of being rude
Our house on fire
When an alleged sacrilege is committed, its reaction is nine deaths and burning of about a 100 houses
By Aoun Sahi
Almas Hameed flicks through the charred remains of the Bible from a heap of rubble. "Look what they have done with our religious books," laments the 40-year-old resident of the Christian colony in Gojra. His house was one of the well-kept buildings in the locality, but it has now been severely damaged. He points to a severely charred bedroom where 13 members of his family hid from the Muslim protestors that were shouting "burn them alive".
"They were screaming Christians are dogs and American agents. We locked ourselves in this room. When attackers failed to break the bedroom door, one of them shouted, if you stay inside, we will burn you alive. If you leave, we will shoot you." Seven of them managed to escape; six others including his two children, wife, brother, sister in law and her mother got caught in the fire and died. The attackers also shot his father Hameed Masih.
"They were using a white chemical to set our houses on fire. The fire was so strong that even the girders melted," he says, adding: "I have nothing left, my two children are admitted in a hospital and one of them is in a serious condition. They do not know that their grand father, mother, brother and sister, uncle and aunt have been killed. They keep asking me about their mother and other relatives, but I tell them that they are admitted in another ward of the same hospital and will come to see them once they will get better. I do not know how to tell them about the tragedy."
He fails to understand why Muslims attacked his colony -- "We've been living in this town for ages. This is the first time something like this has happened to us," he says while sitting in his Muslim neighbour's house who has provided his family shelter.
Hameed's is not the only house in the locality that was destroyed by the attackers. At least 50 houses were either looted or burnt. The area is littered with burnt blankets, clothing and furniture. Damaged televisions and refrigerators is a common sight. Fifty-year-old fruit seller Iqbal Masih has nothing left of his daughter's dowry. "Furniture, refrigerator, television… everything was destroyed by the mob," he says.
Zainab Bibi, who lives in the same locality, heard the desperate cries of Hameed's family. "I could not do anything for them," she regrets.
Attackers tried to destroy Zainab Bibi's house as well. They broke her main door and were about to set her house on fire when "we told them that we are Muslims. They left us after we showed them the Quran." She recollects that attackers were young and shouted Allah is great and Yah Rasoolullah, and also shouted anti-Christian slogans. "They fired shots indiscriminately, threw petrol bombs and looted houses as most of the frightened Christians ran for safety."
Trouble began on July 25, when some Christians at a marriage ceremony allegedly desecrated the Quran in the Korian village seven kilometres from Gojra. Four days later, the accused, Talib Masih, was questioned by the committee of village elders. Their leader Abdul Ghafoor decided to punish him severely.
Masih however denied the desecration of Quran during the wedding ceremony and apologised on behalf of his community. But they refused to accept his apologies, instead announced in mosques for all Muslims to unite against the Christians. "Muslims were enraged. They came to our locality in the shape of a mob on July 30 and started burning our houses. They destroyed more than 20 out of the 100 Christian houses," says George Mehmood, resident of the Korian village.
Naziran, another resident of Korian, recalls that "they were in hundreds. First they looted the valuables and then collected the remaining household goods in courtyards and set them on fire. Some of them came to our house and started asking my husband to recite the kalma or get ready for death. When he refused, they started beating him till he became unconscious. He died the next day."
By Friday July 30, seven miles away from Korian in Gojra, things had started to heat up. The news of the desecration of the Quran had reached there, and clerics of all mosques were urging the Muslims to unite against the Christians. "On Friday, after the zohar prayers, a huge demonstration was held in the Malkaanwala chowk. Local traders and clerics announced to observe a complete strike on August 1. They pledged to give their lives to protect the Quran from infidels," says Muhammad Shabbir, an activist of the Labour Party of Pakistan.
He said that the following day thousands of Muslims, wearing masks and wielding kalashnikov assault rifles, converged on the Christian colony to take revenge for an act that was not even confirmed. In defence, "young Christian men armed themselves and took to rooftops. But by mid-afternoon, police and local politician Qadir Awan intervened to pacify the Christians. Later, a squad of about 15 young men who had masked their faces and were equipped with latest guns came to their locality. They sprayed bullets indiscriminately on Christians and put their houses on fire," he says. A police contingent present in the neighbourhood did not try to stop the mob.
Residents of the Christian colony are shocked. "Attacks on Christians in the name of religion are a regular phenomenon in Pakistan. The Islamic fanatics have made up their minds to crush Christianity. They call us dogs of America or agents of America," says Joseph Masih, 55, a resident of Korian. "Police do not protect us. We want to tell the Pakistan government that we are not going to tolerate such acts. Christians are not considered first class citizens. We do not want to live in this country" he says.
