word about letters
Failure of intellect
Ashfaq Ahmed's contribution does not hold up when examined in the light of Edward Said's criteria of an intellectual
By Samra Soomro, Hina Nawaz and Saba Abdali
Ashfaq Ahmed was a distinguished writer, playwright, broadcaster, and spiritualist. Born on Aug 22, 1925, he witnessed a history of political, religious and economic turmoil unfolding itself. By the time of his death on Sept 7, 2004, he had himself become a living legend. Ashfaq Ahmed's status as an intellectual was also established. But was he one?
Every piece of prose has its proper context. Contextualizing Ashfaq Ahmed is just as summing up the history of Pakistan. Ahmed, as a child, saw the British ruling India. As a teenager he witnessed the Pakistan Resolution being passed. In this age, Ashfaq Ahmed and his contemporaries saw great people who were renowned for their philosophy, intellect and oratory and are, till this date, known as heroes of independence
Immediately after independence, Ahmed witnessed the migration of Muslims from India to Pakistan. He observed the moral degradation of many heroes of our independence. After this, Pakistan detracted from the ideals of democracy and the politicians were becoming venal. They started making small power pockets and the bureaucrats and feudal lords struggled for their undue share in power rather than building a welfare state which was the dream of the Muslims of India.
Despite having witnessed all this, and having the intellect to preserve these moments creatively, Ashfaq Ahmed and people like him became ineffective in motivating people for progress and change after independence. Was it because their interests changed? Was it because of their inability to perceive situations? Was it because people saw a difference in their speech and actions? Or were they voicing objectives unnecessary in Pakistan or simply too highbrow to be understood by the common man? Thus, misdirected and misdirecting intellect. Because even after independence the 'dream' Pakistan did not become a reality.
In his book of essays Zaviya–II published in 2006, -- which was also made into a television programme -- Ashfaq Ahmed relates his life experiences. Since Ahmed's writings are never political, a careful observation of Zaviya–II shows that Ahmed asks people not to raise their voices against the oppressive regimes that Pakistan faced. According to Edward Said, an intellectual's mission in life is to advance human freedom and knowledge. This mission often means standing outside society and its institutions and actively disturbing the status quo. At the same time, Said's intellectual is part of society and should address his concerns to as wide a public as possible. The intellectual is constantly balancing the private and the public. His or her private, personal commitment to an ideal provides necessary force yet; the ideal must have relevance for society.
Said further defines the intellectual as "neither a pacifier nor a consensus builder, but someone whose whole being is staked on critical sense, a sense of being unwilling to accept easy formulas, or ready made clichés or the smooth, ever-so-accommodating confirmations of what the powerful or conventional have to say, and what they do. Not just passively unwilling but actively willing to say so in public."
Thus, intellectuals reflect society in their writings. They should not only deal with the issues of everyday life, but also present them in relation to the broader structure of the state situations, that way an intellectual can tell why people suffer in everyday life, what problems they face as a nation and what kind of oppression they face from power structures. An intellectual should be against the oppressor and with the oppressed, only then he would be truly followed and taken as a revolutionary. In the words of Said, an intellectual in short engages in the act of "speaking truth to power."
For change in the society, challenging the existing discourse is necessary. Such kind of writings reform the society, stop stagnation of the mind and motivate people. However, the kind of issues that Ashfaq Ahmed deals with in Zaviya-II can be seen from the following examples:
In his essay Tasleem o raza kay banday, Ahmed asks people to gain happiness from small things in life. He gives an example of a worker who goes to work regularly but does not go one day. When asked, the worker says that his son recently started walking but he missed it because of his extensive working hours, so he did not go to his work one day to see his son walk.
The worker in missing one day of his work did not only reduce his salary but also damaged his working place by decreasing production and the state at large. No doubt, small things are important in life but work is also important.
Ashfaq Ahmed seems to contradict himself, in Chota kaam, he says minor things are also of huge importance and the one who does not pay heed to minor issues faces great difficulties. In the same essay, he says that the small ordeals in life bring discipline and Islam also believes in discipline rather than false claims.
Ahmed also stresses on "sharing" to achieve happiness in life but he thinks that our society is afraid of sharing.
They are sections of society deprived of the welfare promised to them by the state, so Ahmed should have talked about why the government is not providing people with enough resources.
