Scenes of chaos

The memoir is another attempt by a Bhutto to rewrite history
By Huma Imtiaz
Songs of Blood and Sword:
A Daughter's Memoir
By Fatima Bhutto
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd.
Pages: 470
Price: Rs 1395

A word about letters
By Kazy Javed

Language in volumes

The National Language Authority has come up with a series of six books on the history and the literature of various Pakistani languages spread over some 2500 pages in Urdu. Titled Mukhtesar Tareekh-e-Zaban-o-Adab, these books present an overview as well as a critical appraisal of the development of Sindhi, Punjabi, Seraiki, Pushto and Balochi and have been authored by Syed Mazhar Jamil, Hamidullah Hashmi, Dr Sajjad Haider Pervaiz, Hanif Khalil and Dr Shah Muhammad Mari respectively.



Essence of experience
Khawar's poetic idiom does not jar the human mind into drawing comparisons where there are none
By Sarwat Ali

Bohat Kutch Kho Giya Hai

By Ayub Khawar.

Publisher: Jahangir Books, 2010.

Pages:  232

Price:  Rs 250

The third book of poems by Ayub Khawar Bhohat Kuch Kho Giya Hai after Gul-e- Mausam-e-Khizaan and Tumhe Jane Ki Jaldi Thi has shown a definite shift in the perspective from where he views life and his experiences. It is a more mature Ayub Khawar, a more sober poet who has been through the rough and tumble of life , met head on the many challenges of emotional encounters -- but now seems to sit back and weigh the content and value of the turbulence of life.

It is not merely the getting on in years that have resulted in this change of perspective. It is not even the poetic response to the passing years, but the non-realisation of the dream that was seen once and seemed fully convincing, the utter senselessness of happenings on a larger scale, the destruction and wastage of potential that appears now to be beyond human understanding.

It was perhaps that the poet in his youthful endeavour and vigour wanted to shatter everything to bits and then remould it according to hearts desire, but it was only experience which taught him the importance and then the futility of optimism. The most vital aspect of this poetic outpouring is that the value of experience is not being cancelled out -- the two phases if these may be called so have not been weighed against each other, not assessed in comparison, but both stay retaining their individual worth and value. It is the many shades of all the experience that make up the poetic intensity of Khawar.

But besides a living continuity in his poetry there is the melodic intensity of his verses. It is not merely a matter of craft; but the sensibility is so imbued, it creates melody from the humdrum of human experiences and existence. Whether it is the passionate intensity of making everything possible or the blasé of the dreams yet again not being realised, the result in human experience has been expressed with melodic intensity. It is as if the most important thing for him is this melody, this rhythm that makes up the essence of his experience. It could be his exposure in more direct terms to the world of music and dance, it could be the interaction that his profession has forced him into but it seems that it is neither the result of a forced arrangement nor is it purely accidental -- it is something that grows out of the temperament and nature. It is the way he views and assesses experience or the sum total of experience. This makes his poetry very pleasant to read.

His expression and his poetic idiom is friendly and do not jar the human mind into drawing comparisons where there are none. He draws on images that are familiar and lend themselves to the flow, not only to a new reality but also to the flow of the cadence of flow of expression. The poetry is easy to remember and hum, possessing a song like quality.

Initially, Khawar had not chosen for his genre a descriptive form of poetical expression. Rather he has opted for investing heavily in a metaphorical idiom, where the reality is not stated but expressed in the unfolding of the multi-layered symbols. Usually the pitfall of selecting this form is ambiguity. In an endeavour to express the complexity, poetry too becomes ambivalent and loses the cardinal virtue of precision in capturing the main contents of experience. Though on surface, there might appear to be a contradiction as the complexity of experience can result in an expression that is just as complex and hence not easy on the readers, a clear distinction has to be drawn between complexity and ambiguity.

The complexity can easily lead astray into the dimly lit alleys of ambiguity, but Khawar was quite selective in his application of the metaphor. It seemed that his lengthy dwellings upon had marinated the given images into creating something that was complex, without courting the danger of being ambiguous. The complexity had clearly come across as complexity and not as ambiguity.

It has often happened that practitioner of one form also expresses in another form -- musicians writing poetry or painters writing novels or poets trying to paint. It is rare that the two attain the same level of standard and quality; one always maintains an edge over the other.

One can supplement Khawar's own words, that transferring the verbal into the visual of the teleplay has taken more time and energy, robbing his poetry of the attention to grow from a minor activity into a full blown expression. Despite this constant switching over, a good poet has survived the television producer as his work on television is deserving of fuller praise.