The Muslims who live in the neighbourhood of this locality on the other hand do not repent the act. "First, they burnt the Quran, and then opened fire on the Muslims, who were protesting against the Christians' wrongdoings. It was decided by all the Muslim sects to tackle the fitna themselves as the administration was doing nothing to punish the culprits," says another resident Muhammad Wasim.
"The prime duty of a Muslim is to protect his religion and we did what our religion demanded us to do. If somebody targets our religion, he will have to face the consequences. We were urged by the clerics of all the sects to protect our religion," he asserts.
He believes, at present, the government is under pressure, and is therefore arresting Muslims. But we know that with the passage of time, the situation will come under control."
He complains that no one from Jhang or any other city came to help us. "You can't imagine how charged the people of Gojra were on Aug 1."
Also see related stories on Special Report pages inside.
Ways of saying
Curator conveys an unusual concept as well as infuses something interesting and extra into existing art works. A recent exhibition in Karachi is a case in point
By Quddus Mirza
"When I get up in the morning" said Ksvebt, a Croat, "I say the whole alphabet, it includes all the prayers of the world, so let the Lord God Himself gather up the letters and make of them whatever prayers He likes" (Moscherosch, WRITER The Amazing True Characters of Philander of Sittewald, circa 1665).
Quoted by Croatian writer Dubravka Ugresic, this anecdote illustrates the difficult job of a writer. Of joining letters of alphabet into words, arranging them into sentences and composing them in a text that is an original piece of poetry, fiction, play – and even criticism. This exercise, which initially takes place in the writer's head and partially outside (since a number of literary and cultural theorists such as Roland Barthes claim that it is the language which writes not the author – or scribe, the term they use for the writer), turns one person into a Nobel Laureate while the other remains a humble pen pusher.
In a way, the role of a writer is not different from that of an art curator. Although the writer was born the moment man came into being and curating is a new undertaking, there are a few similarities. Once re-arranged by authors in a unique order, words not only transmit new ideas, meanings and emotions, but the same old language appears new. Likewise, curators' work -- with already created art pieces but showcasing them in a new scheme -- conveys an unusual concept as well as infuses something interesting and extra into existing art works. Basically, the curator's vision is able to unveil an aspect that lies hidden in the work, and was not noticed before.
Nafisa Rizvi is an accomplished writer, both of fiction and criticism, and it is interesting to see how she approaches another material, art pieces, when she curates an exhibition. Recently opened exhibition 'As I See it' at Canvas Gallery in Karachi illustrates that the writer has looked at something else in the works of four artists, Bilal Maqsood, Madiha Hyder, Mithra Birdie and Sohail Abdullah. Individuals who may not have much in common (except that all of them are graduates of Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in separate disciplines and different times), yet their works placed next to each other indicate some links and connections.
At a first glance, the unifying element appears to be physical and psychological surroundings -- immediate in the case of Mithra and urban in the art of Bilal, Madiha and Sohail. In his canvases, Bilal Maqsood shows a series of crows in a painterly manner that reminds of Bashir Mirza's palette and handling of colour. Rendered in broad and thick brush strokes, crows for Bilal are "beautiful and intriguing. I find them extremely intelligent, powerful and funny creatures" as quoted in the catalogue. Crows are painted in the work of Madiha, too, but not like the main motif as in the surfaces of Maqsood. She has put birds along with children situated in the city. In a number of paintings, children are composed against walls with stains of betel spits. Children are also depicted while surrounded by moths, butterfly and a rose.
Although for her "these portraits are a result of my explorations into the lives of children living on the streets of Karachi. Painting them is my way of understanding them better and giving them voice", the work denotes a stereotypical image of poor. However the inclusion of betel stains is intriguing; a usual scene in the streets of Karachi, these can be read as blood stains, another 'normal' situation in our urban surroundings, even though the artist has not intended this meaning.
The other work with much possibility for meaning is Mithra's mixed media pieces. Crafted with a skill of combining different materials and technique, these reflect a private landscape/item "the bed. A personal space that resonates with memories of shared conversations and individual dreams". Associations with crumpled sheets and diffused light are enhanced by the suggestions of body parts and subtle tones of pinks and reds. The curator claims "Mithra's works are indisputably and unapologetically feminine without the slightest hint of feminism". These pieces, regardless of their gender division, demonstrate that a self indulgent subject may seem personal, but it fulfils a collective aspiration -- of making a certain type of imagery if you happen to be a woman.
