The peacock is a
beautiful bird whose magnificence takes on a magical touch during the
monsoon seasons, in the golden sands of Thar or the thick shrubbery in the
valleys of the black-sprinkled-pink-rocks of the Karoonjhar Mountains.
In Thar, the ground is
often a labyrinth of criss-crossing streams and the reverberating call of
the peacock is as romantic as it is haunting.
To any Thari, this is the
call to a monsoon homecoming. This is when the parched fields are ploughed,
and all eyes, of men and animals, are longingly set upon the heavens to
shower the one thing that will set alive all the “life” below. This is
also the time when many a soul awaits the return of their loved ones.
Decades ago Tina Sani sang the song that Mai Bhagi had immortalised decades
earlier and which resonates in the winds of Thar since centuries past:
Khari neem ke neechay,
unthoon haik le...
Jaatro wataaro maana
chaani maan dekh le
Jhirr mirr jhirr mirr
mibla barsay morr papeeha rakaaey
Saansuji thaaro chhail
bawariyo maansa dariyo jaey
(To her Beloved)
“Here I am under the
Neem tree, alone, waiting for you
Passersby watch me
mockingly as I wait
It is raining and Peacocks
and Papihas are calling to their loved ones
(To her Mother-in-law)
Sasuji, is your beloved
son afraid to come to me?”
No story or song in Thar
is ever complete without a sense of yearning, a thirst and a celebration of
the monsoon, and of course, peacocks.
requested my Thari friend Rajesh to take me along when he visited home
during the coming Eid holidays. With a heavy heart, he informed me that
unfortunately, this year round, the monsoons were late and that the peacocks
were dying from an outbreak of Newcastle disease a.k.a. Ranikhet. He said
the depression in Thar is more than he can bear and that he might not visit
home if things didn’t improve before Eid.
The monsoon to Thar is
life itself and peacocks mean more
to Tharis, than Kangaroos do to Australians.
In Thar, peacocks can be
seen roaming about villages and towns leisurely at dawn and dusk. They spend
their days foraging for food in clumps of bushes away from households, but
prefer the security of trees near human dwellings to spend their nights.
times of drought, when fresh shrubbery and insects that devours it become
scarce for the peacock, the locals sometimes offer them grain from their
meagre family reserves.
Tahir Qureshi, Senior
Advisor at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), says the
birds share the precious water stored in communal ponds and reservoirs with
domestic livestock, poultry and humans. Without fresh replenishment from
rain water, the quantity in these waterholes reduces, deteriorating its
Both Qureshi and Hussain
Bux Bhagat, Deputy Conservator Wildlife Sindh, suspect that the peacocks
might originally have contacted Newcastle disease from domestic poultry. The
situation worsened as lack of nourishment from fresh food decreased the
birds’ immunity and made them more susceptible.
In good old days, without
proper road access and less tourists, the local demand for poultry was low,
as most of the population comprises Hindu vegetarians. Even the Muslim
population had acquired a taste for vegetarian cuisine without much emphasis
on meat that was costlier to acquire and store.
Now, a better road network
has resulted in an exponential increase in tourism, traffic and interaction
with the outside world. Alien concepts such as farmed poultry, plastic bags
and garbage are now making in-roads to the once pristine life of Thar. With
this, the peacocks’ exposure to farmed poultry and the diseases that
affect it has also increased.
Peacocks enjoy a reverence
deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of the local population, partially
due to the Jain influence that is still present in the culture, long after
the Jains migrated to India. Although Jainism prohibits killing any animal,
the peacock enjoys a special status. A duster “Morpichhi” which is made
from tail feathers shed by a male peacock is used by monks in rituals.
