home for music
leaves making pearls
A golden jubilee is a good time to revisit the historic compulsions that made Islamabad the federal capital
By Adnan Rehmat
Taking a close look at a city is like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it. Take a close look at Islamabad in all its pompous perplexity and clinical contradictions and not much popular ownership is apparent. Not that it prevents it from boasting a large number of peculiar characteristics even though these never show up in tourist brochures. It is, for instance, the 'newest' proper city in the country, the 'newest' city of Pakistan with a population of a million or more (the eighth in the country now) and even the 'newest' city in Asia that is also the capital of a country.
Cynics could also emphasise Islamabad is the newest capital of Pakistan! (Karachi was the last, remember, anyone?) And, in this fact, emerges a side to the city that is debated little. A golden jubilee is a good time for us to revisit the historic compulsions that made Islamabad not just the federal capital of Pakistan but a city that was built from scratch not too long ago. When Pakistan was created in 1947, its biggest city then, as now, was Karachi and was, after not a too-lengthy discussion, nominated and designated as the capital of the country. That's where the founder and first leader of the country, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, set about his government.
In less than 15 years the founder was dead, the first prime minister assassinated, the country had its first experience of Martial Law and a military ruler and a second capital -- Islamabad. Some years after the coup, the military led by General Ayub Khan (who went on to declare himself field marshal) faced stiff political resistance from the streets of Karachi, particularly language and religion riots, forcing the unelected regime to confront the protesters with force. The protracted political turmoil forced the military ruler to make a decision that would seal the fate of Pakistan: shift the capital away from the teeming noisy and nosy civilians who could be kept at bay far away.
Ayub first decided Abbottabad, his hometown, as the new capital but was persuaded it lay on an active seismic faultline and opted instead for the plains of Potohar ringed by the scenic Margalla Hills and close to the Raj-era garrison town of Rawalpindi that would provide available basic infrastructure to base the military. Starting in 1960, Ayub oversaw the rise of a brand new city at a relatively blistering pace. He had Greeks design it and Turks build it and announced a public award to nominate a name for the new capital.
Islamabad it was named and it came to be the second capital of Pakistan. Ironically, it also became, in barely a decade, the former capital of a future (while the civil war lasted) country -- Bangladesh -- and so serves as the vanguard of the relatively new as also the relatively old. Within a decade of being the new seat of government, it failed to serve its declared principal purpose of a symbol of the glorified federation by losing two-fifths of the territory and just over half the population it governed.
The city may have been new but it was built in the fashion of ancient times when cities grew out of military posts established. It says something about the mala fide raison d'Ítre of Islamabad's genesis that for roughly the first half of its existence, the population of the federal capital was less than the size of the military! That the nascent federal capital and the military headquarters existed side by side was, therefore, by design. The military had clearly decided that they were better off ruling the country from a base that had no political ownership and was not rooted in a sub-nationalism that could trouble the generals. The next 40 years proved it: the coups of General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf were so easy to conduct, it took barely two hours of work each time.
The formula was easy -- seize the Prime Minister House, Pakistan Television and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation in the smallish (and almost provincial) Islamabad and you had the country. Since the federal capital itself had local residents in a small minority -- the bulk of the population, government servants, drawn from the far off federating units with no local ties and stakes -- there would be no resistance. And there never has been. The adjacent city of Rawalpindi was a garrison city and could never create trouble -- and never did.
In this way, this city, tailor-made for friendly military takeovers and khaki rule, has served its intended purpose well. It is difficult to imagine a military power based in the densely populated and short-tempered Karachi or Lahore or Peshawar to both seize the city and hold it virtually indefinitely as Islamabad has proved. Indeed, Karachi, which forced the military out and Dhaka, which the military couldn't hold once the residents turned against it, prove Islamabad's purposeful exception.
Similarly despotic dispensations and regimes have done an Islamabad elsewhere in the world. Finding holding angrily confident Karachi-like cities Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Almaty in Kazakhstan and Lagos in Nigeria difficult, tinpot dictators or military-backed elites in these countries have created new administrative capitals to both entrench themselves and keep their citizens at bay. Brazil has Brasilia, Kazakhstan has Astana and Nigeria has Abuja as their versions of Islamabad -- devoid of locally-rooted residents, orderly, glittering, resource-stacked cities that serve as functional utopias and safely entrenched power centres.
