Kuj Na Akh
“All humans have been forced to repress basic instincts in order to survive with civilization as it has been constructed. How can civilization freely generate freedom when unfreedom has become part and parcel of the mental apparatus… Surely, no government can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such a right is vested in the people. This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means.” (Herbert Marcuse)
Hamraz Ahsan is a well-known figure in the Asian circles of England; an experienced Urdu journalist and columnist, a trusted researcher for documentary film producers and an authentic Punjabi poet who is equally respected in the Muslim and Sikh communities of the UK.
His first Punjabi collection “Tibyan uttay Chhawaan” (Shades on Dunes) got good response from the general readers as well as skeptical critics. He wrote several short poems on various aspects of the life of Pakistani immigrants in UK and these poems were collected in a book called “Paar Samundraan Wallay” (Trapped on the Other side of the Ocean). His most recent work is a collection of Punjabi quatrains: “Meki Kujh na Aakh” (Don’t Scold Me)
These short poems draw on the Sufi tradition of Punjabi poetry and they are composed in the traditional four-line format.
Don’t scold me
The worthlessness immersed in my soul
I took the leash of the beast within
And collared myself instead
Don’t scold me
I left both mammon and mother
To take a peek at the firmament
I returned disenchanted, Adam’s brood
Don’t scold me
I have wept in my dreams
Churning the vat of my heart
Hot tears my only curd
Don’t scold me
I have worn out my soul
For each act I was given a different
Made by the designer, I simply put it on
Don’t scold me
In the dust before me glint particles of
In my sky only darkness reins
Stars are trodden underfoot
Don’t scold me
My mantra neither Rab nor Rama
I seek benediction without supplication
Clutching neither Koran nor Gita
Don’t scold me
I have forged eternal bonds with fire
Red embers caress my palms
I, the baker, whose hand is married to the
burning clay oven
Don’t scold me
I met my groom in my dotage
My ear rings hang loose from my ears
My nose cannot bear the knobbing
(Translated by the poet)
These quatrains are preceded by a detailed, and rather philosophical preface, titled “Khraabkaar di teeji akkh” (The Third Eye of the Subverter), masterfully written by Professor Amin Mughal, who firmly believes in the Subversion Theory of Herbert Marcuse and, without referring to him directly, Professor Mughal says, “Authentic poetry, indeed all authentic art, is subversive. Hamraz Ahsan is subversive, and his subversion is directed against his (inner) self. Let’s not forget that ‘self’ is constituted by man’s relations with the universe, of which he himself is a part. Hamraz seeks to break his self, that is, his relations with the rest of the universe and his self, in order to identify all those relations that stand in the way of his self becoming, or moving continuously towards becoming, an authentic self!”
To describe the subversive nature of an authentic artist, Prof. Mughal uses the term “kharaabkaar”. This Persian word denotes a destroyer or a saboteur, but traditionally this expression has been reserved for qalanders or wandering dervishes. Some of the quatrains in this book have direct references to qalanders.
Hamraz negates class and cast, and the lust that is caused by them. But a distinctive feature of Hamraz’s poetry is his negation of gender distinction. This aspect may easily be overlooked because it forms the base of Punjabi poetry and is therefore not obtrusive and hence not visible. The obliteration of the category of gender turns the poet and the sufi into the woman, and not merely a woman but, following Dostoevsky, they become the prostitute the dust of whose feet they kiss with reverence.
To become a fallen woman is not enough; to think and feel like her is the ultimate test of the negation of gender, and Hamraz tries to do precisely the same.
A major role in the formation of inauthentic relations is played by the way that man employs to see the universe. The way is empirical, rooted in rationalism, and ultimately the senses. The metaphor for the senses in Hamraz’s poetry is “the two eyes”. The third eye is needed to authenticate one’s self. The failure of the third eye to open causes the elusiveness of what is missing. The poet starts from negation and reconstitutes his self and ultimately affirms life and the universe, but on his own terms. It is no accident, then, that Hamraz’s patron saint is Madho Lal Hussain and the 101 quatrains dedicated to his murshid have grown on soil of the Punjabi folk tradition.
