A modern cult classic
A pervert's fantasy or a vivid comment on human nature? Revisiting Lolita
By Ammara Ahmad
Lolita is tragicomic literary classic, a novel written by Vladimir Nabokov and first published in 1955.
The story is narrated by Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged British literary scholar who is obsessed with girls aged nine to twelve. He uses the term "nymphets" for them, a term actually coined and made popular by Nabokov himself. Humbert suggests that this sexual diversion is rooted in his childhood sweetheart Annabel and her untimely death. In 1947, Humbert moves to Ramsdale, a town in New England, USA, in order to write. He rents a room there from a widow called Charlotte Haze and, almost at once falls for her young daughter Lolita. In order to get her, he marries the widowed mother, who surprised by his dark secret but dies before she can reveal it to anyone.

Language,
culture, history
A successful experiment in traditional form of writing
By Noorzadeh S. Raja
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Author: David Mitchell
Publisher: UK: Sceptre (13 May 2010) US: Random House (June 29, 2010)
Pages: 470 pages
Price: 12.99 pounds
Upon first glance, British author David Mitchell's four hundred and eighty page long novel, with a title that conveys as much expanse and depth, "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet", seems like a daunting choice of book. When I flipped through the first few pages, it simply did not seem like my cup of tea. Truth be told, it takes a while for the reader to be completely captivated, but a certain junction is reached when the book becomes a complete page-turner and compels one to read on.

 

review

The real Jinnah

A.G. Noorani's book sheds some new light on the politics of Jinnah and is invaluable for all serious students of history

By Aamir Riaz

Jinnah and Tilak

Comrades in the

Freedom Struggle

Author: A.G.Noorani

Publisher: Oxford

University Press Pakistan, 2010

Pages: 465

Price: Rs795

After the valuable works of Kanji Dwarkadas, Romila Thapar, H.M.Seervai, Ayesha Jalal, Patrick French, Peter Clark and Jaswant Singh, here is A.G. Noorani's latest offering that further deconstructs the myth of partition.

In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, all major political parties including All India Congress, Communist Party of India, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Communist Party of Pakistan, Jamat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, National Awami Party, Awami League (Mujeeb group), Awami National Party and MQM are exponents of the thesis which holds Jinnah responsible for the partition of 1947. A lot of prominent progressive and fundamentalist historians too have held same view. But 62 years later, we are now able to understand the motives behind the campaign of targeting Jinnah and making him a scapegoat. Unfortunately, this new research still cannot get a place in the history curriculum whether it's India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Noorani's Jinnah and Tilak comprises a commentary of 274 pages and appendixes spanning 289 pages. Appendixes include Jinnah's defense of Tilak, the court proceedings of 1916, Jinnah-Rajendra Prasad Pact 1934, Cabinet Mission Plan 1946, and many other valuable documents for students of politics and history. The author, indeed a prolific writer, enriches his readers with some new information regarding Jinnah and his times. He rightly points out the domination of court historians in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh's academia yet he fails to include anti-imperialist and post-colonial theoreticians and historians in the list.

According to historian Riaz Ahmad, Jinnah came into politics though local bodies and was a member of Bombay Municipal Corporation from February 1904 till his resignation in 1906. In the same year, Jinnah first time attended the 22nd session of All India Congress (Calcutta) in December. His mentor Dadabhai Naoroji was president at that time.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Lokmanya Bal Ganga Dahr Tilak were friends even though Tilak was 20 years older than Jinnah. Their relationship was all the more remarkable given the barriers of age, culture and political background. Noorani has rightly criticised the biographers of Jinnah and Tilak for making passing references regarding that comradeship. Tilak was tried for sedition in 1897 and 1907. In 1897 Tilak's lawyer was Dinshaw Davar. He applied for bail a third time to the judge Badruddin Tyabji, who granted the bail. In the second sedition case in 1908, Jinnah was his lawyer and same old Davar was the judge. Davar not only rejected the bail but also made offensive remarks to Tilak. Noorani has collected some rare speeches, statements, and articles in this book.

It was Jinnah who had attacked the Aga Kahn's deputation to the viceroy Lord Minto at Simla on 1- October 1906. His letter was published in a magazine Gujrati of Bombay in the issue of Oct 7, 1906. Times of India had refused to publish that letter earlier. For reference one can also check Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada's collected works of Quaid-i-Azam Vol.1. Actually Jinnah had challenged the credentials of participants and their leader. "May I know whoever selected the gentlemen who are supposed to represent Bombay? I know of no meeting of the Mohammedan Community that appointed these worthies to represent Bombay". On the other hand in Pakistani textbooks, the Simla deputation is mentioned as a heroic act.

