called a poet
word about letters
In his descriptive rather than analytical writing, Gohar Ayub has not really committed himself to anything
By Sarwat Ali
into the Corridors of Power
e Iqtedaar ke Mushahedaat
Gohar Ayub's 'Glimpses into the Corridors of Power' or 'Aiwaan Iqtidaar ke Mushahidaat' focuses on his role as a leading politician of the country from the 1977 elections to the end of the so called democratic rule in 1999 with the inception of General Pervez Musharraf's reign.
Though the book is mainly about the fourteen years he was in power, it may be argued that he was never out of power. From the time he was appointed ADC to his father, the commander in chief of the Pakistan Army, to date, he has been either directly in control or within sniffing distance of the corridors of power. He is only not sitting in the assembly presently because of the graduation clause but his absence has been amply compensated by the presence of his son Omar Ayub, the minister of state for finance and his wife Zeb-un-nissa who sits on the women's seat.
During the late 1960s one of the major causes for the unpopularity and disrepute of Ayub Khan were his sons. Gohar Ayub Khan now has relived the events and circumstances of his life and by virtue of that of his father's life as President. Ayub Khan in many ways was a unique phenomenon in the political life of this country. He was the first native commander in chief of the army also made the defense minister by weak political governments. In 1958 he was declared the chief martial law administrator by President Iskander Mirza but took only a few weeks to become the President by asking Iskander Mirza to quit and leave the country in a bloodless coup. General Yahya Khan and General Abdul Hameed drafted the resignation letter typed by General Abdul Majeed Malik while General Azam, General Burki and General K.M Sheikh executed the plan. General Azam even had to borrow the revolver of Gohar Ayub Khan for any eventuality. Ayub Khan then ruled for the next ten odd years setting the pattern that has become the standard political culture of this country.
Gohar Ayub's book is important for its own sake but more telling on account of the events during his father's reign. In countries like ours it is nearly impossible to keep such families away from politics because everything is being done for the family. The individual and the country are there to serve the family and not the other way round, perhaps the cultural footprint of the tribal, feudal way of life.
The author tries to absolve himself of some of the charges levelled against him when his father was the absolute ruler of this country. Regarding the firing on the mob during his victory procession in Karachi in 1965 he feigns ignorance. He is more forthcoming about his involvement with Gandhara Industries -- the business concern of his inlaws which he started to manage after opting out of the army.-- defending his position from the perceived allegations of misusing his father's position for commercial gains.
Despite his love for the army Gauhar Ayub opted out because of his refusal to constantly be judged by his father's actions as the president. The irony lies in people's enjoying the privileges and positions but unwilling to savour the negative fallout of that privileged proximity. He was in the Five Punjab Sherdil battalion (his father's battalion) and for a non army man it is very difficult to fathom the sentiments that are galvanised by the associations. There he made friends with his batch mate Asif Nawaz who eventually went on to head the army before dying rather young.
One person for whom the author expresses dislike is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The reason could be that Bhutto was responsible for the conditions that led to the end of Ayub Khan's power. He accused Bhutto of using the army against the Awami League in 1971 by splitting the office of the commander in chief into four offices when in power. He accuses him of bringing back the elements during his rule that he had defeated in the 1970 elections, not tolerating the federating units and creating difficulties for Balochistan and Frontier governments as well as imprisoning his opponents.
Gohar Ayub entered politics by contesting the much maligned 1977 elections which made him a public figure. Prior to that he was a public figure by default. He was Ayub Khan's son, now he was Gohar Ayub the politician wanting to charter his own course. No matter what he did he could not avoid his father's ominous shadow.
Gohar Ayub's account is anecdotal based on what people have told him. He has culled most of his information from conversations and exchanges he had had with the high and mighty most of it being heresy. It is difficult to say whether what he has written is true or not since it lacks independent evidence to support it. For instance, one cannot believe that it was on his suggestion that Pir Pagaro was made to intervene to make Junejo the prime minter, otherwise Zia ul Haq had decided to make Soomro the prime minister after the partyless polls. One can't even believe it was Richard Armitage who brought a letter for Ghulam Ishaq Khan from President Reagan to make Benazir Bhutto the prime minister, Benazir's support for the nuclear programme and Nawaz Sharif's ambivalence about it, and Nawaz Sharif wanting to bribe him with an expensive Mercedez Benz.
