By Shahid Husain
In the death of Sibte Hasan on April 20, 1986, the progressive movement in Pakistan lost one of its best sons. Born on July 31, 1916 in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India, Syed Sibte Hasan was one of the activists who were contacted by Sajjad Zaheer, the doyen of progressive writers' movement in the subcontinent, to help organise Progressive Writers Association (PWA) amid great upsurge in the national liberation movement in undivided India.
Hailing from a family of landed aristocracy, Syed Sibte Hasan graduated in history from Aligarh University and went to Columbia University, New York, for higher studies. In 1942, he joined the Communist Party of India and worked as a full-time cadre at its headquarters in Bombay. He also edited 'Naya Adab', the PWA magazine published from Lucknow. He was also an assistant editor at the daily National Herald, India.
Syed Sibte Hasan's dedication to the progressive cause could be gauged from the fact that he resigned from the National Herald when Syed Sajjad Zaheer wrote him a letter asking him to join 'Qaumi Jang', the organ of the Communist Party of India published from Bombay and work as a full-timer on a meagre salary of Rs 30 per month. He lived in party headquarters where Rs 17 was deducted for food and Rs 5 for rent, leaving a paltry sum of Rs 8 to survive the entire month.
In May 1948 when he returned to Bombay from the United States he was told by Dr. Adhikari, the ideologue of the Communist Party of India, that an independent party has been established in Pakistan after partition and Syed Sajjad Zaheer has been elected its general secretary and he was also to leave for Pakistan. In July 1948, Syed Sibte Hasan arrived in Karachi and then left for Lahore where Syed Sajjad Zaheer was living in party headquarters.
Though Pakistan was conceived as a secular, democratic country by its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the feudal elements in Pakistan Muslim League started asserting themselves after the death of Jinnah in 1948 transforming the country into a protege of US imperialism and it became increasingly difficult for the progressive and democratic forces to survive in Pakistan.
In 1951, the communist leadership in Pakistan was implicated in the infamous 'Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case' and Syed Sibte Hasan, Syed Sajjad Zaheer, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mirza Mohammad Ibrahim, Dada Ferozuddin Mansoor, Eric Cyprian, Mohammad Afzal, Hasan Nasir, Major General Akbar Khan, Major Mohammad Ishaq, Captain Zafarullah Poshni, Hasan Abidi, were among those who were arrested.
In 1954, the government of Pakistan banned the Communist Party of Pakistan and Progressive Writers Association in order to woo the US leadership with which it had entered in military pacts in order to contain communism.
The communist movement was unable to recover from this blow even though Syed Sibte Hasan, Syed Sajjad Zaheer and other leaders were released in 1955. But it was a blessing in disguise for Syed Sibte Hasan who devoted himself to literary pursuits and wrote remarkable books such as 'Moosa Se Marx tak', 'Shehr-e-Nigaraan', 'Maazi ke Mazaar', 'Pakistan main Tehzeeb ka Irtiqa', 'Inqilaab-e-Iran', 'Naveed-e-Fikr', 'Afkaar-e-Taaza', 'Adab aur Roshan Khayali', 'Sukhan dar Sukhan', 'The Battle of Ideas in Pakistan', 'Mughani-e-Atash Nafas', etc.
He was editor of weekly 'Lail-o-Nahar', probably the best weekly publication in the history of Pakistan. 'Lail-o-Nahar' was initially published by Progressive Publishers Limited of Mian Iftikharuddin that also brought about two dailies namely Pakistan Times and Imroze. These publications were known for their high quality standards and professionalism until they were taken over by the government during General's Ayub Khan's martial law. In early 1970s weekly 'Lail-o-Nahar' restarted publication from Karachi, and Syed Sibte Hasan along with Faiz Ahmed Faiz were the editors. It discontinued its publication in 1971 when the military junta started a genocide in the former East-Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and it became almost impossible to write the truth.
Syed Sibte Hasan loved to mingle with the youth and enjoyed their company. In the early 1970s when a group of progressive young people in Karachi established Young Writers Forum, he patronised it and participated in its programmes.
