Aesthetic output of a city
A valuable and interesting document mapping the art of Lahore through history
By Quddus Mirza
Spanish author Javier Marias in one of his novels reflects on how human beings are mere fillers of spaces. One assumes that the house, room, bed, chair and table that one is using belong to oneself, without realising that previously they belonged to other people and will be used by others in the future. Actually, one is just substituting for other bygone people. In that sense, nothing in our surroundings is attached to a single individual.


This girl means business

She is more committed to her career, and willing to step out of the safety net of her parents' home and city

By Farah Zahidi Moazzam

In the bustling metropolis we call Karachi, the following scenario is ever-so common: a young woman, somewhere in her 30s, living alone in one of the umpteen apartment buildings that have mushroomed across the city in the past few decades. This woman may be sharing her apartment with a friend. This woman may be living in a hostel or a portion of a house. She does her own grocery, pays her own bills, works 9 to 7 and still manages to socialise with friends at work. Friends are exceedingly important to her because her family does not live in the city. This woman is one of the breed of ambitious career women of Pakistan who have chosen to move cities for purely work reasons. She is confident, independent and a go-getter. And she means business.

Not just in Karachi but all over Pakistan, an exceeding number of women are joining Pakistan's labour force. Jone Johnson Lewis writes in Pakistan: Status of Women & the Women's movement: "Four important challenges confronted women in Pakistan in the early 1990s: increasing practical literacy, gaining access to employment opportunities at all levels in the economy, promoting change in the perception of women's roles and status, and gaining a public voice both within and outside of the political process."

Yet, today, somewhere in 2010, work opportunities available to women are much more compared to the 1990s. This in a country where formerly only women of the lower social strata were more actively involved in the economic process and affluent women were basically homemakers. Times are definitely changing. Economic pressures, the desire for better quality of life and inflation make one pay cheque per household a less than ideal proposition. The dissolution of extended families in urban areas has made it all the more imperative for women to join the workforce.

In addition, the woman of today is much better educated and has had much more exposure compared to her counterparts some two decades ago. Hence, she is more committed to her career, and willing to step-out of the safety net of her parents' home and city. Ironically, in the big bad world of the 'unsafe' Pakistan that we live in today, more and more women decide that they can and will live alone away from their hometowns and families if their work demands it. Particularly in the corporate sectors, such moves are very common. And the move is not always to bigger cities. A Lahori female executive may move to Rahimyar Khan where her multinational company has a complete setup, for that is required for her to do in order to step up the corporate ladder. In certain situations, women may even move abroad if a good job opportunity comes up. Dubai, the Far-East and the USA remain popular choices for women who want to respond to their professional calling.

When Sadia Qureshi, poet, writer and anchorperson got an option between Multan and Lahore, she chose to move to Lahore for her career. "I am from the Seraiki belt and saw hurdles for a girl in moving forward in Multan. My elder brother was then posted in Muzaffargarh, 25 kms from Multan and he also thought it would be better if I went to Multan but I wanted to work in a big set-up, in a big city," says Qureshi with clarity.

"Lahore was not new to me but working here was new. There were many challenges. Initially, I stayed with a cousin in a hospital's hostel. Soon I moved to APWA hostel where I stayed for four years. At the hostel, I got the most difficult girl as roommate and found aged women quite hostile. I felt quite vulnerable because of living in a hostel. I had extended family in the city but I didn't want to stay with anyone. It would have been stifling," says Qureshi, shedding more light on the dilemmas of women staying away from home. She recalls how at the hostel there was a girl from Multan whose parents, who were illiterate, would bring in a match for her every other month, sometimes to the hostel and sometimes to her office. "She was a girl belonging to two different worlds." Qureshi's comment is true for numerous Pakistani women, though gaining economic and social independence, still remain inextricably tied to their backgrounds.

Sophia Ahmed, a Chartered Accountant by profession, moved to London for a while to experience living independently. "Moving to live alone locally or abroad is a major challenge for an average Pakistani girl. My experience was no less challenging," shares Ahmed. "Living a protected life in your parents' home in no way prepares you for the deluge of responsibilities and recklessness that come when you're on your own."

For her, the experience was a combination of pros and cons. "The 'goods' include independence and freedom with no shackles. Being answerable to no one but yourself teaches you so much. There is immense learning involved in managing finances, discovering new friends, and coping in a new way in a new place."

The 'bads', in her opinion, are, "missing being with loved ones, especially on Ramazan, Eid and important occasions; missing family get-togethers and chatting with old school pals…". She asserts living outside the protective cocoon of your family can make you feel lonely and isolated. Yet, she feels it is all "Worth it. Big time. You discover yourself; I found the path that I wanted to be on."