Furthermore, Ahmed in the same essay gives the example of trees. Trees stand beside each other for years, but are not jealous of each other and happily sway about. Trees never complain and also share oxygen and carbon dioxide with humans.
Human beings, however, cannot be like trees. Life is diverse and dynamic and people need change and freedom. They need to address their personal, social and political issues, voice them and solve them. Probably Ashfaq Ahmed is able to philosophize on such matters because he himself was economically well-off.
In Unparh suqraat ,Ahmed says people like cobblers and black smiths do not have a degree but they have skills and because of their experience and their environment, they are wise and we should respect them. In another place, he criticizes the materialistic approach of people because sometimes they run after the luxuries of life and lose their peace in the world. Ahmed believes that human beings should live peacefully and that many people only look concerned but are completely cut off from each other internally.
Apart from this, in Chahiye ka rog he tells people that 'should' should not be used. For instance, if we say that we should make dams to produce electricity then this should not only be in the form of an objective but practical actions should be taken for it. However, the public who demands certain things can do nothing without the government and its laws. Laws should be made for the welfare of the state and the government should meet the demands of the people. It is the responsibility of the state to build dams and schools and make laws.
In Bongian marein khush rahain, he tells a person to be happy and mentally relaxed even if a person has to do something absurd to achieve this goal. In Punjab ka dupatta, he talks about a girl who comes from Punjab to Sindh to pray for her brother. Ahmed says that she is the symbol of unity between different provinces and if she can be indifferent to provincial difference then why cannot other people do the same? Nevertheless, he should be asking why there is no unity in the society.
Ahmed discusses metaphysical and abstract issues as well. In Multinational khawashain, he discusses the nature of God and argues that God is neither known nor unknown… yet one should try to know Him.
In his essay, Maazi ka album, he says that one should not discuss the past. In this way a person does nothing else but gain the sympathies of other people. He asks people to be indifferent to their sufferings. In Well-wishing, he says that we should help victims by praying for them.
Only praying will not do the job, even in religion, docile people are considered disagreeable by God. Prophets themselves were revolutionaries and resisted the existing order. Ashfaq Ahmed refers to the ancient philosophy of stoicism, which was opposed by Sir Francis Bacon centuries ago. Bacon believed that adversity is not which comes to you as a result of oppression and you face it with a stoical indifference. Adversity is the problems which you face after you have resisted the existing order and then you remain steadfast in your opinions no matter what happens.
Seldom does Ahmed talks about the real issues of the state. For instance, in taraqi ka ibleesi naach he talks about the atrocities committed by the white Americans on their African slaves. But he hardly talks about his own state. Criticism is done on one's own country for the reformation of one's own people. The real objective is one's own country. Chekhov criticized his own Russia, not Europe.
In Men kon hun Ahmed wants to return to the lost innocence of his childhood as Blake did but Blake also spoke for the miseries of the poor and the deprived people of London.
Thus, we can conclude after observing Edward Said's description of an intellectual that Ashfaq Ahmed's essays are based on trivial matters. He definitely talks about the relationships of one individual with the other but not about the relation of individuals with the state. He diverts people to metaphysical solace without asking them to do anything about their political destiny. Thus Ashfaq Ahmed is more of a preacher than an intellectual.
Ghalib kept the best part of his self for posterity to relish in the form of his diwan
By Anis Nagi
Ghalib died on Feb 15, 1869, at the age of seventy-three in a dilapidated haveli in Delhi. His end was appalling as he was lonely, afflicted with many diseases and without a medical cover. He was issueless, penniless and in debt of eight hundred rupees which he had bequeathed to his belligerent wife Umrao Begum. However, he left to posterity a small dewan of poetry which became a great landmark in the history of Urdu literature. All subsequent Urdu poets agree that ghazal attained new heights in Ghalib's poetry and, without him, it would have crumbled to mediocrity.