Little wonder then that Islamabad offers all the telltale signs of a city designed for an ulterior purpose that seems like a support resource for the elites. Islamabad is the only 'civilian' territory in Pakistan without self-rule (the only other regions in the country without elected representation are the cantonments). There is no local government in Islamabad. No democracy by law or practice in the capital of a democratic country! No elected local assembly or council in a city that houses the elected bicameral parliament in the country. The parliament may rule the country but the city is ruled by unelected municipal bureaucrats!
This is a city where your life is lived out along residential grids that reveal your financial status. Even in death, your place of burial in graveyards determines your social status. Hospitals, eateries, parks, schools and offices all are straight giveaways to the ranks and grades that this city brands its citizens by and makes them wear it on their sleeves. Sure, there are exceptions but all end up only proving the rule. This is a city where there are more wheels than there are legs -- over half a million cars in a city of 1.2 million people. The high literacy rate of the city fails to match the low ratio of the regions of the country it rules.
Few in Karachi build a second house in Peshawar and fewer still in Lahore do so in Quetta but nearly everyone who is anyone in the country builds one house in Islamabad. And yet the housing shortage in the city is over 350,000 and no new residential sector has been opened, allotted and built in 15 years. All of this is by design. A city where the cheapest 125 square yards (5 marla) plot of land in open sectors is for Rs 4 million is a city of the bourgeois. This city is designed to be straight and ordered, neat and clipped. But ironically, the city has come to represent an ideal that espoused endless opportunities for a country created not too long before it but has only managed to accumulate the best of the worst bits while the country it governs has the worst of the best. There's something missing in this city that everyone in the country is looking for but few know what.
(Related stories on Special Report pages inside)
Artefacts of antiquity
In Shazieh Gojri's work, line and form is simple but it is the surface texture, with its gradated palette, that first engages the viewer
By Aasim Akhtar
The idea of learning within a formal framework, so that rules made on the basis of well-grounded knowledge can be broken, is well-known in all creative arts. It is also where, over the years, Shazieh Gorji has excelled in carving out a path of individual practice in ceramics, creating a recognizable language with her medium -- that is both iconoclastic and classically-grounded in traditional practice.
Gorji has embarked on what she sees in hindsight as a transition period -- experimenting with creating glaze effects -- but with a more calculated and reliable approach and resulting technique. She fired and re-fired, and in between firings attacked the surfaces with abrasives, ultimately producing complex layered surfaces with what was to become her signature finish.
Her works indicate a degree of comfort in knowing the material well enough to allow it to speak and lead her where she might not have planned to go -- which would have been a source of frustration and stress. She has an acceptance now of a level of intuitive pathways that were always present but something, along with glazes, clay and kilns, to be fought with and conquered in search for control.
There is a presence to Gorji's recent work that belies the simplicity of line and form -- a 'silent monumentality' in its restraint, reserve and quiet palette (a kinship in clay to the photography of Walker Evans and the poetry of William Carlos Williams). It is difficult in a work of art to tease out the impact of one element from another, but for all of Gorji's eloquence about line and harmony it is the surface texture, with its gradated palette, that first engages the viewer. In the pebbled and powdery surface we see the artist's hand, feel the heat of the flame, and sense the passage of time. She strives intentionally for certain colour variations and attempts to match certain colours that she thinks work best with a particular form. She is not interested in trying to control the firing process and the mark of the potter's hands. For Gorji, technique is only a means: what ultimately legitimizes a work cannot be found in technique but in the expression of the artist's inner world.
Shazieh Gorji has long been drawn to the vessel form as the essence of ceramic art. Instinctively aware of the meaning within our ancient human engagement with ceramics, she has evolved an archaeological metaphor in her work. She builds vessels and takes them through a physically arduous and hazardous process of firing and finishing with the result that her pieces already appear to be artefacts of antiquity.
Because porcelain forms can change during the firing when reaching maturation, Gorji chooses a design that distributes pressure equally in a natural way. This is an architectural principle. A bowl absorbs the pressure of its own weight in much the same way as a dome would in a church or a mosque. If a dome becomes too flat, it would collapse. Strength increases with depth. Gorji's work is similar to the narrowing walls of windmills, water towers or constructions that have to withstand great pressure. The affinity with brick architecture doesn't end there: the multiple layers in her work are reminiscent of rhythmical brick connections.
The exercise and exorcise of throwing is in keeping with Shoji Hamada. Hamada believed that one of the signs of a great pot was repetition; could this form be repeated endlessly by a potter skilled enough to let the pot sing for itself on the wheel. Gorji clearly held true to this belief. It is only in the mind-numbing and back-breaking timetable of mass hand production that a potter could achieve the oneness that Hamada sought.