“I did not follow any particular genre of Punjabi poetry,” says Hamraz. “The four-line structure came naturally to me, but the words of the first line (me ki kujh na aakh) were uttered by a woman in Pothohar. I heard them years ago and somehow they stuck to my mind.”
One unique feature of this poetry book is its dual script: it’s printed both in Persian and Gurmukhi scripts. It’s worth mentioning that the Lingua Franca of the pre-partition Punjab was divided into two separate languages, in 1947, on the basis of Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi (Persian) scripts. Speakers of the same language, ironically, are unable to read each other’s ideas in the written form, and thus the Punjabi literature is mutually unintelligible across the borders in Indian and Pakistani Punjab.
“The best approach is
Hamraz Ahsan speaking on breaking the script barrier
During my recent visit to London, I had a chance to meet the poet. I was intrigued by the situation in Southall, Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds or other diaspora centres in the UK so I asked Hamraz Ahsan: “Do you think there are better chances in this more educated and liberal atmosphere of breaking the script barrier?”
“I don’t accept the premise that Punjabi communities are more educated and liberal in the UK than in the Punjab,’’ he replied. “I migrated to this country as an adult, but all my children were born and brought up here in Britain, and the wilful lack of integration between diverse groups meant that while Hindu, Sikh and Muslim children may have been friends at school, intermarriage between these religions means ostracism for both parties. Anecdotally, most of the young Punjabis I know — Sikh, Hindu or Muslim — do not read either script, even if they’re fluent orally. The similarities of language mean a close bond of friendship but friendship is not the same as a desire to read extant literature of either group because this would require a level of educating oneself that is barely there for the English language, let alone for either scripts of the Punjabi.”
If that’s the case, why did he take the trouble to publish his poetry in both scripts? “Because most of my friends and readers in East Punjab, Europe and North America, cannot read the Persian script,” he replied.
The status of Punjabi language in the Pakistani Punjab is quite enigmatic: there are hundreds of Sindhi medium and Pushto medium schools in Pakistan but not a single Punjabi medium school in the whole country. “What’s your take on educating Punjabi children in their mother tongue?” Hamraz looked at me rather helplessly, as if I had put him a very unexpected question. “Well, I’m a Punjabi poet, but not an activist; this question should be asked of those who have been working for the cause of Punjabi.”
We move on to a less political question. Shahmukhi (Persian) script is not hundred per cent phonetic and Gurmukhi is associated with the Sikh religion; in this situation, can Roman script be a way out? If not, what else can be done to enable the Punjabis across the borders to read each other’s literature? “I think that would be an inelegant solution,” comes the answer. “To me, the best approach is straightforward translation. While it is easy to become dazzled by the thought that it is the same language in two distinct scripts and we want logically to bring about one that crosses borders; it isn’t resolved by learning a third set of phonetic symbols. Before long each group would be bemoaning the endangerment of their own scripts as youth are always game for learning the easiest way out, in this case Roman script.
“In a lesser form, good publishers edit books for American English and idioms when presenting a UK or Australian text in the States. Publishers should just accept the need to pay translators to do the same for texts crossing borders within the Punjab,” he concluded.
— Arif Waqar
Radio Pakistan Karachi Ki Pachas Sala Ilmi Aur Adabi Khidmaat
By Dr.Mohammed Iqbal Khan Asadi
Price: Rs 395
One of the most momentous inventions to have impacted society in the 20th century was the radio. Its introduction was made controversial by the predictable response of the conservative section of the population. As always, by calling it an instrument of vulgarity and obscenity not fit to be made part of the household culture, it was vociferously opposed.
Its introduction was far too important to be stalled despite all these objections and very soon it became part of the social and political landscape of India.
