"I hope the reader will inhabit these charactersí odd ideas"
By Jazib Zahir
The News on Sunday: How has your academic background prepared you to be a writer?
Ali Sethi: I went to an American liberal arts college. In one way thatís the best preparation Iíve had ó the endless reading and writing of papers and projects. But those exercises can become ends unto themselves. You can get consumed by words and sentences, by sounds and cadences, and forget to think seriously about the urgency or relevance of your subject. (Itís not unusual for the members of a creative writing workshop to talk about "technique" for three hours,). That singular emphasis on form ó and often to the exclusion of content, which is not to be questioned or judged ó can be damaging.

Forgotten hero
Barkat Ullah Bhopali was a writer, scholar and freedom fighter rolled into one
By Sarwat Ali
The struggle to throw off the British colonial yoke developed many a strand and the seemingly opposite ideologies forging a common front has been a cause of endless curiosity. This fascinating coming together of various ideologies, points of view and philosophies is a minefield of information for political analysts and historians. One such personality, apparently a bundle of contradictions, was Maulana Barkat Ullah Bhopali whose works and life has been focused upon now after decades of neglect by Shafqat Rizvi.

A word about letters
By Kazy Javed
The publication of the voluminous Oxford English dictionary in 1928 inspired many of our scholars to compile an Urdu dictionary on its pattern. Maulvi Abdul Haq, who is now remembered as Baba-e-Urdu because of his services for the promotion of Urdu, started working on an Urdu dictionary just two years after the appearance of that rare feat of lexicography. His project got state patronage in 1958, when the government established an institution in Karachi which is now named Urdu Dictionary Board. Maulvi Abdul Haq was given the position of its chief editor.

 

 

"I hope the reader will inhabit these charactersí odd ideas"

By Jazib Zahir

The News on Sunday: How has your academic background prepared you to be a writer?

Ali Sethi: I went to an American liberal arts college. In one way thatís the best preparation Iíve had ó the endless reading and writing of papers and projects. But those exercises can become ends unto themselves. You can get consumed by words and sentences, by sounds and cadences, and forget to think seriously about the urgency or relevance of your subject. (Itís not unusual for the members of a creative writing workshop to talk about "technique" for three hours,). That singular emphasis on form ó and often to the exclusion of content, which is not to be questioned or judged ó can be damaging.

TNS: When was the idea of writing The Wish Maker conceived?

AS: I started writing the book in March 2006. The idea had been with me for two years already.

TNS: How did the plot and structure of the book change as you wrote it?

AS: The book changed a lot. It went from being a story about two children to being a story about a family. That expanded the setting, the time-frame, the whole mission of the novel, which now had to make room for other perspectives. The first-person narrative had no choice but to branch out into third-person narration. Now that I think about it, thatís the moral of the story too.

TNS: Describe a typical day in your life while working on the book.

AS: There were no typical days, only typical nights: Iíd write in a notebook and then type it out on a computer. Iíd pace the room, smoke, think, write again. One good session could last eight hours.

TNS: Did you consciously decide to flesh out your female characters at the expense of the male ones?

AS: I didnít in the beginning. But that way of telling the story became clearer to me as I went along: the womenís story, told in the third person, would come again and again to dominate the first-person male account. And thatís true of life in Pakistan: behind every public story is a private one, and behind every political choice is a personal one. Those equations ó between women and men, the home and the world ó are in some ways analogous to one another.

TNS: To what extent are your characters a figment of your imagination and to what extent are they modelled on real life?

AS: I have no way of measuring that. Some of the things they say and do are based on things I saw myself. Other things are made up. And there were some things I researched: the part where Roshan Ara Begum comes to sing at Lawrence Garden was slowly and carefully assembled from audio recordings, video footage, memoir-esque reports in newspapers and the recollections of actual witnesses.

TNS: The book has generally been classified as a "coming of age" tale. Do you consider that a fair description?

AS: In a way. They all come of age by the end, even the older characters.

TNS: Are there any messages you hope your readers take away from the novel?