Today, abandoned Jain
temples, full of intricate frescos, fabulous covings and painstakingly
chiselled stone work are crumbling not only by the ravages of time but also
due to the wrath of treasure seekers. These ancient structures are now more
accessible to hooligans who do not mind carving out their girlfriend’s
name onto history just for the heck of it, and individuals who are under the
delusion that defacing ancient frescos in abandoned temples would somehow
count as a good deed. Such is their ignorance that not even the peacock
murals adorning the walls of the temple in Nagarparkar’s market have
escaped their wrath.
On the brighter side, the
local population here, whether Hindu or Muslim, does not desecrate Jain
relics and also respects peacocks as it has a reputation to fight and kill
snakes, an animal which thrives in Thar.
As with most other birds,
especially pheasants, males are adorned with vibrantly coloured decorative
feathers and perform dances, whereas in comparison, the females appear
somewhat dull both in appearance and demeanour. This nuance is not lost on
the local Hindu population that venerate the peacock as it is the vehicle
used by some of their deities.
Thus, when I attended the
Janmashtami festivities that invariably coincide with the monsoon season, I
observed that it is only the men who performed a dance mimicking the
peacocks’ gestures gracefully and rhythmically.
The beauty of these
majestic birds in their natural surroundings did not escape Alexander the
Great’s eye when he came across them on his quest along the Indus. The
Macedonian imposed heavy fines on anyone who killed them and is also
credited with introducing them to Europe.
History has been kind to
peacocks. After Alexander’s return, Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of
the Maurya dynasty, defeated Greek generals and laid the foundation of the
Mauryan Empire. He is said to be a descendant from a tribe of peacock tamers
— hence the name “Maurya” (Mayura in Sanskrit means mor or peacock).
Later, Asoka, his
grandson, ruled these lands. He did enjoy eating peacocks but, after his
conversion to Buddhism, abolished their killing.
Love and respect for
peacocks is not only limited to Jains and Hindus of Thar, but transcends all
religious and political divides across Pakistan. Anyone driving through the
metropolis of Karachi would come across multiple paintings and art work
depicting peacock motifs on rickshaws, minibuses and trucks.
Along with falcons and
chakurs, it is a favorite bird depicted in popular art. It has been
immortalised in Sufi poetry and in some places such as Bilawal Shah
Noorani’s tomb near the Lahoot caves in Lasbela, Balochistan, there are
feral populations which are revered and protected due to their association
with the shrine.
Babur, the founder of the
Mughal Empire, admired these creatures and today, they roam gracefully in
the “Bagh-e-Sufa” built by him at Kallar Kahar in Chakwal.
This particular group is
also associated with the shrine of the two grandsons of Shaikh Abdul Qadir
Gillani of Baghdad, who were martyred and are buried here. So much so that
the shrine revered by millions, is known as “Moran Wali Sarkar”
throughout Pakistan. Interestingly, my mentor, Salman Rashid sees such
association of various species with shrines as cleverly disguised
conservation programmes designed by wise and peaceful caretakers.
Decades after Babur, his
great-great-grandson, Emperor Shahjehan commissioned a beautiful throne,
with colourful jewels inlaid into it, including the legendary
“Kohi-noor” diamond. This came to be known as “Takht-e-Taus” or the
“Peacock Throne” (Taus means peacock in Persian) because the design
featured two majestic peacocks. The term “Takht-e-Taus” later became
synonymous with the Indian throne. For its part, the Pakistani government
could not afford anything as grand as the “Takht-e-Taus” but did issue
two stamps in 1976 that feature a male Peafowl in all its splendour.
Despite all the
appearances in Sufi poetry, and association with Muslim shrines, I was
genuinely surprised to find a crude depiction of a peacock pecking at the
head of its arch-rival, an Indian cobra, carved on a sandstone grave (Chowkandi
style) within a funerary compound near the ancient graveyard of Taung in the
Khirthar range in Sindh. The graves there are primarily of Muslims from the
Kalmati Baloch tribes. To come across carved animals on them is not unusual
but a peacock and a cobra that was a first for me. Later, I came to know
that peacock with a serpent in its beak is found on graves in Sonda, Keejhar
and Jerruck — all in Sindh.
