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Thursday, September  20, 2007 -- Ramazan 07, 1428 A.H


Nagori – Voice of conscience

Silent protest


Salwat Ali

In art, politically engaged Social Realism does not carry the taboo it once did when censorship was first clamped on Nagori's Anti Militarism and Violence exhibition sponsored by the PNCA in 1986.

Today when politically charged art has become common fare, even clichéd, among young generation artists, "Nagori – Voice of conscience" by Amber Romasa comes across as a timely publication. Focusing on the life and times of the pioneer of protest painting in Pakistan, it places the genre in its correct perspective. Our young artists emulating western models will find the book an insightful read as it will familiarize them with the indigenous brand of political protest – its origin, content, context, reception and for years, a lone crusade.

Young Amber Romasa's text is a quick read but sufficient to establish the need and value of protest as a means of raising awareness against social ills and injustice. She builds her premise around the artist's beliefs, motivations and consequent turning points in his life that eventually snowballed into a repertoire of volatile art.

By far the most interesting is the chapter on Nagori's formative years when he was assimilating ethnic, multi-religious, influences that were to, so strongly, mould and colour his artistic concepts and stylistic vocabulary. He studied Quran, as a five year old, at a Madressah, learned English from a retired Hindu Magisterate and spent his summer vacations in the company of a 'sadhu' whose hamlet was on a river bank in the jungle of Gir. He was nurtured on folk tales of Sufi saints as a child and Romasa writes that "Nagori participated in 'maatum' after Muharram 'majlis' at night, around a 'chokaara." Devotional qawalli music on a saints 'urs' was attended with the same fervour as bhajjan sessions in the Bhaweshvar mela and Ram-leela theatre performances delighted him just as much as the melodious rhythms of the blind poet singer Surdaas's 'Eiktara.'

This varied exposure was liberating and it enabled him to feel the humanness of humanity. Other than Islamic and Hindu mysticism, it was the prevalent folk culture and literary atmosphere around him that exerted a tremendous influence on his sensibility. Romasa reveals that,

"He received informal education when he was living around the Indus Delta. Diving in Kalri–Baghar-Wah with his Mohanna friends, he often caught "Jarko", fish with his bare hands. The first ever political speeches he heard were those of A.Majid Sindhi and Sain G.M. Syed at Sakhro and Thatta. He avidly read newspapers, mostly Sindhi papers, periodicals and books, almost all the translations of Trithram Ferozpuri in Urdu and books like "Verdict on India" which he found in a junk shop. She also tells us that "he collected reproductions of Zainul Abedin's famine sketches of 1943 for his scrapbook and saw for the first time a reproduction of Ahmed Parvez's "Murree Landscape."

Nagori's early drawings, at the age of eight, were of gazelles resting under the Gul Mohar trees in the foot hills of Mount Girnar in Sindh. Later at Sakro, he often drew charcoal drawings on brown wrapping papers and one such sketch of a Mohana friend's black donkey received a fetching appreciation. He tied a black silk thread around Nagori's wrist to protect the artist's skill from the evil eye. For Nagori, art was indeed on the cards and Romasa mentions soon after in her narrative that his meeting with Syed Nayab Hussain, a brilliant teacher, radio performer and playwright was the turning point of his life. His reading of Eric Newton's essay "The Nature of the Arts and Art and Amateur by Spender" changed Nagori's vision overnight. She details how Nayab, impressed by the quality of the sketches he used to make in the college canteen, arranged for his first solo at City Colleges Sport Pavilion. The exhibition was attended by then Radio Pakistan hierarchy like Z.A Bukhari, Mr Sajjad Hyder and from Lahore Government College literati like Mohammed Idrees, Imtiaz Javed, Nargis Wahab and Tariq Ali. The same year in 1958, Nagori won the All Pakistan Inter Collegiate Competition followed by an All Pakistan Award sponsored by CSP Club in 1963 whose jury comprised stalwarts like Chughtai, Shakir Ali, Anna Molka, Moyene Najmi and Colin David. The next natural move was art academics in Lahore where the artist in him became assertive. Aesthetic education furnished him with a medium of expression with which he could articulate. Other than this his urge for self education was a constant and his considerable scholarship on art history, philosophy, mysticism and mythology and varied interaction with men of letters, sufi poets and scholars, savants and sadhus gave him the necessary insight to understand the essence of human rights. Nagori a rebel student keenly aware of social injustice had found his inner voice as well as the means to project it.