Jinnah joined Muslim League in 1913. What did he do between 1906 and 1913? Why do we still want to hide such facts? Instead of Muslim League, he joined Indian Musalman Association which was established at Calcutta in January 1907. Even after joining Muslim League, Jinnah had very warm relationship with people like Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Kirshna Gokhale, Moti Lal Nehru, Saifuddin Kitchlo, Annie Besant, Teg Bahadur Sapru, Madan Mohan Malvaviya etc. Yet the Indian and Pakistani textbooks portray a totally contrary image of Jinnah.

Presiding over the Bombay provincial conference at Ahmadabad on Oct 21, 1916, he spoke at length on the constitutional reforms and quoted Prof. Morgan's views about devolution of power in Ireland (p.12). Yet court historians, Jinnah's opponents and textbooks depict him as a staunch believer of centralism.

In 1916, Jinnah and Tilak supported the Lucknow Pact which was against the Muslim majority provinces of Bengal and the Punjab. People like Hakim Ajmal Khan timely criticised it. In the late 1930s, Tilak was no more alive yet Jinnah had the courage to amend himself when he signed the Jinnah-Sikandar Pact in 1938.

The Lahore resolution of 1940 and acceptance of Cabinet Mission Plan was a total transformation of Jinnah towards the rights of majority Muslim provinces as mentioned by A.G. Noorani in his own style.

By the second decade of 20th century, Jinnah had emerged as "the crowned King of Bombay". A hall was built in his name -- Jinnah Hall -- by funds contributed, not by rich donors (Seths) but by the public. Noorani mentions: "It was an expression of public's admiration for Jinnah's strong and successful leadership of a campaign against the governor Lord Willingdon. The campaign was provoked by Willingdon's insult to his comrade Tilak. In a real sense, the people's Jinnah Hall is a memorial to their comradeship and a reminder of a phase in national politics."

Kanji wrote the story of the hall in his famous book series India's Struggle for Freedom "Each donor contributed a rupee. Within a month 65,000 citizens had raised a fund of Rs65,000." The story of that hall is still absent from South Asian text books.

It was Tilak who always challenged Mahatma not only in Home Rule League but also in Congress. Tilak was a strong critic of Gandhi's unconditional support of British Empire while recruitment of the locals during the First World War. Noorani quotes Gandhi's letter to AIC leader Pran Jivan Mehta on July 12, 1918 "You must be watching my work of recruitment. Of all my activities, I regard this as the most difficult and the most important. If I succeed in it, genuine Swaraj is assured." On the contrary, Tilak said he could only encourage recruitment to an army where equal opportunities were open for Indians and Europeans.

The year 1920 altered the terms of nationalist discourse. Tilak died in August, Jinnah left Congress and Gandhi proposed a Non-cooperation Movement. Non-cooperation was a move by Gandhi to promote his leadership. It entailed seven steps. 1. Surrender of titles 2. Boycott of dirbars 3. Boycott of government aided educational institutions 4. Boycott of court of law 5. Boycott of legislature and Councils 6. Boycott of foreign goods 7. Ban on recruitment in Army. Supporters of Khilafat Movement were in a hurry to support it. Lala Lajpat Rai said that though he supported the proposal, he disagreed with several details for example, boycott of schools, courts and councils.

Jinnah delivered two speeches one at the Muslims League session and other in the Congress session. He opposed the Non-cooperation Movement not to appease the colonial rulers but to ask the people if they thought it was a practical programme. Jinnah in his speeches not only criticised Gandhi but also Ali brothers. Jinnah openly spoke against Non-cooperation. In a meeting Maulana Shaukat Ali Johar threatened to lay violent hands on Jinnah and was only prevented from doing so by the psychical intervention of other delegates. M Naeem Qureshi and Prof Ishtiaque Qureshi have quoted that incident. K.M. Munshi in his book Pilgrimage to Freedom has commented more sensibly on such incidents as, "To generate coercive power in the masses would only provoke mass conflict between the two communities, as in fact it did. With his keen sense of realities Jinnah firmly set his face against any dialogue with Gandhi on this point".

Interestingly, Jinnah's vision regarding Khilafat, non-cooperation and constitutionalism is still missing from textbooks prepared by the federal and provincial textbook boards in Pakistan. Massive changes occurred in textbook policies in both India and Pakistan during the late 1960s owing to the cold war like situation. Now is the time to challenge those subversions.