With all the limelight
that the proud peacock has basked in over millennia, today, the grim reality
is that the Newcastle disease has engulfed those in the Thar region and, as
a result, almost 200 deaths have been reported by the media, so far.
No official census of
peacocks has taken place in recent times but unofficial estimates range from
20,000 birds to as high as 70,000. The Sindh Wildlife Minister, Dayaram
Essarani, is said to have challenged the number of deaths reported by the
media as “grossly inaccurate.” Conservationists have also expressed
doubts about the figures reported by the electronic media and the press.
On the other hand, locals
here are depressed and doing all that they can to alleviate the peacocks’
misery. “Raksha bandhan” was celebrated last week. Hindu women generally
tie rakhi, a sacred band on their brothers’ wrist on this day. The
“rakhi” signifies that while the brother will be a protector (“rakh”wala)
for the sister, the sister’s love will similarly protect the brother. It
was very touching to watch a group of women tying Rakhis to peacocks in the
hope that, somehow, their sheer affection might protect the birds from a
Meanwhile, the authorities
and conservationists both are hoping that the monsoon will soon come and
wash away the peacocks’ disease and the allegations of negligence with it.
It appears as if this
year, not only Thar, its people and its peacock, but also the Sindh Wildlife
Department will be looking to the heavens with a longing in their eyes,
waiting for the heavens to quench their thirst and vanquish the peacocks’
Aamir Khan has
proved many of his critics wrong. He has always managed to reinvent himself
with something different to offer and is still the most-talked-about
filmmaker in the biggest film industry of the world.
The subcontinental cinema
had often been criticised for producing films that roll off the same
template. There is hardly any difference in all the films made — the same
boy-girl romance pitted against the hostile social values and attitudes that
uphold the family honour and name above that of individual initiative and
innovation. And all wrapped in the tinsel of the song and dance format.
Aamir Khan’s beginning
was no different, nor was he a stranger to the world of makebelief and the
fantasy projected on the screen because he belonged to a family already in
filmmaking and doing reasonably well. It may have been easier for Aamir Khan
to make a debut in films but as it often happens with the progeny of those
in the business, the breakthrough is easier than to improve upon the elders
and sustain a career. Aamir Khan must have struggled because after his break
in ‘Holi’ (1984) for his next film ‘Qiyamat Say Qiyamat Tak’ he had
to wait for another four years.
QSQT established him as a
star that had arrived to carve a place for him in an era that was yearning
for transition to a new type of hero. In the triumvirate Shahrukh Khan,
Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, set to rule the cinema for many years to come,
the most innovative and daring has been Aamir Khan.
There has always been a
parallel tradition to the major one of Indian cinema represented by the
earlier ala Bombay Talkies/New Theatre, the Indian Peoples Theatre
Association and then the parallel or art cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. All
these phases were more pronounced or assessed as movements with a definite
purpose but all these ran out of steam and some of the leading lights of
this cinema, especially of the cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, ended up by
badmouthing it as they moved to mainstream cinema with bigger bucks to fill
their coffers than mere critical acclaim and awards.
The next generation wanted
a mixture of the two and called it a crossover affair where the demands of
both the traditions could be met. It was difficult because it was possible
that the crossover or the marrying of the types only yielded sterility. But
from among the ones who made that possible Aamir Khan may have been more
ambitious for he called his cinema an agent of change. Many in the world
have toiled with the idea of making cinema with its mass appeal an
instrument to make people think.
Aamir Khan was also aware
of the ever growing outreach of the Indian cinema and thus he geared up to
address an international audience. The exponential growth of Bollywood had
placed it next to Hollywood and the same cosmopolitan aspirations were
shared by the Indian producers and directors.
