Monday, December 29, 2008

Bangladesh: a forecast

Elections are being held in Bangladesh today. Our moderately enlightened media cannot be trusted to understand how important they are for Pakistan.

Bangladesh and Pakistan are the only countries which were voted into existence. First, in the elections of 1945-6, people voted for the creation of a state comprising of West Pakistan and East Bengal. Then in 1971, they voted for the autonomy of East Bengal (which had come to be called East Pakistan by then).

Since these are the only two states which came into being precisely through the same method (i.e. consensus of the people), we cannot overlook the fact that in many ways the two countries have been evolving in a manner similar to each other and different from everyone else:
  • In 1975, Sheikh Mujib got assassinated by the Army; two years later, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was deposed (and later hanged) by the Army in Pakistan;
  • Armies in both countries launched processes of Islamization which lasted till the late 1980s;
  • The first female prime minister of the Muslim world came from Pakistan, and the second from Bangladesh soon afterwards
  • Emergency was declared again in Bangladesh in 2007, and in Pakistan latter the same year
Practically every major political change which occurs in one country gets mirrored in the other. Between any other nations these would pass as coincidences, but since Pakistan and Bangladesh came into being through exactly the same method, would it be rational to ignore these “coincidences” or to study them for discovering some unknown forces that might be operating in the collective lives of societies?

Elections are being held in Bangladesh today – just as they were held in Pakistan earlier this year. We know that a consensus government was formed in Pakistan after the recent elections. Should it not give us something to think about if consensus government also comes in power in Bangladesh after these elections?

The independent and sovereign states of Bangladesh and Pakistan seem to be held together in a bond which cannot be discovered through the existing theories of political science. It can be discovered in the poetry of our great poet Sehba Akhtar who addressed the spirit of Bengal in 1968 and said, “There are no chains, but this Love is a bond which, even if you wish, you will not be able to break.”

Chains, if there were any, got cut in 1971. The bond of love remains. Pakistan should pay attention to the happenings in Bangladesh. They may tell us more about ourselves than expected.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jinnah's Reply to the US Ambassador

The United States of America was the only country whose representative attended the birth of Pakistan on August 15, 1947. Later, he was replaced by an ambassador who presented his credentials on February 26, 1948. It seems that a generous monetary aid was also offered at the same time.

Fortunately, the reply of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder and the first Governor-General, has been preserved. After highlighting the role which the US had played in inspiring freedom movements like those of Pakistan, Jinnah said in unmistakably clear words:
I can assure Your Excellency that after having emerged from an eclipse which lasted over a century and a half, the people of Pakistan desire nothing which is not their own, nothing more than the goodwill and friendship of all the free nations of the world. (Read complete text)
At that time, Pakistan was in dire need of money. Just a while ago, even our former colonial masters, the government of Great Britain, had not flinched from accepting American loans (in fact, from the autobiography of Harry Truman we learn that the British government kept nagging for more than what the Americans were willing to lend them).

The refusal of a starving nation to join the beeline of borrowers (even when the line was headed by their former masters) should have been an eye-opener to the ruling elite of the United States but it seems that it wasn't. Apparently, they eventually succeeded in persuading the later rulers to accept what the founding fathers had categorically refused.

If precedents set by Jinnah should be regarded as the guiding principles of “the ideology of Pakistan” then refusing foreign aid (whether American or Russian) can be rightly regarded as a cornerstone of that ideology. Something to remember while Pakistan celebrates Jinnah’s birthday this year?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The guiding spirit

Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, has a mystical presence for many of his followers, and nowhere is it depicted better than in the mainstream Pakistani films, especially those made by the adherents of the Film Arts school of thought. By these I mean Waheed Murad, Pervez Malik, Nazrul Islam and some other filmmakers from Pakistan.

It is customary to hang a portrait of Jinnah in Pakistani offices and educational institutions. Hence, most public offices in films were depicted with Jinnah’s portrait hanging in the background. Clever filmmakers knew how to make good use of this convention. Pervez Malik, whose films were invariably parables about the collective life of the nation, usually managed to bring a portrait of Jinnah in those scenes which pointed at the real theme of his movies.

For instance, Sachai (1975) is a parable about the quest for truth in a society where dishonesty seems to prevail. “As long as this picture hangs above me, I cannot flinch from doing my duty,” says an impassioned officer in that movie. Since Jinnah was known to be a person who never told a lie in all his life, his portrait becomes a thematic icon in this movie whose title means Truth (or Truthfulness).

Another clever example can be seen in Aina (1977), the most popular of all Pakistani films. An angry rich man wants to stop his daughter from marrying a hotel clerk, and tries to enlist a police officer for that cause. “Find some law which could prevent them,” says the father. The police man replies curtly, “There is no such law. Go to the parliament because that is where laws are made, not here.” The founding father overlooks this conversation through a portrait in which he is looking into the camera very knowingly.

A very unusual instance comes from Jaal (1972), a film produced by Waheed Murad. At the climax of the film the villain gets exposed as the ultimate source of crime in society. Just before committing suicide in the courtroom, he looks at the judge who is busy writing the verdict, and then at the portrait of Jinnah hanging above on the wall behind the judge. For a moment there is an eye contact with the face in the portrait, and then the villain ends his own life. Hence Jinnah becomes the guiding spirit who is still overseeing the country founded by him.

Yet, the use of Jinnah’s picture in Mastana Mahi (1971), another film produced by Waheed Murad, can be said to be the most unusual because here, the picture is not shown at all. A power and disowned son of a dead noble asks his uncle to inform him about his parentage and practically everything which is said about the dead father applies to Jinnah in his relationship with the deprived and downtrodden segments of the society. A picture is handed down to the boy, who starts talking to it. “I shall call you father,” he says to the picture. “I will take you to my home, but will you be okay in the home of a poor man? After all, you also left me and even chose to get buried near your other son who lived in the city!” The picture is never shown in the camera but you can understand who the man in the picture must be. The “father” in this beautiful allegory can be none other than the “father of the nation.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Iqbal: A Message from the East

It can be outside the scope of a historian to study the roots of literary trends but a poet-philosopher may analyze them for a prophetic insight about the future of a society. Hence, when in the 1970s distinguished British historian A. J. P. Taylor observed that Great Britain experienced its best times soon after the First World War and therefore the pessimism of British writers of that period was unrealistic, he concluded, "It is not easy to understand why they thus cut themselves off." However, even back in 1923, Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal had tried to analyze that emerging problem of world literature and observed:
Regarded from a purely literary standpoint, the debilitation of the forces of life in Europe after the ordeal of the war is unfavourable to the development of a correct and mature literary ideal. Indeed, the fear is that the minds of the nations may be gripped by that slow-pulsed Magianism which runs away from life’s difficulties and which fails to distinguish between the emotions of the heart and the thoughts of the brain. (Preface to A Message from the East)
Iqbal acknowledged that the First World War had left scars on the hearts of sensitive writers and unfortunately there were not enough remedies in colonial Europe to help these writers regain their grip on reality. Iqbal believed that remedies could possibly come from America and the East (especially the Muslim East). However, they both should realize that "the flame of life cannot be borrowed from others. It has to be kindled in the temple of one's own soul."
This takes us back to the questions:
  • Why the views of people like Iqbal and Taylor have been blacked out so completely in academic circles?
  • Why a normal student does not even get to know that alternate views exist which are not so pessimistic?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Intellectual death of Thomas Friedman?