Noorani's book is a new addition to the resistance against Stalinistic re-writing of history. Traditionally, the goal of historical instruction has been to convey and consolidate feelings of national identity. But in modern times historical instruction is based on critical appreciation of the past which enables students/readers to come to their own understanding of identity. We the South Asians are fortunate to have a few scholars who have the courage to swim against the wave of pride and prejudice and A.G. Noorani is one of them.

The writer is a Lahore based editor and researcher. Email [email protected]

 

 

A modern cult classic

A pervert's fantasy or a vivid comment on human nature? Revisiting Lolita

By Ammara Ahmad

Lolita is tragicomic literary classic, a novel written by Vladimir Nabokov and first published in 1955.

The story is narrated by Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged British literary scholar who is obsessed with girls aged nine to twelve. He uses the term "nymphets" for them, a term actually coined and made popular by Nabokov himself. Humbert suggests that this sexual diversion is rooted in his childhood sweetheart Annabel and her untimely death. In 1947, Humbert moves to Ramsdale, a town in New England, USA, in order to write. He rents a room there from a widow called Charlotte Haze and, almost at once falls for her young daughter Lolita. In order to get her, he marries the widowed mother, who surprised by his dark secret but dies before she can reveal it to anyone.

Humbert then fetches Lolita from her summer camp, pretending her mother is unwell but instead of returning to Ramsdale, he takes her away on a journey throughout the USA, during the course of which he also consummates his desire in a hotel room. He is insistently paranoid about people 'following' him and he is keen to keep Lolita away from all prying eyes.

Humbert and Lolita travel around the US, staying in motels. Two years later, the two settle in a different New England town and Lolita starts school. Humbert is very suspicious and possessive and seldom allows her to take part in any school activities. Eventually Lolita takes part in the school play, written by Clare Quilty, the man who finally helps Lolita in eventually escaping. After some years of escaping Humbert's thrall, Lolita, now seventeen, married and pregnant, writes to Humbert asking for her money which Humbert agrees to give her in return for the name of her 'abductor'. Later on, Humbert visits her and begs her to return but she refuses, causing him to break down.

Nabokov was a celebrated professor and writer already, when he wrote Lolita, a work which was considered considerably risqué back then. Fearing litigation and bans, four publishers declined to publish the book in America, which was finally published in France and banned there too, on the complaint of the British Embassy, which thought its citizens were smuggling the book into Britain. It was however, imported into US from France in due course. An American edition was published by Putnam, later.

The novel is a very complex work, with a very complicated protagonist, Humbert Humbert. His is a dual nature, with its neurotic, lustful side and his vulnerable human self, the guilty, human version that eventually falls for Lolita the person not the "nymphet". Humbert is pathetic because of his extreme urge to create a different reality for himself. Yet he is pitiful at the same time, because this is his search for a soul, for social acceptance and love in an existence largely devoid of any truly fulfilling adult relationships. He is guilty of violating Lolita and as his guilt consumes him he consistently judges himself, like when he hears children playing outside, he wonders if he has robbed her of her childhood. There is of course a huge difference between him and the rest of the world, in the end especially, when he takes a U-turn from a madman to a lost, forlorn lover. He can seduce Lolita but not attain her love.

Lolita, although seen solely from Humbert's perspective in the novel, precocious, materialistic, rowdy and a typical self-centred American. She is too multi-dimensional for a typical dumb 'nymphet'. Already deflowered when she reaches Humbert, it is she who initially seduces him. A confident, secretive seductress, she keeps Humbert coiled in suspicion, until she finally escapes. In the end, instead of being a victim, she emerges as a contented housewife, big with child, happy.

There are also several unresolved mysterious elements in the book. Firstly, as both Humbert and Lolita are unpredictable and dishonest, it is hard to determine if they are lying or telling the truth at any given time. Secondly, Humbert has a mental health history, and initially it seems there is no one chasing him and he is just paranoid. Lolita persistently accuses him of her mother's murder and one wonders about the strange circumstances Charlotte dies in. More suspense is created by Humberts' legal constraints. He persistently fears being caught by policemen, neighbours and eyewitnesses. Few readers realise that Lolita is already dead when the memoir is being recorded. In the Foreword:

"Mrs. 'Richard F. Schiller' died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest. "

With all its taboo-violating, thought-provoking content Lolita is a modern cult classic. Nabokov plays a game with us. He incorporates important ethical, social and psychological questions in such a scandalous (sometimes disgusting) plot that our vision is blurred. Most people sum up the book as a pervert's fancy and quit it. Even the movies based on the novel tend to centre on the sexuality of the book. The wrongness and the brutality of the circumstances thwarts us from examining Humbert more critically and discover what an interesting character he makes and how, through his tortured and pathetic character, Nabokov himself questions many norms and conventions that, in fact, create such people.

