self that hovers
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
The uncertain situation in South Waziristan took another turn by April 10, 2007 following the success of the tribal lashkar comprising several hundred Ahmadzai Wazir tribesmen in evicting militants from Uzbekistan and their local allies from the Wana area. However, this by no means is the end of the story as the foreigners appear to have made a tactical retreat and could now indulge in acts of sabotage to keep the areas bordering Afghanistan insecure and destabilised.
The government was pleased with the performance of the lashkar, or tribal force, and both civil and military officers took pains to describe it as an indigenous uprising of the tribes against the Uzbeks due to the latter's excesses against the local people. Arguments were advanced that the government's peace accords with the tribes had paid dividends and the tribesmen had organised themselves and taken on the foreign militants under the terms of the agreement. One of the key points in the peace agreements was the promise by the tribal elders, and by implication by the militants, not to harbour foreign militants and refrain from infiltrating the Durand Line border for attacks against US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. From the scheme of things, it was obvious that the so-called 'Amn Lashkar' (Peace Lashkar) was henceforth going to be the military's trump card to flush out foreigners suspected of having links with al-Qaeda and Taliban and also check the activities of their tribal supporters.
News of the formation of the lashkar in Wana, headquarters of South Waziristan, was first heard on March 19. It was followed by reports of intense fighting between the lashkar and the Uzbekistani militants and their tribal supporters led by brothers Haji Omar and Noor Islam and a pro-Taliban commander Javed Karmazkhel. Five days later, the combatants agreed to a shaky ceasefire due to the intervention of a delegation of Afghan Taliban and two jirgas of Ulema belonging to South Waziristan and North Waziristan and led by clergymen affiliated to Maulana Fazlur Rahman's JUI-F. However, the jirgas' members were unsure how long the ceasefire would last in view of the lashkar's uncompromising position that the Uzbeks must leave Wana area. The ceasefire predictably was shortlived and within days the lashkar resumed its operations against the Uzbek militants.
By April 11 the foreigners and those harbouring them had been evicted from well-entrenched positions in Zha Ghunday, Kirikot, Shin Warsak and Azam Warsak and the military felt it was now safe to fly 50 foreign and local journalists from Islamabad and Peshawar in two helicopters for a briefing at the Pakistan Army's Zari Noor camp near Wana. The reporters weren't taken to the villages from where the foreign militants had been evicted apparently due to security concerns and no meetings were arranged with Maulvi Nazeer and other commanders of the lashkar. It showed that the job was still incomplete, a fact conceded by Maj Gen Gul Mohammad, general officer commanding (GOC), Kohat and commander of the troops fighting in South Waziristan, and other military officers, said the tribal elders and the lashkar were busy hunting remnants of the Uzbek militants in the mountains near the border with Afghanistan.
The number of casualties in the almost two-week fighting around Wana was more a matter of conjecture than anything specific. While the fighting was at its peak, the NWFP Governor Lt Gen (Retd) Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai said 160 fighters including 133 foreigners had been killed until then. Civil and military officers and those working in the political administration in South Waziristan gave conflicting figures of the dead and wounded. At one stage, a casualty figure of 200-plus was being mentioned without providing any evidence. At the Wana briefing for journalists on April 11 this year Maj Gen Gul Mohammad estimated the dead Uzbek fighters at 150 to 200 and the tribesmen who lost their lives in the fighting at 40-50.
The fact that exact figures were not provided explained the paucity of information about the extent of the fighting, the death toll and the lack of evidence to back up all such claims. Some of the combatants, tribal sources and the few reporters brave enough to continue working in Wana despite the killing and harassment of journalists disputed the casualty figures put forth by the government functionaries and felt the death toll was much less. One tribal reporter who managed to visit Wana after having fled from there some months ago thought the number of dead was not more than 40. Intriguingly, none of the Uzbek prisoners was produced before the media although claims about their capture by the dozens were made earlier.
There was no doubt that the Uzbek militants on account of their high-handedness had made many enemies in South Waziristan, particularly in the Wana area where sections of the Ahmadzai Wazir sub-tribes such as the Yargulkhel offered them hospitality and sanctuaries after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in December 2001. The Mahsud tribe didn't allow the Uzbeks to live in their part of South Waziristan and it is even now unwilling to give them refuge in the Mahsud tribal territory.