In early 1970s he also brought about 'Pakistani Adab' along with short story writer Saeeda Gazdar from Karachi. In fact he left no stone unturned to inculcate progressive ideas among the masses, especially the youth whom he always advised to have a dream.
The impact of Sibte Hasan's books could be gauged from the fact that several editions of 'Moosa se Marx tak' and his other writings have been published but the demand for these books continues to soar. Interestingly, Sibte Hasan's books are in a greater demand in Balochistan and interior Sindh than in other places, indicating they have been a source of inspiration for the nationalist forces.
Syed Sibte Hasan created a furore when he started his polemical writings in defence of secularism in a major English daily that prompted eminent lawyer Khalid Ishaq to refute these articles from the point of view of the right. The polemical debate on secularism culminated into a new book by Sibte Hasan, 'The Battle of Ideas in Pakistan'. It encompassed subjects such as Secularism and its Falsifiers, Development of Secular Ideas and Practices in Ancient Societies (1), Development of Secular Ideas and Practices in Ancient Societies (II), State and Religion, Secularism in the East, Secularism in Egypt, Secularism in the Subcontinent, The Battle of Ideas in Modern Urdu Literature -- A Survey and Iqbal's Concept of Man.
Introducing the book, he wrote: "While the ruling class has employed every possible means to convert Pakistan into a theocracy, in blatant contravention of the spirit of the Pakistan movement and its total disregard of the declared wishes of her Founding Fathers, the people have rejected the claims of the Martial Law administrators to represent their will."
Syed Sibte Hasan's contribution to progressive literature in Pakistan has been wide-ranging. His writings continue to provide the basis for intellectual debates not only in Pakistan but in India as well. No wonder that his book 'Moosa se Marx tak' was reprinted by the Communist Party of India.
He was a soft spoken, loving person but never compromised on his principles. He was quick to disown the Adamjee Award on his excellent anthropological work 'Maazi ke Mazaar' because the award was associated with a leading capitalist of Pakistan.
Despite his failing health he was the moving force when the golden jubilee of Progressive Writers Association, which was celebrated in Pakistan in 1986. Later, he also went to India to participate in the golden jubilee celebrations there. He died on April 20, 1986 in Delhi of a heart attack leaving behind thousands to mourn the death of an era.
Frontline Pakistan -- The struggle with
After more than five years, America is visibly not happy over Pakistan's role as an ally in its war on terror. It is repeatedly asking Pakistan to do more but is perhaps unable to articulate what exactly it wants. Pakistan has arrested and handed over to America hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists. But, it also lost more soldiers in its war on terror than the entire US-led coalition which is fighting two deadly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From Pakistan's point of view, the Americans are ungrateful while America considers Pakistan a not-so-faithful ally.
Pakistan has been unable to eliminate the terrorist threat to its own existence. There is a civil war going on in Balochistan, the biggest province of the country. Another ferocious war is going on in the tribal areas. Sectarian violence is raging in many parts of the country. Sunni Islamist militias are attacking minority and vulnerable Shia population across the country. The same Sunni Islamists are challenging the writ of the Musharraf regime right in the highly security-conscious capital.
The Islamists are surfacing in many parts of the country to impose their own code of behaviour in big cites. They even murdered a modestly dressed provincial minister in Gujranwala only because she was not dressed to their liking. In Lahore, the Islami Jamiat Tulaba Islamists kidnapped and beat a female student of the Punjab University for the same reason. The Musharraf regime appears to be helpless in the face of the rising Islamist threat.
Zahid Hussain's newly released book 'Frontline Pakistan -- The struggle with militant Islam' offers answers to both the Americans and their internally besieged Pakistani allies. "The war against militancy and Islamist extremism can be best fought -- and won -- in a liberal democracy. Musharraf's authoritarian rule has blocked any hopes of a democratic process taking root. It is very clear that the restoration of democracy in Pakistan is not a priority for Washington, because a leader in military uniform can deliver far more than a democratically elected one.... Anger at Musharraf's close relationship with the US has long generated support for Islamic radicals among many Pakistanis."
