society
Heavyweights return to halqa
Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq finally finds a dignified place to hold its weekly meetings
By Abrar Ahmad
Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq's social relevance has remained unmatched. Countless authors took off from the forum where new theories and ideas were introduced and thoroughly thrashed. Owing to its democratic temperament and unwavering tradition, the place was conducive to individual growth and glory, more so for the new entrants who could freely come, sit, listen, talk and quietly leave, only to return later with an offering to present for comments and criticism.

The other view
Descent into Chaos:
The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia
By Ahmed Rashid Publisher: Viking, New York
Price: $27.95  Pages: 544
By Afzal Khan
Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia fails to extend his authority over the subject that he had presented so well in his bestseller Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia in 2000.

Remembering Qurratulain Hyder
On the first death anniversary of the major Urdu writer, TNS offers a concise appraisal of her life and work
By Syed Naveed Abbas
The literary giant of our times, Qurratulain Hyder, is no more. Gifted souls like her are born once in a hundred years. She forced us to think so that we could be better human beings. Poignant Hyder was a sublime ambassador of civilising consciousness.

 

society
Heavyweights return to halqa

Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq's social relevance has remained unmatched. Countless authors took off from the forum where new theories and ideas were introduced and thoroughly thrashed. Owing to its democratic temperament and unwavering tradition, the place was conducive to individual growth and glory, more so for the new entrants who could freely come, sit, listen, talk and quietly leave, only to return later with an offering to present for comments and criticism.

Pak Tea House and Halqa remained integrated units of a collective activity for decades as the Tea House was the venue for weekly Halqa meetings.

Tea House was in fact an off-shoot of YMCA building handed over to Zahid Hasan, a tenant, to exclusively run a canteen alone. He did that for decades before he announced its closure with an intent to open a Tyre Shop in its place. A strong protest by the writers lasted for years during which Hasan continued to run the Tea House "on loss" as he claimed. Due to the hostile environment, Halqa meetings were shifted to a YMCA class room for a few months only to return to the Tea House. When Sheraz Raj was elected as secretary, Halqa conducted its meetings at Chaupal in Nasir Bagh, a desolate venue bereft of facilities. The attendance thinned gradually. The management taking over from Sheraz contributed further to the desperate state of affairs by displaying artless manipulation and lack of will to elevate the forum to its past stature.

This year (2008-2009) Aamer Faraz got elected unopposed as secretary. He has remained the office-bearer of Halqa for many terms in the past and bears an excellent track record. He is a promising short story writer and a broadcaster (FM-103). Mudassar Mehmood Naroo is the Joint Secretary.

A positive development was Aiwan-e-Iqbal administration's voluntary offer to one of its halls for Halqa's weekly meetings. It is well-furnished, air-conditioned and with modern day facilities and a dignified environment. Aamer Faraz persuaded Halqa members and finally succeeded in attracting new and energetic men of letters back to the meetings. These young voices have infused freshness and originality to the debates.

On July 6, Intizar Hussain presided over the session where Khalid Ahmad presented his ghazal for criticism, which didn't attract much approval. It was followed by an article by Zaheer Abbas on the applied aspects of Waris Alvi's criticism. It was an extended text bookish account and a fierce criticism and disapproval came from a majority of the participants since the article hardly offered a comment on the methodology and the characteristics of the celebrated critic of the subcontinent.

Intizar Hussain came to his rescue and a reasonably balanced discussion occupied the session. Intizar Hussain, in his closing remarks, observed that Waris Alvi harboured an enviable capability and inclination to demolish the credentials of any author of significance. He seldom attempted to elevate or establish the image of any worthy writer. It was heartening to find him there since he visited Halqa perhaps after years. Among others participating in discussion were Zia-ul Hasan, Amjad Tufail, Mohammad Jawad and Tanvir Saghar.

A special programme 'Is Kitab Mein' was scheduled on July 13 where Andhay Ka Roznamcha by Mubashar Aziz Hassan, and Teray khyal ka chand by Ahmad Hammad were discussed in detail while the key articles were read out by Amjad Tufail and Arshad Shaheen respectively. Dr Alam Khan presided the session.

July 20 was again reserved for a special session, this time on Pakistani Theatre -- Aaj Aur Kal. There was a lively participation by the artists including Mohammad Qavi, Nighat Chaudhry, Rashid Mehmood, Aurangzeb Leghari and Khalid Moin Butt. Javed Rizvi presided over the session. The key article was read out by Nasir Khan.

It was a customary session on July 27. I had the privilege of sitting in the chair while Anjum Sherazi, a singer and a writer, read out an article on 'Human Nature and Music'. Though one thought it too simplistic and elementary as did many of the participants, the article did initiate a lively and highly informative discussion on classical music, Gharanas and the intimate relation of poetry and music.

