Thursday, May 31, 2012

Songs of Layla and Simorgh

Layla and Simorgh may be regarded as the two most significant metaphors for the collective ego in the history of Muslim literature. While Layla emphasizes the beauty of the collective ego, Simorgh illustrates its power. These two aspects came together in the short story 'Time Bygone' (گزرا ہوا زمانہ) published by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in 1873. The celestial bride presented in that story was obviously modelled after Layla but her dialogue was reminiscent of Simorgh: "I am the soul of all human beings."

Symbols of love and power, such as Layla and Simorgh, had come to be seen as metaphors of the Ultimate Ego (i.e. God) during the centuries of our intellectual and political decadence (and I am inclined to believe that this was not the meaning ascribed by the writers Nezami Ganjavi and Sheikh Fariduddin Attar). A lasting contribution of Sir Syed to our literature and culture is that in very subtle manners he shifted the focus on the collective ego. The concept was elaborated most clearly by Allama Iqbal in the next generation, and thus an intellectual revolution was completed.

It is true that the intelligentsia since 1936 have tried to undo this intellectual revolution by shifting the focus again on the individual self and God, and by taking out the collective ego from the equation, but it seems that they have not succeeded so far. Practically all the national songs that became phenomenally popular in Pakistan represent the nation either as Layla or as Simorgh, but usually in a manner reminiscent of the inferences drawn by Sir Syed in his short story.

I often play 'Sohni Dharti' in my workshops and ask the participants to note the lines that may be regarded as addressed to the celestial bride of Sir Syed's short story. Usually the participants end up observing that the song by Masroor Anwar, which has become a collective identity for Pakistan, can also be addressed in its entirety to the celestial bride of Sir Syed. In other words, the song 'Sohni Dharti' presents Pakistan as that celestial bride and thus emphasizes the beauty of the collective ego.
The other national song which has come to define the identity of Pakistan in the same phenomenal manner is 'Jeevay Pakistan' by Jamiluddin Aali. When I play this song and ask the listeners to note the lines that may be regarded as allusions to Simorgh as described by Sheikh Fariduddin Attar, they end up saying that the entire song may be described as a song about Simorgh. Same is the case with 'Mien Bhi Pakistan Hoon' written by Sehba Akhtar. To this may be added the official national anthem of OIC, 'Hum Mustafavi Hain' by Jamiluddin Aali.
Then there is that didactic song which is usually regarded as the most philosophical and profound of all national songs written in Pakistan: 'Yeh Watan Tumhara Hai' by Kaleem Usmani. Listening to it carefully, we may find it to be a straight forward listing of "do's" and "don'ts" from the perspective of the same collective ego - Layla and Simorgh. So is the national anthem written by Hafeez Jallundhri.

In my humble opinion, these national songs and anthems form the backbone of Pakistani literature, culture and art. Our explorations in this field cannot be seen as fulfilling their purpose until we recognize these national songs in this capacity, explore their deeper meanings and understand their connections with the centuries of our literary heritage. I have attempted this in Topline Social Studies Programme, a series of textbooks for secondary schools published in a revised edition last year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pakistan: Collective Self-Development

Usually we define our connection with the society by first clarifying what we want or who we are and then relating it to the people around us or the society at large. I propose to inverse this process: let's first fall in love with our collective ego and try to find out what it is and what it wants. Then let's relate it to ourselves and the people around it. 