Sohail's work presents a perfect example of how an artist shifts between various roles. He is showing two types of work, photographs and installations with stoneware clay figures. His choice of making sculptural pieces and putting these on sand affirms a need to construct art, even if they appear repetitive, contrived or ordinary. Still, fabricating an object with hand and composing it on another material somehow seems to satisfy the artist. On the other hand, his photographs, from different locations in Mumbai, are far more resolved, since these reveal a sensitive eye which traces the textures on walls, broken and worn-out with time, and captures these in fascinating frames. These features have turned the pictures into the strongest examples of art in the present exhibition. Poetic element, sensitive tones and suggestion of windows, hinges, pipes and other components of construction have also added visual delight in these carefully-cropped compositions.
Interestingly, the absence of an immediate object/theme enhances the pictorial quality of these pieces, as well as opens them for multiple interpretations; an act that engages the viewer. So in a way Sohail is not much different from Ksvebt, the Croatian man, who utters the whole alphabet, for the Listener to make out prayer of His liking. Not a simple choice in our heavily burdened world of words, subject matter and matter of political positions!
(The exhibition is being held between August 4 and 13, 2009, at Canvas Gallery Karachi)
Centuries later, the tradition of musical renditions at shrines still shows how most sufi poets have strong links with the art form
By Sarwat Ali
The urs of three of the most prominent sufis of Pakistan have fallen within the space of a month. Shahbaz Qalander in Sehwan, Waris Shah in Jandiala Sher Khan and Bulleh Shah in Kasur have huge followings throughout the subcontinent and their annual urs are occasions for singers and dancers to pay their homage to the sages in the manner that they know best -- through their art.
The congregation of the performing artists in such large numbers in this day and age only authenticates a long tradition -- in the case of Shahbaz Qalander about 700 years old, while in the case of the other two, more than 300 years old -- and the pivotal role that these personages played in patronising the performing artists and making a place for the arts in an otherwise rigid, orthodox system of beliefs and rituals.
In such a society, it was very important for the sufis to endorse the arts, particularly the performing arts, because otherwise these would be reduced to extinction. The performing arts, if anything, were merely a source of entertainment which at best offered base pleasure and titillation, essentially distractive in nature. It was the sufis who highlighted the arts as a serious activity, except that the means were different and perhaps more fulfilling than the ones chosen in a more formal setting.
The spontaneity associated with the performing arts and the laid-out, studied formalism have been the two poles in which the true reality of our social and cultural existence has tethered according to the exigencies of time. Poetry, dance, music and painting are so very crucial to our existence that to leave them out totally would be like robbing the spring of its colour and fragrance.
Arts, particularly the performing arts, can be instruments for immoral incitement and can also be the means of achieving spiritual fulfilment. It was left to the sufis to emphasise the neutrality of the arts and save them from condemnation per se by appropriating them for higher and more spiritual fulfilment. As it is, within the general perception of reality, there does not exist a strict divide between the sacred and the profane, between the spiritual and the material. For the artist and the poets, it was easy to interplay the two and achieve the goal.
It is not surprising that the biggest congregation of musicians takes place on the urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. He seems to be one of the favourites with the musicians because his kalam is sung across the length and breadth of Sindh and Balochistan. And this makes one wonder whether his contribution to music was more than that of a patron and that he was more actively involved in music-making like the other sufi saint, Shah Abdul Lateef Bhitai from Sindh, who followed him centuries later.
What exactly do we know about Shahbaz Qalandar? He was a Jelali fakir. According to Richard Burton, Jelali fakirs were generally a poor people who lived from hand to mouth. The Jemali sufis in Sindh were a more respectable class than their Jelali brethren. The latter openly dispensed with the formalities of religious worship, the former did not, except when inward sanctity was felt, known and acknowledged as superior to the outward form.
Bulleh Shah's popularity has been ensured by gawaiyyas, qawwals and roving minstrels who, building upon the tradition of oral transmission, have sung his kalam to a population that far exceeds the numbers that live within the physical boundaries of his native province. One wonders who composed the kalam of Bulleh Shah, a favourite with singers. Some names are taken of musicians who were close to him but it is a riwayat that banks exclusively on oral sources. It is possible that none of his poetry was composed and sung during his time, although the probability of it being composed and sung while he was alive is far greater. There are abundant references in his poetry to music and it is also said that he himself danced to assuage the anger of Shah Inayat: "Tere ishq nachaya kar thiya thiya".