He is quite solid when he talks about the army, its development as a military machine, the wars which have been fought including the Kargil battle. He is quite candid on many things regarding the 1965 war a defeat because it failed to achieve its objectives. He discusses at length the political and military situation that led to the creation of Bangladesh, the Siachen mismanagement, and calls the Kargil episode a fiasco as well. He seems to possess a good military mind and concludes that all the military interventions and adventures , most initiated by the Pakistani side had not ended in any good for the country. Actually most backfired and the fallout had been negative in political terms if not in strict military sense.
Gohar Ayub has written the book with a great deal of care, not really committing himself except on certain points. Other than being unequivocal on Pakistan's nuclear programme, his writing is descriptive rather than analytical. He should update his book and analytically cast the last eight years of army rule against the three earlier ones.
It's time the text book definitions are revised to correctly pronounce what a poet in fact is
By Abrar Ahmad
Bertrand Russell declares human beings as 'essential dreamers' while Henry Miller tailors this to the literati describing them as "active dreamers" -- opinions one finds hard to disagree with. But what about poets? Many think they are also dreamers like others, with the difference that they must pen down their dreams and need to live these dreams more intensely and attempt to perceive them as clearly as is possible.
In our context, it is not possible for individuals to passionately pursue what s/he wants to or is good at in life and still survive. More so the poets, who are painfully aware of the fact that they cannot utilise their poetic pursuits to earn a reasonable living. Realising this very early, they go for more recognised professions -- they are doctors, engineers, lawyers, teacher, journalists and even civil servants. Formal education contributes and enhances the vision of a person including a poet. The genius residing within a genuine poet is too turbulent to be contained and education tames it. It is said that the test of first rate intelligence is to hold two opposing streams of thought and activity and still retain the ability to function. Our poets in many cases live this dictum.
Irfan Siddiqui writes in a couplet
Hamaray dil ko ik aazaar hay, aisa nahin Lagta
Key ham daftar bhi jatay hain, ghazal khawani bhe kartay hain
There are some solid grounds which generated and sustained this image of a poet in our specific context for almost two centuries. Ghazal has remained the unchallenged, totally dominant genre of Urdu poetry. Interestingly ghazal is defined in our text books as 'conversing with females' or 'the cry of a deer who is hunted down'. This definition is essentially limited since it excludes women as potential poets.
History gives us an entirely different -- from the stereotype -- picture of a poet. Mir is so frequently portrayed as an eccentric, almost feverish with love affairs, a socially cornered man. But reading him unveils a genius -- extremely receptive to his surroundings and the socio-political environment around. Ghalib's vision and response to the turbulent years when Mughal Empire was crumbling needs no documentation. Pakistan movement cannot dissociate itself from Iqbal who earned a cosmopolitan recognition even during his living years. But the progressive writers' movement spearheaded by a foreign qualified intellectual and author Sajjad Zaheer proved the biggest turning point in this perspective. This movement dominated the subcontinent's literary and political scenario and found almost all prominent literati of the time at its back.
The writer-activist image surfaced with a bang for the very first time in our locale. Under the influence, our men of letters made deliberate efforts to align with resistance pockets existing in politics and elsewhere -- consequently proving the pre-conceived prejudiced description of a poet wrong. Faiz, a Marxist poet, remained editor of Pakistan Times and won Lenin Peace Prize.
The departure of our poets from ghazal added another dimension to dilute and finally abolish the misconception of a poet as a recluse. NM Rashed, Meeraji, Tasadaq Hussain Khalid, all found ghazal a cramped form of poetic expression and introduced free verse and finally succeeded to prove its relevance despite stubborn criticism. These poets interacted with and reached the literati of other languages of the world. The subject matter had totally changed and ghazal faced intense criticism. In 1960s modernism contributed in its own way by dismissing ghazal altogether.
Yet, even if we limit our focus to ghazal, the perception is flawed. In its exhaustive and prolonged time-span, ghazal has grown vertically and majestically. Reality is that all forms of poetry have unified and merged into a beautiful symphony which contains each and every note of our social existence -- both as individuals and society.
Poetry is not politics. It plays its role in its own manner, follows a decorum, ensuring that poetry remains poetry -- whether it's addressing a subjective tide or commenting on an impersonal objective situation. Let's hope, the definitions found in text books are re-visited and revised to correctly pronounce what a poet in fact is!
