word about letters
Love's labour found
The reality of a world of spirit, the immortality of the soul, the cyclical relations between the land of the living and the land of the dead, and the possibility of gaining knowledge of reality and destiny through symbols -- Zia Jallundhuri's mind is hospitable to all these ideas. His poems have a ring of conviction produced by the fit he always contrived between metre, rhyme and syntax, but the ones that arise from "the half-read wisdom of daemonic images" have an extra strangeness about them.
He possesses a robust, skeptical intelligence and his grasp of what was happening in his own times is equal to that of the most typically focused minds of his generation. His career as a poet spans 50 years, from 'Sar-e-Shaam' in 1955 to 'Dum-e-Subh' in 2001.
Born as Syed Zia Nisar Ahmed in 1923 in Jallundhar, he responded in his own idiom, at his own pace, to the crises that emanated in pre-Partition India with poems that first appeared in a journal run by Syed Faizi in Jallundhur. Since 1942, he had his work published in 'Khayyam', 'Alamgir', 'Adab-e-Latif', 'Naqoosh' and 'Humayun'.
In 1949 he qualified as a Higher Civil Officer, serving various heads until his retirement as the Managing Director of Pakistan Television in 1985. He has been editor of the literary journal 'Alaamat' since 1989, constantly affirming the necessity of self-renewal, compulsively pushing the limits of his own artistic and existential possibilities. In the interview that follows, the octogenarian poet walks down the memory lane.
By Aasim Akhtar
The News on Sunday: What is your earliest recollection of poetry?
Zia Jallundhuri: I don't quite remember when I started to write poetry. However, what I remember vividly is that as a young man I would often team up with fellow classmates from school and try to memorise verses that rhymed together without, of course, knowing what they stood for. I must be twelve years of age when I started to take keener interest in poetry. I recall that my naani used to write down songs or recount Bulleh Shah's kafis in leisure hours. That may have had an early impact on me but it was certainly her temperament, more than anything else that was very charming.
Mimicking masters can sometimes lead to inadvertent writers. I remember the mushaira organised at the Company Bagh in Jallundhur where the school took us. I remember enjoying listening to the songs and to the many love lyrics composed in praise of the beloved. Even though I couldn't comprehend much, the thunder of applause, the echoes of daad, and the rendition of poetry appealed to me immensely.
TNS: How did you come to make an informal entry on the literary scene?
ZJ: My father had me transferred to Government College, Lahore, from Islamia College, Jallundhur, after matriculation. Lahore was my paternal home but most of the people I knew were in Jallundhur. Initially, I felt homesick and alienated in Lahore but gradually the city grew on me like mildew.
I was too shy to share my poetic muse with anyone around, and whatever I wrote upon arriving in Lahore, I kept under covers. The College arranged a mushaira in those days; I sat hiding behind the audience in the back rows. All of a sudden, they announced my name. No one stood up to respond. Meanwhile, two young men approached me and dragged me by my arms to the stage. I could only recite a single couplet out of sheer stage fright. Sufi Tabassum, who was a senior professor at the College, asked me that if I was writing regularly I should share my writings with him. The next couple of days found me struggling to compose a ghazal for Sufi Sahab that I dared take to his office. To this day, that ghazal is sitting on Sufi Sahab's desk!
There used to be a letterbox, right in front of the library, inviting pieces for the College magazine 'Ravi'. It offered me the golden opportunity of putting in a piece without being seen or known. Riaz-ud-Din Ahmed, the then editor of 'Ravi', not only published my poem on the front page but also wrote in praise of it.
TNS: What was the level of camaraderie that you enjoyed with Sufi Tabassum?
ZJ: The level of intimacy and comradeship I enjoyed with Sufi Sahab in subsequent years may take volumes to chronicle. But the figure who had been a major influence and the greatest source of inspiration but who had left the College by the time I joined was Ahmed Shah Bokhari. The halls and chambers in the College would resonate with stories about his life and times.
Sufi Tabassum was a fountain of inspiration who sowed the seeds of love for Urdu poetry in our hearts. I remember that one late evening Hameed Naseem who would come to Lahore, suggested me to visit Sufi Sahab. Sufi Tabassum was an extremely warm-hearted and enterprising man. He kept asking us how he could entertain us. After a while, he got up, went into the other room, and returned in five minutes. No later than ten minutes, Fareeda Khanum alighted from her black car. In an apologetic tone, Sufi Sahab said, "Don't worry about the singer's disposition at this hour. I requested her to be here immediately because of my two guests".
