review
Any colour you like
Alice Albinia is a determined and observant traveller with a rare ability to find the right person and listen to their story
By Farjad Nabi
Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River
By Alice Albinia
Publisher: John Murray, Price: Rs 850
Pages: 384
Alice Albinia's book can perhaps be best described as a time travelogue. The narrative of her journey, from the Indus delta to the source of the river, reads like a storybook that hops, skips and jumps between time and space, poetry and politics, and sadness and joy. This lightfooted read is even more an accomplishment since the book is based upon some very serious research.

Manto, Faiz and Zamurrad are in good company
Wry humour and sharp wit define Khalid Hasan's writings
By Irfan Javed
I never met Khalid Hasan. Yet I met him in the dingy hall of the now defunct Imelia Hotel in Sialkot. I once saw him crouching in front of Madam Noor Jehan while they shared a joke. I again saw him with a mischievous twinkle in his eye standing by Zulfikar Bhutto while the latter addressed a public rally. Once I saw him smiling when writing his obituary of Prof Cyprian entitled Ijaz Cyprian is dead: long live Eric Cyprian. The last time I saw him, he was braving his way along a pavement in Washington on a stormy winter night. Now I will see him no more.

A word about letters
By Kazy Javed
50 years of Ataul Haq Qasmi
Ataul Haq Qasmi is a noted columnist, teacher, editor, poet, humorist, and former diplomat. He inherited many of these qualities from his father, Maulana Bahaul Haq Qasmi, who taught at the MAO College of Amritsar that emerged as an important center of progressive ideas in Punjab during the 1940s mainly because of its principal Dr. MD Taseer and Faiz Sahib who taught English there.

 

review

Any colour you like

Alice Albinia is a determined and observant traveller with a rare ability to find the right person and listen to their story

By Farjad Nabi

Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River

By Alice Albinia

Publisher: John Murray, Price: Rs 850

Pages: 384

Alice Albinia's book can perhaps be best described as a time travelogue. The narrative of her journey, from the Indus delta to the source of the river, reads like a storybook that hops, skips and jumps between time and space, poetry and politics, and sadness and joy. This lightfooted read is even more an accomplishment since the book is based upon some very serious research.

While reading the Rig Veda in Delhi as a 23 year old, she realises she had to see the Indus. "As if a match had been struck in a darkened room," she remembers. Five years later the story opens in Karachi where Alice makes the acquaintance of a sweeper emerging out of a blocked gutter and follows him home, on a two-hour bus ride. She ties this in with little known history of partition, such as the Government of Sindh's attempt to block migration of the 'depressed classes' to India. Karachi was turning into a stinking mess since the cleaners fled the city after the communal rioting in early 1948.

Such subaltern histories and personal friendships form the spirit of the book. One of the warmest examples is the chapter on the Sheedis, who came as African slaves to Sindh. Staying with the grandchildren of the legendary Mussafir, "the architect of Sheedi identity," she does a service to our history in translating his autobiography from Sindhi to English. For the first time we hear of the journey of the slaves from Zanzibar to Muscat to Sindh. "A woman in Tando Bago described to Mussafir how, as a young woman, she was made to stand all day with a pot of food on her head so that her master's favourite camel could eat without bending down its head to the ground", she quotes from Mussafir.

In a chapter titled 'River Saints' she visits the shrines of the Zindapir, revered by Hindus and Muslims alike, until the colonial rule that is, when a dispute arises and reaches the court. "The more I search through Sukkur's monuments, records and memories, the more I wonder why it was that the colonial court allowed a community that had worshipped together for eight hundred years to be divided… Perhaps what the colonial court fostered here in the 1880s was a classic case of divide-and-rule."

From Colonial history, Alice turns her feet to other invaders who came face to face with the Indus. Deciding to follow in the footsteps of Sultan Mahmud, she reaches Ghazni. The young American-appointed governor, 'Sultan Casanova of Ghazni' is her host for three days. At the governor's house, "we are twenty at breakfast - the Governor and I the only beardless ones – round a table of goat in various stages of dismemberment." At the Durand Line crossing point when there is a last minute hitch, a soldier tenders this advice to her, "Put on your burqa. Don't say a word. Don't laugh. Don't cry. Not a sound until you get to Bannu." Upon reaching Peshawar, she learns that hours after she crossed the border, riots broke out in Afghanistan and Ghazni's governor house was attacked and four people got killed.