I hope that the following would be helpful in this. It is a general outline of the collective self-development (in which Bangladesh was our partner up to 1971). Whether this division is also relevant to other countries or not is to be decided by them and out of courtesy I refrain myself from attempting to judge on their behalf - except saying it in the passing that in my humble opinion this division of twenty-year periods is universally applicable although some significant modifications would need to be made in each case. 
  1. Inquiry, 1887-1906: On December 27, 1886, Mohammedan Educational Conference was formed in Aligarh by the representatives of the Muslim community of India. Its stated goal was to achieve nationhood for the Indian Muslim community and that was achieved on December 31, 1906 with the formation of the All-India Muslim League at Dacca (now Dhaka).
  2. Discovery, 1907-1926: The All-India Muslim League demanded separate electorates for the Indian Muslim community and these were achieved when the elections of 1926 were contested on this basis (the turnout in the two previous elections held in 1920 and 1923 was dismal)
  3. Transcendence, 1927-1946: In the All-Parties Conference held in Delhi in March 1927, the Muslim leaders agreed to consider giving up separate electorates if provinces of Muslim majority were given greater autonomy and possibly consolidated into Muslim states; this was practically achieved in the elections of 1945-46 when an overwhelming majority voted in favor of Pakistan
  4. Freedom, 1947-1966: The state was conceived as an open-ended idea and its systems were to evolve naturally with time, so the only goal adopted at the moment of its creation was to infuse in its citizens a will and desire for defending the territorial borders against foreign aggression: this target was achieved in 1966: the September War last year had convinced the nation correctly or incorrectly that it can defend its borders even against a superior foreign aggression while disappointment over the Tashkent Agreements in January this year led to the feeling that the decision of making war and peace should be in the hands of the people rather than the military
  5. Action, 1967-86: This is the age of larger than life figures; there was suddenly a cluster of charismatic figures in every field which had not happened earlier and has not happened since.
  6. Expansion, 1987-2006: This was the age of our “enlightened moderation” (or may we call it moderate enlightenment?). When these twenty years are taken together, they seem to be so different from the periods before or after – the society welcomed a gradual increase in the role of independent television, liberalism, human rights, feminism, foreign language teaching and pedagogy, and environmental awareness. This was a stage where we learnt new things at the cost of our own ideology which was almost completely put aside during this period.
  7. Creation, 2007-2026: It cannot be denied that a new page was turned in the history of the nation with the Lawyers’ Movement. If what has been stated above makes sense even partially, we have discovered something here that is new and unique in human history. It can give birth to a new kind of society based on a human potential not known before.

Please note: I have been sharing this seven-stage division of Pakistan's history on my online and printed writings since 2007. I would like this final version to be regarded as definitive and any changes in the previous versions should be readjusted accordingly. An adaptation of this final version has also appeared in Topline Social Studies Programme, a series of secondary school textbooks written by me which was published last year.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Quaid's Reply to the US Ambassador

[The following reply was given by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, to the speech made by the first Ambassador of the United States of America at the time of presenting credentials on February 26, 1948].

Your Excellency!

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you in our midst as the first Ambassador of the United States of America. Though Pakistan is a new State, for well over a century now there have been many connections of trade and commerce between the people of Pakistan and the people of the United States.

This relationship was strengthened and made more direct and intimate during the two World Wars and more particularly and more recently during the Second World War when our two people stood shoulder to shoulder in defense of democracy. The historic fight for self-government by your people and its achievement by them, the consistent teaching and practice of democracy in your country had for generations acted as a beacon light and had in no small measure served to give inspiration to nations who like us were striving for independence and freedom from the shackles of foreign rule.

I cordially share your pleasure at the evidence of friendship and sympathy shown by your country in opening diplomatic relations with Pakistan from the very first day of its establishment as a new State. I would like to add that this friendship has been diligently and consistently furthered by your very able and esteemed colleague, Mr. Charles Lewis, the Charge d’affaires who represented your country here pending Your Excellency’s arrival.

As you have discerned already our infant State has been confronted with grave and dangerous issues and problems from its early days. Though as a new State we have to face a serious situation, we have no doubt in our own minds that by our united will and determination to live as a free and peace-loving people, we shall overcome them successfully.

I thank Your Excellency for your friendly assurances of sympathy in dealing with our many problems. I also deeply appreciate your confidence that our traditions and our past will help us to fulfill the hopes and ideals of our people. In return 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. We in Pakistan are determined that having won our long-lost freedom we will work to the utmost limit of our capacity not only to build up a strong and happy State of our own but to contribute in the fullest possible measure to international peace and prosperity.

I am glad to learn that Your Excellency and the great country and people you represent, will give your cooperation to us in order to advance our economic and cultural relations for the mutual benefit of both the countries. I am hopeful that good relations and friendship already existing between the people of America and Pakistan will be further strengthened and the bonds of friendship between our two countries will be more firmly riveted.

Your Excellency, I assure you that my Government and I will do all that lies in our power to give you every assistance in the fulfillment of what is our common desire and objective. I once more extend to Your Excellency a warm welcome to Pakistan as the first Ambassador of the United States of America.