By Kazy Javed
Booker prize nomination
The Lahore born Mohsin Hamid is the only Pakistani author whose novel has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. News has it that Mohsin Hamid's 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' has found a place among thirteen books short-listed for the current year's 50,000 Man Booker Prize considered as the biggest literary prize of the world. The novel has been described as a 'bold new novel' that narrates 'cleverly constructed fable of infatuation and disenchantment with America'.
'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' is Mohsin Hamid's second novel. 'Moth Smoke', his first, was published in 2000.attracted many readers and critics. Some even compared him with Albert Camus and Franz Kafka for his artful description of man's border-line existentialist situations and metaphysical homelessness.
The second novel took seven years to reach the readers. It is a long interval. But 36 year old Mohsin Hamid says that all along he had been writing this novel. Seven of its versions were drafted before it was handed over to the publishers, Hamish Hamilton and Penguin Books.
The title of the 184-page 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' reveals the basic theme of the novel. Set at a cafe in Lahore, the novel is based, like Dr. Anis Nagi's Urdu novel 'Deewar Key Peechay', on the monologue of its main character Changez during the course of a night. We find Changez telling the story of his life to an American stranger who, like some Kafkaesque protagonist, remains faceless. Changez relates to him the story of his life.
Then comes the fateful day of 9/11. Suddenly Changez turns into 'the other' for all the people around him. He is treated with suspicion and even hostility. His American dream begins to shatter. In his disillusionment with America, he discovers many faults in its system and polices. His own attitudes start to change. He finds it unbearable to keep himself there. So he quits his job and returns to Lahore.
Mohsin Hamid makes no effort to hide the fact that Changez shared the reaction of many American Muslims as well as some non-Muslims who felt a sort of satisfaction when they first watched footage of the twin towers of the New York's World Trade Center being humbled. Changez tells the faceless American: 'I stared as one and then the other of the twin towers collapsed. And then I smiled. Yes, despicable as it may sound my initial reaction was to be remarkably pleased.'
Is Mohsin Hamid going to give us lesson in the clash of civilizations ? Despite many things that may sound 'despicable' the novel is not anti-American and no effort has been made by the author to add farther fuel to the clash of civilizations. But it will also be wrong to hope that Hamid's novel will go some way in making the process of radicalization understandable.
Punjabi short stories
Islamabad is now emerging as the breeding ground for radical obscurantists. But, fortunately, its capacity to nourish creative writers has not yet totally exhausted, producing yet another good story writer.
Malik Mehar Ali's just published 134-page debut collection of Punjabi short stories 'Dhah Lagi Wasti' introduces him as a promising young fiction-writer with a remarkably clear perception of our small town culture and deteriorating human values therein. The book carries eleven pieces some of which had earlier been presented at the meetings of the Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq at Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The foreword of Malik Maher Ali's book has been written by the noted Punjabi writer and critic Ilyas Ghuman. He praises the boldness and creativity of the author. Iftikhar Arif's comments carried on the dustjacket of the book help in understanding Malik Maher Ali's art of story-telling. He remarks that Ali's stories depict the life of our rural poverty-stricken and downtrodden people but his symbolic style has saved them from becoming journalistic pieces. It is certainly an uphill task to depict real life in symbolic terms without compromising aesthetic values.
A careful reader of the stories will not fail to get the feeling that Malik Maher Ali has many more experiences and ideas to share with his readers. One hopes that eleven stories of his maiden collection have not exhausted him. So we can expect more pieces from the author of 'Dhah Lagi Wasti'.
The sad news of the veteran journalist and intellectual Aziz Mazhar's sudden death in August greatly distressed many of his friends and colleagues. Born inside walled city of Lahore some eighteen years before the partition of India, he epitomised the fine values that were nourished by the traditional multi-religious society of the old Lahore. Passing through the 77th year of his life he had retained the goodness of heart.
Having started his career as a journalist in the early 1960s, Aziz Mazhar had witnessed the times of some of the legendary heroes of the profession including Maulana Zafar Ali Khan. Many years of his life were spent in 'Mashriq', a popular Urdu daily of the 1970s. He retired as chief editor of the daily in 1989.
Aziz Mazhar also served as elected president of the Lahore Press Club, president of the Punjab Union of Journalists and secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. I had a long friendship with Mazhar Sahib. He would always tell me about the books that he read. Our last meeting took place at the Lahore Press Club in July -- the launch of Urdu translation of Lenin's 'Materialism and Empirio-Criticism'. Both of us were speakers at the event. Sipping tea, he told jokes about Lenin.