'Calling All Pakistanis' in The New York Times on December 2, 2008, Friedman wrote in a manner which is widely being seen as irreponsible.

What is special about the backlash against Friedman's article is that he seems to have lost credibility with the educated Pakistani (and some Asian) writers and readers, and also The New York Times has also come down a few notch on the benchmark ('sub-standard' is the buzz word currently going around):
  • Response by Asim Khan: posted on TeethMaestro, this detailed reply is followed by a string of thought-provoking comments which make an interesting read by themselves (originally published in Cogito, Ergo Sum).
  • Mr. Friedman's Demagoguery: written from a slightly different milieu by Saadia Toor and Balmurli Natarajan of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI), this reply doesn't represent the Pakistani point of view alone, but comes out as a South Asian response. If Friedman was hoping that by losing Muslims readership he would gain some from the other side then he may have been wrong on that count too, it seems from this article.
  • Don't Shoot the Messenger: this response from Shandana Minhas is well-articulated and was published in a leading mainstream newspaper in Pakistan, though some may find it to be a bit more defensive than others.
To set the record straight, Friedman's article didn't fail to get some followers when it first appeared about a week ago. "I know this article is written by a non-Pakistani, telling Pakistani'swhat to do," someone posted in the mailing list of a leading rights group in Pakistan. "But he says a lot of what I've been thinking that we all need to do in response to Mumbai. Please consider." As a member of the same group, my response to this was:

The problem is not that this is written by a non-Pakistani, but that it is written in a manner which will incite adverse reaction rather than persuade many. If I could conduct a detailed linguistic analysis, I would show that the writer knows that he doesn't know what he's talking about and his purpose is to show off his intellectual muscle and the size of his ego rather than to understand and be understood :)

Regarding the suggestion that Pakistanis should start alienating those fellow-citizens who support the wrong kind of extremism, such a suggestion will certainly appeal to some of us who have already been doing that since 11 years before Pakistan came into being. However, by this token we should have asked the Americans to alienate those who voted for George Bush a second time ;)

Another member called it "a bogus article" and commented, "How many times has the international community come out in vigils for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Pakistan, and the bombing of innocent civilians in FATA? How can he pass this racist lashing out at Pakistanis as material worthy for the New York Times?" Referring to one of the responses listed above, the mailer went on to say:
Shandana Minhas blasted it today; but somehow I don't think our tone should be defensive that Pakistanis have organized and participated in vigils for Mumbai. We should not be entertaining this idiot's charge. (And Mumbai, to remind everyone was something that the right winged BJP government did to change the name from Bombay, and hence assert their saffron agenda. It should not be confused with resistance to British colonialism.)
To this, one of the most highly respected of the emerging intellectuals in Pakistan replied, "Thomas Friedman has been writing along these lines for atleast the last seven years. Jokers like him are best ignored." This last suggestion is quite likely to be followed more than anything else by a large number of readers in the future. Let's see.
Photograph of Thomas L. Friedman is by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times. Source: The New York Times, December 2, 2008.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A resolution to live by

On December 2, 2008, representatives of all political parties from Pakistan met Prime Minister Gilani and passed a resolution with reference to the Indian crisis. The statement appears to be balanced and may be said to be representing the views of most Pakistanis.

As such, the All Parties Conference Resolution may be a good reference point for journalists, students, youth, teachers, intellectuals and other Pakistanis as they think about the present situation for coming up with their own perspectives. It is a document which should be circulated widely.

Text of the resolution as reported in Dawn, December 3, 2008:

On the invitation of the Government of Pakistan, leaders representing all political parties met in Islamabad today to discuss the developments following the Mumbai carnage, including the implications for national security.

The leaders and representatives of the political parties of Pakistan unanimously underscored the following: The people of Pakistan share the grief of the people of India and extend their sympathy to the families of the victims.

The conference expresses steadfast resolve of the Pakistani nation to defend its honour and dignity as well as Pakistan’s sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.

All political parties and democratic forces firmly support the government and the armed forces in defending Pakistan’s security interests.Pakistan abhors any act of violence perpetrated against innocent persons. That the political parties take strong exception to unsubstantiated allegations made in haste against Pakistan.

The APC expresses Pakistan’s desire to pursue its constructive engagement with India in a comprehensive manner with a view to building confidence and mutual trust for establishing friendly and good-neighbourly relations with India on the basis of settlement of all outstanding disputes.

Prime Minister’s House, Islamabad.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The seven stages of Pakistan

In whatever way we interpret the “peak moments” discussed in the previous post, they help us divide the history of Pakistan since 1886 into seven symmetrical periods:

  • 1886-1905, Inquiry
  • 1906-1925, Discovery
  • 1926-1946, Transcendence
  • 1947-1966, Freedom
  • 1967-1986, Action
  • 1987-2006, Expansion
  • 2007-26, Creation
The names of the stages (i.e. inquiry, discovery, and so on) have been taken from the "Seven Stages" which recur in Iqbal's work as I've shown in my book The Republic of Rumi (2007) and discussed in my newsletter. Of course, those who may like to name this periods differently can do so ("What's there in a name?"). But the beauty of dividing our history into these seven periods is that not only this division is symmetrical but it is based on the peak moments of the entire society rather than the coming and going of individual rulers.
Does this sound better than naming the periods of our history "the Ayub Khan era", "Yahya Khan era," and so on?

Peak Moments in the History of Pakistan

Through my researches about the history of Pakistan, its literature and the ideas which led to its creation, I have come upon a rather curious pattern. It is the recurrence of "peak moments" precisely every twentieth year (with one slight exception).

The gathering of Muslim community represnetatives from all over India at Aligarh in 1886 was the first of its kind in Islam since the days of the early caliphs. Strangely, something similar has been happening since then – every twentieth year with a slight change in 1947:
  • 1886, Foundation of Muslim Educational Conference
  • 1906, Foundation of All-India Muslim League
  • 1926, General Elections on the basis of separate electorates
  • 1946, General Elections on the question of Pakistan
  • 1967, Birth of PPP and popularity of 6 Points
  • 1987, General discontent with General Zia
  • 2007, Lawyers' Movement
Why does it happen, and can it help us in a better understanding of our history (and of ourselves)?
For those unfamiliar with these events, here is a brief recap:
  • The representative gathering at Aligarh in 1886 founded the Muslim Educational Conference. A gathering like that – or perhaps even surpassing it – happened exactly twenty years later in Dacca in 1906 where the All-India Muslim League was founded. The demand for separate electorates was put forward, which we were able to exercise exactly twenty years later in the general elections held in 1926. Precisely two decades after that we had the winter elections of 1945-46 in which Pakistan was voted for.
  • Since the birth of Pakistan a year later, i.e. in 1947, these cycles may be counted from the year in which Pakistan was created. Twenty years later, in 1967, Pakistan People’s Party was founded in West Pakistan and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Six Points gained acceptance in the Eastern wing. It may be noted that general elections which had never been conducted since the birth of Pakistan, were conducted as a result of this popular uprising – and we find this to be the case again twenty years later.
  • In 1987, the end of the Afghan War being in sight, the bomb blast in Karachi, the re-emergence of political parties in the municipal elections through the backdoor, the political liaisons of Benazir Bhutto and the increasing discontent with the non-party democracy introduced by General Ziaul Haq made the need for fresh mandate felt most widely felt among all segments of the Pakistani society (and not only among those who were opposed to the rule of General Ziaul Haque or Islamic reforms). Elections on party basis happened the next year – whether through Divine intervention or human design is a question which doesn’t concern us here.
  • Adding twenty to 1987 brings us to 2007 – need we say anything about this last year?
And hence the question:
Why does it happen, and can it help us in a better understanding of our history (and of ourselves)?