Scenes of chaos
The memoir is another attempt by a Bhutto to rewrite history
By Huma Imtiaz

Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir
By Fatima Bhutto
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd.
Pages: 470
Price: Rs 1395


The Bhutto family's tale is one that would prove to be a blockbuster film and be a bestseller… if told well. Fatima Bhutto's Songs of Blood and Sword is the third attempt by a Bhutto to detail their family history and their achievements, the most memorable being Benazir's Daughter of the East. In all the books, the Bhuttos are the saviours, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a model leader and hero -- and focuses on their struggle to rise beyond politics, repression and violence.

To be honest, one doesn't understand what this book is meant to be. Touted as a daughter's memoir, the book, for the first four and a half chapters, talks about the history of the Bhutto family and traces their rise as an influential feudal family during the British Raj. It quickly moves on to Murtaza's life as a student in Karachi and at Harvard, trying to campaign in Europe for his father's life to be spared, to Afghanistan where he founds Al-Zulfikar, Syria where he meets his second wife Ghinwa, and finally Pakistan, where Murtaza met a death so brutal that one is left in horror at the memory of that fateful night.

But while chapters have been devoted to the rise and fall of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the author has glossed over certain aspects of Bhutto's political career. The description of the fall of East Pakistan quickly assigns all blame to the Pakistan Army, cleverly leaving out mention of Bhutto's role in the political crisis.

The author's selective amnesia continues throughout the book. While a memoir is based on one's personal knowledge and analysis of events, one is disappointed by the lack of details and facts that this book so sorely required. For example, the author takes pains to exclude Benazir from certain parts of history; the omission of Benazir at the side of ZAB in the Simla Delegation in the book being one such example.

Songs of Blood and Sword is not just about the amnesia, but also about conspiracy theories. Fatima Bhutto insinuates, based on a single interview, that Benazir was somehow involved in Shahnawaz's murder. And as we read on, the author seems to adopt a far more forgiving tone when describing Shahnawaz's daughter's Sassi's denial that her mother and Shahnawaz's wife Rehana was involved in the event. And that is what the reader is left with: no investigation, just insinuation.

The most appalling chapter in Songs of Blood and Sword is Bhutto's account of the Al-Zulfikar Organisation, a movement founded by Murtaza and Shahnawaz in the 1980s. Her dismissal of the 1981 hijacking of a PIA flight as propaganda created by the Zia regime and her denial of Al-Zulfikar's involvement in certain acts of violence and terror are a travesty, to say the least. For someone who calls herself a journalist, this book and perhaps Bhutto's credibility would have been well served had she chosen to investigate the matter more closely, and spoken to more than just a few people Murtaza surrounded himself by at the latter stage of his life.

The redeeming part of this book is the chapter detailing the assassination and the aftermath of Murtaza Bhutto's death in 1996. Even though the Mideast Hospital in Karachi has since been torn down to make way for a glittery new building, one can successfully imagine the scenes of chaos that must have pervaded there once. The news spread that Murtaza Bhutto had been brought there.

It is Sabeen Jatoi's account of being unable to find her father's body that strikes a chord, the sense of horror and loss and helplessness is something one can never forget and the author must be credited for bringing, as painful as that memory must be, to life.

Nevertheless, throughout the book, it seems that Bhutto chose to interview the people that would fit her interpretation of history. While one must always take events in Pakistani politics with a pinch of salt, Bhutto's attempt to rewrite history and portray Murtaza as the true heir of the PPP, a noble politician and a confused angry young man who never hijacked a plane are based on a very shaky foundation indeed -- and her arguments fails to strike a chord with the reader.

There is a sense that Bhutto has over-dramatised certain incidents in the book, which may serve her western audience well, but are not unique in Pakistan. The tone itself is hardly engaging, and at times, the author's unnecessary descriptions distract one from the subject at hand. It was not important to know that the author was eating a cookie when she met her father's college roommate, nor does it add to the quality of the writing. What one really enjoyed were the brief insights into Murtaza's jovial character and his wit, and the anecdote of Asif Ali Zardari making a snide remark against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

At the end of the day, it has become tiresome to read members of the Bhutto family harp on about their achievements, presenting their loved one as the saviour and calling themselves a true heir of the legacy of the Bhutto family. One wished that perhaps there would be a Bhutto who would not try this tried and tested pattern, but perhaps that is too much to hope for.