AS: Yes, many. But most of all I hope the reader will be able to inhabit these charactersí odd ideas about themselves. Thatís the only way to understand people, real ones as well as those who live in books: to read them in their own language, to see them with their own eyes.

TNS: What has been the response of your western readers to the novel?

AS: Some have liked it. Others havenít. But the Western Reader can no longer be defined as a white alien. Some of the most interesting responses to the book have come from Pakistanis, Indians and Arabs who are living in Western countries. An Egyptian-American girl who is currently living in New Jersey wrote to me to say that she could relate to the characters on every level.

TNS: Youíve made judicious use of song lyrics at poignant moments. Would you consider this part of your signature writing style?

AS: Would you?

TNS: From where do you derive literary inspiration? Have you paid homage to any idol through this work?

AS: Inspiration comes from so many places ó itís hard to pick one! Yesterday I was listening to a song where the lovelorn lyrics were posed rhetorically, almost as provocations. And at once I began to think of the ways in which one country addresses another, a rival nation, perhaps. But of course thatís already been done by Faiz, whose poem Mujhse pehli si mohabbat runs like a thread through my book.

TNS: What should we expect from you in the future?

AS: I have no idea.

 

 

Forgotten hero

Barkat Ullah Bhopali was a writer, scholar and freedom fighter rolled into one

By Sarwat Ali

The struggle to throw off the British colonial yoke developed many a strand and the seemingly opposite ideologies forging a common front has been a cause of endless curiosity. This fascinating coming together of various ideologies, points of view and philosophies is a minefield of information for political analysts and historians. One such personality, apparently a bundle of contradictions, was Maulana Barkat Ullah Bhopali whose works and life has been focused upon now after decades of neglect by Shafqat Rizvi.

As conceived by the founding father, communism and religion were seen to be diametrically opposed ways of looking at reality. Actually the difference in the worldview was so divergent because the political, philosophical and ideological trends had developed so in history. But in India, the onset of colonial rule brought the two together and it was not that shocking to see many exemplary freedom fighters with their legs in both the boats. It did not seem as contradictory or paradoxical as it may have seemed to an orthodox Western political scientist.

Barkat Ullah Bhopali was born around 1860. The family was from Badayun but had shifted to Bhopal where he got his education from the Madrassa e Sulaimania. He also benefited from the various ulema of the times and after completing his madrassa education, got employed as a teacher in the same madrassa. He also met Jamaluddin Afghani during this period and was probably inspired enough to follow in his footsteps to Europe. He proceeded in 1887 to Liverpool in England because a certain Christian Abdur Rehman Quillam, who had embraced Islam, had become the focus of genuine curiosity. The Ottoman Caliph Sultan Abdul Hameed had also appointed him as Sheihk ul Islam of the British Isles. Bhoplai was attracted by his fame and decided to go to Liverpool to see him in person.

In London, he worked in various capacities, as a translator, a writer and in Liverpool he worked with Quillam on his journals ó The Crescent and Islamic World ó but got disenchanted with him and involved himself in political activities. On the basis of his scholarly pursuits, he was appointed professor of Arabic at the Liverpool University.

Bhopali was being increasingly influenced by Hasrat Mohani back home who had wanted the Muslims to become politically actively, in direct rebellion to Sir Syedís exhortation about aloofness from politics. His writings for the first time focused on the economic factors behind historical movements. These writings also laid the groundwork for organising political activity of a large number of Indians from all religions denominations.

As the fire of freedom burnt brightly and fearing stagnation, he moved to the United States where the conditions for nations seeking freedom from colonisation were considered more conducive and the general attitude of the people more sympathetic. After spending some time in the United States, he realised it was more important to prepare ground in the Muslim countries. He travelled to Egypt and Turkey. In Turkey he set up the weekly Alkhilafat where he wrote in Turkish and Arabic. In Cairo, he again set up a paper where he wrote in Arabic and Persian.