A J P Taylor: someone we should know

We have come to see our times as bad. Pscyhologists blame the increase in mental illness on the "complexity" of modern life. Professors, intellectuals and social scientists as well as poets, artists and filmmakers of "high culture" portray the world as if it were going to dogs. Is this realistic?

If your answer is yes, then the chances are that you have been brainwashed by false prophets of doom. Nobody told you that some great minds have been thinking otherwise, right? Well, A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990) was one of the finest historians of the twentieth century and he believed that pessimism was popularized in Britain by some unrealistic writers after the First World War when, despite regrettable loss of life in previous years, the country was actually witnessing the best period in its history (italics are mine in the following memorable lines):
To judge from all leading writers, the barbarians were breaking in. The decline and fall of the Roman empire were being repeated. Civilized men could only lament and withdraw, as the writers did to their considerable profit. The writers were almost alone in feeling like this, and it is not easy to understand why they thus cut themselves off. By any more prosaic standard, this was the best time mankind, or at any rate Englishmen, had known. (A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914–1945)
False prophets of pessimism, as listed by Taylor, include: T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, T. E. Lawrence (the 'Lawrence of Arabia'), Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and others. In my opinion, Taylor himself may not have escaped the influence of another one of this club, the biographer Lytton Stratchey. However, the more important questions are:

  • Why Taylor's views have been blacked out so completely in the academic circles?
  • Why a normal student does not even get to know that alternate views exist which are not so pessimistic?
The image shows the cover of Troublemaker: the Life and History of A.J.P. Taylor by Kathleen Burk (2000)
Next: Iqbal: A Message from the East

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Need for a new paradigm

It has been rightly suggested in a comment on a previous post, 'Conflict of mind and spirit':
ethnocentrism that there is only one nation or one culture better than others makes our views myopic.
The question, however, is how to avoid being myopic. Those who claim that all cultures of the world are equally dear to them are very often found to be considering themselves as better than the rest of their own nation or culture.

Thus it becomes ethnocentrism of another sort whereby you start believing that a few enlightened individuals from every nation who share a common understanding are like one international community, and members of this imagined community begin to perceive themselves as better than the masses of their own respective communities.

In Pakistan, the educated youth are slowly awakening to realize that they have to fend for themselves because apologetic approach isn't going to endear them to the world - it's only going to further isolate them from the majority of their own nation. Thus, what is needed now in Pakistan is a new paradigm which could facilitate seeing things as they are.

Rightly pointed out in another comment, the West probably doesn't quite understand the culture of Islam and its richness. Perhaps, then, a very good way of getting understood is by making good use of this richness in Islam's own countries and thus demonstrating the wonders that can be achieved.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Farewell, Pervez Malik

Ironically, just as I was finishing my article 'The Mystery Behind Waheed Murad', the man who might have known the most about that mystery was breathing his last.

Farewell, Pervez Malik

Filmmaker Pervez Malik died on November 18. It can't be the end of the story if we remember where it began.

lt began in the days when the Pakistani nation had newly earned its freedom — and that included the freedom to dream, something which we seem to be forfeiting voluntarily these days. Pervez was nine years old when Pakistan was born. His family had a background in military service, but he got influenced by a classfellow whose father ran a film distribution business. His name was Waheed Murad.

Attending previews of Indian and Pakistani films, meeting celebrities from the national film industry and listening to them discussing the possibilities of success or failure of a new release, the two boys began to dream about making films with pertinent messages and thus bringing about a revolution of thought. They planned to study film-making in the US after graduation, but Waheed was the only child and his parents wouldn’t let him go away for four years. So Pervez went alone while Waheed took admission in Karachi University to pursue his second highest passion, English Literature.

When Pervez returned four years later, he was perhaps the only professional with a Masters degree in film-making from California and who was willing to make a career in mainstream Pakistani cinema. Waheed had already produced two films under his own banner, Film Arts, but had not acted in them. He was about to appear in the lead role in the third, preparation for which was already complete and another director had been hired. Due to some differences which arose between Waheed and the other director, Pervez got to start his career with the film instead of waiting for the next venture. That film was Heera Aur Patthar (1964), which was followed by Armaan (1966) and Ehsaan (1967), all under the banner of Film Arts and with the same team (These three films have been discussed in detail in 'The Mystery behind Waheed Murad' published in the November 23 issue of Images).

Pervez and Waheed began to branch out in slightly different directions after their third film together. While Waheed continued with the highly symbolic manner of storytelling, Pervez began to spell out his messages a bit more clearly. He directed 21 films over the next 25 years and almost always wrote his own screenplay. Almost always, these were parables about Pakistan.

A typical Pervez Malik film, a young man returns home to a mother from whom he ran away as a child. Since she doesn’t know what he looks like, a fugitive sees the opportunity of impersonating him and tries to kill him by throwing him off a moving train. The heir survives but loses his memory. Following only a retarded instinct, he keeps moving and somehow reaches his native village where the villain is now living under a fake identity. Having lost his memory, the real heir is nothing more than a madman and even his mother fails to recognise him or give him shelter, while the only person who has a hunch about him is the old female fakir who is blind. While most among the younger generation might never have watched these films, they all no doubt familiar with the signature song of the fakir woman, Allah hi Allah kiya karo…. The film was poignantly called Pehchan (1975), and that is what it was really all about: The young man was a personification of the educated, urban Pakistani who loves his motherland but has lost his memory and is no longer aware of his true “identity” (hence the film’s title).

Unlike Waheed, whose messages never got “decoded” in his lifetime (perhaps for his own good), the patriotic undertone of Pervez’s work was widely appreciated. Three of his films were declared exempt from entertainment tax and he also received the President’s Pride of Performance award.

In the early days of the late General Ziaul Haq, when the nation was in doldrums on the question of impending elections, Pervez released a benign mixture of The Sound of Music and Jane Eyre, but quite symbolically named it Intikhab (1978). Since nobody expected a commercial film-maker in Pakistan to be too profound, the title was interpreted as referring to the boy ‘choosing’ the girl although, in Urdu, the word also means ‘election’. Revisiting the film now, it is quite amusing to notice that the ‘boy’ in the film is a retired colonel who is being too strict with his numerous children while the ‘girl’ is a governess who never tires of reminding her dictatorial master: “Colonel Saheb! You’re retired now. You can’t turn a home into a barrack. The children need love.” Obviously, this is a parable about Pakistan under military rule.

That’s why the death of Pervez Malik can’t be the end of the story. The 24 films which he has left us, most of which were also co-written by him, are our collective dreams captured by the one most qualified to do so. We need to interpret them, and we need to do that soon, because sometimes dreams also come true.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Conflict of mind and spirit

"The mind of Europe" was a signifient term that emerged soon after the World War when T. S. Eliot defined it in an essay in 1919. By no means was he the creator of the actual concept, which can be traced back to the appearance of The Flowers of Evil by the French poet Charles Baudelaire in 1857.