Mir Ali tehsil in North Waziristan was another area where the Uzbeks were welcomed. It is likely to become the next battleground between anti-Uzbek tribesmen and the Uzbeks and their local allies. The Uzbeks, aligned with Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and led by Tahir Yuldashev, had first taken refuge in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan after a failed uprising against the authoritarian Uzbek President Islam Karimov in late 1990s. Their then leader Juma Namagani was killed in bombing by US warplanes in Afghanistan. There has never been a reliable count of the Uzbeks who crossed over to Pakistan after the collapse of the Taliban government and government functionaries and spokesmen have often estimated their number and those of Arab and other foreign militants to be 500-600. It was, therefore, strange to hear during the recent fighting in Wana area that 800 to 1,000 Uzbeks were still present in South Waziristan even after the killing of up to 200 of them and the capture of a few dozen more.
It won't be surprising if the retreating Uzbeks and their local allies open new frontlines and put up a stand at other places in future. In desperation, these homeless and stateless fighters could also resort to suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism after realising that they have few options left owing to the growing hostility of their once generous Pashtun hosts.
The Wana fighting also exposed the rift in the ranks of the militants and created a split that would become evident in due course of time in North Waziristan and rest of NWFP and beyond. The strife was so acute that a militant commander, Haji Sharif, challenged the power of his brothers Haji Omar and Noor Islam, who are still siding with the Uzbeks, and pitted Maulvi Nazeer, Malik Khannan and Meetha Khan against their former comrades. The pro-Uzbek militants began calling their rivals as 'Punjabi Taliban' and accused them of playing into the hands of the Pakistan Army and the US. The anti-Uzbek militants argued that they were fighting for their land and honour and wanted to rid the area of the alien Uzbeks who violated tribal traditions and indulged in kidnappings, target killings, beheadings and certain immoral activities.
The fighting in Wana was also bad news for the Afghan Taliban, who sent their top military commanders Mulla Dadullah and Sirajuddin Haqqani to work for ceasefire and effect reconciliation between the two groups of militants. They even offered the Uzbeks to relocate them to Baghran district in Afghanistan's Helmand province or other Taliban-controlled areas and take part in 'jehad' against the US-led foreign forces. But Tahir Yuldashev turned down the offer, arguing instead that every piece of land was Allah's land and they were happy living in Waziristan.
The anti-Uzbek militants commanded by Maulvi Nazeer also voiced their allegiance and loyalty to Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar and pledged to continue waging 'jehad' against the US and its allies.
It was a complex situation but the military sided with the anti-Uzbek militants, at least for the time-being, in a bid to rid South Waziristan of the unwanted Uzbeks. This was a risky policy because the victorious anti-Uzbek militants, who have gained in power and stature, share the worldview of Mulla Omar's Taliban. The non-Uzbek militants such as al-Qaeda-linked Arabs and Afghans loyal to the Taliban reportedly still maintain presence in parts of Waziristan and they too pose problems for the government. It is thus clear that only half the job of stabilizing Waziristan and ridding it of foreign militants has been done.
By Sarwat Ali
Dastaan Goi, one of the most popular forms of entertainment, was made redundant or put into disuse initially by the cinema and then radio and television in the course of the twentieth century. Now efforts at reviving that old form are underway in India. The recent visit and performance by Mahmood Farooqui and Murtaza Danish Husain on the invitation of the Citizens' Foundation at the Open Air Theatre, Bagh-e-Jinnah was a realisation for the people of Lahore as to what had been lost in the process of change. This was not the duos first trip to Pakistan -- they have been here before presenting their dramatic narrative piece at the Rafi Peer Theatre Festival last year. The performance of Talism-e-Hoshruba from 'Dastaan Amir Hamza' which had been rendered into Urdu by Munshi Syed Mohammed Hussain Jah held the audiences riveted.
In the last 100 odd years or so the aesthetic criteria has undergone a sea of change. Dastaan, qissa, kahani and katha formed the major portion of what now we call fiction and as the written word replaced the oral tradition, more realistic literature took the seat vacated by this traditional mode. Similarly the art of reading a story or poetry has been dying and only Zia Mohyeddin has kept the ancient tradition alive in Pakistan. With Zia Mohyeddin the scope has been narrowed because it is only through speech that the dramatic intensity is revealed. In contrast the performance of Naseeruddin Shah, who was invited by the same organisation last year, had the advantage of acting out parts of the stories as he thought fit and used his movements and gestures to enhance the dramatic effect.