I used to spend most of my time in the company of Dr Taseer, Hafeez Jallundhuri and Nayaaz Mandaan-e-Punjab. The long sittings at Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari's house were memorable, punctuated with Bokhari and Tabassum's candidness.
TNS: What took you to Delhi?
ZJ: After my MA exams, Professor Hameed Ahmed, Head of the Urdu Department at Islamia College, Lahore, who later became the Chancellor of Punjab University, Lahore, asked me to join Islamia College as a teacher. I had barely taught for two months when the order to join All India Radio came hammering down on us. On 27 December 1945, I took up job as Programme Assistant with All India Radio in New Delhi.
Delhi occupies a very different role in my life compared to the other cities. It was an important city because it was the capital and most affairs emanated from there. When I arrived there, the tugs of war between UP and Punjab could be felt.
Shad Ahmed Dehlavi was a big name in the literary world in those days. He was the editor of the Urdu journal 'Saqi' and I was getting prepared to meet him. One bright morning, a gentleman in a long tunic called upon me, and started exchanging notes. When he was about to leave, he asked me to contribute to 'Saqi'. I asked him in bafflement who he was. He said solemnly, "Shad Ahmed Dehlavi".
TNS: What was the Partition's impact on your poetic career?
ZJ: Three months before Partition, the question of division pertaining to All India Radio also arose. Recording was an uphill task, in those days. The records, made of glass, could be played back only 4-5 times in total. Before leaving, I asked my assistant Madan that there were certain rare items such as Farzaan Bibbo's rendition of Ameer Khusrau that had to be preserved. Ejaz Batalvi also had a collection of records. We decided to transport it to Pakistan clandestinely but the fear of getting handcuffed at the dividing line got the best of us. Eventually, Batalvi brought a huge wooden wardrobe to the station and stuffed all the records in it. It arrived safely in Lahore but fifteen days later, when we rushed in enthusiasm to pull out a record, they had all disappeared.
On the way back to Lahore, I stopped at Jallundhur to see my naani, but the zealots had killed her. It was a time of chaos and mayhem. Men doused in coal tar, slain bodies, and burning trains were a common sight. The poems in my first collection offer an oblique reference to these events:
'Sauz-e-dil bhi naheen,
sakoon bhi hai
Zindagani wabaal yoon
Jal ke bujh bhi gayee
Aag seeney mein joon
ki toon bhi hai'.
Likewise, 'Arzdaasht' about the atomic bomb, also alludes to the times.
TNS: Could you shed some light on your earlier collections 'Sar-e-Shaam' and 'Narasa'?
ZJ: When 'Sar-e-Shaam', my first collection of poems with a dust cover by Haneef Ramay published by Nazeer Ahmed of Sawera Publishing House came out in 1955, I was in Dhaka.
The poem 'Samli' that alludes to the Samli Sanatorium shows four mountain belles who come down and sit by a lake. To convey their tragi-comic feelings about life, I had to look for the right expression. It may be said that the poem was inspired by a group of females who took me unawares when they hit me with a piece of dried berry while I was mulling over my muse. What eventually came to mind was
'Chiraagh chehrey hain
Sifaal chehrey hain
The females in the poem present a painful picture of life that appears to be euphoric on the outside. The early collections feature a lot of 'geet' with a profusion of Hindi words. There are also poems of an experimental nature heavy on symbolism.
TNS: Can you recall the meeting with Begum Attiya Faizi?
ZJ: In a meeting held by Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq in Lahore, an essay retitled 'Shibli ke Muashqey' was read out. Dr Waheed Qureshi had penned it after thorough research on Shibli Nomani's philanderer's life. Attiya Faizi who featured large in the essay, had responded to the 'allegations' in 'Adabi Duniya'. I was posted in Karachi when I approached her in connection with the Iqbal Day Programmes on Radio, requesting her to produce a script in merely two days. She delivered much on time, and invited me home for tea. When I arrived, she was already standing on the wooden staircase, grabbed me by the small of my neck, and roared, "How dare you ruin my tea". I was obviously late.