It is interesting to note that Eliot's most significant contemporary in the Muslim world, Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal, defined "the spirit of Muslim culture" in his landmark poem 'The Mysteries of Selflessness' (1918) and later in the fifth lecture of his famous prose work, the Reconstruction (1920/34).

Both the "mind of Europe" and "the spirit of Muslim culture" have cosmopolitan outlooks. While Iqbal proclaimed that the Spirit of Muslim Culture was eager to enlist non-Muslims for the common cause of actualizing the oneness of humankind, the "mind of Europe" also seemed bend upon taking non-European adherents.

Clashes cannot happen between civilizations as such because each conflict is accompanied with mutually beneficial transfer of knowledge and fusion of cultures - even the proverbial Crusades were not devoid of such intermingling. It is also less likely that the spirit of one civilization could be at odds with the other. Therefore, perhaps the root cause of the present tension is that the Western academia for at least a century and a half has been defining its culture in terms of collective mind (whose extensions are collective consciousness, collective subconscious, and so on) whereas Islam could not define its own culture except with reference to "spirit" (whose extensions are collective self, consensus of opinions, and so on).

There is no clash of civilizations but yes, there seems to be a conflict between the mind of Europe and the spirit of Muslim culture.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Mumbai Carnage

Loss of life is tragic, and looking at the pictures of those who lost their dear ones in the Mumbai carnage the other day reminds us of the human side of this tragedy and tells us that despite being many nations, our pains are common and single.

Yet a sinister parallel between this recent carnage and the so-called hijacking of an Indian plane in 1971 cannot be ruled out. At that crucial juncture in the history of Pakistan, India used the hijacking case as a pretext for banning Pakistani flights across its airspace and this participated in the severing of the two wings of Pakistan with the active involvement of the Indian Army a little later. It is now widely believed that the so-called "hijacking" was staged by elements secretly related to the Indian agencies themselves. For refreshing your memories, you can visit The Chronicle of Pakistan.

As human beings and as citizens, it should be the responsibility of the aware Pakistanis to see that the human misery of the victims of the Mumbai carnage should not get belittled by unreasonable politicization of the issue. Aware citizens of Pakistan are naturally in the best position to take this initiative, since it is also in our "self-interest" for obvious reasons. The best way of doing this might be by speaking not only for ourselves but also for the dignity of those victims: the human dignity of the victims demands that their memories should not be bartered for petty political and regional gains.

Even before the rites could be performed over the dead bodies of those victims, strained statements have already started coming out, such as:
Time to think fast, and to speak up. If the aware citizens of Pakistan don't start talking, no one else might.
The picture is from Reuters, and is taken from the slide show at Yahoo! News

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Mystery Behind Waheed Murad

Sunday 23rd November 2008 was the 25th death anniversary of Waheed Murad, the filmmaker and writer who was one of the greatest exponents of Iqbal's philosophy in the cinematic medium.

The Mystery Behind Waheed Murad

I have been researching the life and works of Waheed Murad for more than 20 years now and the mystery around him deepens with every new clue that I come across.

He is the greatest screen legend of Pakistani cinema and therefore we forget that he was also a writer, director and producer who entered filmdom with the intention of making some serious statements about the nation (he didn’t even appear on screen in his first two productions). As soon as we shift our attention from the Chocolate Hero to the film-maker, we are in for a volley of surprises. Here I discuss just one of the many.

As an actor Waheed Murad featured in more than 120 films but he also produced 11 titles under his banner, Film Arts. The first two in which he didn’t appear may rightly be regarded as pilot projects since he hadn’t even formed his team by that time, and it can be presumed that the statement he was trying to make didn’t come across effectively. That leaves nine films which can be rightly considered as his “statements”. Quite surprisingly, they seem to depict the gradual unfolding of a single profound message — sometimes too bold to be given directly and hence necessitating the use of masks and parables.

The first is Heera Aur Patthar (1964), which was the story of two brothers hailing from a working-class family on the outskirts of Karachi. One of them gets educated in the city but in order to marry in a wealthy family he disowns his ageing father, young brother and a sister of marriageable age. In the next film Armaan (1966), which was also written by Waheed, one saw just the opposite as here an educated young man (played by him) seeks his soul mate in a poor orphaned girl (Zeba). Ehsaan (1967) presented the story of an orphaned boy raised by a benevolent family falling in love with a young widow already the mother of a school-going daughter.

I see a definite pattern emerge here. If the torn-apart family in Heera Aur Patthar is taken as an analogy of Pakistani society then the message is clear — the educated middle class has severed its organic connection with the unschooled masses who are compelled to drive the wheels of the country all by themselves (the disowned brother is a donkey-cart driver played by Waheed).

If this was indeed the message that Waheed intended to impart through the film, then the very next one suggests the solution: Educated youth from well-off families should try to find out what their real ideal ought to be. Ehsaan (1967) seems to present the basic principle on which societies like Pakistan can be built. The principle is ehsaan which, roughly translated, means ‘benevolence’ but has a deeper meaning in sufi terminology and these meanings are successfully explored by the gifted poet Masroor Anwar in the film’s songs and dialogue.

If Waheed was a film-maker who presented the anatomy of Pakistani society through his films then he couldn’t have remained indifferent to the rift between West and East Pakistan which had begun to appear by that time. It became the theme of his next film which was symbolically named Samandar (1968), since the sea and not the land connected the two wings of the then Pakistan. For the female lead role he invited the Bengali actress Shabnam from East Pakistan who had never worked in West Pakistan before.

The music was also composed by Deeboo Bhatachariya (instead of Waheed’s usual composer Sohail Rana). The lyrics were penned by none other than Sehba Akhtar who later became famous as the Poet of Pakistan for patriotic numbers such as 'Main Bhi Pakistan Hoon, Tu Bhi Pakistan Hai'. In the lyrics for Samandar, he infused the same patriotism in layers of allegory, such as the famous title song 'Saathi, Tera Mera Saathi Hai Lehrata Samandar' (O’ friend, the sea is our mutual friend).

Interestingly, the story of Samandar (also written by Waheed himself) shifted the focus from love interest to the strained friendship between two friends. Set in a fishing colony which can be treated as an analogy of Pakistan, one friend aspires for nothing except love while the other who aspires to become the next leader of the fishing colony ends up playing in the hands of outsiders. The first friend (Waheed) is persuaded by the people to defeat the other in the race for leadership, but having done that he transfers the power to his defeated friend after eliciting from him a promise that he would serve the community without playing into hands of the outsiders.

In those days Samandar was not taken as anything but an ordinary film, but now it seems almost certain that it was an analogy of the East Pakistan crisis: Waheed was suggesting that the only moral ground for asking the East to give up on the Six Points for the sake of the federation was that the politicians of West Pakistan should agree in return to let the next prime minister be from the East. It may be asked why Waheed didn’t elaborate his message so that people could understand what he was trying to say. This is a question which should answer itself. Those were the days when Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was being tried for treason by a military government and what Waheed was saying about the issue could have landed him in jail and earned a permanent ban on his film.

