dying in his Luckhnow mansion, Ashiana. There is a joint family system where his two daughters live with him, one widowed and one unmarried. The protagonist is the orphaned granddaughter whose parents had died. Her father's sister is raising her in a modern way as it was the desire of the dead father. Extended family members stay for long times.

Baba Jan's friends and acquaintances are from his class and share a common interest in things archaic and mundane. His only living son lives elsewhere and moves in after the patriarch dies.

He dies in the chaotic times of Muharram when the city is full of riots. The rituals of death take place in the city and the village. They are beautifully portrayed: the lamenting, the sharing of food , the three days mourning and how the life goes back on track.

Hamid, the son, now moves back to take the charge. He is an anglophile and his wife does not observe Purdah. He does not like joint family system and the sisters are dispatched to village or married off. Laila continues to live in the city and continue her education in the institutions run by the British. Later Hamid's two sons come back from Briton after finishing education and staying there for ten years.

The life of aristocracy, having different faiths and political inclinations but sharing a common social and economical interest, is ceremonial, monotonous and intriguing at the same time. The interplay of older generation and the younger one shows the tension of disagreements between them and how different generations handle them. It is as true as it is today as it was then.

It is perhaps the first, if not the only, English language piece of fiction by a native Urdu speaking person of that era. The language is flawless and one can imagine as if one is reading it in Urdu. The idioms and ways of expression as translated effortlessly as English sentences are uttered by characters who would never speak that language. It does not seem odd at all.

The cousins in this story are or the same age as my parents. This is a good peek into that time, a kind of 'people's history' of what went on in the hearts and minds of the young generation of that time. Similar to the Udaas Naslain, translated by the author himself in English as Weary Generations, it tells you their lives. They had all the range of ideas and thought and their conversations captured in these books tell you of the scope of possibilities and confidence they had. Women , educated in colleges, able to talk and express opinion on all the taboo subjects and accepted in their group of friends could be unimaginable a few decades later in Pakistan.

Seems things have moved backwards as much as on the surface we see the effects of material modernism.

Although the story is narrated by a member of the aristocratic family, the lives and thoughts of the 'other' class is told through the stories of the servants and less privileged relatives. The author does justice to those characters. Perhaps she and the character based on her has the capacity to go beyond their areas of comfort and look at the word through the eyes of the other class without patronizing or being judgmental.

Although it is a story of cousins and their personal affiliations and aspirations and basically it is a love story, the subtext of Independence and the Partition is played in the background without being onerous. Different members of the same family and circle of friends align themselves and route for Muslims League, Congress or for just the Feudal system. Landed aristocracy see its gradual downfall, politically and socially, and the eventual disappearance of its existence as a class. We see how the new rich gain ground and influence and the mercantile class become land owner transforming it to urban boom. 

And then, true to the title, the ultimate effect of Partition on the larger family, how it gets dispersed over countries and continents and unable to communicate with one another. Lines drawn on sand become permanent barriers and hearts, properties and lives are divided.

And how a young girl, born in a family of privilege, is able to keep her head balanced, able to see the world as it should be, and defies the authority of others in choosing her own destiny.

I am not sure why the novel did not get noticed in Pakistan as much as it should have been. I for one, did not hear about it until I moved to USA in 1988, It was first published in 1961 and is surely one of the best portrayal of pre partition twentieth century in North India.           

Monday, December 25, 2017

Muqalaat e Noon Meem Rashid مقالات ن م راشد

This is about collection of articles, letters, and essays by Noon Meem Rashid.

I did not know much about Rashid than a few scattered facts.His famous poem 'Zindagi say dartay ho" was in our syllabus in higher secondary. Later I had read his Abu Lahab ki Shadi and a few others. His choice of funeral rites surprising for many of us at that time.

I have not read enough of his poetry to make an opinion on it. He carries the reputation of using difficult diction and not reaching out to common man. He had done various experiments in poetry and is considered one of the pioneers of nazms in Urdu.

Recently there was an event on his works in New York. It was not fulfilling. I mentioned it to Syed Saeed and he was kind enough to lent me his copy of Muqalaat e N M Rashid.

This is a collection of his essays, articles and personal communications over his literary lifetime. Most of them were published in various magazines like Ilham Dehli , Naya Daor Karachi, Nakhlistan Multan, Adab e Lateef Lahore, Aaj Kak Dehli. The writing spans a time period roughly from 1930’s to late 1970’s

Prose has the power to let the person spread out on paper in his own words without the ambiguity of poetry. It helped me know him a lot better and I thank Saeed for that.

Whatever I write here is my personal opinion and may very well be limited and biased. 