Living on your own in the Pakistani society has certain taboos involved. People assume a lot about a girl who migrates from her hometown for job reasons. The biggest assumption is that for this girl, her career is more important than her family, and after marriage she will not be able to endure the compromises that are a prerequisite for a stable marriage. Yet, encouragingly, there is a simultaneously growing breed of men who respect and understand their fiancé's or wife's ambitiousness and are willing to sometimes shift from their hometown because the wife's career is demanding her to make that move.

Saima Shareef (not her real name), a media person, moved from Lahore to Karachi for greener pastures. "It was a better career opportunity plus a desire for change that provided impetus for my decision to move. I remember being apprehensive when considering the move, since it was an idea that was new to me, and no one in my immediate circle of family or friends had ever made such a move." But her experience proved to be "wonderful, and all positive -- except for one thing -- finding accommodation that suited my needs, being safe without being very expensive. That is something that I think is a concern for all single women who move to another city and plan to live on their own."

As a parent, Shareef's supportive mother says, "It wasn't a difficult decision to let her move. I felt the career opportunity plus the move would be a good change for her."

Living on one's own has definite advantages. You are taken more seriously by your bosses for one, and the senior management respects a girl who takes her career seriously. On a lighter note, you have more uninterrupted "me-time", you have solo control of the tv remote and your routine revolves around you. You can keep your home as you like, make friends of your choice, read till late hours of the morning and stay in bed all Sunday. It can be an enriching experience in which you learn to handle things yourself. The flip side of the coin, however, is that you are in a danger of becoming an isolationist permanently. You may become so used to independent living that once you move back with your parents, you don't know how to adjust in combined family living. When you are unwell and down in the dumps, nostalgia about moments spent with your family can kill you.

Yet, once in your life, if you get a chance, moving a city and living alone to pursue your career is a chance one should take. You grow as a person, and your career could grow with leaps and bounds as well.

He worked for World Music

Remembering Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on his 13th death anniversary

By Sarwat Ali

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan did not initiate what is popularly known as fusion. He only gave it a sort of legitimacy -- by virtue of the popularity of his music. The trend of mixing the music systems has neither been reversed nor diluted since his death; in fact, it has gathered greater momentum. On his 13th death anniversary August 16 -- it appears the experiments furthered by Nusrat have gained acceptability and now have a ring of inevitability about them.

The mixing of music, especially on a larger level, started in the last 30 years. Initially, it was the effort of the musicians belonging to the countries other than what is popularly designated as the developed West Indian musicians, especially of the classical variety, making inroads into England and the US as did the African musicians particularly on their forays to France. The films, too, encouraged intermixing of music, taking it a step ahead of being mere exercises in introduction. In the subcontinent cinema, this intermixing had been going for as long as the history of films itself.

But, actually after radio, television and cassettes, it was the globalisation of media that provided the impetus for this intermixing at a grander level. The need was more than pure musical necessity as the compulsion of the satellite and internet media was geared towards a world audience. The process earlier was gradual and afforded an ample span of time for assimilation. This new phenomenon did not even allow you to breathe, rather was programmed to suit the instant, and the result was a yoking together of music systems.

And, it spurred an invasion into the territory of music that had jealously relished in its particularity. In the beginning, of all the forms, qawwali was subjected to too much experimentation. The rise of Nusrat Fateh Ali as a representative of the emerging trend of World Music placed it in the eye of a controversial storm. To many a traditionalist this was both distasteful and irreverent as they hankered back to the more traditional style.

As he became famous in Pakistan in the late 1970s, Nusrat was invited to France at their annual music conference. Ghulam Fareed Sabri had already made space for qawwali there. He capitalised on that initial acceptance, and made it as one of the most popular forms of music over the years not only in France but all over the world.

The inevitable had to happen and by teaming up with Peter Gabriel Nusrat's fame extended beyond those purely interested in music. This contribution in Womad (world of music art and dance) made him the leading player in the phenomenon called World Music. The fusion of melodic content of traditional cultures with contemporary rhythmic patterns usually played on electronic computerised instruments became the representative music of the age reflective of the transnational nature of satellite and internet communication network.

Khan's family belonged to Basti Sheikh in Jalandhar. His father and uncle Fateh Ali Khan and Mubarak Ali Khan were well-known qawwals of their times. Another uncle Salamat Ali Khan was an outstanding harmonium player.

Besides the traditional repertoire of Arabic and Persian kalam, they incorporated the kalam of the Punjabi Sufi poets and, in the Punjab, sang that to receptive audiences far more than the kalam in dialects like Brij Bhaasha, Poorbi and Khari, more popular in the Delhi, Ajmer and Lucknow region.