Ghalib had become a classic in his lifetime but his contemporaries ridiculed his early abstruse poetry. Contemporary chroniclers seldom mentioned him, save a story about his conviction on the charge of running a gambling den. Due to the indifferent attitude of the people around, many valuable details of his life are shrouded in mystery, and it is difficult to write an authentic biography of the poet. Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, the poet and the critic who met Ghalib rarely, wrote his first biography thirty years after his death commonly known as Yadgar Ghalib. Hali had access to the details of his controversial life, but he confined himself to the details provided by Ghalib himself in his letters, commonly known as Urdu-e-Moala. Hali painted him as a happy-go-lucky man without a worry. He misread these letters written in Urdu and ignored the subtext of these letters which reveal the anguish and rancour of an artist who suffered due to his erratic life choices. He often laughs out but, at the same time, reveals a lot many things about his own self. His letters are the solitary source of his biography.
But a word of caution: Ghalib was a master of histrionics, very often simulated. There are many contradictory statements made by him in his letters. These deviations were due to the ambivalent political setup in Delhi which was a centre of intrigues and jealously among defunct nawabs and generals. The Mughal King held the baton of power within the Red Fort. Ghalib drew his family pension from the Company and also got a small stipend from the Mughul King for whom he was supposed to write. Ghalib was a man with divided loyalties. Culturally he was rooted in the Mughal tradition and was wholly dependent on the British administration for his monthly pension and arrears of pensions. Ghalib had been accused of bad faith, sycophancy and extreme reverence to the British officers in Delhi. His small booklet Dustanbo (perfume in the hand), written in antiquated Persian prose, was severely criticised for justifying and welcoming the fall of Delhi and the supremacy of the British in the 1857 revolution.
Ghalib cleverly took sides in this panegyric writing. He was a wise guy who knew the art of balancing the scales. No wonder he lamented over the suffering and destruction of culture after the occupation of Delhi.
Ghalib was an ambitious man and his love for money was limitless. To improve his financial resources he entered in litigation with his father-in-law's elder brother Nawab Ahmad Bux of Lahaoro who trickily reduced Ghalib's pension by half giving equal share to one Kawaja Haji, a remote relative of Ghalib. Ghalib objected to this division of pension. He was a tenacious litigant who knew the ins and outs of litigation. He filed an appeal against this injustice in the Privy Council at Calcutta. He borrowed a huge sum of thirty thousand rupees, proceeded to Calcutta in 1828 and remained there for two years fighting the case which he ultimately lost.
Ghalib was a complex man with ambivalence as a personality trait. He was a poet par excellence with an inflated ego who was tortured by wordly ambitions. He oscillated between opposites and could not choose between the two. Ghalib was a victim of circumstances. His father Abdullah Khan, a mercenary solider who mostly lived with his in-laws, died when he was eight and his uncle Nasrullah Baig took the charge of his brother's family. He too died after some years when Ghalib was in his infancy. His uncle fought against the British on behalf of the Marathas who were struggling to conquer Delhi. They were defeated and Nasrullah Baig Khan went over to the British and was rewarded with the Subedari of Agra. Later, Ghalib took the maximum advantage of this elevation and declared his uncle a nawab and demanded this status from the British administration. He added the word nawab to his name and that of his uncle.
Like many others in Delhi waiting for a pension from the British, he pretended to live as a nawab. All of them were decadent and poor nawabs, living in the nostalgia of affluent days. They nourished themselves on debts, sitting idle or gambling and drinking. Ghalib joined their ranks. He borrowed money, gambled, distilled liquor and was finally sentenced to six-month rigorous imprisonment.
In fact, Ghalib was playing the role of a nawab-poet on the cultural stage of Delhi. It was just megalomania which haunted him and finally led to the moral and intellectual collapse of a genius.
All these circumstances trickled down in his creative sensibility and he was rancorous against his own self. His desire for death, self-rejection, hopelessness, loneliness, failure in love and a fruitless compulsive life became recurrent themes of his poetry. His life and his poetry are interrelated. His psychological insight, variety of experience and density in perception was unmatched. He was a meticulous craftsman, capable of creating unusual images and multiple meanings in a short-circuited ghazal pattern. His ghazals have more than two genres, each having its distinctive nuance and complementing each other.
Ghalib has many literary positions: he is an eloquent Persian poet as well as a great prose writer. In Urdu, Ghalib has no equal and needs to be reinterpreted with the passage of time.
By Kazy Javed
Remembring Dr Dani
My first meeting with Dr. Ahmad Hasan Dani took place at his office at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad where he was a senior professor in 1980. The late Dr. Muhammad Afzal, the then minister of education --who was very kind to me because of his acquaintance with my father -- had arranged the meeting. I had read some of Dani Sahib's books and was quite aware of his position in the academic circles.