Quite understandably, the next was Ishara (1969), literally meaning ‘hint’ or ‘suggestion’. It is the only film ever directed by Waheed (he also wrote it) and turned out to be an allegory about the film-maker’s creative self. The film opens with the subjective camera moving into an alley, and Waheed’s voiceover telling us that this is the street where he lives. Thus the camera becomes the eye of the viewer visiting the inner world of Waheed’s creative self (he plays a painter whose paintings are “admired by many but purchased by none”).
Quite interestingly, we see him entertaining three little children in his studio. He asks their opinions about his newly finished painting, and the opinions turn out to be very immature. Here is Waheed and his audience then. He has got no option but to wait for the day when they “grow up” but even while they are immature, his affection for them is unfailing.

Naseeb Apna Apna (1969) takes this analogy into a darker zone by portraying a sister who works as a dancing girl in the red light area in order to “educate” her brother who lives in a hostel and is unaware of the dark side of his family. Needless to say the dancing girl can be taken as an analogy of the entertainment industry which is unfairly treated as a mere plaything (a point which Waheed’s team of Pervez Malik, Sohail Rana and Masroor Anwar were also trying to drive home in another film called Doraha around the same time).

The East Pakistan crisis is revisited in Mastana Mahi (Punjabi), which was released in early 1971. Sheikh Mujib had won the elections but the politicians of West Pakistan as well as the army were reluctant in transferring power to him. Failure of negotiation was followed by a disastrous army action which resulted in the break up of the country.

The opening sequence of Mastana Mahi was about a village thug who prevents a married woman from going to her husband belonging to another village. In retrospect, allusions to the political situation are extremely obvious throughout this sequence (such as the skin of a Bengal Tiger displayed on the wall of the village thug although the tiger is not found in Punjab), and the rest of the film places the question of national integration in its larger perspective — and it is a perspective which is relevant even today.

Waheed’s last two films, Jaal (1972) and Hero (1985), although separated by 13 years (the last film was released more than a year after his death), have the common theme of the agonies of a soul which knows too much. Jaal’s poor taxi driver educates his sister and gets her married into a well-to-do family. While raising money for that purpose he falls into the trap of a crime racket which, he learns only at a later stage, is being run by none other than the father-in-law of his newlywed sister. For her sake he is willing to risk all but she risks her own life in order to force him to speak the truth. Hence we see a complete reversal of the Heera Aur Patthar situation as things come full circle and for the better.

Waheed had claimed before the press that “A new Waheed Murad will appear before you in Hero.” It is the story of a thief who is so perfect in his craft that he leaves no trace behind (just as Waheed doesn’t leave any clue of the underlying subversive messages in his films, and yet they could not be more perfect in allegorical structure). This becomes his Achilles’ heel because he gets caught every time the police don’t find any evidence on the scene of the crime. His boss provides him cover by setting up a fake film company and introduces an illiterate look alike of the thief as a hero. The police mistake him for the thief and maintains surveillance on his activities while the real thief goes about his business — he now has an alibi.

Needless to say, the story was written by Waheed. This leaves us with a nagging question about who the real Waheed Murad was — the one we watched on screen as the Chocolate Hero or the genius who stayed behind in the dark and played around with our emotions? In one of his last interviews he had said, “Sometimes I think that if I suddenly disappear or am no more for any reason, I would like to be remembered by the song ‘Bhooli hui hoon dastaan, guzra hua khayal hoon/ Jiss ko na tum samajh sakay mien aisa aik sawal hoon’.” (I’m a tale forgotten, a thought bygone. I’m the question which you couldn’t understand).
Note: Further information about his statement films is available on Waheed Murad Journal, a non-commercial endeavour launched on the occasion of Waheed Murad’s 25th death anniversary.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Are two women equal to one man?

Once again the question is in the air: Does the evidence of two women equal to that of one man in Islam? This time it started with a careless remark by parliamentarian Ishaq Dar belittling the Information Minister Sherry Rehman on October 17 (reported in Dawn).

We know where the debate is eventually going to lead: Verse 282 from Chapter 2 of the Quran. Like any other legal or religious text, that verse is also liable to interpretation and therefore the important question is who should decide which interpretation is to be adopted?

In Pakistan, the authority to decide in matters of religious interpretation (ijtehad) got delegated to the elected parliament on August 15, 1947. This is what I understand from the foundational documents of Pakistan. Though the point got obliterated after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, it can still be supported with substantial evidence. In other words, it is the people of Pakistan together (including non-Muslims) whose majority vote (or in some matters, consensus) decides which religious interpretation ought to be adopted.

On the particular issue of female witness the people gave their verdict when they elected Benazir Bhutto in Elections 1988. It is up to the intelligentsia and academics to articulate this discourse, if they choose.
Photo Credit: Pictures of Benazir Bhutto and Sherry Rehman are details from work by Sindhi32s and Ahsan respectively.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Remembering Liaquat Ali Khan

"Pakistan stands firm," said the first premiere of Pakistan in 1950, during his visit to the United States. "It stands firm because the Muslims who form the majority of its eighty million people have an ideology of their own which we call the Islamic way of life."

He went on to say:
"This is not a new ideology. It is a body of faith, tradition and belief, which has been a part of man’s heritage for over thirteen hundred years. We believe that this ideology when applied to statecraft and the conduct of human affairs is bound to promote human welfare. Let me tell you in a few simple and clear words what it is.

"There is first the belief in God and His supreme sovereignty. This does not mean either theocracy or medievalism. We do not believe in priesthood or in the caste system. We consider the first to be unnecessary, for God is as close to one human being as to another. We consider the second to be an abomination, for all men are equal.

"Individual effort and enterprise is the law of life with us as well as the belief that each man or woman is entitled to the fruits of his or her honest endeavor. The pivot of our economic doctrine is the right of private ownership but our laws and institutions have behind them the aim of reducing inequalities of wealth.

"We believe in democracy, that is to say in the right of people to be governed by their own chosen representatives; in social and economic justice and in equal opportunities for all citizens of whatever race or creed they may be.

"We do not have to present this ideology to our people as a new manifesto. The principles I have stated are part and parcel of Islam and when we say that we want to follow the Islamic way of life what we mean is that we could not possibly do otherwise."
I have scanned through writings of authors and leaders of Pakistan Movement but am yet to come across a passage which describes so comprehensively in so few words what Pakistan really meant to its founding generation. This is what it means to the masses even today but perhaps the problem is that some of us don’t know that this is the case.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

3. Unity of nation

In the preface of the Reconstruction, Iqbal mentions the need for a modern method through which we could have “a living experience” of the kind of biological unity embodied in the following verse of the Quran:
“Your creation and resurrection are like the creation and resurrection of a single soul.”
Iqbal specifies the following characteristics of such a method:

  1. It will give us a living experience of the kind of biological unity embodied in this verse
  2. It will be comparable to the work of the “more genuine schools of Sufism” with two differences (#3 and #4)
  3. It will be physiologically less violent
  4. It will be psychologically more suited to a concrete type of mind
  5. Demand for scientific form of religious knowledge may become redundant in the presence of such method
Despite giving these hints, he doesn't specify the method but in the next document which he wrote after this, i.e. the Allahabad Address (in which was offered the concept of Pakistan), he says:
“One of the profoundest verses in the Holy Quran teaches us that the birth and rebirth of the whole of humanity is like the birth and rebirth of a single individual.”
Obviously he is referring to the same verse which was quoted in the preface of the Reconstruction but he doesn’t repeat the verse itself, as if he would like the reader to consult the other passage together with this. He goes on to say:
“Why cannot you who, as a people, can well claim to be the first practical exponent of this superb conception of humanity, live and move and have your being as a single individual?”
It seems obvious that the method through which this “superb conception of humanity” can be experienced is this: an entire nation should “live and move and have your being as a single individual.”