Dastaan Goi or the dramatic narrative is a very ancient form of story telling, which is probably as old as mankind. Be it the Greeks, Persians, Africans and Arabs these dramatic narratives went on for the better part of the night eventually coming to an end at dawn.
For us, the Muslim society's Dastaan Goi or the dastaan has been a very integral part of our socio-cultural existence. It is still an enigma as to when and why the dramatic narrative became drama. In some societies the dramatic narration developed into a form that was only staged and evolved into what we called drama today. In the Greek civilisation such a transition did take place and drama became an autonomous form which was radically different from the dramatic narrative. In India also the dramatic narration underwent some kind of a change as theatre emerged from its cocoon. The Buddhist Sammajj and the Nat Veda are evidence that theatre did exist in India in the ancient period independent of the dramatic narrative forms.
But it did not happen in other cultures and Muslim societies. Since theatre did not become an autonomous form, the tradition of dramatic narration thrived. All these romances formed the body of texts which were narrated throughout the night to an audience that sat agape at the wonders, the improbable and the twists and turns of the fantastic dastaans.
There must have been many forms of narrating the dastaans. One could have been that only one person narrated the dastaan. He had to impersonate the voices and some actions of all the characters in the dastaan. It was also possible that the dastaan was narrated by more than one person. Then there were narrations in which part of the dastaan was recited. At some dramatic moment the narrator would break into an intense phase of recitation and then revert to narration. It was also possible that some Dastaan Go also broke into singing. This type of dastaan then must have been the combination of narration, recitation and singing.
In some of the dastaan, the whole stress used to be on conveying the drama through delivery. The way the lines were delivered conveyed the full impact of the intensity while in some cases the delivery was also laced with gestures. It is also possible that it was accompanied by some degree of movement as well. The narrator would get up from his seat and move a little to fully convey what was embedded in words.
These dastaans and the medieval romances, of course, were not realistic pieces of writings or did not espouse realism as the term has come to represent. These tales were usually located in a fantastical landscape. The characters too, were larger than life in pursuit of some cause or virtue, best represented in the form of beautiful young woman usually of royal origins. The hot pursuit of the characters was triggered by the unravelling of some riddle. The journey with all kinds of creatures and figures not cast in the realistic mould opened the way for its symbolic understanding.
The interesting aspect about these dastaans, which formed the rich repertoire of oral literature in South Asia, was that they reflected the local conditions as well. Though most of these dastaans originated in areas west of India -- in Iran, Arabia and what we now call Central Asia it has enough local hue. The names of the Hindi/Sanskrit characters and figures are taken in the same breath as the characters which are Persian and Arabic.
Mahmood Farooqui and Murtaza Danish Husain primarily delivered the dastaan while sitting down, only occasionally getting up and gesticulating for a while before settling down again on the masnud. They had strong voices and control to carry the session without much difficulty.
The Citizens' Foundation
has been doing a commendable job for many years now. In the past few decades
it was assumed that the human resource was the preserve of the state but
gradually with changing perceptions, this assumption has been challenged. As
the state has shied away, bodies like The Citizens' Foundation have stepped
in to fill the vacuum. Good education has become very expensive and beyond
the reach of a great number of people in this society. The local system of
education is near collapse. The main target of The Citizens' Foundation is
the children of less privileged backgrounds whose parents cannot afford to
give them quality education. Now these children can get quality without their
parents paying through their noses and it is because of societies like The
Citizens' Foundation, which has established more than a hundred schools.
At one moment the rapid-fire delivery of Chandralekha's dance ensemble sounds loud enough to be an entire orchestra and in the next quiets to a whisper. The performers onstage in Mumbai work each musical phrase as if it were dialogue. They modulate their cadence to mimic the inflections of human speech. You can almost hear the rise of question marks and the fall of commas.
For over 25 years, Chandralekha peered into the darkness of the human heart, searching for love and tenderness and finding precious little. Repetition, so integral to her work, reminded of our inability to break the shackles of our imprisoned spirits, but, conversely, also of the Sisyphusian task of trying to do it again. While she saw dignity, even humour in this persistence, we didn't laugh. It was too painful. That Chandralekha took her last bow three months ago is painful still.