He received me with a big smile and said that although he had not read my books, Dr. Muhammad Afzal had told him about my fields of interest.
I gave Dr.Dani a copy of my book on the social philosophy of Bertrand Russell, which was published by the National Book Foundation. He praised Russell and told me that he had a dozen of his books. He particularly admired the British philosopher's book US War Crimes in Vietnam that eventually led to the International War Crimes Tribunal to look into the American war crimes in Vietnam. He expressed the view that a similar tribunal should have been formed to investigate the gory events of former East Pakistan.
Dr.Dani also talked about Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan who taught philosophy at Cambridge University, wrote books on history and problems of philosophy, and later became President of India. He told me about his encounter with the learned professor when he was vice-chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University. Dr.Dani said that after his matriculation from the American Mission School in Raipur, he sought admission in Banaras University for higher studies. When his application was turned down, he somehow managed to meet Dr. Radhakrishnan and got his approval. Consequently he got the distinction of being the first Muslim graduate of the Banaras Hindu University.
My last meeting with Dr. Dani took place in Lahore's Model Town Library some four years ago where he was delivering a lecture on the Indus Civilization.
With the death of Dr.Dani in the last week of January, we have been deprived of a scholar who was respected around the world for his contribution in the fields of history, culture, anthropology and archaeology. He has left a wide vacuum in our academic and literary scenario which many generations will find hard to fill.
Aslam Kamal's calligraphic paintings, have won admiration from the renowned German Orientalist Dr. Annemarie Schimmel. She once wrote that she ranked Aslam Kamal very high among those who had turned to ornate calligraphy in the Muslim world for "the unique combination of form, meaning and sense of colour, along with an apparently inexhaustible inventiveness and deep respect for the message of the sacred word that is found in his work."
Aslam Kamal won his early spurs by employing his fine calligraphic and painting skills for designing book jackets during the 1970s. Those were the days when every writer would run after him to get an engaging dust cover for his book. Aslam Kamal says he has designed title covers for over twenty thousand books.
He is also a poet and author. His travel books have been quite popular with readers.
The Lahore office of the Pakistan Academy of Letters organized a special meeting in the past week to pay homage to him. The meeting was attended by a number of the painter's admirers, including, Shahid Ali Khan, Hasan Majrooh, Shibs Teraz, Tasneem Kausar, Naseem ur Rehman, Saeed Qureshi Arshad Shaheen, Iqbal, Rahid and Salim Malik among others.
Dastavaiz is not a regularly published magazine. Ashraf Salim brings out an issue once or twice a year. However, each edition has several valuable literary pieces.
I have before me the 13th issue of Dastavaiz which was published recently on the occasion of the National Writers Conference organised by the Pakistan Academy of Letters in Islamabad. Besides articles by Dr. Saadat Saeed, Razia Shamshir and Younas Hasan, it carries short stories by Aasim Butt, Iftikhar Nasim, Irfan Urfi and Tasneem Kausar.
The section on poetry contains ghazals and poems of Yasmin Hamid, Khuram Kharam Siddiqi, Ali Yasir, Farakh Yar, Akhtar Raza Salemi and others.
Another journal of literary importance I received during the past week is the quarterly Al-Zubair. Founded by the late Shahab Delhevi in the 1960s, the Urdu Academy of Bahawalpur has been regularly publishing it in the face of overwhelming odds.
Al-Zubair is now edited by Dr. Shahid Hasan Rizvi who teaches history at the Bahawalpur University and is known for his literary interest. I value the quarterly greatly as it provides us with the rare opportunity to go through the writings of scholars, literary critics, fictionists and poets of Bahawalpur and South Punjab. It has also contributed to preserve the literary and cultural tradition that was developed in the former state of Bahawalpur during the late 19th and early 20th century.
The contributors to the current issue of the Al-Zubair are Dr. Ibrar Mohyuddin Mirza, Dr. Sameera Bashir, Mohammad Ilyas Miranpur, Gohar Malisani, Khawaja Mahmood Koreeja, Javed Akhatar Bhatti, Sabir Azeemabadi, Sultan Sabarwani, Dr. Hafiz Safwan Mohammad Chauhan and others.