He was inspired by Japan, the first Asian nation to have defeated the White Army of the Czars in five hundred years, so he went to Japan and looked closely at their restructuring of society. He was offered professorship of Urdu at the Oriental Languages Institute in Tokyo University which he accepted. He also restarted his political writings and anti-imperialistic activities but was forced to leave Japan under intense pressure from the British in about 1911.

He sailed to France and forged links with Madam Cama. He again went back to the United States and took part in politics with the Indian Association and launched the Ghadar Movement with Hardayaal, Mohan Singh Bhagta, Harman Singh, and Parmanand. With Hardayaal he also brought out the weekly with the same title. By the beginning of the First World War, most of the leaders of the Ghaddar Party had left the United States for Europe, particularly Switzerland. Bhoplai too, found himself in Berlin as at the same time. Berlin too was becoming a centre of resistance to British colonisation. The strategy was to bolster the Caliphate of Turkey by working behind enemy lines and exposing the exploitative nature of the British colonialists.

Seeking support for the cause, he again decided to travel to other Muslim countries like Iran and then Kabul where various anti-colonialist movements were gathering momentum. While in India under the patronage of Sheikh ul Hind Mahmoodul Hasan in 1909, Jamiaat ul Ansar was formed to get rid of the British imperialists. It was supported by Mohammed Ali, Shaukat Ali, Abul Kalam Azad, Dr. Ansari, Lajpat Rai, Moti Lal Nehru and Rajinder Prasad. A broad front eliciting the support of all Muslim countries was also envisaged. Ubiad Ullah Sindhi was ordered to go to Kabul in 1915 where the Amir of Afghanistan was to be convinced to declare Jihad against the Britain and support an interim government of Free India. This interim government when formed had Mahinder Partaab as the President, Barkat Ullah as the Prime Minister, Ubaid ullah Sindhi as the Interior Minister, Maulvi Mohammed Bashir as War Minister and Muhammed Ali Qasuri as Foreign minister. Shamsher Singh, Khuda Buksh, Rehmat Ali Zikria, Zafar Hasan, Allah Nawaz, Barnaam Singh, Gajjar Singh, Abdul Aziz and Abdul Bari were also part of the interim government. This interim government was recognised by both Germany and Afghanistan.

When Amanullah became the King he started skirmishes on the Indian border and sent Barkat Ullah to Moscow to seek the support of Lenin who had spearheaded the pro worker anti-imperialist Soviet Revolution. But abandoning a larger pan Islamic stance, Amanullah struck a ceasefire deal with the British Indian Government to secure the independence of Afghanistan. Undeterred by the setback, Barakat Ullah kept working for independence of India by goading the Soviets to take a more active interest.

His body could not keep pace with his spirit and due to incessant work in 1922, he fell very ill in Moscow and moved to Berlin. There he formed the Indian Independence Party and started to campaign for its cause in Europe. He also wrote his famous work Alkhalafa in 1924. Without fully recovering, he travelled in Europe and United States where incessant work took its toll. He collapsed and died in 1927.

Pakistan Studies Centre has conducted research on some of the most crucial areas of our history, which hitherto had been either ignored or on purpose kept under wraps, and this effort has recast our history in a new light. The publication of these researches has been a valuable addition to the body of knowledge and has put our history in a more wholesome perspective and liberated it from the tendentious slant that has been espoused by our official historians.

Available at Pakistan Studies Centre, Karachi

University.

Email: [email protected]

Naqeeb e Inqalaab

Maulana Barkat Ullah Bhoplai

By Shafqat Rizvi

Publisher: Pakistan
Studies Centre, Karachi University

Pages: 266 Price: Rs250

 

A word about letters

By Kazy Javed

The publication of the voluminous Oxford English dictionary in 1928 inspired many of our scholars to compile an Urdu dictionary on its pattern. Maulvi Abdul Haq, who is now remembered as Baba-e-Urdu because of his services for the promotion of Urdu, started working on an Urdu dictionary just two years after the appearance of that rare feat of lexicography. His project got state patronage in 1958, when the government established an institution in Karachi which is now named Urdu Dictionary Board. Maulvi Abdul Haq was given the position of its chief editor.