I met her again when she asked me to bring over some Radio officers because she had something 'important' to talk about. Once we were there, she started complaining endlessly about one Dani. Hameed Naseem, fed up of her monologue, wrote at the back of his cigarette pack, "Isn't she talking nonsense"? and passed it on to me. As I was nodding in affirmation, she caught sight of me from the corner of her eye, and insisted on seeing the pack. We were kicked out soon after.
The district gazetteers documented during colonised India are valuable historical documents and have now been reprinted
By Sarwat Ali
The British administrative India was divided into districts where the Deputy Commissioner exercised executive power as the representative of the Governor General or the Viceroy. As the British established their rule the administrative set up was backed by official documents that contained information about the land and its people. Most of the essential details about the district were documented in these district gazetteers. It was also the responsibility of the Deputy Commissioner to update with changing realities the district gazetteers, and if the first district gazetteers were published in the eighteen eighties there were a number of revised editions -- the latest probably being in the nineteen thirties.
Since independence, Pakistan followed the same system of district administration but the district gazetteers were not validated according to the changes that were taking place in the economic and demographic fields. The district gazetteers instead of remaining a document which had all the latest information about the area became a historical document that was referred to settle disputes about some happening in the past -- or it just became a document that nobody bothered to consult. It sat in libraries gathering dust.
An attempt was made during the governorship of General Jilani in the nineteen eighties to update and revise these gazetteers and again make them the most currently referral document for the dispensation of administration in a district but the few attempts that were made were so infested with errors that it led to the scrapping of the entire project.
Pakistan now has altogether done away with the system of administering a district through a bureaucracy -- instead it has elected representatives at various tiers and the bureaucrats are supposed to assist the in the running of the administrative unit. Though one needn't shed any tears for the system that was imposed by the colonial masters it was clear that it had been thought over backwards and then implemented. All the changes since independence, though well intentioned and laced with democratic rhetoric have failed to deliver administrative justice because these have not been thoroughly thought over.
Some formulae worked out by the clerks of the World Bank or any such agency are enforced here in the name of access to justice , swift administrative decision-making and quick governmental response. These plans at reorganising the system are also greased by the funds that come with its implementation.
But no system can work effectively if the data on which the decisions are made is not reflective of reality. If the data is fifty year old, decisions usually are the outcome of a fanciful wish or a fulfillment of some preconceived agenda. In the absence of any documentation, the decision makers are all exercising their administrative right which is not based on facts. The data is not consolidated and it comes to them through different sources which are operating at various levels -- the tehsil, the district, the province, the federation and all have their own positions to hold. The pivotal position of the district is overrun and trampled by all these tiered accretions.
These gazetteers were published from time to time by the government book depots but now have been reprinted in the last many years by Sang-e-Meel and have helped the general public to know how invaluable these documents are. Usually they start with the history of the district from the mythological times and come down to the nineteenth century, emphasising particularly the role that the district and its people played in the process when India was being colonised. It also carried a list of the notables who had a position in the governors/or viceroys darbars, listed not only in terms of wealth and influence among the community but also according to the loyalty to the colonial masters.
Then, of course, there are the ethnographical descriptions of the people who inhabit the area. Actually these gazetteers were the only documents that we have on the human stock who live in the area -- and usually these have been culled from the various census reports that were prepared from time to time -- the first probably being in the eighteen eighties (which had also been separately complied by Ibbetson as Castes and Tribes) and is a comprehensive account of the demographical composition. This is then coupled with the various rituals, customs and ceremonies that the people hold so dear and do not let go of them with particular emphasis on marriage, birth and death rituals along with the important days that are either observed or celebrated like ashura, eid, urs. melad, diwali, janam asthans etc.
Then there is the economic aspect that these gazetteers cover as to how much is produced in the district -- who did what and the various professions that were prevalent. It highlighted specialisations, if any, and commented on the skills of the people and their common traits. It also indicated as to how much revenue was being generated and how many taxes were being paid to the government exchequer.
All this information is important to know what was going on in the district. This updating probably was placed on the backburner because of neglect, dereliction, laziness but also because the central and provincial governments believed in top down approach to everything including the development plans in the name of the people. Now, with the devolution of power, it is expected that the district will again play a crucial role in deciding the affairs of the people. Without basic information the decisions will always be awry and off the mark. The devolution of power and the district administration under the nazims should insisted on revitalising and restarting the project of updating the gazetteers. It should be given to scholars and specialists who should work with the district officers. The result might be better than the botched attempt of the nineteen eighties.