Paintings published in the book reveal that social criticism was painted mainly through the depiction of the human figure, especially the female form. Works like "Rupa And the Bull," Serf Women," "Olympia" etc are eloquent testimonials.

As "a painter of the people" exhibitions of Nagori's censorious art are well documented and Romasa supports her recount with lavish recourse to the words and deeds of noted iconoclasts of the times. She establishes equations with figures from Hindu mythology, European philosophy, Islamic Mysticism and folk legends. Nagori being a native of Sindh one expected a deeper and explorative mention of the regions Sufi saints and mystic folk lore but his influences however, remained multi ethnic right from the beginning.

A Fomma / Oxford publication "Voice of Conscience" a slim volume introduces Amber Romasa as a new and competent art writer – the vintage photographs are self explanatory – visuals with historical significance. Available in soft and hard cover the book conforms to Fomma's usual standard of quality production.


A land mark in the literary hierarchy

S. H. Jafri

Kisht-e nawa

(A major collection of all published poems and articles)

By Tabish Dehlvi

Compilation by: Naeem Merathi and


Published by: Writers Foundation "Sukhunwar" B-6 Nazish Baagh, Sadaat-e Amroha Society Sector 37-A, Scheme 33, Karachi-75280

Price: Rs600 Pp: 992


Robert Graves, a British poet and a novelist, once said: "To be a poet is a condition rather than a profession." It stands true for Tabish Dehlvi, he remained a poet and never turned it into a profession.


Kaun sainchay-ga issay apnay lahoo se Tabish

khushk ho jaey-gi ye kisht-e-nawa meray ba'ad


Kisht-e nawa (kulliyaat), a major collection of all published poems and articles of Tabish Dehelvi (1911-2004), collected by Naeem Merathi and associates, and published as a tribute to a friend is a remarkable deed of love and affection.

There are many books to his credit, some of Urdu poetry and some of prose (essays and articles). Kisht-e Nawa begins with the introductory section where life and works of Tabish saheb, his poetry and progression, depth of understanding and his place among poets of his generation is discussed by well known poets and authors; Rauf Siddiqui, Naeem Merathi, Khalid Alig and Khwaja Razi Haider. This is followed by his reproducing of his collection of poems; in ghazal collections, Neemroze (1962), Charagh-e-sahra (1982), Mah-e-shakistah (1993), Dhoop chaoun (1996) where na'at and manqabat was also included); Hyko (1996), the Japanese styled poetry; collection of nazmein - Gubar-e-anjum (1984), a collection of na'at, salam and mersia - Taqdees (1985), and Deed-baz-deed (1997), a collection of articles.

Among his books, all were welcomed by poetry lovers, especially Neemroze (the first book), Charagh-e sahra, Mah-e shakista, Ghubar-e anjum, Deed baz deed (essays) and Dhoop chahon (miscellaneous - a collection of some of the work left out from earlier publications.

Tabish saheb's (asloob aur andaaz-e bian) style and depth of perceptual interpretation, usage of the language, and defining and redefining of experiences of the inner self was of a nature that defied ordinary perceptibility and called for a refined sensibility. His mastery over Urdu and Farsi languages gave him the understanding of the intricacies of poetry's finer depth and interplay with words: (i) dil se jaata hi nahein gesuey janan ka khayal / hai ta'aluq abhi zanjeer ko diwanay se; (ii) rah-e talab mein koee muquam afreen tou hai / mera qadam agar nahein meree jabeen tou hai; (iii) a'eena, dar a'eena, dar a'eena tera husn /hairan houn te'ray talib-e deedar kahan tak, and so on.