Rashid comes across as a part of literary elite, entitled to the peculiarities of that class. He is blunt in his opinion and minces no words. He writes for those who can understand him, and has no extra desire to reach out to those who don’t.

That does not take away from him what he has to offer. I learned a lot from him in this book. He has a burning desire to explain things and educate those who are interested in learning. He is like a professor who is idiosyncratic but is burning with the desire to get the right thing through his students and audience. He does not cut any corners here.

He makes a strong case for Free Verse, Azad Nazm,, with the emphasis on rhythm if not exactly meter or rhyme. He says it opens up a lot of new ideas which the old fossilized construct of ghazal and restricted (Paband) poem cannot deliver.

There is an interesting back and forth correspondence between him and Saqi Farooqi when both of them were in London in 1975. They argue on the future of Urdu poetry and role of various contemporaries. 

He credits Ghalib and then Hali for the new genre of Urdu poetry. Hali introduced new ideas but was restricted to morality and national building issues and had paternalistic attitude.

He was posted in Iran during the war and tells about how he and others were able to introduce Iqbal to Iranians who were not that much aware of Iqbal.

He has a long article on Modern Persian poetry, and compares its poet Nima Yooshij with Meera Ji, although Meera Ji was an urbanite and Nima had rural background. In other ways his poetry is close to Faiz and Akhtar Sheerani, 

In two later articles he talks about two recent Poets of Iran, socialist Abul Qasim Lahuti and Perven Ahteasmi, who died young. but gave voice to the women of Iran, (somewhat like Perveen Shakir)

In an interesting article, 'Urdu adab per maashrati asr" he compares western literature to Urdu. It is hard for Western mind to understand the complexities of Eastern literature. Much of the twists and turns of Eastern literature would be considered lazy, lethargic and handicapped.
He says there are four forces in effect in Indian literature and culture.
First, the Hindu influence in the agricultural and middle class Northern Indians
Second, the moralities of religion of Islam
Third, the Persian mysticism which itself was a mixture of Platonic thoughts and Islamic thoughts
And lastly the Western influence with its materialism, organization and technology.
In the initial period of Urdu literature, 18th and 19th century, there were three obvious movers and influences. Religion, feudalism and homosexuality. 
When Nadir Shah sacked Dehli in 1739 Wali was an old man and Mir was 15 years old. Mir had seen much of social vicissitude in his life and mentions a bit in his writing but could not make his poetry political as it was considered improper. At most the effects of uncertainty in life reflected in his poetry. The next century 19th, was no different either. It is Ghalib and Momin's poetry. Much of religion and its similes are part of the poetry
Effect of feudalism was complex. The feudal lord is there to protect the common man from the effects of dacoits, invaders and famine. (his own exploitation notwithstanding). So, there is a relationship of praise and qasida writing and protection and stipends, Ghalib and Iqbal included. It then has its effect on ghazal which becomes the conversation between the beloved who is now a sort of protector and benevolent figure
Third effect is homosexuality. Women is not given the right space in the society. Moreover she is hidden in the urban culture behind chadar and chardewari. So, talking to or about a woman may be considered cheap and not proper. Moreoever it gives an impression of talking to God, if in masculine.
Nazeer was the first popular poet, born around the time of Nadir Shah's attach and lived for 90 years. Many of his work is like ballads, about common man. Post Mutiny Hali comes with his moralities and poetry full of purpose like  Ay mao bhehno betio etc. Same in the writings of Nazir Ahmed and Rashid al Khairi and Abdul Haleem Sharar, Munshi Sajjad Hussain and Ruswa and their associations with the tawaif culture. 
Iqbal although died in 20th century, but most of his attention was to the issues of 19th century. talking about moralities and humanism and praising the feudal. Later the effects of culture on the society influenced him to be political and think of independence in a certain way. But mostly his poetry is philosophical.
At that time Zafar and Josh were political and so was Premchand in his prose. 
Progressive movement, did show influence of dealing with the issues and left religion and sexuality aside. But had two faults. too much expectations and more emphasis on their way of thought (communist approach) instead of dealing with the problems at hand. 
He prizes Meera ji, Ismat Chugtai, Mumtaz Mufti and himself as pioneers of modernism esp. in breaking the taboos of talking about sexual relationships in the era of religious occult, feudalism and foreign rulers. Then he talks about the relics of progressive movement. Josh, Hafeez and Firaq and in post partition Jalib  and Zafar Iqbal in prose and Qurat ul ain, Abdullah Hussain and Shaukat Siddiqui in prose.
Strange last para of this article: Now the new straight lines have joined the circles and circle instead of vanishing away has changed into an elliptical shape, It is neither moving fast nor slow but still feels the uncertainties of heartbeat introduced by the influence of those straight lines. 