If ‘Lagaan’ was an
attempt to redeem the 200 years of subjugation, even if by a symbolic
beating of the British at their own game, the hyperbole was scaled down and
made more plausible in ‘Mangal Pandey’. The native recruit placing his
homeland before his duty to the army led to ‘Rang de Basanti’, the
growing awareness that every person had the potential of being an agent of
change. It could be played out in everyday life and not limited to some
great and extraordinary moment. In ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘3 Idiots’
the malaise that the society was in due to a uniform application of systems,
values and forms could be offset by tapping the revolutionary within for
seemingly less grand causes.
He was also able to make
films about the emerging middle classes in India that have shunned the
hang-ups of their parents and now live in a cosmopolitan culture each
carrying the cross of their own responsibilities. ‘Dil Chahata Hai’, was
one such film that had a contemporary feel about it as well as ‘Dhobi Ghat’
where the younger characters are exposed to situations that they resolve or
fail to resolve themselves.
It is rare in Indian
cinema to make a film about the contemporary situations and everyday
characters without taking recourse to the stock characterisation and their
resolution in faith or patriotism. ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ had a contemporary
feel because it was not a fall back upon the clichés without miring itself
in the hang-ups and guilt. Many of the stock situations and responses were
challenged in that film and this contemporary feel about placing the
individual first was more critical than even the collective fellow feelings
evoked around Mangal Panday.
why the Indian cinema has more scope for experimentation is because of its
exponential growth, for even if the film does not do well it still does not
bomb at the box-office forcing the producer to pin a mortgage notice on his
front door. Enough light has not been shed on this aspect that makes the
niche activity a viable option which the earlier cine cavaliers did not
The book is a
filmography focussing on twenty one films that have been part of Aamir
Khan’s journey. The story is told through interviews and press coverage
from the last 20 years including perspective from directors, co stars and
other colleagues. Together they recreate a multidimensional cinematic
portrait of an unparalleled Indian actor.
Christian Daniels holds a masters degree in New Media from the London School
of Economics and Political Science and currently works as a corporate
communications advisor and also a cinema columnist for Citizens Matters in
Bangalore. She has written a novel ‘Ginger Soda Lemon Pop’ and co
authored ‘Mind Blog 1-0’.
The book is
available at Liberty Books.
I’ll Do It
The Incredible Journey of
By: Christina Daniels
Publisher: Om Books
A horde of beggars
lands on you when you stop at traffic signals in the cities. They come in
the garb of chronic patients to crumbling invalids, starving orphans to
young mothers holding permanently sick and sleepy kids. Next to the regular
crowd men dressed up as women, and appearing to be transvestites, are the
new addition to the group of charity seekers.
Come Ramzan and you
don’t spot these provocatively-dressed transvestites on the streets. May
be their handlers think it inappropriate to send them with their attractive
attires and suggestive gestures in front of pious fasting Muslims. Whatever
the reason, they appear to have temporarily left their professional arena to
the crippled youth, skinny children, homeless females and penniless men.
Interestingly, one can see
a similar attitude reflected in art too. During this month, the usual art
activities are brought to a halt under some ‘unwritten law’ or hidden
code of ethics. Galleries are mostly not prepared to hold exhibitions of
general art, even if they don’t depict human figures or represent female
forms. All kinds of ‘exciting’ art — like the transvestite beggars —
is suspended for this period. Instead, marginalised and minor artists are
given chance to display or the month is devoted to exhibitions of
calligraphy. Therefore, it is not surprising that Alhamra Art Gallery Lahore
has already held a calligraphy show and is having its second one; similarly
Ejaz Galleries has organised a display of calligraphic paintings. One
expects more such events planned at different galleries in Lahore, Karachi
and Islamabad before the holy month ends.
In keeping with the
custom, Satrang Gallery (situated at the Serena Hotel, and a new
establishment in Islamabad) has also arranged an exhibition of calligraphy.
Co-organised by the Embassy of The Islamic Republic of Egypt, the show
opened on 11th of Ramzan hosted by the Egyptian Ambassador (a great
supporter of art, especially of Pakistani art), and will continue till
August 31, 2012.