This adventure is followed by another 'in the footsteps of…' journey. Alice, accompanied by Aslam, a friend of a friend, walks 400 kilometres from Bajaur to Pirsar, the route taken by Alexander. "And so it is. For the next fifteen days we walk through places that neither of us has seen before; and every night a stranger gives us food and shelter." This is an amazing walk criss-crossing between narratives of Greek historians and then spotting clues given by them, such as the ivy, in present day Pakistan.

Particularly ironic in the current context is her trip to Swat, the ancient name being Suvastu, which means 'good dwelling place.' It boggles the mind to know what this place once was. Going from one defaced Buddha statute to another, Alice finally searches out the one last intact Buddha carved into a Swat mountainside. In a postscript, she records that this too was blown up in 2007.

We go farther back in time yet as she visits the Kalash, armed with a new reference book -- the Rig Veda. Looking for ancient stone circles she hilariously asks the locals for 'pattar ka chowk'. Not only does she find the circles but some ancient stone carvings as well, upon which she practises her detective skills. As usual, we hear the other side of the story as well. The Kalash are converting, increasingly embarrassed of their own heritage. The heritage on the other hand is being sold to antiques smugglers.

Following the river into Kashmir she reaches Burzahom in India, a settlement closely linked with Moenjodaro and Harrapa. She ties the war over Kashmir with the looming water shortages in both India and Pakistan, drawing parallel with these disappeared cities of the ancients. " It is easy to see Kashmir as paradise on earth, as Indians long have. One can only hope that when Pakistan, India and China dam the life out of their rivers --when the brick cities of the plains perish once again -- the paradise will survive, as it has done till now."

In Tibet, Alice finally walks to the source of her river with an endearing account of her local guides, a rag-tag crew full of songs and eccentricities. However, not before she comes face to face with one of her biggest fears -- a Chinese dam on the Indus.

'They cut the river,' a kind Tibetan police officer explains later that day, 'two months ago.' "So for the past two months, as I have journeyed east through Baltistan, Kashmir and Ladakh, it is not the Indus I have been following upwards, not the Indus's history I have been writing, but the sum of its tributaries." This is a setback to her spirit and a tinge of sadness is added to her final trek, moments of which are poetry. Crossing a shallow river in Tibet, "I look down at my feet moving across the bed, across pebbles the colour of the gorges we have walked through: sky blue, tsampa pink, turmeric yellow."

Empires of the Indus too, has all these colours.

'Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River' is available at Readings, Lahore.

 

Manto, Faiz and Zamurrad are in good company

Wry humour and sharp wit define Khalid Hasan's writings

 

By Irfan Javed

I never met Khalid Hasan. Yet I met him in the dingy hall of the now defunct Imelia Hotel in Sialkot. I once saw him crouching in front of Madam Noor Jehan while they shared a joke. I again saw him with a mischievous twinkle in his eye standing by Zulfikar Bhutto while the latter addressed a public rally. Once I saw him smiling when writing his obituary of Prof Cyprian entitled Ijaz Cyprian is dead: long live Eric Cyprian. The last time I saw him, he was braving his way along a pavement in Washington on a stormy winter night. Now I will see him no more.

It was a couple of decades ago when I was advised to read his weekly column in The Nation, to improve my language skills, though it had the same impact on my language as the snake had on biting Irshad Kazmi, the poet. "The snake died much earlier than the poet," Khalid Hasan had written in his vintage style. Needless to say, I became his devoted reader.

His likes and dislikes were intense, transcending reason. He admired Faiz and Manto to the point of reverence and was ready to go to any extent in their defence. He devoured Urdu literature, earned his living from English and was most comfortable in Punjabi. He had a natural bent for exaggeration when it came to people whom he admired. He once wrote about his extraordinarily talented class fellow and friend Zamurrad Malik, who died young of a massive heart attack in front of a book shop on The Mall, Lahore, "He could read palms, work out a horoscope, decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, read and write Gurmukhi, quote at random from any of Freud's books – and accurately explain the inner workings of the Kremlin, recite Punjabi mystical poetry, speak for hours on impressionist paintings and explain why Picasso was different from a coconut." His sharp and witty style of writing and his poetic nature can easily explain his affinity for the crisp writings of Manto, and his love for the poetry of Faiz. Madam Noor Jahan, about which both he and Manto wrote extensively, Manto in Noor-e- Jehan, Saroor-e- Jehan and Khalid Hasan in Rearview Mirror among numerous columns, was also a passion common between the two.