I have had the privilege of meeting Tabish saheb a couple of times and discuss in detail about his life and works, events and movements, and friends and colleagues. I am also privileged to have received from him, with his inscription, different collection of his poems – Mah-e-shakista, Neem roze and Dhoop chaoun. I wrote reviews of his books and published a comprehensive article based on my discussions with him in The News (in 1999 or in 2000, I am not sure), titled, "Life and works of Tabish Dehelvi: In a class of his own." As that article tells a great deal about Tabish saheb, I am reproducing some parts of it for wider understanding of his work, personality and aspirations.

"On Sunday September, 7, 1997, I met him again, at his residence. Tabish saheb came to the door himself and guided me through to his drawing room. While speaking to him, once again, Tabish saheb's gentleness, soft spoken manner, humbleness when talking about himself and his poetry, was all very much evident. Once again the experience was not of an ordinary nature."

Masoodul Hasan Tabish, better known to millions of Indians and Pakistanis as Masood Tabish, the news reader, the gentle soul of media-culture, whose voice, through All India Radio, was heard by the millions during the days of great turmoil in India.

Masood Tabish arrived in Pakistan in 1948, empty handed and with no means to support himself. Soon on arrival he joined Radio Pakistan, Lahore. A year later, in 1949, the whole unit was shifted to Karachi and Tabish saheb helped to establish the Radio Pakistan head-quarters in Karachi, in the company of other colleagues and guidance by the Director General of Radio Pakistan, Z.A. Bukhari (also known as a poet of stature). It was here that Tabish saheb began a career that was to last until his retirement. Not many would know that it was he who engineered the very first pronouncement 'on air' from the All India Radio, of the words, "Pakistan Zindabad" and surprised many on this attempt. Masood Tabish wrote a note, taking full responsibility of the consequences, and passed it on to Ansar Nasri who was reading a speech delivered earlier by the Quaid-e-Azam, to read out `Pakistan Zindabad', at the end of the speech. Ansar Nasri did so, and millions tuned-in to the station, heard "Pakistan Zindabad", for the first time, on All India Radio.

Tabish saheb spoke highly, first of Pitras Bukhari, Director General of All India Radio, who not only helped him with the job, but also remained a kind sole, advising, helping whenever necessary. He holds same feelings and a great deal of respect for Z. A. Bukhari, with whom his association at Radio Pakistan turned into one of admiration for his approach to details and correctness of whatever was being produced on Radio.

While talking of Pitras Bukhari, he recalled an incident at the All India Radio when, while reading news (by the way, small chits used to be passed on to the reader as fresh news came in), a chit arrived, and he read out, "Mr Sarojni Naidu ..." Later, Pitras Bukhari came to him and talked of "Mr" but ended by saying, "Tum nae kuch ziadah ghalat naheen parha."

Tabish Saheb remembered his friends and colleagues at All India Radio and later at Radio Pakistan and spoke highly of them. Among the people he spoke of, were N M Rashid, Shahid Ahmed Dehelvi, Qayyum Nazar, Prof. Abid Ali, Anwar Bahzad, Shakeel Ahmed, and Prof. Karrar Hussain. He also spoke of Islamia College, his colleagues and good memories while he was there. Also, reminiscing the past, he talked about meeting the history makers, the Quaid-e-Azam, Nehru and Baldev Singh.

Tabish saheb came to be known as a poet of distinction, and a writer of excellence in Urdu literature. Farman Fatehpuri and Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi paid tribute to Tabish saheb's poetry saying, "A unique style where the inner conscience and the truth mingles with piety of thoughts taking a form of expression having an immense perceptual depth." The manner in which the inner-pain and outer experiences comes out with the simplicity of words, defies even the best word-moulding craftsman.


"Abhi hain Qurb ke kuch aur marhalae baqi

ke tujh ko pa-ke hamain phir teri tamanna hai"


The verse that I find depicts the humanity at large and in the simplest of forms tells the story of all times, he says:


"Choti parti hai anna ki chadar

Paon dhakta houn to sar khulta hai"


In this following verse, Tabish saheb tells the story of the changing world, difficult times and with it, the changing values, which has made it difficult to recognise friends and foes.