The exhibition is not much
different from any other show devoted to this genre. It includes works with
typical imagery and method of Ahmed Khan, Saeed Akhtar, Arif Khan, Khursheed
Alam, Gauhar Qalam and Bin Qalander, joined by new comers like Mussarat Arif
and Shahzad Zar. Since most buyers are inclined to purchase the beautifully
written ‘divine text’ rather than focusing on the visual merit of a
work, one does come across canvases in which the text is painted without
much care for the aesthetic value of the piece.
This tendency of
sacrificing the aesthetic aspect in the name of sacred service can hardly
qualify as spiritual. Because one of the attributes of God is Jamil and the
Creator Defines Him as the Appreciator of beauty. In Muslim cultures,
calligraphy was a means to attain aesthetic sophistication. Calligraphy was
not a peripheral pursuit but a mainstream art in which Muslims excelled with
their manuscripts, metal inlays and stone carvings. For them, calligraphy
provided a path to search and achieve ideal beauty, one of the aspects of
Truth. Thus traditionally, the scribes used to start their work after
ablution because the art of writing was considered a scared activity. And,
due to this emphasis on writing, profound inventions in scripts, like Nuskh,
Nastaliq, Thuluth and Shikasteh etc. were made in Muslim societies.
The matter of introducing
new element in the tradition is significant because it can take place when
the tradition is understood and is being lived ‘naturally’ and not
treated as an entity for monetary or other benefits. This commercial aspect
is all too visible in the numerous canvases of calligraphy put up for sale
in our times, especially during the holy month.
However, in the exhibition
at Satrang (titled ‘Noon Wal Qalam’ and jointly curated by Asma Arshad
Khan and Zahra Khan), one finds examples of works with a creative approach
towards past forms. For instance, Rasheed Butt has created works with
recognisable shapes of letters combined with their mirror image, all in
gold, so the aesthetic quality of the script becomes more prominent than its
Likewise, Ali Asad Naqvi
deals with the practice of zoomorphic calligrams in an unusual scheme. There
has been a convention to compose letters in such a way that a word or line,
along with revealing its meaning, shows the shape of an animal, flower or
some other object. The Muslim artists have been using this technique to
express a diversity of forms and complexity of images but Naqvi, in his
work, not only continues the convention but has critiqued it. On first
glance, his pastels on paper seem to be repeating the style but in reality
the forms of animals (like horse) or a bird are just outlines on the text
This illusion of tradition
is the main content of Ali Asad Naqvi’s work; it communicates how
following the tradition can be a deceptive pursuit as well as suggests
possibilities which can be traditional but may deviate from it too.
opportunity in the hands of our artists can be extended to other traditions
of artistic and aesthetic expressions which are not explored yet or at least
not in that critical, creative and analytical tone. One is confident that
our artists will approach their past and heritage in a similar manner but
perhaps only once the Ramzan is over!
Quoting people and
citing what they either wrote or said is one of the basic elements of both
academic research and journalism. While academia will rely more on the
written word, Journalism tends to rely heavily on what people have said on
various subjects and “We need a quote” is something many editors will
often have told their staffers, as quotes will give both authenticity and
veracity to any piece.
That being the case, it is
astonishing how many clever and competent people go down the slippery slope
of being dishonest about this in their writing. The latest case is that of
Jonah Lehrer who a few weeks ago admitted that he had fabricated quotes in
his book ‘Imagine: How Creativity Works’. These were quotes from Bob
Dylan, and the lie was exposed by Michael C. Moynihan in an article in the
American magazine ‘Tablet’. Lehrer was thoroughly disgraced: he was
forced to leave his job at The New Yorker (where he had been for only two
months) and his publishers withdrew his book from circulation.