The core of the concept that inspired Shazieh Gorji to create 'The Lighter Side Of' at Rohtas Gallery in Islamabad, was to record her reaction to the flow of information that she could not impede or judge. It is customary, when considering a work of art that embraces sound as significantly as the present suite of ceramics, to think about how it treats the sonic qualities of its subject. This exhibition does it with aplomb and precision, bringing alive not just the jangling, playful, arabesque richness of traditional music but also the uncanny tinnitus that we could characterise as the sound of the 20th century itself.
Just as the written word can only invite us to imagine the sound of music without actually hearing it, such that the sonic experience of music in literature always contains a hidden utopian dimension, so too Gorji's deployment of sound (as a reticent metaphor) also enables her to achieve specific ethical purposes without actually rendering them bland and heavy with bald statement.
Looking at Gorji's work, we learn about the necessity or redundancy of emphasis and repetition, of figuration and feeling from trying the sound of our actions, thoughts and emotions for ourselves.
A school of music established in 1901 remained functional till partition but was later abandoned
By Sarwat Ali
Gandharv Mahavidyalaya was established in Lahore by none other than Vishnu Digambar Paluskar in 1901 but it is difficult to identify the exact spot where it was located. It probably remained a functioning institution till partition but then the Lahore branch was abandoned or went into disuse, and even the physical landmark on turning into rubble must have been removed by the authorities. At least one branch of the Mahavidyalaya was in Delhi but it was set up very late, in 1939. Much later it was run and managed by Mr Mudgill who was a vocalist of sorts. As his surname amply indicates, he was the elder of the Mudgills who are actively into the performing arts and are well-known these days.
When the barsi of Ustad Alamgir Khan was held every year for more than two decades by Ustad Ragi Khan and Babur Khan outside Taxali Gate, it was said that the open plot of land was the actual site of the Mahavidyalaya. The grave of Ustad Alamgir Khan is also in the vicinity. And if memory serves right Ustad Bhai Lal, too, is buried in the same compound. The barsi, a memorable event brought the famous classical musicians together but was discontinued after the death of Ustad Rangi Khan more than a decade ago.
It was a kind of a joint barsi -- probably as the calendar went it was the barsi of Alamgir Khan who became famous as a clarinet player and led one of the most successful bands in Punjab. Alamgir was so attached and devoted to his ustad, Bhai Lal that it was a barsi in memory of both. These bands were a strange mixture of east and west. The first bands were probably established by the government institutions like the army and the police and they played mostly western tunes on formal occasions and parades. All the instruments, whether wind or percussion, were strictly western but as the idea of the band caught on, many native bands were also set up mostly by inherited musicians. Then somehow the bands got associated with wedding ceremonies and were required to play local tunes. The melodic line initially was sustained by the clarinet, probably shahnai was introduced later. But the bands remain an oddity with all instruments western while the melody is totally indigenous.
Now there is no open plot but the entire locality on the opposite side of Ravi Road facing the Taxali Gate has become a congested area and there is hardly any place left which has not been encroached upon. If one goes further ahead, a few hundred metres but many twists and turns later, is the house where Ustad Fateh Ali Khan moved in Karim Park about 20 years ago after he shifted residence from Fort Road.
In Two Men and Music by Janaki Bakhale, published by Permanent Black, the contribution made by Vishnu Digambar Paluskar in revitalising music after India became a colony of the British has been clearly stated. With the paradigm shift, the entire body of learning, knowledge and art had to be realigned to address the concerns that the new situation had thrown up.
Where music was concerned, the challenge was met with by two individuals, Bhathkhande and Paluskar. Their approach and understanding, however, was very different and perhaps diametrically opposed. Paluskar was a bhagti nationalist drawing strength from the sacralised bhakti rather than Vedic textualised Brahmanism. Both worried that music would disappear so its recovery hinged on what Indian music lacked, namely connected history, a systematic and orderly pedagogy and respectability. For music to possess such a history it needed an archive as the archive of music was not easily accessible. Since Sanskrit texts offered little that was useful in understanding contemporary music, this brought the musicians and the new historians in conflict with each other. Under the weight of this pressure, some ustads and gharanas adjusted to the changing milieu while others did not.