"Meray dushman tou kameen-gah mein maujood na thae

teer aaya tou magar kis ki kamaan se aaya

Dil ko sau tarha se taskeen ke deta houn faraib

ye hunar bhi to mujhae ahl-e jahan se aaya"


Tabish Dehelvi received a distinctive recognition as a poet in a period when many would have fallen under the tall-shadows of Faani, Faraq, Yagana, Azghar, Jigar and Hasrat. This was only possible because Tabish saheb had in him his own self-created style. And when he says: "Juda mera sukhan hai sab se Tabish / alag ho kar chala houn karwan se", he says it all. Who could deny the fact, so very much obvious from his poetry. But this is not all. Who will refute the reality that in style, rendering, beauty of word-linking, deep understanding of the languages - Urdu and Persian, depth of perceptual interpretation, and worldly experience, Tabish saheb created a unique place for himself in the literary arena in Pakistan.

Tabish saheb is one person that I know of, who was fully content with life. With four daughters and a son, all fully settled, he said: "Life has been very kind to me. I have no regrets. I have received all that I asked for. God has given me every thing that I wished for. My love for Pakistan is undying; she has been very kind and generous to me".

When asked about Pakistan, Tabish saheb's face showed signs of pain when he said: "Pakistan is a wonderful country but the politicians and dictatorial regimes have worked in their own interest, rather than working for the people, common people and in the interest of the nation, the country. Still, all is not lost. Let's hope this beautiful land of ours regains her dignity, her wealth and the people will stand together, once again, as in 1947, and rebuild this nation from the beginning."

Talking of education, he said: "We need visionary educationists. We have missed many opportunities to provide `education for all', and not just education for certificates and degrees but education with quality, to understand what 'learning' is all about and gaining knowledge. It is not difficult. What it needs is for someone in power to realise the meaning of the word `Iqra', and we will begin."


The many faces of art


Mohsin S. Jaffri

A promise fulfilled

Not long ago, one of the well known art critics, Shamim Akhtar, after spending some time in research on children's art published a book, Pakistani Children's Art, which was very well received in the art circles in Pakistan. Mostly, books of this nature, gets published and then after a while the discussion about the book slows down until an occasion where it is for reference.

I was visiting one of my neighbours, a well educated couple with four children, of whom three are school-going. Usually I see a number of children's magazines etc lying around in their house, an indication that the family allows their children to indulge in reading and writing activities outside the school books and related homework. One of their young sons was interested in music and the parents went out of their way to get him a guitar and to enrol him in a part-time music classes at a local music learning centre. This is not that common in Pakistan with families with children. Mostly they are limited in their activities and have no access to any reading material other than the required school books. What many parents don't realise is that books on various topics, written for young readers in fact inspire children to find their hidden talents and aptitude.

Ayesha (barely 6), inspired by "young art scene" took up painting and her parents helped her to pursue her interest (by buying for her the art materials). When I enquired about her artwork, she quickly brought a number of paintings and requested me if I could publish these in my newspaper. I accepted these paintings and made a promise to find a place for it in children's section. She was very much pleased with this assurance. Now, for the last few weeks I started thinking of reproducing it in one of the pages reserved for such activities but alas, I couldn't find any. At last, I decided to take it in Tapestry, a page for art, culture and literature. And thus here it is.

One thing that becomes clear, and is important is that children should be given access to such materials, magazines, books and educational games and to be allowed to watch interesting and educative documentaries to let the perceptual energy grow and develop into something creative.

Well, understanding that "a promise is a promise," here are the pictures of Ayesha inspired by other children's art at her school.


To watch with each winter the distance in

the hills grow distant, the shops close down,

the people pack and return to the din

of the plains, is natural in a hill-town


Where one had a summer's full. But to go

off when the jasmine loosens its odour,

when one could walk into the evening glow,

when the flight of the birds wears new languor


Is hard to reconcile to. How like crows

familiarity has flown from all

the trees once pleasant to see. The wind blows

even now, but all's still in the mind's tall grass.


We like words are strange, with a logic

native to no rhythm, colour or tropic.


M. Athar Tahir


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