Iqtidar Javed, a modern poet of significance, was the next to offer his ghazal for criticism. His piece received well-worded appreciation and applause. Those actively participating included Abdul Rasheed, Ali Iftikhar Jaffari, Shanawar Ishaq, Naseer Ali and Raheel Farooq.

While it is extremely heartening to witness the revival of the traditional 'Halqa', it is deplorable to watch few old guards bitterly criticising the management on different grounds in the national press. It is unfortunate that we, at times, fail to rise above and easily fall prey to our personal prejudices.

 

The other view

Descent into Chaos:
The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia
By Ahmed Rashid Publisher: Viking, New York
Price: $27.95  Pages: 544

Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia fails to extend his authority over the subject that he had presented so well in his bestseller Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia in 2000.

For starters, nowhere in his current effort does Rashid tie the rise of Talibanism in southern Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan to Pashtun nationalism. As the historical dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns have always ruled in Kabul. Hence their frustration after 9/11 when an externally supported minority government in Kabul was imposed upon them.

Throughout Afghan history, any outside imposition of central authority has always been challenged by the Pashtun tribes through jihad or religiously sanctioned struggle against injustice and oppression. The vehicle of this religiously sanctioned nationalistic struggle has now been hijacked by the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda that the US-led NATO Coalition forces have failed to defeat after almost seven years. This Pashtun uprising in Afghanistan has been growing stronger every year because of support from fellow Pashtuns across the border in Pakistan and the ready availability of drug money from the proceeds of the poppy fields of southern Afghanistan.

Instead of focusing on the above core issue fuelling the crisis in the region, Rashid meanders all over the place in the book, blaming the United States and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. All the time, he mollycoddles his friend and perceived Classical Greek tragic hero, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who is at the heart of the problem. Karzai's weak government controlled by drug warlords including one of his brothers in Kandahar is at the core of this growing crisis.

The title of the book is too broad and misleading. Nation building has been more of a dismal failure in Afghanistan than in Pakistan; only 10 pages on Uzbekistan cover Central Asia.

All the little snippets of information Rashid provides can be traced to original sources in the endnotes. Rashid's own research is confined to that of acting as a political and psychological nursemaid to Karzai while discussing his sorry failures during walks with him in his private garden at the Royal Palace in Kabul. Indeed, Rashid constantly exaggerates Karzai's role in the liberation of Taliban Afghanistan. Most Pashtuns, who are not in bed with his corrupt government, consider fellow-Pashtun Karzai to be a charlatan someone who has sold them out.

There are also glaring factual errors in the book. Most notable is his placing the powerful Mahsud tribe a minor chieftain of one of its many sub-clans is the bete noire Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud in North Waziristan rather than South Waziristan, where the tribe is dominant.

That this error, and other ones too numerous to mention, occurred under the watch of his Man Friday, Abu Bakr Siddique, whom Rashid claims was born into a tribal Pashtun family and is an expert on the area, is all the more troubling.

Rashid also fails to come up with any original nugget of information in his book. He tried to prove that Predator drones were being launched from a secret CIA base in the tribal areas of Pakistan after permission was given by President Musharraf during a January 2008 visit by Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, and CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden. It has, however, been known to knowledgeable analysts of the region that if there had to be such a secret base it would have been in Baluchistan where the United States established its support bases for its aerial attacks on Afghanistan in October 2001. These bases had been scaled down for the war effort in Iraq but could at any time be revived. Technically, Predator drones are launched through command centers located in mainland United States with the drones being stationed on the ground within just several hundred miles of the target areas in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now possibly Baluchistan.

As a Pakistani-American from the region who has been covering the same subject as Rashid, I feel somewhat at a loss to have encountered these giant gaps of information. I thought Rashid would have gone a step further and deeper in this book than what is available on Western websites. It looks like Rashid belongs to that group of Western journalists who remain beholden to the minority Karzai government in Kabul and are, therefore, not welcome among the majority Pashtuns a fact he acknowledges in his book. So, I am compelled to conclude: How can this book be a balanced and objective analysis of the Pashtun Taliban crisis in the region?

 

Remembering Qurratulain Hyder

The literary giant of our times, Qurratulain Hyder, is no more. Gifted souls like her are born once in a hundred years. She forced us to think so that we could be better human beings. Poignant Hyder was a sublime ambassador of civilising consciousness.

The creative genius Qurratulain Hyder (1927-2007) passed away at the age of 80 on the 21st of August 2007 near New Delhi and was buried at the cemetery of Jamia Millia Islamia University, where she had taught for a while. She was known as "Ainee Apa" among her friends and admirers.

She was born in Aligarh in 1926 though her hometown was Nehtaur in Bijnor district. Her parents, Sajjad Hyder Yaldaram and Nazar Zahra, were also well-known writers and influential personalities of their time.