Gujrati by birth, she was born Chandralekha Prabhudas Patel in the small town of Wada in Maharashtra to a medical doctor, an avowed agnostic and a devoted ritualist mother. Her early years were spent in Saurashtra, Aden and Bombay. After quitting her law studies, she went to Madras to learn dasi attam -- the South Indian dance practised by generations of temple dancers. Her guru was the well known Bharatanatyam dancer, Kancheepuram Ellappa Pillai, but she was equally influenced by Balasaraswati and Rukmini Devi Arundale.
In production after production, Chandralekha contravened and flouted the Brahmanical interpretation of the Natyashastra. The opening pranam which prefaced dance recitals was abandoned because she understood dance not as a presentation to the deities but as a celebration of body and spirit.
Already a dance legend in the 1950s, Chandralekha moved away from the performance circuit, rejecting the sublimated Brahmanical content of dance and its market entertainment value. Instead, she took to writing, designing and women's rights movement. Bravely, she became a crusader for equality, human rights, secularism, pluralism and the environment. Her forthright statements to the media, and her accentuated make up, did not make her popular with the middle class.
On a series of warm July evenings, rendered eerily theatrical and timeless by the monsoons, Chandralekha made a little dance history in 1984, staging a comeback for East West Dance Encounter in Bombay with Tillana. Even 10 years ago it would have been a stretch to think of her ensemble in this exalted company. But the soft spoken, grey haired, Chandralekha put her unique modernist and humanist Indian spirit into not just the thrust of traditional repertoire, but also the selection and training of its roster of dancers as well as the systematic education of her audiences.
She enjoyed the unofficial epithet 'India's Cultural Emissary' for her devotion and wisdom of her positively preternatural performances. She utilised Bharatanatyam vocabulary as naturally as Lawrence Olivier spoke the Shakespearean verse. She understood its inflections, nuances, phrasing, and witty play, as well as its emotional resonance through bodily intimacy. More than any choreographer she forged a quintessentially Indian style tinged with an indispensable dose of humanism.
Chandralekha was one of the most historically minded choreographers. Her dances often functioned like extended visual treatises filled with quotations, citations, footnotes, and authorial asides, all told not so much through steps as through a moving landscape of relationships. These were qualities that endeared her to admirers and acolytes worldwide but raised the ire of some orthodox detractors at home, who derided her work as pantomimic, obscene and hermetic. However, the faithful flocked to learn from her at Mandala, her centre at Elliott's Beach in Chennai.
Technically, she fused Bharatanatyam with yoga and Kalarippayattu -- a martial art from Kerala -- which horrified the purists. Abroad, she was hugely popular with such dancers as Pina Bausch and Susanne Linke. She even choreographed a contemporary version of Bausch's 'Nelken' in 1994 as 'Yantra', in which the perception of beauty is related to an awareness of the body, both in its spiritual and sexual manifestations, and in which form and expression merged hypnotically.
There was also a definitive feminism in Chandralekha's themes. Her 1991 production of 'Sri' explored the multifaceted significance of womanhood from Harappan fertility figurines to Shakti and the ten-armed Durga. The year 1995 saw her invoking time in 'Mahakaal' -- a symposium of convoluted movements that went beyond linear notions of time to explore the dance of timelessness, inner space and consciousness. But it was 'Raga: In Search of Femininity' that drew most criticism. Presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1998 as part of the Next Wave Festival, it partly questioned the culturally perceived duality of male and female in human beings, alluding to the comment of the 10th century poet Devara Dasimayya that "the self that hovers in between is neither man nor woman."
It lifted the audience by its imagination, swayed somewhere in the twilight of confusion and left the mark of ennui on a stark, bold and often explicitly erotic presentation. Here, two bare-chested male dancers, apparently seeking the female within, entwined in homoerotic postures while chants of Ardhanarishwara echoed in the background. All this while, a group of females panted and peeked at the intimate caresses.
"Sexuality, sensuality, spirituality are all unified in the body. What they were doing had no sexual connotation. I told them to see the shape of the space their bodies were making. My work is about linking inner and outer spaces. We live in the body without understanding its vital parts and points and without the knowledge of how to bridge the inner-outer divide...," she explained.
