'Writing has no gender'
Nasreen Anjum Bhatti is amongst those few women poets and writers who inspired political activism in the dark era of General Zia. Her book of poetry, titled 'Neel Karain Neelkaan-Deeyaan Di War', created a stir when published around the time when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged. 

Love never dies
Sarah Kane was ushered as the most important new voice of British playwrights
By Ali Sultan
For all that's been written and said about the British playwright Sarah Kane, her themes of redemption, sexual desire, pain, torture -- both psychological and physical -- and death, she always -- underneath her often cruel, isolated landscapes -- was writing about love.
Sarah Kane (born 1971) was five plays and a short film old when she committed suicide -- after a struggle with mental illness -- by hanging herself in a bathroom at London's King's College Hospital on Feb 20,1999.



'Writing has no gender'

Nasreen Anjum Bhatti is amongst those few women poets and writers who inspired political activism in the dark era of General Zia. Her book of poetry, titled 'Neel Karain Neelkaan-Deeyaan Di War', created a stir when published around the time when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged.

A staunch advocate of 'maan boli' (mother tongue), Nasreen is a multi-lingual because she was born in Quetta, Balochistan, and raised in Sindh. She writes famously in English, Urdu and Punjabi. She is also well versed in Chinese and Russian literature.

She was a regular at the popular study circles of leftists, back in the sixties. She always spoke and wrote of class struggle, freedom of thought and humanity. In '79, when the police came to know that she was publishing a book on Bhutto, they started chasing her, with the result that no publisher was willing to print her.

Nasreen has also worked as a broadcaster in Radio Pakistan, Lahore, and patronised talent. After her retirement, she became attached with a literary organisation where she is currently conducting research.

Following are the excerpts from an exclusive interview with her:


The News on Sunday: Tell us something about your background?

Nasreen Anjum Bhatti: I am a Balochi by birth, Sindhi by domicile and Punjabi by marriage. I belong to the whole Pakistan. I spent my childhood in Quetta and got early education in a school where the Hazara girls would speak Persian. I played marble and all those games that are normally associated with boys. My family would get a lot of complaints about my fights with boys. Then we migrated to Jacobabad, Sindh, because my grand parents could not bear the bitter cold of Quetta. Later, I joined Lahore College as the Bachelor of Fine Arts student. This provided me with an opportunity to let free my adventurous spirit and study further. I did MA in Urdu from Oriental College. I spent two years in NCA, too, but did not get diploma. I also took part in the anti-Ayub movement.

TNS: What are your inspirations as a writer?

NAB: I am inspired by sufis like Madho Lal Hussain. I have also always got inspired by the various national liberation movements. I look up to people like Ho Chi Min, Che Guevara, Laila Khalid, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. Apart from that, I read Chinese and Russian literature a lot. I would attend study circles of which Sarmad Sehbai, Fahim Jozi, Shahid Mehmood Nadeem and Kanwal Mushtaq were also a part. Then, Najm Hosain Syed was my ideal. I still attend weekly meetings at his place.

TNS: When did you start writing?

NAB: I wrote my first poems at the age of nine and it was printed in 'Taleem-o-Tarbiat'. It was a great occasion for me and I showed it to all my friends. Later, I became the editor of my college magazine and contributed poems in Urdu and English. I also wrote in Sindhi and Punjabi. Presently, I write in Urdu and Punjabi. I started journalism while writing in the daily Imroze and Pakistan Times when I was a student. I wrote on literature, student politics and issues related to the girl child. Haroon Saad, the then editor of Pakistan Times asked me to contribute a regular column as a student.

TNS: When and how did you join Radio Pakistan?

NAB: I joined Radio Pakistan in 1971 through a talent-hunt programme. I would look after student activities and read poems and articles in literary programmes. I was a regular in radio when I was in university, so it wasn't something new for me. The board which interviewed me was headed by Tabbassum and the other members were Roomani, Shakoor Bedal and Ashfaq Ahmed Khan. Mufiz-ur-Rehman from East Pakistan was the chairman.