It may be easier for America to deal with, and get concessions from, a military ruler, than an elected leader in Pakistan but not win the war on terror. A military regime has no interest in crushing Islamist forces as is more than evident from the Lal Masjid/Jamia Hafsa affair -- where both the Khateeb Abdul Aziz and Naib-Khateeb Ghazi Abdur Rashid are not too keen to hide their links with the Taliban and Osama bin Ladin. Islamists are natural allies of the military rulers against the political forces. Only political and democratic forces have interest in eradicating Islamist forces, but in their own way and not necessarily the American way.
As an accomplished journalist, Zahid Hussain shows that Pakistan did little to curb the Taliban activities inside Pakistan in the post-9/11 period because of their 'unholy alliance' with the Pakistani defence establishment. The likes of Khateeb Abdul Aziz and Naib-Khateeb Ghazi Abdur Rashid serve two purposes for a military ruler. First, they are their bridge to the Taliban in Afghanistan, who will once again provide strategic depth to Pakistan if they came into power once again while, at home, they help the military ruler to crush the political forces.
The book is very readable. Zahid Hussain traces the ISI's unholy alliance with Islamists to the days of Afghan jihad. He shows that the alliance did not come to an end with the end of the Afghan jihad. with the ISI pushed the jihadis in the Kashmir cauldron when the Afghan jihad came to an end in the late 1980s. He describes how the ISI nourished the local jihadist groups such as the Lashkar-i-Taiba. The book shows how Pakistan was turned into a nursery of jihad.
The book concludes by describing the fault-lines with a grim picture for Pakistan's future. "Pakistan may not be facing any imminent threat of an Islamic fundamentalist takeover, but there is a real danger of fragmentation with radical Islamists controlling part of the country. The growing influence of militant Islam, particularly in the strategically located North West Frontier Province and the western province of Balochistan is ominous..."
Pakistan has only a few friends in the world, still fewer in the region. It has un-resolvable enmity with India in the East since the birth of the two nations in 1947. Its relations with Afghanistan in the North West were never worse since 1947. It has had good working relations with Afghanistan only during the brief Taliban rule. Pro-Saudi and pro-Wahhabi mindset of our military rulers since 1977 has slowly but surely soured relations with friendly Iran in the West. The armed raids into Iran from the Pakistani territory with the possible help of elements in the establishment have further soured Pakistan-Iran relations. China's friendship with Pakistan is a thing of the past.
When the crunch comes, our neighbours would also like to settle their accounts
and our 'friends' in the Middle Eastern sheikhdoms will not be able to extend
any significant help. We cannot avoid the doomsday scenario unless we pay heed
to what Zahid Hussain says.
Musing about what topic I should choose for my address to the forthcoming seminar organised by the Shakespeare Society ('Yes Virginia, there is a Shakespeare Society in Pakistan') I turned to Pericles.
Why did I pick 'Pericles', an ordinary play, not even written entirely by Shakespeare? Well, in her new and constantly illuminating book 'The Ungentle Shakespeare', Katherine Duncan-Jones tells us that no play enjoyed a greater popularity in Shakespeare's life than 'Pericles'. It was his most sought after work since 'Hamlet' and it retained its popularity throughout the 16th century.
I have never seen a production of 'Pericles', not even by the 'Questors' or the 'Elizabethans', the two amateur companies known for producing rare period drama like 'Gamma Gurton's Needle'. It has been one of the least performed plays in the last hundred years.
Let me give you a brief synopsis: Pericles, the virtuous Prince of Tyre competes for the hand of the daughter of the king of Antioch and discovers that the king and his daughter are engaged in an incestuous relationship. He leaves Antioch but realizing that the king of Antioch is after his blood entrusts his kingdom to a nobleman and sets out for Taurus, but he is not safe there either. He heads to sea again, is shipwrecked, and from here on a series of bizarre adventures begin that include his marriage, the death of his wife, and the handing over of his daughter to the care of Cleon, the governor of Tyre.
Unbeknown to Pericles, his wife is not dead. Years pass; the daughter grows up to be a beautiful girl arousing the jealousy of Cleon's wife, who plans to have her murdered. Luckily, she is snatched away by some pirates who sell her to a brothel keeper from where she escapes, unscathed. Pericles believing the stories he has heard of his daughter's death, retires from his kingdom and goes to Mytilene in sorrow. Here he is reunited, first with his daughter and then his wife.