A trend setter in Urdu fiction, she began writing at a time when the Urdu novel was yet to take roots as a serious genre in the poetry-oriented world of Urdu literature. She instilled in it a new sensibility and brought into its fold strands of thought and imagination hitherto unexplored. She was widely regarded as the "Grande Dame" of Urdu literature.

Qurratulain Hyder became famous for her novel Aag Ka Darya (River of Fire), describing an inclusive composite Indian culture that encompassed the Muslim community; she leaned to pluralism rather than the exclusive ideology that Pakistan had begun to nurture soon after its establishment. She found herself being misunderstood and attacked by the enthusiasts of the Pakistan Movement, just like short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto on different grounds. Before her demise, she bequeathed to Urdu, 12 novels, several novellas, a number of short stories and numerous editorial and introductory articles of great stylistic value. Glimpse of her prolific work includes Aakhir-e-Shab ke Hamsafar, Mere Bhi Sanamkhane, Gardish-e-Rang-e-Chaman, Chandni Begam and much more.

Quintessential Hyder was seen as a modernist and her "stream of consciousness" style was popular and often pitted against the "social realism" of Ismat Chughtai. Her book Aakhir-e-Shab ke Humsafar, translated to Hindi as Nishant ke Sahyatri, is a modern-day classic. Khushwant Singh said on her craft: "She was one of the most erudite women I have ever met, with immense knowledge of English, Urdu and even Hindi literature."

Endowed with a rare intellect and transcendental vision, Hyder made every soul spellbound with the richness of her inner universe. Hyder was awarded the Jnanpith award and before that the Sahitya Akademi award.

Quratulain Hyder was a writer, legend, icon and a phenomenon. Her death was a great loss for Urdu literature.

 

Kafka's unpublished writings

The recent death of Madam Esther Hoffe in Tel Aviv nine months after she celebrated the centenary of her birth holds out hope that remains of Franz Kafka's estate would soon be made public. The estate is supposed to carry, inter alia, many pieces of unpublished writings which had been kept at Hoffe's house in Tel Aviv for many decades. She was once arrested by the police on the suspicion of smuggling valuable archive material out of Israel. But the charge was soon withdrawn and it is now generally believed that she honestly protected Kafka's papers and personal belongings.

Esther Hoffe, whose neighbours were not happy with her because of the stench of hordes of cats and dogs kept by her, was the former secretary and lover of Max Brod, Kafka's only friend and executor who died in 1968. Kafka entrusted his estate to him in 1924 when he died of tuberculosis in Vienna. Considering his writings 'worthless' and 'tommyrot', Kafka had asked his friend to burn all his manuscripts after his death. These manuscripts also included two of his unfinished novels The Trial and The Castle that are now counted among the most important literary achievements of the twentieth century.

Brod never did what his friend had asked him to do. Instead the published many of Kafka's manuscripts, short stories as well as novels, in six volumes.

A report published in The Guardian says that Brod had left his papers, including some of Kafka's items, to Hoffe in his will because of her "wish to protect intimate details" of his life. She jealousy clung to all these papers till her end and all efforts made by various people to persuade her to hand them over to the national library in Jerusalem or any other institution failed.

The Guardian report says that it will now be up to "Hoffe's septuagenarian daughters, Ruth and Hava, to decide on the papers' fate. But Israeli authorities have indicated their intention to intervene to save what is considered a valuable piece of Jewish cultural heritage."

Kafka was influenced by Flaubert, Thomas Mann, Pascal and Kierkegaard. He wrote many of his short stores and novels during the last decade of his life when tuberculosis and unhappy love affairs had made his life miserable. He was to move to one sanatorium after another in a futile attempt to regain his health. However he continued writing till the last days of his life.

His writings have now made him one of the best known and most influential writers of the past century. He has been particularly popular with our readers. All his published work, with the exception of the novel America, has been made available in Urdu.

Asim Butt published a book of over 600 pages in 1992 that carried Urdu version of all the published short stories of Kafka. Titled Kafka Kahanian, it also contained Urdu translation of some of his letters and excerpts from his diaries. The late poet Saghir Malal also rendered many of his stories into Urdu which were published in literary magazines and digests.

His novel The Castle has been twice translated into Urdu. Anis Nagi was the first to publish a translation of this book under the title Qila. Another translation, by Tariq Aziz Sindhu, has recently been published by Book Home of Lahore under the same title.

The Trial, too, has been twice rendered into Urdu. But I like Yasir Jawad's translation that was brought out by Fiction House of Lahore.

City government

The City District Government of Lahore has suddenly become kinder to the city's literati. It took over the control and maintenance of poet Hafeez Jalandhri's mausoleum a few weeks ago. Mian Amer, district nazim, has now announced the city government is going to name a road in Lahore after Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi. The literary circles of Lahore have lauded both the steps.

 

 

 

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