The unity of nation in this sense is organic, is related to the unity of humanity and is ultimately derived from the Oneness of God. Nation in this sense cannot be forged by color, race, territory or culture. These factors may also play some role but the unity does not depend on them. Rather, it regulates them in the forward march of history towards “a final combination of humanity.”

This is a follow up on issues discussed in previous posts: 1. Unity of life; and 2. Unity of humankind 
Picture is a detail from illustration by Tabassum Khalid for Secrets and Mysteries by Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Word from Sohail Rana

My previous post 'Choral Symphony in Miniature' appraising a Sohail Rana composition was forwarded to Mr. Rana by Moosa Reza, who runs the official fansite. Glad tidings, a comment was received the same day:

08 October'2008
Dear Moosa mian, AoA.
Further to my earlier response to you with reference to Mr. Khurram's article on me and his recent appraisal of my composition Akele na Jaana from Arman (female version), here are some points that I wish to communicate to you and through you to Mr. Khurram and all my fans and well-wishers: 
1) When I started composing and arranging "Akele na Jaana" in 1965-66, I certainly had the symphonic structure in my mind because the film, at that time, did not allow me to go beyond 3 to 4 minutes per song. Subsequently, I had to restrict myself to that length of Intro, Interludes and the Finale. I feel elated that my work, though it was appreciated by the masses and the connoisseurs, it was also understood and appreciated by persons such as Mr. Khurram. I was also honoured by music Composer Rafiq Ghaznavi sahab, ustaad Salamat Ali Khan sahab and many of my contemporaries by their appreciative comments.

2) Inspired by Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Rimsky Korsakoff, I also wrote, arranged and performed one Ballet "Heer Ranjha" in 1973 during my tenure as Resident Composer with PIA Arts Academy. Mr. Zia Mohiuddin and I discussed this and we instead of calling it a Ballet, called it "A Poetry in four movements". The first performance was at Intercontinental Hotel Karachi, before the then President of Pakistan Mr. Z.A. Bhutto and a group of scientists from Canada. It was well applauded. This was then performed almost all over the world where we had toured particularly in China, Korea, Russia, France, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, USA and Canada.

3) I also wrote a Symphonietta "Anar Kali" which I recorded with not a huge orchestra in Pakistan (as this was not possible). I released this in the audio channels of PIA's In-flight music. I have been wishing and hopefully may be able to record this with a proper Symphony Orchestra in this part of the world. Other than this I have been working on "Tariq Bin Ziad", "Umar Khayyam" and "Rumi". I hope I am able to accomplish this as soon as it is possible.

4) Recently in May' 2006 here in Toronto at the Living Arts Centre, I composed, arranged and conducted yet another Symphonietta "Bhairveen in C# Minor" performed by my trained team of boys and girls, which also was well acclaimed. This was during my programme "Sohail Rana Night 2006".



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Choral Symphony in Miniature?

When I interviewed him in 1993, the great Pakistani composer Sohail Rana said that among his dream projects were symphonies about great Persian masters such as Omar Khayyam.

Now I wonder if his 'Akele Na Jana' (female version) could also be interpreted as a miniature choral symphony dedicated to Nizami Ganjavi, the great Persian poet from the 13th Century.

Originally the song was featured in the trendsetting movie Armaan (1966), written and produced by Waheed Murad apparently as an update on Nizami's Layla Majnun in the context of modern day Pakistan.

The song has all the grandeur and feel of a symphony (the orchestra included 45 musicians) although it is less than three and a half minute, and it is actually divided into four "movements" of varying lengths:
  1. Intro
  2. First Interlude
  3. Second Interlude
  4. Finale
Each of the first three movements is followed by a few lines of poetry from Masroor Anwar interpreting the meaning of that movement (the lyrics were written after the composition, and the signature couplet was suggested by Rana himself). The interpretation of the last movement is offered before it, so that no words should be needed after the grand finale.

The poetry, incidentally, is based on Layla's love letter to Majnun in Nizami's epic, and Masroor Anwar seems to have done a superb job capturing the essence of the original poem.

Find out more about Sohail Rana at his official fansite (you can listen to 'Akele na jana' on the Film Songs page under Armaan, or directly in your player)
Read Sohail Rana's comments on this post.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The unity of humankind

Iqbal's concept of ideal state seems to be based on three unities:
  1. The unity of life
  2. The unity of humankind
  3. The unity of nation
The second of these is mentioned in the Allahabad Address in the following words:

Indeed the first practical step that Islam took towards the realization of a final combination of humanity was to call upon peoples possessing practically the same ethical ideal to come forward and combine. The Quran declares, “O people of the Book! Come let us join together on the ‘word’ (Unity of God), that is common to us all.”
The verse which has been quoted here is 64 of the third chapter. Iqbal perceives it as an ideal and a goal: "a final combination of humanity” is going to be the destination where the humanity will arrive at last, and perhaps it's too early right now for us to fully comprehend this far-off goal lying in a distant future when all nations will acquire a unity of vision despite religious and cultural diversity. “The wars of Islam and Christianity, and, later, European aggression in its various forms, could not allow the infinite meaning of this verse to work itself out in the world of Islam,” Iqbal goes on to say. “Today it is being gradually realized in the countries of Islam in the shape of what is called Muslim Nationalism.”

Hence this “final combination” seems to be an inevitable destination which cannot be avoided. Humanity seems to be moving towards it through good and bad experiences – just as Joseph moved towards the fulfillment of his dream. By forgetting this ideal we increase misery. By recognizing it we bring “peace within and peace without” (to borrow a phrase from Jinnah).

Even if we can't completely comprehend this unity in the present state of chaos, can we at least have some direct experience of it now? The answer, according to Iqbal, is yes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pakistan, the next 20 years

In view of the history of Pakistan, five trends seem likely to occur in the next twenty years:
2008-10: Disenchantment with the West
Disenchantment with the West, having acquired a new hype in July, is likely to escalate relentlessly because there is a regrettable lack of quality communication between West and the people of Pakistan, especially the unschooled masses who have been the true balancing factor in the life of this country.
2010-16: Isolation
Once the phase of disenchantment reaches its peak, an increasing number of Pakistanis including the educated segment are likely to become culturally and mentally isolated from the West.
Possible Conflict
Conflict of interests easily explodes into its actual equivalent when negotiations fail. The absence of quality dialogue between West and the masses of Pakistan also can lead to an actual conflict if disenchantment and isolation are not addressed in the earlier stages.
2017-26: Crisis of federation
Pakistan was all about discovering new possibilities but the various theories about forms of government tried out here, and the existing perception about federation, have been West-defined to various extents. These may get affected as a consequence. In that case, for a decade beginning around 2017, it may seem as if the idea of Pakistan as conceived in the Lahore Resolution of 1940 has become irrelevant in some ways if not all.
2026-27: Emergence of inherent unity
The units which now constitute the federation of Pakistan have been interdependent since the earliest known period of civilization. This inherent unity of the region can easily surprise the onlookers by discovering a new channel for its continuation.
It may be seen that at each stage there are possibilities for preventing conflict and facilitating healthy growth. They require vision and where there is no vision, people perish.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The making of Rumi

Jalaluddin was born on September 30, 1207 AD in Balkh (Afghanistan) to a family of religious scholars. After wandering through Persia and the Middle East he settled in Konya (Turkey) and died there on December 17, 1273 AD.