The play, uneven in style and uneven in scale, has an implausible plot woven with sentimental piffle. And yet going through it after nearly half a century the last act moved me to tears and I found myself sobbing like a school girl reading a Barbara Cartland romance.
Sentimental reunions do not move me so why did this one? Was it the extreme suffering on the part of the noble Pericles or the radiant innocence on the part of Marina, his daughter? Or was it because I was in a melancholic frame of mind? It may have been all these things but the answer became clear when I re-read the scene that had made me howl: it was Shakespeare's measured, beautifully understated, lyrical handling of the scene. Pericles lies drowned in his grief; his daughter approaches him:
Marina: My name, Sir, is Marina.
Pericles: O, I am mocked,
And thou by some incensed god sent hither
To make the world to laugh at me.
Marina: Patience, good sir,
Or here I'll cease.
Pericles: Nay, I'll be patient.
Thou little know'st how thou dost startle me
To call thyself Marina.
Marina: The name
Was given me by one that had some power:
My father, and a king.
Pericles: How, a king's daughter,
And called Marina?
Marina: You said you would believe me
But not to be a troubler of your peace
I will end here.
Pericles: But are you flesh and blood?
Have you a working pulse and are no fairy?
Motion as well? Speak on. Where were you born,
And wherefore called Marina?
Marina: Called Marina
For I was born at sea..."
Shakespeare wrote 'Pericles' in collaboration with George Wilkins, a minor poet and a brothel-keeper. It is now generally agreed that Wilkins wrote the first two acts and Shakespeare, the rest of it. This is evident from some of the lines:
'Only I carry winged time
Post on the lame feet of my rhyme.'
These and other such couplets as: 'That whoso asked of his life/His riddle told not, lost his life', do not sound like Shakespeare. They seem to be the work of a poetaster, which Wilkins was.
Why did Shakespeare decide to collaborate on a play that, in all probability, was the brain-child of Wilkins? Katherine Duncan-Jones whose knowledge of late 16th century writers is profound, tells us that one reason could be that the complexion of the theatrical audience had changed after James's accession to the throne. The requirement to entertain foreign diplomats and other dignitaries had been firmly established and theatre managers as well as playwrights had to think very carefully about their tastes and prejudices. If a play displeased them they would complain to the court. There were instances when a play disapproved by the more influential ambassadors was immediately withdrawn from the theatres and the actors appearing in it were sent to prison.
Recent European history thus became a taboo for a dramatist and so were political themes that could be taken amiss by foreign delegations who did not wish for their countries (France, Italy, Spain) to appear in a dismal light. Even 'Coriolanus' with its treatment of food riots, which was set in ancient Rome, was considered to be too explosive for performance.
'Pericles' was the first of the three reconciliation-oriented 'romances' that Shakespeare wrote ('Cymbeline' and 'Winters Tale' being the other two). 'Tempest' his last work, also ends up with reconciliation, but it is in a different league and should not be lumped together with the other three). What I mean by reconciliation-oriented 'romance' is that it is a play in which a family that is torn apart is finally brought together. The theme became hugely successful both with the high-bred and the low-bred. The playgoing audience, by now, flocked to the theatres as much for the joy of seeing a play as for ale drinking. She quotes the author of a satirical play:
'Amazed I stood to see a crowd
Of civil throats stretched out so loud.
As at a new play, all the rooms
Did swarm with gentles mixed with grooms,
So that I truly thought all these
Came to see Shore, or Pericles'.
'Pericles' is a tale of lust and virtue (the two stock ingredients of melodrama) written almost like a screenplay. The action moves from the kingdom of Antioch to Tyre, to Pentapolis to Ephesus and, finally, to Myteline. There are several almighty storms, various masques and a scene in which the goddess, Diana, 'descends from the heavens' and 'ascends into the heavens.'
Shakespeare creates a chaotic world where innocence somehow survives. No one has taken this formula to heart more than our classical dramatists (and film makers). We still thrive on it. Our novels, our movies, our television serials are all concocted to prove that virtue will always triumph, provided there are songs, dances, plenty of catchy, and a bit of celestial, music.