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.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Great Partition, by Yasmin Khan

I finished reading "The Great Partition" by Yasmeen Khan.

The book is written ten years back and is not the latest book on the events of 1947. It is however the only book I know which does not take Partition as the end or the beginning point. It tells the story of events in the participation period. ie 1945 to early 1950's  with some references to later years.

The book cannot be take as a history book of Independence. Here the emphasis is on the Partition, the division of land and the relocation of the masses. It seems that none of the leadership was visionary enough to realize that the partition will take such a toll on human life; and that the partition will be absolute and not porous, as some thought naively. Her bittermost criticism is reserved for the British Raj, for being in a hurry, cutting costs and not letting the British army intervene and help the process of Partition.

My elder son has developed an interest in the events of those days and I thought to give him a book on his birthday. I chose this book as the author is closer to his age than mine. I thought he may gain better understanding of the things through her.

Yasmeen Khan is a British history professor. I first heard of the her a few yeas back. The first page of her book was reproduced in a paper, where she states that in her home country Britain, people ask her all the times about ‘her’ Partition story. Born in 1977 she is, as she claims, two generations removed from those events, although both her grandfathers had some role to play in those events. She acknowledges the possibility that neither of them would agree with her on various points.

To people of my age, most of what is in the book is known. The beauty of the book is the power of narration. It tells the story in way how the events had affected the common man the on the street. 

And I still learnt a few new things, or got more emphasizes on certain points of history not known to me.
Here are some:

On June 3rd 1946, at 7 pm Indian Standard Time , on All India Radio in Delhi  there was a live linkup from Westminster where PM Attlee announced in the House of Commons that India will be independent by 1948. It was broadcasted all over India. It was followed by speeches of Mountbatten, Nehru, Jinnah and Baldev Singh. No one mentioned the word Pakistan except Jinnah.

Rewind back to WWII
During the WWII. most of Congress leadership was behind the bars. It left a vacuum and the leadership was cut form public. AIML got the most out of it and gained much ground during that time. So did Indian National Army. 

Churchill lost elections and the new government in UK decided to hold elections in India in 1945-46. Muslim League performed a lot better than earlier elections. It used the election as a referendum on Pakistan. The Muslim Nationalists ( those belonging to Congress) had a rough time. Congress did not support them that much, contrary to what they expected.

Still Congress was able to form government in NWFP and have a coalition government with Unionist Party in Punjab.

In Aligarh, there was a tense atmosphere between the 'town' and the 'gown'. Most vocal support of Pakistan in whole British India was there. Many did not realize that  Aligarh will never be a part of Pakistan.

British government decided to cut the losses and one of the ways to achieve that was to decrease the budget for intelligence. They did not anticipate the cost of Partition. They wanted to pack up and hand over. That was a fatal mistake as the information of when and what is most needed was not there through intelligence

in 1946, the Cabinet Mission failed. She does not give the details of why and how it failed.

Calcutta Massacre on August, 16th, 1946 on the day of Direct Action Day by Muslim League. A pivotal day in the Independence history.  She puts the blame mostly on Muslim League as its leaders, Jinnah and Suharwardy were vague in avoiding violence.  Four thousand dead and another fifteen thousand injured. Soon followed by Noakhali Hindu Muslim riots where another five thousand died. That led to Gandhi's famous train trip to Calcutta, He stayed there for a long time. He was there on the eve of Partition.

Punjab became quite religious in those days. As an example of changes in social interaction: Hindus use of tilak and avoidance of Khuda Hafiz, and Muslims had more insistence on Khuda Hafiz. 

Muslim League made a point of having a constant pressure and picketing (dharna) outside the assembly house in Lahore against Unionist government.

Mountbatten came in March 1947? ( What about the dalliance between Nehru and???) , He reached a decision by May 1947.
Many rules of princely states thought they will be independent, like Bhopal and Hyderabad.

Sikhs wanted the boundary of Punjab to be at river Chenab. Partition of Punjab and Bengal was left to the assemblies.
Radcliffe award was not announced till August 17th, 1947, three days after the actual partition.

Another blunder by British Raj. To keep the army in camps, till the departure of British officers by 1948. It did not allow the army to help save many during the partition. Later a smaller Punjab Boundary Force was created, It worked for 32 months only and had only 25000 men in it.

Around 83000 women disappeared!!!. Men on both sides of the line, had much in common. Half of raped were underage. A future Governor General of Pakistan Ghulam Muhammad ( gamma)'s daughter was abducted.