Huma Imtiaz is a journalist based in Karachi and can be reached at



The National Language Authority has come up with a series of six books on the history and the literature of various Pakistani languages spread over some 2500 pages in Urdu. Titled Mukhtesar Tareekh-e-Zaban-o-Adab, these books present an overview as well as a critical appraisal of the development of Sindhi, Punjabi, Seraiki, Pushto and Balochi and have been authored by Syed Mazhar Jamil, Hamidullah Hashmi, Dr Sajjad Haider Pervaiz, Hanif Khalil and Dr Shah Muhammad Mari respectively.

The sixth volume is on the languages and dialects of Gilgit-Baltistan and has been written by Dr Mumtaz Manglori.

Iftikhar Arif, Chairman of the National Language Authority, has rightly pointed out in his brief preface to the volumes that literature can go a long way in promoting national unity as it brings hearts closer and forges strong links.

Shedding light on our cultural heritage, these books explore our linguistic and literary richness and also provide an opportunity to our intellectuals to rediscover our national identity.


People's teacher

The passing of Syed Qasim Mahmood in the last week of March was indeed shocking news for all those in the country who love books. All his life was spent in making attempts to attract people to the reading of books. He tried various methods to provide people with good and cheap books. Some of his projects bore fruit, while others failed due to shortage of funds or general apathy. However, he kept at it till the last day of his life.

Mahmood also started the publication of some encyclopaedic projects like the Islamic Encyclopaedia, Baby Encyclopaedia and Encyclopaedia Pakistanica. They are now at various stages of completion and nothing can be predicted about their fate. Perhaps the only certain thing is that they shall not be continued with the same enthusiasm and commitment.

He was a good short-story writer, too. He did not write much, but some of his pieces, published during the 1970s, get him a mention in the history of modern Urdu fiction.


Ayub Khawar and his poetry

When Ayub Khawar's first collection of poetry, Gul-e-Mausam-e-Khezan, saw the light of day in 1991, he had already won his spurs as a talented television drama producer. He has now quite an impressive list of TV achievements to his credit which includes long and short plays and serials like Din, Nashaib, Daldal, Qasmi Kahani, Khawaja and Sons, Fishaar and Hisaar.

Khawar says producing a good serial is the same as to authoring a good book. But there is something in his creative self which is not fully satisfied with the production of plays and has all along kept him engaged in versification.

However, he is not a ready pen. His second book of poetry Tumhain Janey Ki Juldee thi appeared in 1998, seven years after his first. Recently his third volume of verse hit the bookstands under the title Bhot kutch kho gia hai.

The poetry presented in these three books is spread over roughly 400 pages. These pages are the fruit of 40 long years of poeticising. Khawar has explained the reason for not writing much in a short poem that is included at the beginning of his second collection. The poem is titled "Prayer". In this poem he begs God to bless him with the gift to write only "fresh words that nobody had written before."

This is indeed the prayer of all the true writers. Some of them desire even more. They want to write what cannot be written. And sometimes they succeed.

Ludwig Wittgenstein is a noted example. He is not a poet but an acknowledged philosopher of the past century. His book Tractatus Logico – Philosophicus, is a brilliant attempt to say what cannot be said.

Khawar is a poet with a big difference. He has written many ghazals but in fact he is primarily a free verse poet. This is because traditional or regular meter can hardly help him in expressing all that he has to say. His modern sensibility and weltanschauung too militate against the traditional requirements of poetry. However, his prose poems, more often than not, have their own rhythms and melodies.

The gifted poet seems to be looking for the meanings of life within the framework of the spirit of his times. But this quest for the deeper understanding of self and the world around does not lead him to metaphysical conundrums. A professional link with the visual medium keeps him enchained to the real world. The observation and experience of life, reading and thinking have enriched him with so many new ideas that he never gives the impression of repeating himself in his poetry. All this makes the reading of his books a pleasant, and simultaneously, an educating experience.

The first two books of Khawar were published by Alhamad Publications based in Lahore and their new editions were brought out in January this year. However, his latest collection of poetry has been made available by Jahangir Books. It is dedicated to the late Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi whom the author greatly admired. The preface of the book has been penned by another great admirer of Qasmi and famous Indian lyricist Gulzar who also wrote a preface to Khawar's second book. The comments of Shakeel Adalzada, Dr Enver Sajjad and Amjad Islam Amjad are also included in the book which helps in understanding the poet as well as his work.


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