TNS: What is the role of the writer, specially a woman writer, in today's society?

NAB: Writing has no gender. In the subcontinent's literary history, we have had women like Ismat Chughtai, Qurratulain Hyder and Amrita Pritam. In Pakistan alone, we start with Fatima Jinnah who wrote about her brother; it's a small booklet of history.

I must also make a mention of Bapsi Sidhwa, Khadija Gohar, Altaf Fatima, Fatima Surayya Bajia, Farkhanda Lodhi, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, Kishwar Naheed, Fahmida Riaz, Azra Waqar, Abida Waqar and Fauzia Rafique, and finally Benazir Bhutto.

TNS: Does the current political scenario, in any way, hamper your creative freedom as a poet?

NAB: I feel I am free to think and write on the landscapes of my mind and hand over my dreams to future generations.

TNS: Would you like to comment on the cultural milieu of Pakistan?

NAB: We're talking about a country where the camels and horses can dance but human beings cannot. Singing is also not on.

TNS: How do you see the situation of women in Pakistan?

NAB: A woman gives birth to another human being but she is not allowed to breath freely by herself. All she asks for is a blue sky over her head and a small piece of land under feet.

TNS: Now that you are retired how do you spend your time?

NAB: Retirement is also a kind of a job. I have not accepted retirement just to remain idle. This is just another phase of my creativity and allows for time to do research work on the psychology of women.

Love never dies

By Ali Sultan

For all that's been written and said about the British playwright Sarah Kane, her themes of redemption, sexual desire, pain, torture -- both psychological and physical -- and death, she always -- underneath her often cruel, isolated landscapes -- was writing about love.

Sarah Kane (born 1971) was five plays and a short film old when she committed suicide -- after a struggle with mental illness -- by hanging herself in a bathroom at London's King's College Hospital on Feb 20,1999.

She burst quickly on to the theatre scene: Blasted where the action is set in a room of a luxurious hotel in Leeds where Ian, a racist and foul-mouthed middle-aged journalist, first tries to seduce and later rapes Cate, an innocent, simple-minded young woman. From its opening in a naturalistic -- though troubling -- world, the play takes on different, nightmarish dimensions when a soldier, armed with a sniper's rifle, appears in the room. The narrative ultimately breaks into a series of increasingly disturbing short scenes. Its scenes of rape, cannibalism, and other forms of brutality, in 1995, was an instant scandal -- Howard Baker and Harold Pinter became her fans. After writing four more plays 'Phaedra's Love', 'Cleansed', 'Crave' and '4.48 Psychosis' -- over the next four years, she took her own life. Like the great Romantic poets, Kane was drawn to death. What greater end to the life of a young genius than suicide?

We prefer our artists to be Romantic. We are still drawn to the idea that the artist is suddenly struck by the muse, that at a painfully young age they are compelled to write. No learning a craft, no honing a work: just a straight explosion from the self on to the page.

Kane's work wasn't just some outpouring of the soul. It was immensely crafted. She wrote the first draft of 'Blasted' while studying in Birmingham, which was full of long, rich sentences, inspired by playwright Howard Barker. When a friend suggested that a more edited form of language might be better, Sarah began retyping the play, each time refining, tightening, and honing it. It was discipline that informed 'Blasted' as much as the emotion at its core.

What strikes one while reading her work is that Kane was essentially a modernist -- her favourites were Beckett, T.S Eliot; work that was flinty, imagistic, not immediately accessible. Whereas contemporaries were locating characters in a postmodern landscape of shiny surfaces under which pain was bubbling, Kane was placing her work in an essential, somehow more substantial, landscape. Contemporary Playwright's artistic world was being informed by the claustrophobic bubble of high capitalism; Kane's was a more brutally naked environment. The horrors of Auschwitz and Kosovo provided her with inspiration; where everyone else wrote on a laptop, Kane typed on a manual typewriter.