He was a strong proponent of the Latin script for Urdu. That was a movement of the time and favored by the government. Rashid gives the example of Indonesia and Turkey multiple times to emphasize the importance. He claimed that it would increase the literacy rate.

We learn about a lot of people and their literary side from his articles. That include, Mughal Emperor Babur, Empress Noor Jehan, Zaibunnissa, Rehman Baba, Khushro , Hali , Zafar Ali Khan and of course Ghalib.

He has articles about Akhter Sheerani, Mukhtar Siddiqui and on Faiz ( reproducing his preface to Naqsh e Firyadi)

There is an obituary on Mahmood Nizami and Shahid Ahmad

He considers Ghalib as having an epic effect on Urdu. It was him and not his competitors Zouq or Momin who left any influence on the next generation of writers and poets. thus, injecting his influence for generations to come.

There is an interview with Prof Anwar Dil. On Patras Bukhari, he had a long association, initially in GC Lahore as his student, later a coworker with him in AIR Dehli and then in UNO in New York. We learn that Patras was very finicky, aloof and a private person. He was a theatre artist and performed often in the reproductions of English plays in GC College. He delved too much into the work of the government to the detriment to his literary life. Rashid thinks that Patras would have left a bigger legacy in literature had he not been a government employee. With Patras, it seems there were similarities although there were differences. Both had Urdu as a second language, both were anglophiles and worked for the government, British India and then Pakistan. Both were what we may label today as elitist. 

One of the remarkable article. Fruits of Hard Work Are Much Better Than Gifts Of Fortune. Mehnat kay phal muqqar ka tufoon say kaheen behtar hain  is on education and it is at the end of the book. It is written in 1930 and clearly mentions the disgust at the corporeal punishment and the way to educate the kids. It is a very forward looking thought and was surprising to me to read such thoughts existed in the intelligentsia community almost 80 years back.

There is the presidential address to Halqa Arbab e Zouq 17th Annual Session in 1956. He acknowledges the three important contributions of Halqa.
First, encouragement of innovative ideas and modernity
Second, upholding the mantle of constructive and unrestrictive critique of literature thus showing the writers and readers the difference between true and fake literature
And third, protecting literature from those nonliterary influences and groups which were the biggest danger to literature.

In response to an article by Jamil Jalbi, editor of Naya Daor in which Jalbi had emphasized the 'Right Thought" for the Pakistani Identity, Rashid slams Jalbi in the article Pakistan Identity. Jalbi had emphasized three pillars of Pakistani Identity. Islam, Historic virtues and Urdu. Rashid responds by stating that Islam should not be static and should adapt to the present and so the Islam of Pakistan should not be chained to the Indian historic past. Regarding Historic virtues which essentially meant keeping the culture of Delhi and UP alive, Rashid is strongly against it and claims that the land of Pakistani ie the five provinces should have a say in the identity of Pakistan. Lastly, he speaks in favor of local languages exp Bengali. Brave of him to do that. 

Comparing Zouq with Ghalib, he states there is no comparison. Ghalib has ideas, Zouq has only language

In the first editorial of monthly Shahkar Lahore in 1935 he sets up an aggressive agenda. It would have emphasis on intellectual development through literature, and addressing topics of modernity, religion and emphases on eastern cultures and values. 

Many articles are about the addressing the challenging aspects and innovations in literary techniques. He comes across as one of the proponents of breaking the old walls of literary culture and experimenting with new ideas. 

In a series of interviews with Saadat Saeed, he talks about his life abroad and his personal opinions on poetry. In his personal experience of writing poem, he compares it to a sexual encounter when the finalization of the poem is likened to the final orgasm. 

In his reviews of individual works, he writes about Ghulam Abbass' Jazeera e Sukhunwaran, a satire . In it a Nawab of Dehli along with his company of writers and aficionados of literature leave India after mutiny and find an island 'Meena"in Indian Ocean  there they settle down and the whole society is divided into the writers and non-writers. and there is a class system. 

He has a review on Aag ka Darya and Shaukat Siddiqui Khuda ki Basti

There are short travelogues about Iran, Greece and Middle East, ie Iraq, Palestine and Egypt

This book took me to those middle fifty years of 20th century, spanned across the Partition, and reminded that a vibrant literary culture existed with many literary magazines and circles, where literature was created, showcased and evaluated. A culture of openness prevailed and people debated and challenged difficult issues including religious, national and sexual identities. Their views were debated, appreciated or rejected, but still tolerated. Rashid was an important part of that debate.

A lot of it, and Noon Meem Rashid along with it, have faded since.