The conservative section of the population came to terms with the new “monster” after it lost the battle to resist it. Radio sets were installed in one place, which was central to the community or the extended family and gradually as radio sets increased it was made part of the mardana, the section of the house where only men were entertained, socialised, ate and drank.
It was much later, that radio sets were permitted into the zannana and that too strictly for the purpose of listening women specific programmes. Entertainment, music and plays were strictly prohibited and many a family feud originated from varying positions held by members of the extended family on role of radio.
All new inventions especially if they happen to have a more direct social role are greeted with disdain and suspicion but, very soon, sensing their overpowering impact these very sections use it for the propagation of their ideas, views and values. The same happened to the radio as well and it was not long before it was able to make a room for itself and the listeners adjusted their moral, political and social stances accordingly. In the end very few stood firmly on not letting the radio become part of the family and household culture.
The musicians too were very wary of this new invention for they had to limit themselves to a time frame and also modulate their voice in accordance with the requirements of broadcasting techniques. They had to adjust to the peculiarities of the microphone, but still they took to radio with lesser reservation than they took to recording and marketing of discs especially the 78 rpm records.
The early stages that radio went through and its successful setting up have been dealt with in some detail by Iqbal Khan Asadi who had been associated with the Radio particularly Karachi Radio in various capacities and spent the better part of his life there. Though the main thrust of the book is about the contribution of the Karachi Station, the early battles and struggles as always make a fascinating read. Very few people including Z A Bokhari have written in detail about those early days and all the impediments that had to be overcome.
All India Radio was formally set up on January 1, 1936, at Delhi though the first Radio Club in the subcontinent was set up in Madras in 1924, followed by Calcutta, Bombay and Lahore at the YMCA in 1928. Realising its significance in 1926, the government allowed Indian Broadcasting Company to set up the radio network in the private sector. Radio stations were established in Calcutta and Bombay in 1927, but the formalisation of Indian State Broadcasting Service under the government in 1932 proved to be the real booster.
Relying on the experience of BBC set up in 1922 and fully functional by 1927 under the Director Generalship of Sir John Reith, one Eric Dunstan was sent to India to set up a viable radio network in 1927, but he did not succeed and was replaced by Lionel Fielden in 1935 who proved to be the founding father of radio in India.
In the territories that became Pakistan, the radio station in Peshawar was the first to be commissioned. When Sahibzada Qayyum visited London for the Round Table Conference, he lobbied successfully with Marconi for the setting up of a radio station for his province. Marconi gifted a transmitter and thirty radio sets and it started broadcasting on March 6, 1935. The Delhi station was inaugurated on January 1, 1936, Lahore station on December 16, 1937, and Dacca in September 1939.
The station in Karachi was inaugurated on August 14, 1948. It was principally through the efforts of S.K. Haider who was a radio engineer and owned a radio shop on Frere Road. He wanted to set up a radio station in Karachi and lobbied with Chaggla, adviser T.N Adnani, Chief Minister Ayub Khoro and Governor Hidayatullah. After seeking approval, Haider and Chaglla went about scouting for equipment and came to know that the departing British soldiers in K.G Hall had left behind a transmitter. Haider purchased spare parts from the junk market and readied the transmitter at the Ak Ak School and started experimental broadcasts including the coverage of oath-taking ceremony of Jinnah as Governor General.
The station was formally inaugurated a year later by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and that one-year also saw dramatic developments. The station also became the headquarters of radio in Pakistan and made great contribution in all areas of intellectual and artistic life of the city, province and country.
Asadi has painstakingly listed the names of the people and the programmes which made all this possible. Some of these people and programmes have become landmarks in the history of broadcasting in the country.
After the advent of television, not enough attention was paid to the radio and it went into a steady decline. Radio does have a role to play and it should be bolstered and made again a medium, which contributes to the intellectual, artistic and social life of the country. New technologies need to be adopted and imaginatively used. Though there has been a revival of sorts, more needs to be done with a more thrusting presence on the national scene as it did in the past as so very evident from Asadi’s book.