Kane was then commissioned by the Gate Theatre ,London, to write a play inspired by a classic text. 'Phaedra's Love' was loosely based on the classical dramatist Seneca's play 'Phaedra', but given a contemporary setting. In this reworking of the myth of Phaedra's doomed love for her stepson Hippolytus, it is Hippolytus, rather than Phaedra, who takes the central role. It is Hippolytus' emotional cruelty which pushes Phaedra to suicide. Kane reversed classical tradition by showing, rather than describing, violent action on stage. The play contains some of Kane's wittiest and most cynical dialogue. She described it as "my comedy". Directed by Kane, it was first performed at the Gate Theatre in 1996.

In 'Phaedra's Love', Kane takes her central theme head on. Where love is presented in its complexity, where mental and physical love are far apart yet so closely interlinked. It also marks her frustration with love. Starting with 'Phaedra's Love' Kane tries to strangle love, she puts it under extreme conditions in this case, Hippolytus lets himself be stoned and brutally cut up because Phaedra accuses him of raping her, which he thinks is the ultimate sacrifice for love.

'Cleansed' continued her strangulation, it marks the beginning of her departure from naturalistic writing. She abandoned explanatory dialogue, reinforcing her dark poetic imagery and relatively sparse dialogue.

It takes place in a university, ambiguous and without further details except for banal white rooms the university probably is a place where a man called tinker holds gruesome experiments on several individuals who seem to be in love with each other. The experiments are twisted in nature, where people start wearing each others clothes, their genitals are switched and in the end even identities become obscure. 'Cleansed' is perhaps Kane's most difficult play. Its unbinding motif to test love is sometimes hard to take. Even harder to take in, is the characters eternal search for some kind of love that overrides pain or even death. Things are made more complex by the fact that even the character Tinker, who is the propagator of such cruelty is in love with one of the characters.

Kane found the next step forward in her own work by assuming another identity. 'Blasted', 'Phaedra's Love' and 'Cleansed' shared the same aesthetic contours: language, psychology, stripped dialogue to achieve back to a visceral plane. 'Crave', which she first presented as a lunchtime reading for Paines Plough, (where she was resident writer) was something else. She wrote the first draft under the name Marie Kelvedon.

'Crave' was a play of voices; it had a freedom of language that she had not yet explored, where character had been replaced by the interplay of dialogue where there were no stage directions, no scene divisions. It was a play that had been many years in the making. She scoured old notes, poetry she had written several years before, to find its opposing voices: A fragmentary conversation between an older woman and a young man and an older man and a very young girl Kane's rhythms unleashing infinite sadness and anguish, tight hallucinatory lines. It seems here that Sarah Kane was in 'Cleansed' only influenced by herself.

Sarah Kane sadly, had problems with mental illness all her life. Her depressions became more intense; she denied herself food for long periods; eventually her thoughts turned to suicide. Some say that either Kane's depressive personality had been informing her work all along or the bouts of depression were interruptions to her creative self. Maybe something of the two.

There's a danger that we see all of Kane's work as one long preparation for suicide. We shouldn't. Only the last play, 4.48 Psychosis, is a play written during her periods of depression and hospitalisation (4:48 am is the time most suicides takes place). There are no characters at all. It seems to be a conversation between a doctor and a patient or a conversation of a person with itself. Its textual form resembles free form poetry. There are numbers. There are names of medicines. There is light and then there is none. '4.48 Psychosis' can only be read and performed endlessly, like all her work it has no final understanding, it demands feeling, which has no end.

Sarah Kane was a writer of great anger, of sardonic humour, who saw the cruelties of the world but also the human capacity for love.


Prestigious private universities are opening doors for the writing community. A step in that direction has been taken by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) which organised an evening with Iftikhar Arif and also arranged a gathering to commemorate Faiz Ahmed Faiz's 97th birth anniversary past fortnight.