Gandhi said of Independence as no day of rejoicing.

The powers to be, British, Congress and Muslim League, did not anticipate the gross migration.
Later once the governments realize this is happening, they tried to expedite hit, and not discourage it. In doing this, they even forced people to relocate. thus becoming part of ethnic cleansing.

Twelve million relocated????

In Autumn 47 vast and unprecedented relief efforts were made without much international help. IRC was almost defunct.
British government had apathetic approach.
Indian government spared close to one trillion rupees (!!!) between 1947 and 1951 on refugees issues.

Strange groups stepped in to help the refugees, for various reasons., In Indian Punjab and UP. RSS was very active. It used relief efforts to make a strong base and build a case against Congress for going along with Partition. In Indian Bengal, CPI was the main player.

In West Punjab, Jamat e Islami worked a lot. Mowdudi had moved in July 1947 and was living in a canvas tent. Some of the grateful refugees became ardent supporters of the Jamaat.

Mian Iftikharuddin proposed land distribution ( like Congress did in India) to help accommodate refugees. His proposal was not accepted, he resigned from the post of Refugee Minister of West Punjab.

Khan of Mamdot who was the biggest landowner in prepartitioned Punjab and lost lot of land, used the Allotment Revising Committee to his advantage and helped his former tenets and employees get land in the West Punjab.

Jinnah had to declare emergency in less than one year to gain central control of the refugee crisis and thus helped weakened democratic politics

Gandhi was murdered on January 30th, 1948.  ( Many people don't realize, he died before Jinnah)

Bengal refugee crisis continued for a longer time. Bengalis got less help from India as compared to Punjabis. Many Hindus stayed longer in East Pakistan and moved to India later when realized that it was getting difficult.

Mandal, a Hindu minister and a strong supporter of Pakistan, later resigned and migrated to India after riots in 1950.
Bengal refugee crisis resurfaced at the time of creation of Bangla Desh.

There are (still) 123 border enclaves of India in Bangla Desh and 74 Bangla Deshi enclaves in India. It was due to the way some small princely states opted for either India or Pakistan.

Without outside help both India and Pakistan, overall took care of most of the refugee issues with marvelous speed. The human cost however remains uncounted and under acknowledged.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Nobel Physics Prize 2017. A Poem

On September 14th, 2015 a chirp was heard when gravitational waves emanating from the collision of a pair of massive black holes a billion light years away, vibrated a pair of L-shaped antennas in Washington State and Louisiana.
It fulfilled the last prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

In recognition of this discovery and pioneer work on gravitational waves. Dr. Weiss, 85, Dr. Thorne, 77, and Dr. Barish, 81, were awarded the 2017 Nobel Physics Prize. They were the architects and leaders of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Aashura: The Jewish Connection!

It is Aashura day, perhaps the most solemn day in Islamic calendar: The day the Prophet's  grandson Hussain was killed along with his family in the year 680 in Karbala.

This year it coincides with the most solemn day in Jewish calendar, Yum Kippur.

I am not sure of the rest of the Sunni world, but in Pakistan and India, Aashura has always been a solemn day for Muslims of all sects.

For the last few decades, there has been an concerted effort to keep the emphasis on Aashura but focus that its importance predates the massacre of Karbala.

We are told to realize that the Prophet  declared the observance of Aashura fasting for two days, on the 9th and 10th of Muharram, the first month of Islamic calendar, in the year of his migration to Madina. 

The story goes as follows: When the Prophet arrived in Yasreb ( present day Madina), he saw Jewish people observing fast on the tenth of the month. He inquired and was told that Jews observed that day for the deliverance of their people from Pharaoh by fasting for one day. Prophet declared that as Muslims were closer to Moses then the then-day Jews, Muslims would observe fasting for two days. So the tradition of fasting for those two days started. In the second year of Hijri, the Ramzan fasting became obligatory and thus the Aashura fasting became optional. 

I tried to look it up and ended up with more questions than answers.

Here is what I could gather.

The Jewish tradition of celebrating the freedom from Pharaoh is Passover, and that is in the month of Nisan, the first month the ecclesiastical year and the seventh month or eighth of the civil year. The Passover is celebrated on the 15th and not on the 10th of that month. They eat unleavened bread and there is celebration with wine, four cups to be precise. There is no fasting except for the first born, as they may have been dead in Pharaoh's Egypt.