Paluskar was born in 1872, his father was a kirtankar, a devotional singer to the ruler of Kurundwad, a small court in South Maharashtra and became a shagird of Balkrishnabua, credited with having brought kheyal from north to western India in Meraj. In 1896 he thought he was educated enough to be on his own, refused to become a court musician, and instead performed to ticketed audiences or on public occasions. While he was in Lahore, he published his notational system and started raising funds to set up a school of music. He managed to do so by 1901 in Lahore and called it Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in the Dhyansingh's Haveli. The course of music was nine years, the last three devoted to the study of music theory and teacher training.
The original building proved inadequate for the growing student body and it was moved to a larger dwelling. That place was considered to be cursed so he moved again. In 1904 he bought a plot of land and built a permanent home for music.
Simryn Gill's work can be read as a critique of the consumerist culture and an attempt to reverse the usual order of things
By Quddus Mirza
The moment one hears about Simryn Gill's work, of turning books into necklaces, one yearns to find Thousand and One Nights. Till it is discovered on page 87 in Pearls, the book published by London- and Colombo-based Raking Leaves, a publisher of contemporary artists' books, that covers Gill's work. Jorge Luis Borges, in his lecture on Thousand and One Nights reflects upon its name and explains that the addition of one next to the word thousand suggests a continuity of the narrative and a sense of infinity.
Gill is an artist of Indian origin, currently living in Australia. Her project of transforming the pages of books given to her by various people into beads, in order to link these together to make necklaces is a meaningful activity in more ways than one. An intricate, difficult and 'dangerous' endeavour, it alludes to the current fad of recycling everything: from materials to concepts to customs, often carried out on the basis of ecological necessities, cultural requirements and consumer needs. Old songs, dated fashions, and ancient artefacts are being resurrected for their romantic and nostalgic value. These attempts provide a continuity of culture and at the same time lend an authenticity to post-modern times.
The book Pearls is indicative of the basic desire of a consumer culture in which the sublime is quickly converted into an ordinary item. This is visible in the way philosophical thoughts and revolutionary figures are transformed, translated and transmuted into saleable objects. An example of this phenomenon is how the image of Che Guevara (guerrilla fighter, who was killed with the help of CIA -- agency which represents American capitalism) has now been changed into a style icon; and his portrait adorns T-shirts, tea cups, caps and other products, prepared for the mere purpose of making money (ironically, one of his books, Bolivian Diary is also modified into a piece of paper jewellery by Simryn Gill).
Gill's work can be 'read' as a critique on this recycling streak in society. Yet the strategy to recreate works of art (or craft?) from words is intriguing, because it suggests a reversal to the usual order of things. Normally an art work is first created and then invites a commentary or critique. George Steiner stated "The critic lives at the second hand. He writes about. The poem, the novel or the play must be given to him; criticism exists by the grace of other man's genius." So Simryn has altered this circle of production, and now instead of visuals generating script, it is the text that provides material for making art/craft.
Her work delves into the division of art and craft. The necklaces are made in an immaculate fashion; yet in terms of substance, utility and authorship, these are different from the conventional pieces of crafts. Interestingly the separation of art and craft that is challenged in her works, is also questioned in the selection of books, because it varies from the samples of high literature, such as The Leopard by Guiseppe di Lampedusa, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and works of philosophy and cultural studies like This Matter of Culture by J. Krishnamurti and Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes to mundane texts such as the guide book for Ikebana and French Country Cooking.
Every book is transferred into an art work which is further printed in her book that subsequently leads to more words (like this piece of writing). Thus Simryn Gill's work is a continuation of inter-textualities, first experienced in The Thousands and One Nights and then encountered in Pearls.
Along with this, Raking Leaves has published another project in limited edition. Titled 'One Year Drawing Project' this contained drawings of four Sri Lankan artists, made in response to one another. Each artist has drawn a work on paper that was rotated among his colleagues and generated other drawings, which was further circulated and then all were collected and printed in the book form. This project, an initiative of Sharmini Pereira (the woman behind Raking Leaves) has invited artists to work in a chain, yet each individual has shown his unique approach in terms of idea and medium. However, the process of painting and drawings as a series is not a unique idea, since there have been other such attempts in this direction. For instance, the miniature show Karkhana and also 'post art' that invites artists situated around the world to collectively create singular works of art. A popular pursuit in art, which even attracted a number of artists from Karachi in 1994, came at a time when the word post was not yet a prefix but an important service in communication and distributions of letter, parcels, books -- and ideas.