At LUMS this welcome change can be ascribed to Yasmeen Hamid who recently joined the University as a teacher of literature. She is a noted poet with four volumes to her credit. The evening at LUMS attracted a large number of students and teachers while some writers including Shafqat Tanvir Mirza, Bushra Naqi, Roohi Naz, Rani Nazir, Nyla Daud, Kamran Bukhari and Sajid Gill were also present.

Two senior teachers of the University, Dr Muhammad Waseem, a renowned political analyst and Dr Numanul Haq, in their introductory remarks, eulogised Iftikhar Arif as a profoundly refined poet with enviable scholarship and vast experiences.

Giving an interesting account of his literary and intellectual development, Iftikhar Arif talked about his childhood in Lucknow where his ancestral home stood just a few hundred feet away from the Reform Club where Progressive Writers Association was formed in 1936. The Association was to influence a large number of writers belonging to almost all the major South Asian languages in the coming decades. He remembered his teachers, especially Dr Ehtsham Hussain, who gave his right hand for the promotion of progressive Ideas. He also acknowledged Iqbal, Josh, Majaz, Sajjad Zaheer, Mulk Raj Ahand and Faiz as the writers and leaders he admired the most.

Referring to the so-called rising clash of civilisations in the  contemporary world Iftikhar Arif remarked that our intellectuals should not forget that the spirit of the East cannot be subdued.


Jihad against Islamophobia

Dr Karen Armstrong is a renowned British scholar who has done a lot of intellectual work to promote sympathetic understanding among various civilisations, especially the Muslim and the Western, in the aftermath of of 9/11. She is a former Roman Catholic nun who now teaches modern literature at the University of London. Her recent books include 'Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time', 'Islam: A short History', 'The Battle for God' and 'A History of Fundamentalism.'

Karen Armstrong is a best selling author whose books have been translated into forty languages including Urdu. They have been widely read and she is acknowledged for her scholarship, impartiality and open mindedness. She was honoured by the Muslim Council for Public Affair (USA) in 1999 and the Muslim Association of Social Sciences (UK) in 2004 for her work in building bridges with the Muslim world. In fact, she describes her work as her jihad against Islamophobia. Two years ago, she was approached by Kofi Anan, the then secretary general of the United Nations, to join the initiative of the Alliance of Civilisations sponsored by the prime ministers of Turkey and Spain to counter the rising tide of the so-called clash of civilisations.

On the invitation of the Ismaili Council of Pakistan, Dr Karen Armstrong was in Lahore past fortnight. She delivered a thought provoking lecture on the 'Intellectual Traditions in Islam' largely attended by university students, teachers and men and women of letters.

Confident and enthusiastic about her mission, the world renowned scholar urged the Muslim intelligensia, in her lecture, to follow the teachings of their religion within the framework of reasoning developed during the early days of their history. Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and the Holy Quran, she said, encouraged the idea of pluralism. They taught respect and tolerance for other religions and civilisations. Early Muslim rulers and scholars greatly appreciated the significance of pluralism and were always open to new ideas. The hide-bound and hard-hearted fundamentalism that we now find growing in many parts of the Muslim world is a recent phenomenon which has been caused by various socio-political and economic factors.

Fundamentalism, Dr Karen Armstrong stressed, stops spiritual quest and leads to atrocities not compassion which is the true test of religiosity. Islam values tolerance and rejects blind faith. She asked the Muslims to explore the true meaning of its injunctions for betterment of humanity.

Dr Karen Armstrong's lecture in Lahore was the third in a series of five that the she was invited to deliver in Pakistan. Earlier delivering a lecture in Islamabad, she said that the post-modern mind "in the West was trying to reach out to old religious traditions" and suggested the Muslims should respond to it. She also expressed the hope that though the older generation was struck in fixed ideas, the young are not.



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