He was born in 1948 in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), settled in mohalla Lassori Shah where the family had migrated from Jalandhar at partition, and got his training from his father and uncle. As a child, he accompanied them on their numerous performances. His father, Fateh Ali Khan, was well-versed in raagdari -- he strengthened the melodic element in his qawwali -- while Mubarak Ali was a laikaar. The combination worked well to make them the foremost group in the subcontinent.

Given the popularity and impact of Nusrat on the international music scene it was expected that some solid analyses would emerge on his musical contribution but the few that have do not qualify to be of any critical merit. Even as Nusrat experimented, it should never be forgotten that he did not tamper with the melodic line of singing. It remained as pure as with any traditional singer. He was able to be more successful than others who brought in popular musical instruments and rhythmic sounds that represented contemporary music.

After him there have been two sets of followers: one who have just tried to imitate him and others who have gone along with westernisation of music to adopt the manner of its intonation. Obviously, imitation can never have the authenticity of an original, and the intonation of the sur is very difficult and none has been able to achieve that successfully.

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan who has donned his mantle has been solidly faithful to this truism of not tampering with the melodic line. The training in the traditional system ensures that the sur rings true and since he has been through the paces he values its essentialness. Like his ustad and uncle he has also diversified into various forms of vocal music. The orchestra and the rhythmic patterns of instruments from all over the world do not seem extraneous as they did in the early recordings of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

In the last couple of decades, music has undergone such a tremendous change that older and most prestigious forms seem to be in the process of extinction while a few proving to be more resilient have adapted to these changes. When Nusrat realised that the audience was initiated, he always wanted to sing the kheyal and chose usually achoob raags to impress upon them his virtuosity. Rahat hardly does that and this is one barometer of change that has swept the musical landscape in the last couple of generations.

'Good things come in small packages' -- a show at IVS gallery

By Raania Azam Khan Durrani

Small: a: minor in influence, power, or rank b: operating on a limited scale

It is a noble thought to organise a visual art exhibit that is priced moderately -- relatively moderate rather. Interestingly, the work itself is also rather small -- in scale. At the IVS gallery of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, the exhibit on display this month is titled 'Good things come in small packages'. It has been nearly two weeks into the show, and the humid rain filled air has already managed to make its presence felt.

As I walk in, Shalalae Jamil's work catches my eye. Her work is narrative, personal and descriptive of person, space and emotion. But the vapours in the salty sea breeze somehow manage to reach to these and are making the photos curl and warp, away from the white wall.

There are several works on display in this group show, but not all are individually strong or appealing. There is always something beautiful about direct and simple thought -- best displayed in Roohi Ahmed's paper and plastic work, titled 'Love thy nieghbour'. That honesty and strength is missing in a lot of the work in the gallery.

Out of the more conventional two-dimensional works, Abeera Zahid's 'A little thing 1' and Sahar Jawaid's oil on canvas creations stood out. Most of Noor Yousof's work are bright and appealing to the eye, and the thought that leads from her single painted subject to memories of ones own, is exciting -- yet the mixed-media inclusion, perhaps aimed at achieving some good old vintage glamour, never quite got there.

SM. Raza got me feeling quite queasy as I glanced upon his installation of soap and human hair. Once I overcame the disgust, I managed to look at the simple line drawings he has created with these strands on sticky, slimy soap. The work is simple and straightforward, producing an immediate reaction creating mental images of filth in the viewers' mind. Finding interest and beauty in filth, I am not sure.

Abdullah Syed's artwork produced of great imagination, skill and bright red cricket balls, is impressive. He has managed to create exciting links between visual memory and matters of supreme cultural importance. The red cricket ball taking the shape of so much else, speaks directly to the viewer of nation, power, politics and war, matters known to all overlooked by many.

Surprised by the repetition of older work by some, and the uncharacteristic work of others, I moved on to enjoy Fraz Mateen's exciting experiments with clay. Not only is his work always technically intriguing, it contains depth and power, reflected in the tiny marks and subtle movements in his clay. What he does with his face may seem repetitive at times, but up-close it provides insight in the artist's skill and mindset.

The 'Good things come in small packages' show, featured the following artists: Roohi Ahmed, Abullah Syed, Noor Yousof, Sohail Abdullah, Rabia Jalil, Sahar Jawaid, Saman Ali, Ammad Tahir, Fraz Mateen, Raheela Abro, Sana Burney, S.M Raza, Masooma Halai Khawaja, Nabahat Lotia, Ambreen Hameed, Faiza Habib, Abeera Zahid, Nosheen Iqbal, Sophia Mairaj and Fariha Nader. This show was curated by Manizhe Ali, and is up on display until August 28, 2010.