Nostalgia resonated frequently in his writings and dominated his personality. He fondly referred to his acquaintances who had died decades ago and often quoted anecdotes from his college days. This yearning for days gone by must have driven him to translate reminiscences of old Lahore rendered by that incorrigible nostalgic A. Hameed. Had that obsession with the past not been there, the genius of Zammurrad Malik would have gone unnoticed. He reminisced about his days with Bhutto with the same intensity as he passionately recalled the photogenic memory of Chacha Muhammad Din who sold oranges in front of Murray College, Sialkot.

Wry humour and sharp wit defined his columns. Only Khushwant Singh, from across the border, outsmarted him in this field. His writing style seemed simple and pointed on the surface, but in fact had a plethora of meaning underneath. Khalid Hasan's integrity was exceptional. It is well known that he resigned from his government post in protest against the persecution of Bhutto, and remained his ardent admirer. However, while writing on Bhutto's persona, he was candid when he wrote about his "congenital suspicion of friends, high sensitivity to personal criticism, a penchant for squandering public funds." Similarly in his sketch of Benazir Bhutto after her assassination, while affectionately praising her, he did not overlook her personal weaknesses and administrative failings.

Having a penchant for inviting controversies on political and literary fronts, he was never short of ideas. His utterances in the documentary Islamic Bomb created quite a stir. When Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi wrote a character sketch of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, mentioning the poet's personal weaknesses without questioning his literary credentials, Khalid Hasan was devastated. He wrote that it would have been better if Qasmi Sahib had not left the post of sub-inspector in the Excise Department and had not devoted his life to literature. Needless to say, Qasmi Sahib was deeply hurt. But then, Khalid Hasan was a human being prone to emotional highs and lows.

Ironically, one of his best works, also the least noticed, Style book: a guide for writing simple and correct English, is a book in which he very intelligently pointed out common mistakes most local writers make when writing in English. Admittedly it is not a work of great scholarship, but it contains valuable guidelines on writing well, significant enough to make it an important reference book.

Similarly, Rearview Mirror is a gem of a book. It contains four extraordinary memoirs. Certainly, no one has written memoirs in English in Pakistan better than him. These are brilliant masterpieces with a unique literary flavour.

Had Khalid Hasan not written a word in the newspapers and had he not produced a single memoir, his extensive translations of Urdu writings in English would have been a feat sufficient to sustain his fame. Translation is a pathetically neglected field in Pakistan. Great works of literature that were and are still produced in Urdu have not been able to find their proper place in the world of literature due to the non-availability of good translators. Khalid Hasan took on that thankless job with vigour. Fortunately, that momentum lasted till the end. While skilfully translating the works of Manto, Faiz, Ghulam Abbas and A. Hameed, he did not compromise on quality. He single-handedly did the work of an organisation.

While visiting Sialkot, I went to a number of places that he has mentioned in his sketch of Sialkot to discover that either the buildings had been demolished and replaced by new but aesthetically distasteful edifices or they were degenerating through neglect. However, his name brought affectionate smiles onto the faces of a few inhabitants, living in the Old Fort Area, who had personally known him. They remembered him as a vivacious person who regularly visited Sialkot and thoroughly enjoyed evenings with his comrades.

It will be an overstatement to say that Sialkot, or for that matter, even Washington will not be the same after him. Life will keep going along on its twisted path bringing new faces into the limelight while consigning old ones to oblivion. The journalistic fraternity in Pakistan might soon get too involved with the political drama to remember him.

But I am sure that Faiz Sahib and Manto are in good company, and so is Zamurrad Malik who actually died on Feb 6 2009, when Khalid Hasan died.

 

 

A word about letters

By Kazy Javed

50 years of Ataul Haq Qasmi

Ataul Haq Qasmi is a noted columnist, teacher, editor, poet, humorist, and former diplomat. He inherited many of these qualities from his father, Maulana Bahaul Haq Qasmi, who taught at the MAO College of Amritsar that emerged as an important center of progressive ideas in Punjab during the 1940s mainly because of its principal Dr. MD Taseer and Faiz Sahib who taught English there.

Maulana Bahaul Haq Qasmi was a teacher of religious studies and headed the local chapter of the Majlis-e-Ahrar, a popular social-religious party that stood for Islamic revivalism in North India. The politically active Maulana also had literary interests. He published a bimonthly magazine, Ziaul Islam, which carried religious, political, literary and humorous pieces. The late Ziaul Haq Qasmi, his elder son and an accomplished humorous poet, once told me the Maulana regularly penned humorous columns for his magazine.