By Kazy Javed
Institute in crisis
The one institution established in the country to develop and disseminate a 'moderate and enlightened' interpretation of Islam has plunged into crisis. The Iqbal Institute for Research, Education and Dialogue was set up in March 2006 with President Pervez Musharraf as its patron in chief. Its mission, according to an official document, was to "become the focal point of progressive thinking in the Muslim world and bring about a new renaissance through the collaborative work of world -class scholars".
Dr. Riffat Hasan who first gave the president a presentation on the need and significance of such an institution in 2005, was asked to lead the Iqbal Institute for Research Education and Dialogue. Better known for her international NGO, International Network for the Rights of Female Victims of Violence in Pakistan, established in 1999, just a week after the BBC aired a documentary on the so-called honour killings of women in Pakistan by their close male relatives entitled 'Murder in Purdah', she was professor of religious studies and humanities at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky in the United States of America.
It was rumoured that president Pervez Musharraf had provided the Institute, established in three rented houses located in a posh cantonment locality in Lahore, with funds to elaborate his concept of 'moderate enlightenment' and work out an ideology presentable to his western critics.
However, the learned doctor was perhaps not the best choice for the venture. She is primarily a feminist scholar and activist whereas developing a liberal Islamic ideology requires a different mind-set and philosophical background. She did organise some seminars and dialogues and also published some papers. But these academic activities have been reportedly termed by Professor Sharif al Mujahid, a member of the institute's board of directors, as 'mediocre'. Another member of the board, Dr. Suroosh Irfani, too, was not happy with the performance of the Institute. He recently gave vent to his displeasure in a newspaper.
A recent newspaper report says that Dr. Riffat Hasan has been removed from the post of chief executive of the Iqbal International Institute for Research, Education and Dialogue and its board of directors have decided to shift it to Islamabad.
History of Punjab University
The British Indian authorities originally planned to establish an institution of Oriental Studies in Lahore in the early 1880s. People protested against it demanding western modern knowledge and not just eastern education. The government finally accepted their demand that led to the establishment of Punjab University.
A history of the university was published in 1922 on its golden jubilee. Another book on the topic was planned some years ago. Its first volume was brought out in 2004 under the title 'Tareekh-e-Jamia-e-Punjab'. Now its second volume has seen the light of the day. It has been compiled by Dr. Zahid Munir Aamir who teaches Urdu at the University's Oriental College.
During the past three weeks Lahore lost four men of letters, all octogenarian and representatives of the good old days. The new generation of writers is not aware of their struggle and, consequently, they had been left to sink into oblivion during the last years of their life.
Riaz Ahmad, who was the first to leave for his heavily abode, is counted among the pioneers of psychological criticism in Urdu. He belonged to the generation of literary intelligentsia that was brought up under the strong impact of Freudian wisdom. 'Adabi Masael', published during 1950s is the title of the first of his seven collections of critical articles in which he made an attempt to understand Urdu literature in the light of Freudian psychology and metaphysics. Some of his poems were published by Dr. Anis Nagi in his literary journal 'Danishwar' few years ago. Riaz Ahmad also served as editor of the monthly 'Alamat' from 1995 to 1998.
C R Aslam who followed Riaz Ahmad to join the majority, was a communist activist but also wrote books on colonialism, class struggle, nationalism and various theoretical aspects of socialism. C R Aslam's personality showed a wonderful blend of classical socialist values and semi- feudal Punjabi culture of the early decades of the past century. He will be long remembered for his total commitment to social justice, democracy and humanism.
Qamar Yurish, too, was greatly admired for his lifelong devotion to the cause of the working classes. Author of seven books of short stories, he was popularly known as 'people's fictionist'. Younas Adeeb, a close friend of Yurish, penned the story of his life that was published by the Yurish Academy of Lahore in 2000.
Qamar Yurish started writing stories in 1952 and it is said that his very first story 'Wada Insan' was appreciated by Manto.
The last of the four writers who recently passed away is Maqbool Khan Maqbool who began writing poetry in the early 1970s. I have read two of his books of poetry that were published in the mid-70s. In those long past years, Maqbool Khan Maqbool used to sell second hand books at the Regal Chowk in Lahore and his shop had become a meeting place for writers.