Raania A. K Durrani is an artist/writer, she blogs at



Aesthetic output of a city

A valuable and interesting document mapping the art of Lahore through history

By Quddus Mirza

Spanish author Javier Marias in one of his novels reflects on how human beings are mere fillers of spaces. One assumes that the house, room, bed, chair and table that one is using belong to oneself, without realising that previously they belonged to other people and will be used by others in the future. Actually, one is just substituting for other bygone people. In that sense, nothing in our surroundings is attached to a single individual.

Languages, religions, social customs and cultural practices are not limited to one group, race or ethnicity, since these travel across periods and places and are transformed. Hence, it would not be surprising to trace the origins of a mundane substance like potato in South America and its transportation through continents in the last centuries. Like this vegetable, which is almost a staple diet for us now regardless of its origin, our words, faiths, aesthetic constructs and rituals are testimonies of influences from a diversity of cultures and societies.

Similarly our cities, by always attracting a range of people, are also living documents of amalgamation of humans from different eras and regions. A city is a place where a person loses his cast in a process to acquire a new status. Thus no one is interested in knowing the background of a man working with him or living next door; or whether the person is from a family of barbers, carpenters, cobblers or village jesters. Urbanity shuns rural identities and bestows new personas, not only to individuals but to various forms of culture too.

Lahore is also that melting pot, in which cultures, creeds and customs have been converging to formulate new synthesis. Through history, this site has received people of diverse tongues, tastes and traditions. Hence the city reminds us of multicultural fabric of this subcontinent.

This aspect of multiculturalism is recalled through a recent publication, Lahore: Paintings, Murals, and Calligraphy, edited by Barbara Schmitz and printed by Marg Publications, India. The book includes essays by a number of contributors on different aesthetic practices and historic monuments in Lahore. While the main emphasis is on the Mughal heritage of the city, the publication has a few chapters on the present art of miniature painting, calligraphy and the life and works of Anwar Jalal Shemza.

With its variation of topics both about past and present, the book not only offers a survey of art and heritage, it also provides an occasion to reflect upon certain aspects of our culture: namely our attitude towards history. We usually select some forms of art from the past, which are considered useful for shaping our image in the present times and in the future. At the same time, we focus on specific streaks of a discipline, which are regarded as Art, and neglect other areas on the pretext of these being functional, banal, popular and underdeveloped. The book seems to be an effort to questions these boundaries and demarcations. So along with the essay on the contemporary miniature painting by Rukhsana David, one finds chapters on frescos in Ranjit Singh's Samadhi by Nadhra Shahbaz Naeem, and on Bhai Ram Singh's drawings for 1911 Coronation Darbar by Sajida Vandal and Pervaiz Vandal.

With articles extending to current practice of calligraphic art by Athar Tahir and an overview of political cartoons in Pakistan by Shaukat Mahmood, the book is an interesting and valuable document mapping the art of a city through history. The contribution of Mughal Emperors as patrons of art, especially of Jehangir, is extensively discussed in Barbra Schmitz's introduction: a point that is further dealt with in an article about the images of European origin in the frescos at the Lahore Fort. Here, one is able to glimpse the figures of Pope Gregory the Great, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Anthony as Abbot rendered in a Mughal monument. These figures, painted during sixteenth century, present a pertinent point when seen together with the recent examples of miniature paintings from Lahore. The current discipline of miniature painting, initially, started as a continuation and revival of traditional art form, has turned into a completely new movement, mainly due to its interaction with the Western art (market). Hence, whatever is being presented and projected in the name of strict tradition is a fallacy, because looking at the fresco in Lahore Fort, one realises that cultures and art practices have been porous, always open to influences from outside, in order to translate these into local practices.

One suspects that whatever was happening on the walls, was also taking place on paper, as Nadhra Naeem's essay confirms that the imagery in Samadhi is not much different from the Sikh paintings of that era. In that way, there was no single, authentic or legitimate package that can be preserved as original, sophisticated and sacred tradition or convention. Like any other culture, the practice of painters in our past have been inspired and modified by their interaction with other people, books and images of art. In that respect, the present day experimental art of miniature painting (in its altered format, scale, medium and technique), under whatever nomenclature is more in line with experiencing and expanding the tradition rather than a school of miniature bent on copying and emulating the past pictures.

Lahore: Paintings, Murals and Calligraphy, is in its essence a document on the aesthetic output of a city whose art, concepts and issues are not confined to one region. So whatever is being produced in Lahore, whether a miniature painting or a political cartoon, is circulated across the country, and is valid and relevant for a larger public. Just like this book, which appears to be for art connoisseurs but, due to the range of its subjects, holds equal interest for a wider group of readers and viewers.



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