The tradition which coincides with fasting is Yum Kippur. It is on the tenth day of Tishrei, the first month of the civil year. Jews observe fast on that day, 25 hours to be precise. But it does not coincide with the deliverance from Pharaoh's terror. It is a day to repent sins and relates to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. However the day is the same day when Moses received the second of his tablets of Ten Commandments. 

I tried to get old calendar dates. Muslim sources claim that Prophet entered Madina on July 16th, 622. This was the beginning of a new month, perhaps a month or two after Muharram. That is how the Hijri calendar was started ; backdated to that day during the time of the second caliph Umar. This date coincides with the first of Av, the fifth month of the Hebrew year 4382.  The day of Yum Kippur came two months later in September or so. The Passover would be another seven months.

So given the slight variation of calendar dates due to lack of clarity between the first and tenth year of Hijra, when intercalation (Nas) was clearly abolished in Islam, the most likely Jewish holiday Prophet Muhammad noticed was Yum Kippur and not Passover. The story fits nicely with Yum Kippur: fasting, solemn affair, the tenth day of the first month of the year. Perhaps it was not Passover, where there is celebration and is on the fifteenth of the month. Moreover Passover is always in the Spring, and not in the month of July or soon after. 

Unless the Jewish tribes of Medina were using a different calendar then rest of diaspora. That is possible as the Hebrew Calendar was firmly established as it is now in either 7th or 8th century, but that would probably not account for a variation of several months.

So, what is was: Yim Kippur or Passover.

If it were Yum Kippur then after 1439 lunar years or 1395 solar years, the days have come together again. Must have been more than 40 such coincidences.

A day to reflect and reconcile. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

THE big sick: as I see it

THE big sick: as I see it

Yesterday I watched Kumail Nanjiani's '
The Big Sick"

We had arrived at the Regal Union Square thirty minutes earlier and found the seats of our choice. By the time the preview started there was no place left and couples had to sit separately. It was a houseful,  a month after the release.

The first I heard about the movie was from my kids who saw it and recommended it. Later I found out that Kumail's father, Aijaz is a Pakistani Physician like me and has been to the same high school I went, eight years earlier. Recently I had met him in Orlando at a reunion of our school, Cadet College Hasanabdal. He is the one who wanted Anupam Kher to play his role, and Anupam agreed.
It was my father in law who wanted to see it on a day trip to the city and I went along. 

As many would already know, it is a take of the real life story of a boy meets girl and later they break up as he does not have the courage to tell his parents about the relationship. His parents, especially his mother is actively working to find a right match: a Muslim, Pakistani girl. Then something happens which bring them close, betrayed by the title of the movie.

Kumail co-wrote the script with his real wife Emily Gordon. The lines are great and full of laughs. It tells all the tensions going on in the life of a struggling artist from Pakistani background, his job as an Uber driver, his relationship with his parents and brother, and dealing with real and perceived xenophobia of various shades.

The title is based on Emily's sickness which eventually helps bring both of them together. I wonder if there is a subtle reference to other sicknesses in the characters of the story: the prejudices, the concerns and the fears.

ISIS is mentioned in two occasions, Taliban and al-Qaida not at all. It tells us that things have moved and brands have changed. New brands gather more attention.

By the end of the movie, everybody know a bit more about Pakistan, cricket and the irrigation system. And all this is not in a bad way. I appreciate that. 

It does not show on his face, but the crux of the story is the way a young man over extends himself, at his own peril, not to disappoint his parents. In the process he has almost lied and risks losing both, his family and his love. Then he yearns and begs to get his family back, but does not realize how hard it is for his parents to budge.

It brings up the subtlety of tensions and contrasts in the way an American family and a Pakistani family handles the relationship between their kids.

The American family is able to overcome its initial reservations and bias and then the mother is even rooting for the Pakistani guy. 

It is not so simple for the Pakistani family. It shows the difficulty and pain the Pakistani family goes through in coming to terms with their kid going his own way. Without bashing the religion and culture, it shows how hard, and sometimes impossible, it is for people of my background to acknowledge, understand and accept the realities of present day life and that the kids are entitled to a life of their own. 

As pointed out after the movie by my mother in law, there was a time that Pakistanis were proud to have Zia Muhyeuddin played a short role in Lawrence of Arabia; now a Pakistani American has written the script and is playing the lead role in a Hollywood movie.

As a parent of two kids who are pursuing their carrier in visual and media arts and trailblazing their personal lives, the real life story of Kumail was very close to heart and home. I recommend it for all Pakistani parents living in the West.