What is particularly
fascinating about Lehrer’s case is that he is a scientist (they who need
clear evidence and hard facts) whose work seems to have devoted to
understanding human behaviour through neuroscience and psychology. He
majored in neuroscience at Columbia University and then was a Rhodes Scholar
at Oxford. His work has looked at the links between science and the
humanities, as well as what motivates people to behave in certain ways.
So, perhaps the obvious
thing for Lehrer to now examine is: what makes people lie?
Well, what does make
people lie? In the case of journalism, it can be a variety of things but it
is mostly laziness and/or arrogance. Arrogance because the writer makes the
inaccuracy/lie a sort of a challenge, thrown out to the world, and based on
the assumption that people are too stupid to know otherwise, and who’s
going to notice anyway? This perverse tendency is evident in the cases of
Jayson Blair, Johann Hari and, most amusingly, in the case of the famous
“Syrian Lesbian blogger” writing about the Syrian conflict from Damascus
who turned out to be a middle aged, married American man in Edinburgh.
The most blatant instance
of such dishonest behaviour that I have encountered in my career concerns
the well-established correspondent of a major English language Pakistani
newspaper, who reported from Washington DC. In the post 9/11 backlash which
resulted in a climate of Islamophobia and American reactionary nationalism,
he filed a number of stories for our news website on various aspects of this
mood and what it was doing to families and communities. One story was about
traumatised Muslim families moving to Canada because of the American mood.
Bad luck for Mr Correspondent that our editor spotted a near identical story
in one of the US papers. Mr Correspondent had, for his Urdu ‘report’,
taken all the quotes but changed quotees’ profiles subtly — something
like: a ‘child holding a teddy bear’ being recast a girl clutching a
doll! Or turning an Arab-American family into a Pakistani-American one.
Mr Correspondent (being
paid per article, naturally) had filed a number of stories for us in the
days before this so the discovery of this plagiarism naturally cast doubt on
the veracity of all his stories. When confronted with evidence and
reprimanded, he first protested that he had had ‘hired some (nameless)
illegal to go out and get quotes and this illegal had now disappeared’.
After this new fiction became ridiculously incredible, he pretty much
admitted to his dishonesty and wanted to know if this meant he should not
file any more stories...?
Correspondent still files for his paper and takes by-lines on his (mostly
front-page) stories. I read these ‘reports’ with a great deal of
cynicism and distrust — I can never believe anything he says because, for
me, his behaviour destroyed his credibility. Journalistic integrity is not a
term much used any more, but it is the key element in our interaction with
news and analysis.
media organisations seem to recruit people on their personality or celebrity
without bothering to check their journalistic integrity. Their
celebrity/reputation allows such people to get away with fictions, slurs and
general rubbish, as editors will often just let them do their own thing.
Whether this is fabricated quotes or propagating rumours — this shoddy,
often untrue, material gets into the mainstream of news in this manner.
integrity and veracity shouldn’t be forgotten about in this day and age.
But, even in the UK now, large media corporations are now tending to recruit
based solely on what a candidate says about his/herself in a CV and an
interview. In interviews, such candidates put on a great performance and
boast about their great achievements, and generally BS their way into the
post. No effort is made to check their references or their reputation among
their colleagues (past and present), even though their integrity and general
sanity are key to their professional work.
So why lie? Perhaps
journalists become so dazzled by the power of the written word that they
think they can get away with anything and their readers are too stupid to
notice. There was no need for Jonah Lehrer to fabricate Bob Dylan’s
quotes, he could have tried for real quotes. But he did not and now his
reputation is destroyed. Bad for him, but good for us, because liars and
con-artists should be exposed as such. And even though the internet and
social media allows people to create strange cyberspace identities for
themselves, this new age also allows people to examine texts and sift
through differing claims and find alternative narratives independently of
the ‘experts’. Whether these untruths feature in news reports, Ph.D
theses or clever scholarly books, it is nice to think that Truth will out
and liars will be exposed...eventually.