Her many tours took her to Tokyo; Hamburg's Festival der Frauen; the Avignon Festival; the Asian Dance Festival, Hong Kong; the International Sommerscene, Copenhagen; and various venues in London, Chicago and Canada. In 1990, she received the Gaia Award for 'cultural ecology' in Italy, the Dance Umbrella Award in Britain in 1991, and the Sangeet Natak Academy Award. Her last appearances were in September/October 2006 in Germany where she presented 'Sharir' as an inaugural event of the Frankfurt Book Fair. She died of cervical cancer in Madras, and was cremated by Sadanand Menon and Dashrath Patel -- her life long companions.
Chandralekha Prabhudas Patel, dancer and choreographer, born December 06, 1928; died December 30, 2006.
Since her death was disclosed months later, hence the late obituary.
The death of Asad Amanat Ali Khan reflects what our society has failed to do with our grand tradition of music
One is doubly saddened by the death of Asad Amanat Ali Khan. He died at a relatively young age and those years were a series of wasted opportunities.
It only seems like yesterday that after the untimely death of Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, his talented son Asad Amanat Ali Khan suddenly found himself the focus of everyone's attention. He was instantly catapulted into the limelight more in the hope that the loss of a singer of Ustad Amanat Ali Khan's calibre was being more than compensated by a replacement in the form of his son. He was ready to take over.
This hope proved to be the undoing of Asad Amanat Ali Khan. He had the talent and he had the looks but he was surely not ready to take over. The instant exposure thrust him far too early into the top bracket from where he was blinded to his own shortcomings.
The most difficult task at that time was thrust upon the shoulders of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan who suddenly found him to be the head of the family. Since he had been trained to sing with his brother, he had to totally redesign his own singing as well as look after the family of his late brother. This also meant giving them musical education. Continuing in the tradition of singing in duos, Fateh Ali Khan started to sing with Amjad Amanat Ali Khan and he paired Asad Amanat with Hamid Ali Khan. The family tradition seemed to have been saved from sinking after the severe mishap of having lost the gifted Amanat Ali Khan. As long as Asad Amanat Ali Khan sang with his uncle Hamid Ali Khan there was still hope but after a while, as the two parted ways, Asad Amanat took his own course, singing whatever came his way.
The times had changed and very few people listened to classical music. The time tested value of spending years in perfecting the art was being seen as time wasted. There was so much to achieve by performing rather than 'hiding' behind the regimen of training. When Asad Amanat Ali Khan was not able to break new ground with his level of training and could not establish his own ang, he was made to sing the famous numbers of his father. Wherever he went to perform the audience listened with patience to one or two of his original numbers, not really impressed and soon demanded that he sing his fathers numbers. He obliged and continued to oblige till such time that he gave up the effort of presenting something of his own.
He was surely not adequately prepared to sing the kheyal and even the thumri. As it was there were fewer and fewer takers of that kind of music in the country and the compulsion to succeed, be the bread winner and stay famous took him away from raagdari. He switched to singing popular folk songs, some traditional, some newly composed and achieved some success but it was limited because many singers in the same field were far better than him. To some purists even that limited success did not seem much because he was seen to be the inheritor of a great tradition and by failing to hold the flag of that tradition high, his switching over to lighter forms was a comedown.
Ustad Fateh Ali Khan continued to sing in his traditional style moving in to fill the musical gap left by his brother by first teaming up with Amjad Amanat, then his son Rustam Fateh Ali and now his other son Sultan Hamid Ali. Sultan Hamid Ali has also developed on his own singing the traditional compositions in a much diluted style, comprising lyrics that have a contemporary ring about them. His younger brother Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan too has employed the traditional compositions with contemporary lyrics and instruments. But somehow Asad Amanat Ali Khan was lost in all this. He was never really able to develop his own distinct style and was only too happy to please the audience.
In Pakistan the lack of proper patronage can result in failures like Asad Amanat Ali Khan. He had to fend for himself for he knew that there was no safety net. He could not make himself stick to the more traditional form of music and the circumstances did not allow him the luxury to do so. He indulged in various forms of singing to keep up with tradition as a token, rendered the kheyal and thumri as well and then sang to audiences some popular numbers who listened to him just to refresh the memory of his father. His death at a relatively young age actually reflects what we have failed to do with our grand tradition of music.
-- Sarwat Ali