Ataul Haq Qasmi entered the world of letters as a poet. He says that he started composing poetry when he was a 16-year old high school student in Wazirabad. However, he soon veered towards prose, which proved more engaging for him. He is now one of the best – known Urdu prose writers with twenty books to his credit. Almost half of these volumes are collections of his newspaper columns that he has been writing regularly for the past four decades. Ataiay, Mulaqatain Adhoori hain, Waseet Namaay , Goroon ke Dase main, and Shauq-e-Awargi are the titles of his best selling books.

He has also written seven serials for television. One of them, Khawaja and sons became a tremendous hit and brought him household familiarity.

Ataul Haq Qasmi has travelled widely. After completing his education from the University of Punjab, he spent many months wandering Europe and America that provided him with a lot of material for his travelogues. He began his career as a lecturer in Lahore's MAO College and eventually rose to be Pakistan's ambassador to Norway and Thailand. He resigned from the ambassadorial post in protest when Mian Nawaz Sharif's democratic government was toppled by General Musharraf.

Literary Roundup

Qasmi Sahib's birth anniversary falls in the month of February and this year he completed 50 years of his writing career.

It was an occasion for his friends to celebrate and they arranged a grand party in Lahore. Intezar Husain, Shamshad Ahmad Khan, Anis Nagi, Majeebur Rehman Shami, Shahzad Ahmad, Khurshid Ahmad Rizvi, Ashfaq Ahmad Virk and Fauzia Chaughry were those who presented their ideas on his work. The proceedings were finely conducted by Asghar Nadim Syed.

Many writers, poets, journalists, and columnists were among the audience. The names I can remember are Dr. Javed Iqbal, Abid Hasan Manto, Hasan Nisar, Dr. Tabassum Kashmeri, Tahir Yousaf, Soofia Baidar, Shoaib bin Aziz and Neelam Bashir.

Sughra Sadaf published a special edition of her monthly magazine Wajdan to mark the occasion. The 95 page magazine carries articles and poems written by various people to pay tribute to Qasmi sahib.

Fauzia Chaudhry came especially from Fort Abbas to attend the event. She recently published a book on Ataul Haq Qasmi called Shaddab Mausumoon ki Awaz.

 

Literature festival 2009

The British author William Dalrymple's best selling books on India have helped thousands of readers around the world understand the new and old India. His latest offering, a book on the last Mogul ruler of Delhi Bahdur Shah Zafar and the Mutiny, published on the occasion of the150th anniversary of the 1857 war of independent has been popular in Pakistan.

Dalrymple who now mostly lives at Delhi launched a literature festival in 2005. The festival has now become an annual feature with the support of corporate and other donations. This year it was held in Jaipur, the city that is famous all over the world for its Rajisthani culture and 18th centaury palaces.

A number of India's literary moguls and other authors form around the globe, including some Pakistani writers such as Mohammad Hanif, took part in the 5-day event.

William Dalrymple says it is the most democratic book festival in the world. It offers free entry for all visitors and treats them equally with no special treatment for VIPs.

The centre of attraction at the festival was Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, who launched his biography Bachchaniali there.

 

Literary Roundup

In keeping with its tradition, the 46th issue of the Karachi based quarterly Itriqa has brought to its readers more than a dozen articles on literature and various aspects of social sciences.

Dr. Rubina Saigol has contributed an article on terrorism and violation of human rights. Hasan N.Gardezi has discussed problems regarding globalisation and economic progress of Pakistan in his 17-page article. Another interesting piece is on Mohammad Mansha Yad's fiction written by Dr. Mohammad Ali Siddiqi. No less worth reading is an article on the subject of Ghalib and progressive thought.

I know Khald M.Fiaz as a fictionist but his critical article on Sobo Gian Chandani's short stories included in the current issue of the Irtiqa introduces him as a knowledgeable literary critic.

The issue has four short stories written by Ratan Singh, Mirza Hamid Beg, Hakim Balooch and Dr. Khausar Jamal. Its poetry section boasts of many well-known names like Dr. Khayal Imrohi, Dr. Fatima Hasan, Shafiq Ahmad Shafiq, Wahid Bashir, Karamat Bokhari and Sharab Raudlvi

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