The publication of the dictionary started in 1977, when its first volume saw the light of day. The board has since brought out twenty more volumes. The 22nd volume stated to be its last, is now in the process of printing. It means the Urdu Dictionary Board will accomplish its task within next three to four months.

What should be done with the board that has successfully completed a wonderful and rare job in our country? There are some people who opine that it should be disbanded after the appearance of the last volume. Others insist that the board should be merged with other institutions such as Lahoreís Urdu Science Board or the National Book Foundation as was decided by the federal cabinet in January 1997.

I tend to believe that neither of these steps would be prudent. The board was established half a century ago as Urdu Development Board and was renamed as Urdu Dictionary Board in 1982. It now needs another change and should be turned into a Pakistani Languages Dictionary Board tasked with compiling dictionaries of inter-provincial languages as well as improving existing dictionaries of various Pakistani languages.

Meanwhile, the Punjabi Adabi Board of Lahore, in collaboration with Sachal Studios, has attained major success with the publication of a Punjabi-Urdu dictionary that was launched past week in Lahore. The 3500-plus page dictionary was compiled single headedly by the late Sardar Muhammad Khan.

Parveen Malik, secretary of the board and a noted Punjabi language fictionist, told me that the dictionary has more than 175,000 words. Divided in two volumes, it includes 60 dialects and sub-dialects spoken across the length and breadth of Punjab.

Syeda Hina Babar Ali is not a Sunday poet. She breathes poetry. Now she has made public for the first time that she was bit by the poetry bug during her early childhood. Although a student of English medium schools, she had read Ghalib, Iqbal, Dagh, Mir Dard, Sauda as well as Mir Taqi Mir before she was sixteen. Those were the days when she kept absorbed in the imaginative world of Ghalib and started composing poetry.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz did not lend much encouragement saying she needed another fifteen years to write poetry. The judgement upset the young poet and she made up her mind to write poetry in English only. Three collections of her English language verse have since been published. Now almost three decades after Faizís disturbing comments, Hina Babar Ali has come up with her maiden volume of Urdu poetry under the title Roshan Kinarey.

Her self-published volume contains ghazals and prose poems. Her ghazals have been composed in the traditional style while prose poems reveal her true self.

Kanwal Feroze is widely acknowledged as a progressive poet whose commitment to peace and human rights is unshakeable. He has been publishing the monthly Shadab for the past forty years which is the leading magazine of the countryís religious minorities.

Kanwal Feroze settled in Lahore in 1958 and has since been playing an active role in the literary activities of the city. His poetry extends over half a century has reached the readers in the form of four volumes. His latest collection of poetry has just appeared under the title Shafaq-e-Subhey-Ghazal. The preface of the collection has been written by Abid Hasan Minto while the dust-jacket of the book carries blurbs penned by Dr. Tabassum Kashmiri, Dr. Khurshid Rizvi and Dr. Saadat Saeed.

The 271-page Shafaq-e-Subhey-Ghazal, carries ghazals as well as nazms which once again remind us that Kanwal Ferozeís poetry is the expression of his great enthusiasm for building a new world based on the principles of peaceful co-existence, equality and justice.

As a Christian, he was deeply shocked at the gory events that took place recently in Gojra, but his optimism has not been shattered. He strongly believes that man will eventually overcome his madness.

would like to offer congratulations to my friends who have been honoured with various civil awards for their literary achievements by the President past week.

Their names are Professor Abdullah Jan Jamaldini, Sobho Gian Chandani, Ibrahim Joyo, Dr. Shahzad Qaiser, Hamid Akhtar, Afzal Tauseef, Masood Ashar, Fahmida Riaz, Dr. Muhammad Azam Azam, Dr. Inamul Haq Javed, Shahid Mahmood Nadeem, Mahmood Sham, Dr. Kanwal Feroze, Dil Nawaz Dil and Ashiq Buzdar.

It is heartning am also glad that the services of the late Nirmala Deshpande for peace in South Asia have been acknowledged by the president who has awarded a posthumous Sitara-e-Imtiaz to the Indian peace activist.

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