In the texts of Bulleh Shah, no raags are mentioned. It could be that the singers had taken upon themselves the responsibility of composing the kaafi in a raag that was deemed to be appropriate. This must have unleashed a whole set of possibilities, the result of which can be heard in the big repertoire of kaafi compositions these days.
On the urs of Waris Shah at Jandiala Sher Khan the most important happening is the recitation of Heer. In our living folk tradition Heer is recited in all-night sessions by professional bards. The beauty of the entire event lies in the fact that the audiences, just as familiar with the text of Heer as the performer, engage in a dramatic collective interaction where the emphasis shifts from its mere contents to the style of rendition.
Traditionally, in all cultures, the poetic expression and the musical composition were integrated or formed an organic whole. It must have taken mankind thousands of years or even more to abstract musical notes from composition and establish the autonomous foundation for both poetry and music. Heer is now sung in raag bhairveen all over the land.
As in almost all cases concerning music, the evidence that can be backed with documentation is scant. The living tradition of musical renditions at shrines points to the fact that most sufi poets had strong links with the art form.
It has become so rare to have courteous and pleasant dealings with counter staff that when it happens it becomes quite an event in one's life.
When somebody in a business treats you like a human being and bothers to smile at you, you actually experience a little buzz of happiness and feel quite kindly disposed to the world in general and that specific business in particular. So if the way that the staff behaviour affects your decision to have dealings with that particular business you'd think business pundits would have figured that out by now; but apparently the idea is (incredibly) still a work in progress. Thus I am both delighted and astonished to see the publication of a new book on the subject -- The Cost of Bad Behaviour: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath.
The authors have studied the impact of bad behaviour for over a decade and have (thankfully) concluded that being rude can be quite bad for business. The authors document the cost of this but say that incivility exists not just between staff and customers but also often between management and staff and that this latter incivility determines subsequent staff behaviour and morale.
This is obviously not a huge surprise to those of us who have long been astonished by the astonishing decline in customer service or any sort of courteous behaviour especially in the retail business. The travel business has been somewhat better -- even in my lowly economy class experience. Ground and air staff in most organisations still adheres to a basic level of courtesy, with perhaps the exception of PIA.
As far as PIA is concerned, I suspect that staff is actually forced to take an oath to be as unhelpful to customers as humanly possible. This would help explain their consistency in this matter. I once had such a bad experience on a Toronto-Karachi flight when I was with my two young children that on the return flight I packed water, fruit, parathas, kebabs and sandwiches so that we wouldn't have to rely on the cabin crew for anything. It made the flight quite bearable: we didn't have to beg for water or wait for them to clatter up to us, slamming down the usual trays of chicken biryani and yellowing firni.
I also would like to recall here a major incident of incivility and pure dishonesty that they practised on customers. This was about three years ago when a number of PIA's Boeing aircraft were deemed unworthy of flight within Europe. This created something of a crisis for the airline, but did they deal with their customers courteously? Well, here is my experience: a friend had a confirmed seat on flight to Islamabad, when he went to check in, the counter staff took his ticket and stamped it saying that he was late for check-in and therefore not on the flight. Since he was not late and since he had a confirmed seat he protested. They were quite unhelpful even when he asked for the station manager. However, when he mentioned that he was a senior police in Islamabad, they suddenly changed their tune completely and not only found him a seat on the flight but also said that since the Station Manager was on the same flight he would be sure to come and meet him on the flight.
Now what was striking about this incident was the complete lack of consideration shown to passengers: the airline had smaller aircrafts on their various routes so they were bumping off customers -- but they waited till passengers (many of them old or infirm, or with babies and young children) reached the airport all packed up and expecting to travel, before actually telling them they weren't on the flight. Surely, the passengers could have been informed on the phone to save them the journey to the airport? Surely, lying to them should not have been acceptable?
But, of course, such incidents of inconsideration and discourtesy are not restricted to the national airline. The dip in courteous behaviour is an international phenomenon, and it is not just in shops and businesses that we are less nice to each other, but in everyday life in general. And this new book is correct to link staff incivility to both causes and effects.
I am ashamed to admit I have become quite aggressive to any staff who I find rude or unhelpful or just plain obtuse. But I think, as a customer I jolly well should fight my corner and let the business know that their behaviour may affect my custom.
But even in my most aggressive of customer modes I can be completely disarmed by a smile or the impression of efficiency and helpfulness. And, hopefully, with the recession and the documentation of how 'incivility can damage your business', businesses will make more of an effort to treat us all with a lot more charm and a lot less impatience.