Up to the age of 40 he was known mainly as a great scholar but then came Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish. It is said that Rumi asked him questions. The answers were simple, but so deep, that he went into trans and was transformed completely. This happened in 1247, eleven years before the fall of Baghdad. Factual accounts may not do justice to the spiritual intensity of Rumi´s experience, and it seems that for this reason some members of the inner circle came up with two parables.

The first tells us that Rumi was sitting with a heap of books and lecturing to his pupils when Shams came and irreverently questioned him about his work. Rumi replied, "These are matters of intellectual import and you won´t understand." Shams looked at the books and they got burnt, but at Rumi´s protest he pulled them from the ashes, unburnt, and said, "These are matters which you won´t understand."

The other parable places Rumi by the side of a pond. Instead of burning the books, Shams throws them into water. On Rumi´s protest he pulls them, dry and unharmed. The dialogue is almost the same as that in the first parable.

Both stories seem to be pointing at the same thing: there comes a time in the life of seekers when they must give up their knowledge in order to be alone with themselves. A source of deeper knowledge is then discovered within, just like books coming back from ashes or from water. However, the first step is to let go: burn the books or drown them, so that you may transcend your learning and be yourself.
"I say over to you the message of the Sage of Rum: Knowledge, if it lies on your skin, is a snake; knowledge, if you take it to heart, is a friend.” Read more about the meeting between Rumi and Shams Tabriz in Secrets and Mysteries (1915-17) by Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal 
More information, facts and resources about Rumi can be found at the official website of his descendants, Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The unity of life

Iqbal’s concept of ideal state depends on three unities, which he discussed in the Allahabad Address (1930):
  1. The unity of life
  2. The unity of humankind
  3. The unity of nation
The first of these, i.e. the unity of life, implies that contradictions cannot exist. Oneness of God, as expounded in the Quran, takes this philosophical notion a step further by offering opportunities to witness and experience this non-contradiction:
"In Islam God and the universe, spirit and matter, church and state, are organic to each other. Man is not the citizen of a profane world to be renounced in the interest of a world of spirit situated elsewhere. To Islam matter is spirit realizing itself in space and time." (Read complete text of the Allahabad Address)
Is this the same thing as going back to theocracy? Many Western scholars and their Pakistani followers have indeed understood it that way. However, the mainstream Pakistani scholarship (now unfortunately marginalized even in Pakistan), has always understood it to mean something else, something unknown even in the history of Islam because although this had been evolving in the conscience of the community, it required a peculiar setting such as that of modern times in order to be realized.

It is what Iqbal described as “spiritual democracy” in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (written around the same time as the Allahabad Address): rather than isolating religion from politics, the rule of democracy should be extended to include religion as well. Norms in all walks of life, such as religion, art, literature, culture and education ought to be decided by consensus of the people rather than by any priesthood, whether of the clergy or of the academics (Read Iqbal’s statement about spiritual democracy).

Hence Iqbal’s concept of the unity of life is simultaneously opposed to secularism, atheism and theocracy. To borrow a phrase from the popular discourse of the Second Wave Feminism, it means that “the personal is the political.”

Can a spiritual democracy ever ensure equality between followers of different religions? That is a valid concern but in order to address it we need to look at “the unity of humankind”...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Interpretation of stories

The twelfth chapter of the Quran, 'Joseph', deals with such diverse concepts as verse, story, actual incident, dream and other "signs" by which to recognize the Truth. As the story unfolds, we discover that language, story, real incidents, dreams and observations can all be interpreted in a similar manner. There is an organic unity between them and they are interconnected.

Quite interestingly, the word used for a verse of the Quran is ayat, which literally means a sign.

"Thus will your Lord choose you and teach you the interpretation of stories," says Joseph's father to Joseph, in the story chosen by the same Lord to teach that art to the readers. A design within design, a story within story, mise en abyme? I find it interesting and want to explore it in some more detail.
The illustrations shows detail from Surah Yusuf, ending of ayat 64, a copyrighted work by Feridun Özgören (calligraphy by Hamid Aytaç) used with permission.

The power of literature

Ideas, language and human being are interconnected. An idea may become real and take form just as a person may turn into an idea and extend into other dimensions of life little known from the outside.

Before you became, you were an idea in the mind of God. Then you turned into a soul and acquired body. That body will perish but the soul might live on. In the meanwhile you may have generated ideas which, just like you, will become entities in their own right. Hence the power of literature.

Dabbling with theories of criticism seems to be poor harvest. A more proper aim for the study of literature could be to become literature itself and experience the miracle of changing forms - from human to word, from word to idea and then getting back into one's skin.

Through this acquire the power to create, not illusions but realities unknown before.

The picture shows detail from a painting by Tabassum Khalid (2005) depicting Iqbal's encounter with the Ultimate Reality in Javidnama (1932)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Joseph as Nation and State

An analogy may be drawn between Pakistan and Joseph. In Chapter 12 of the Quran, the story begins quite dramatically with young Joseph discussing a dream with his father. He has seen the sun, moon and stars prostrating before him but it turns out to be the beginning of a long series of travails. He gets separated from his parents, is thrown into a well, sold into slavery, falsely accused of a crime, imprisoned and completely forgotten - except by his grieving father who loses his eyes weeping for him.

This idea was posted recently in The Republic of Rumi Newsletter and has brought some feedback, for instance:
Has Pakistan seen the dream about sun, moon and stars?? Joseph = Pakistan; then Father of Joseph = Iqbal?? If yes then what about his lost eyes (sight)? Including his brothers, meaning all Muslim states?? We have to interpret the "king’s" dream? Who is the king here? U.S.?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

14. Pakistan, a disciple of Shah Waliullah

In the elections of 2008, the consensus of the nation seems to be on consensus itself: the Pakistani society cannot be ruled except through a consensus government, the verdict seems to have stated.

As if miraculously, it brings us to the vision of Shah Waliullah. It seems that over the next twenty years, the "consensus" of the nation is likely to be on "itself" rather than a single towering personality.

The nation faced internal and external threats in the days of Shah Waliullah. He wrote letters to notable personalities at home and abroad, disseminated ideas about the spiritual reconstruction of society, launched ideological campaigns, and so on. Today, Pakistan faces internal and extrenal threats and increasing number of individuals are taking on the role of Shah Waliullah by sending text messages and emails, writing blogs, joining social activism or disseminating ideological messages through word of mouth.

If the idea of Pakistan is understood properly then each Pakistani is supposed to be Pakistan itself: individual and nation become the same thing, one becomes many and the many become one. In the words of the great Pakistani poet Sehba Akhtar, "Mien bhi Pakistan hoon, tou bhi Pakistan hai" (I am Pakistan, and you are Pakistan too).

13. Mustansar Husain Tarar, the disciple of Mir

In the elections of 1988, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif emerged as the two major leaders. Each of them got two turns but failed to complete either. In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf took over and his program of "enlightened moderation" remained the hallmark till 2006. On the cultural front, the personality who may be regarded as “the consensus figure” was Mustansar Hussain Tarar, whose travelogues kept inspiring a new zeal among Pakistanis for exploring the geographical beauty of their country. These twenty years were also marked with the emergence of independent channels on television and a popularity of ambitious television productions – again an area in which Tarar was among the most prominent names as a screenwriter, actor and anchorperson.