In the end, we are left to question if Humbert really loved Lolita? Showing empathy for a paedophile is difficult and rare. Although a story of a paedophile's recurring abuse of a minor, the book is redolent with an underlying humour, which catches hold of us as we read it. Every sentence has a twist of Russian in it, often some poetry and French diction too. There is no obscene word or anaesthetic description, despite the nature of this subject. The book is a lucid and vivid comment on human sexuality as well as nature.

It also has one of the most brilliant finishing lines. "I wish this memoir to be published only when Lolita is no longer alive ….Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my spectre shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve…And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita."

 

Language,

culture, history

A successful experiment in traditional form of writing

By Noorzadeh S. Raja

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Author: David Mitchell

Publisher: UK: Sceptre (13 May 2010) US: Random House (June 29, 2010)

Pages: 470 pages

Price: 12.99 pounds

Upon first glance, British author David Mitchell's four hundred and eighty page long novel, with a title that conveys as much expanse and depth, "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet", seems like a daunting choice of book. When I flipped through the first few pages, it simply did not seem like my cup of tea. Truth be told, it takes a while for the reader to be completely captivated, but a certain junction is reached when the book becomes a complete page-turner and compels one to read on.

Mitchell has a considerable number of achievements to his credit at the early age of 41. Two of his novels, number9dream and Cloud Atlas, were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In 2003, Granta selected him as one of Best of Young British Novelists and in 2007, Time Magazine listed him among the 100 Most Influential People in The World.

It is essentially a historic novel, set for the most part in man-made island of Dejima, Nagasaki, Japan, an outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company, at the turn into the nineteenth century. The story's protagonist, a young, naïve clerk named Jacob de Zoet, who is not yet acquainted with the ways of the world, arrives in Dejima from Zeeland as part of a contingent of officials assigned the task of clearing the trading base of corruption. Despite having left behind a beloved fiancé in the Netherlands, to whom he promised that he would return within six years of making his fortune, he quickly falls in love with a Japanese midwife, Orito Aigawa, a promising student of the island's resident physician, Marinus.

Their relationship is complicated by the fact that the Japanese are generally suspicious of foreigners, who are not allowed to set foot on the Japanese mainland. As Jacob acknowledges later, "Obscurity is Japan's outmermost defence."

Jacob has other things to worry about however; when he refuses to sign off on a bogus shipping manifest, his stint on Dejima is extended and he is demoted, stuck in the service of a vengeful fellow clerk. Meanwhile, Orito's father dies deeply in debt, and her stepmother sells her into service at a mountaintop shrine where her midwife skills are in high demand, she soon learns, because of the extraordinarily sinister rituals going on in the secretive shrine. This is where the slow-to-start plot kicks in, and Mitchell pours on the heat with a rescue attempt by Orito's first love, Uzaemon, who happens to be Jacob's translator and confidant. The book ends with Jacob returning to his homeland, now the Company's Chief Resident in Japan, leaving behind a son borne by Orito. He marries a local Netherlands girl and eventually perishes.

Mitchell has paid special attention to character detail, building up well on the essential aspects of each personality. Apart from the main character, other significant characters in this novel include Ogawa Uzaemon, an honorable young translator who faces a difficult moral dilemma. There are several high-ranking Japanese officials including Magistrate Shiroyama and the malicious Lord Abbot Enomoto. Each character has his or her own story to tell, which creates an interesting backdrop for the main action of the plot.

With detailed descriptions of places and events, Mitchell manages to paint an exotic picture of the foreign trading post and the rousing tale which ensues. His language is descriptive yet concise and laden with meaning. Mitchell adds subtle touches of humour throughout the novel at exactly the right instances. The result is a well-concocted mixture of just the right amounts of tension, romance and adventure.

Historical accuracy of events is maintained, such as the HMS Phaeton's bombardment of Dejima and subsequent ritual suicide of Nagasaki's Magistrate Matsudaira. The protagonist, Jacob de Zoet, is similar to the real-life Hendrik Doeff who wrote a memoir about his time in Dejima. The novel sheds light on the working of the system of colonisation by means of which Europe took control of the rest of the world, especially the East and is therefore of special interest to those of us living in the former subcontinent.

All in all, Mitchell's fifth novel does justice to his expertise of a traditional form of writing and he tells the tale of a strictly hierarchal feudal trading base in the East, correctly portraying its language, culture and history. It proceeds to become engrossing and captures the reader's attention.

(The book is available at Hot Spot, Qadaffi Stadium, Lahore)

 

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