Similarities between Mir Taqi Mir and Tarar may be unsuspected but they can hardly be overlooked. To name just one: the basic ethos of Mir's poetry was the disintegration of a civilization, which is also the theme of Tarar's work (represented by the motif of a dying river in his novels).

You can read an interview of Mustansar Husain Tarar on my website or find out more about him on Wikipedia.

Next: Pakistan, a disciple of Shah Waliullah?

12. Waheed Murad: the disciple of Sachal Sarmast

In the elections of 1970, the PPP of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (formed in 1967) received a majority of votes in West Pakistan with a 3-point formula, “Socialism, Islam and Democracy”. Disagreement with East Pakistan led to the separation of two wings after much bloodshed. The next two decades, divided between Bhutto and General Zia, saw crude socialism and rigid Islam turn by turn.

On the cultural front the consensus of the nation was on Waheed Murad (1938-1983) – writer, producer, director and actor, who made films in Urdu as well as regional languages and preached integration of society through love. He was also a catalyst in turning Pakistani films and music into a modern parallel of folk culture: a true disciple of Sachal Sarmast.

For an analysis of Waheed Murad's films and writings, visit The Untold Story of Waheed Murad.

11. Ibne Safi: the disciple of Mir Amman

In the elections of 1945-46, the Muslim League's stand on the right of self-determination received a majority of Muslim votes. The result was Pakistan, a state which was voted into existence in order to fulfil the ideal of spiritual reconstruction of society. Poet, publisher and fiction-writer Ibne Safi (1928-1980) stands out as the tallest cultural figure in terms of national consensus over the next twenty years. He was popular with all segments of society. Being neither progressive nor conservative, he preached respect for law and loyalty to state. His genre was detective and spy literature but he remodeled it on the manner of dastaan.

Hence he turns out to be a disciple of Mir Amman. In the early nineteenth century, when the British were becoming the masters of India, Amman drew strength for his community by reworking a classical story according to the tastes of the conquerors. Now, in an age when Western colonialism was winding up its game, Ibne Safi reworked a Western genre according to the tastes of the Eastern masses – after all, they were the ones who had now emerged as the victors.

You can find out more about Ibne Safi at the Ibne Safi Website.

Next: Waheed Murad, disciple of Sachal Sarmast

Friday, September 12, 2008

10. Iqbal: the disciple of Ghalib

In 1926, the first general elections were held in India and they incorporated the principle of separate electorates, i.e. representation of Muslims as a separate community in the parliament. Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), already known as poet and thinker, became a political leader by getting elected. Presiding over the annual session of the Muslim League in 1930, he laid out the case for a separate Muslim state.

Similarities between Ghalib and Iqbal cannot be exagerrated. Iqbal's friend and confidante Sir Abdul Qadir wrote in the preface of one of the books of Iqbal, "Had I believed in reincarnation, I would have said that the restless soul of Ghalib came back as Iqbal..."

Just like Ghalib, Iqbal also took Rumi as his mentor. However, Iqbal was obliged to address an age when Muslims were regaining the hope of establishing a government in India (or a part of it), which was the opposite of the historical circumstances which Ghalib had addressed in his own times.

You can find out more about Iqbal and read his works and translations at the official website of Iqbal Academy Pakistan
Next: Ibne Safi, the disciple of Mir Amman

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

9. Jauhar: the disciple of Zafar?

This is a series of blogs about the creation and philosophy of Pakistan and its key actors. These accounts are based on historical facts and references are linked at the bottom.

In 1906, a representative gathering of Muslim leaders at the annual session of the Educational Conference founded the All-India Muslim League for participating in politics.

Muhammad Ali Jauhar (1878-1931), journalist, poet, political leader and promoter of patriotic songs dominated the community scene for the next twenty years. Interestingly, we find an unsuspected parallel between the careers of Jauhar and the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.

The emperor had helped disseminate poetry through recitals held at the Red Fort and Jauhar was possessed by a desire to disseminate ideas on a much larger scale: newspapers, gramophone records and political rallies. Jauhar practically founded ideological media among the Muslims of India.

Both Zafar and Jauhar led freedom movements against the British: respectively, the first Indian War of Independence in 1857 and the Khilafat Movement in the post-WWI years. Both were tried by the British for inciting "mutiny" among the sepoys and both got buried outside their homeland: Zafar in Rangoon (now Myanmar) and Jauhar in Jerusalem.

You can find out more about Muhammad Ali Jauhar at Wikipedia.

Next: Iqbal, the disciple of Ghalib

Sunday, September 7, 2008

8. Sir Syed: an Inquiry

This is a series of blogs about the creation and philosophy of Pakistan and its key actors. These accounts are based on historical facts and references are linked at the bottom.
Nationalism as proposed by Indian National Congress formed in Calcutta in 1885 was seen as a threat by leaders of the Muslim community of India, who gathered at Aligarh in 1886 at the call of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. With consensus, they founded Mohammedan Educational Conference.

From this point onwards, we observe a strange pattern in the history of the Pakistani nation (part of the Indian Muslim community until 1947). Every twentieth year, this nation rises almost unanimously to give a fresh verdict about its future course:
  1. 1886: Mohammedan Educational Conference founded
  2. 1906: All-India Muslim League founded
  3. 1926: Elections on the basis of separate electorates
  4. 1945-46: Elections on the question of Pakistan
  5. 1967: the birth of Pakistan People's Party
  6. 1987: dissatisfaction with General Zia with Jamaat-i-Islami joing the demand for party politics
  7. 2007: the Lawyers' Movement

Despite dictators and tyrants (foreign and local), the people have kept this routine. And no other moments in between - elections, political movements or unrests - match these "peak moments" as occasions when everyone wants to give an opinion about where the nation should go.

You can find out more about Sir Syed Ahmad Khan at Wikipedia.

Next: Muhammad Ali Jauhar, a disciple of Zafar?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

7. Sir Syed: an introspection

This is a series of blogs about the creation and philosophy of Pakistan and its key actors. These accounts are based on historical facts and references are linked at the bottom

In 1867 started an unpleasant controversy about whether Hindi should replace Urdu as the common language in India.

Syed Ahmad Khan (later Sir), a former civil servant from Delhi and now an educationist and reformer, prophesied that the differences between Hindus and Muslims would keep increasing (although he wished otherwise). He sensed a risk that his community may get subverted by the British rulers and/or assimilated by the Hindu majority.

The solution which he suggested was a bit of a surprise for everyone: modern education on Western lines. Why?

It seems that Syed had realized that the last missing link in fulfilling the dream of Shah Waliullah was modern science and rational thinking, which the unwitting British had brought to the doorsteps of Islam:

Nature not only imprints upon our minds her own truth, but it also points out another principle, according to which we may direct our actions and thoughts; and as Nature is true and perfect this principle must necessarily be true and perfect, and this true and perfect principle is what we call religion… I hope that every lover of truth, while giving me credit for my conviction, will candidly and impartially investigate the truth of Islam.

The book in which Sir Syed wrote these lines was aptly called Essays on the Life of Muhammad (1870). If the Muslim nation persisted in its search for "the conclusive argument of God" then its history could become "essays on the life of Muhammad."

You can find out more about Sir Syed Ahmad Khan at Wikipedia.

Next: Sir Syed, an Inquiry