word about letters
Histories people write
Three trends to have emerged in the autobiographies of people who held important positions...
If Truth Be Told
Haq Nawaz Akhter.
Published by Sang e Meel Publications, 2007
Jo Bachain Hain Sung
Published by Sang e Meel Publications, 2007
Price: Rs 300
By Sarwat Ali
It has become a general practice that people who have held important positions in the government, whether political or administrative, after retirement pen down their memoirs. The latest in this line is an autobiography 'Jo Bachain Hain Sung' by Tajammul Hussain.
Tajammul Hussain was an important member of the administrative structure of the country in his own right but his stature was undoubtedly enhanced by being the younger brother of Altaf Gauhar ,who at one time was considered to be the most powerful bureaucrat in the political set up marshalled by Field Martial Ayub Khan. Another autobiography of sorts by another bureaucrat Haq Nawaz Akhtar 'If Truth Be Told' is set in another mould where the author as a historian dispassionately tries to look and assess the sixty odd years of Pakistan.
Usually three trends have emerged in such writings by people who have held important positions. First is the category who write dispassionately about what the country originally had stood for and what actually became of it. They do not really discuss their own role and position. Then there are some who discuss as to what went wrong and cast their own role more in the nature of repentance. They confess that they made terrible mistakes and went against the principles that they upheld personally or by virtue of their office and oath. The third category comprises those who appear to be holier than thou and give the impression that they did no wrong while they were serving in important positions. They usually distort facts and spin plenty of yarn in trying to justify their role and the righteousness of their decisions.
In the first category fall books like 'If Truth be told' and those written by Roedad Khan. These authors simply take themselves out of the equation and write like historians. The actual reason for reading the memoirs of these people is for the position they held and the role that they played, and if that is taken out then very little remains. Since these people are not Toynbees and Fishers there is hardly any point in reading their banal views on history.
The second category consists of people like Altaf Gauhar who realise later that they made terrible mistakes and the book actually becomes a litany of confessions and repentances. It is rare that people in positions of power have later owned and stood up to what they did -- the commissions and omissions of their handling of the affairs when at the helm of affairs. One is still waiting for a book or an account where the person or the author stresses that whatever he did was right without repentance or regret. Why could not Altaf Gauhar stand up and say that what he had done in his public life was considered by him the right thing according to his prudence at that moment. Altaf Gauhar too held the system of Basic Democracies, the system that he must have helped in developing or at least in propagating, as being the real undoing of the country. Later he too pined for democracy in the country for being the most representative system of governance.
Qudtratullah Shahab represents the third category. It is commonly known that Qutratullah Shahab used to call Ayub Khan Badshah Salamat and at times gave the suggestion in full seriousness that Ayub Khan should declare Pakistan a monarchy and pronounce himself the king. Later when people confronted him he said it was suggested with heavy strains of irony.
Tajammul Hussain's book is slightly different from those usually produced. He has narrowed down the scale of his work and only talks in general terms about the decline and decay of society while being descriptive about the events and happenings in his life. Obviously it makes good reading, the hobnobbing and peeping into the lives of important people is a ready draw but he does not speak from the high moral ground like many others.
Tajammul Hussain led a very colourful life, more colourful than his high office may have allowed him to for he was at the risk of being exposed and paraded in the media with little clothes on but in the book there is hardly any mention of the riotous life time that he spent in the company of heavily drinking people and bohemian artists. He was quite unorthodox in more ways than one, especially in the times when seeming to be proper was more important than being efficient.
Though the book has been written with a great deal of restraint and has been through the wringer of self-censorship there are glimpses of truth in it. What he has written about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is quite interesting and gives a good account of the very close relationship that they enjoyed and how that close relationship after the removal of Bhutto from Ayub's government turned sour and then vindictive especially when ZAB himself became the president and prime minister later in the nineteen seventies.
When Bhutto left Rawalpindi after leaving Ayub Khan's government, Altaf Gauhar and Roedad Khan saw him off the station and Tajammul Hussain received him at Karachi -- he was driven around incognito by the author to the houses of important people and when he failed to show up to take Bhutto from Sindh Club to Sehwan the relationship actually took a nosedive.
He accuses Bhutto of duplicity when he made a speech on the floor of the National Assembly defending the Tashkent Declaration passionately but simultaneously starting a movement by denouncing it as a sell-out. He thinks that Bhutto till the last minute was confident that he would not be hanged because of the assurances that Sheikh Zaid and Gaddafi had given to Husna. And it was Tajammul Hussain who went to request Noor Jehan to sing on the radio in the 1965 war. She was about to leave for the safety of Abbotabad with Ejaz and the children when Tajammul Hussain went to her with the request. She told Ejaz to take care of the children in Abbotabad and went straight to the radio station, literally stayed there day and night till the end of the war, creating in the process some of the most memorable and moving songs.
Seamus Heaney stands at the two ends of the same century, beckoning our poets to come close to learn how to wield a gun, pen and the spade
Awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1995, Seamus Heaney (born 13 April 1939) is the foremost poet of the English language alive. Celebrated as the greatest Irish poet since Yeats, he has expressed unease at his work being included in anthologies of British or Commonwealth poets (Ireland left the Commonwealth upon becoming a Republic in 1949). He would rather agree with the British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) who after converting from Anglicanism to Catholicism moved to Dublin, and found that "The speech, the customs, the institutions of England are domiciled in Ireland". Heaney translated the epic Old English 'Beowulf' into modern English,written sometime between 700-1000 AD, which is also called England's national epic.
Talking about Ireland he said, "There are no reptiles and no snake can exist there, for although often brought over from Britain, as soon as the ship nears land, they breathe the scent of its air and die. In fact, almost everything on this isle confers immunity to poison and I have often seen that folks suffering from snakebite have drunk water in which scrapings of the leaves off books from Ireland have been steeped and that this remedy checked the spreading poison and reduced the swelling". "It is an example of a writer calling upon fiction", Heaney continues, "In order to cope with the differences between two islands (Britain and Ireland), linked and separated in various degrees by history and geography, language and culture. As such, it prefigures much of the work that would be done by Irish poets in the coming times much that will continue to be done".
This illustrates a task that our writers and poets had to perform in the sub continental context, between India and Pakistan, two countries linked and separated in various degrees by history and geography, language and culture. The Anglo-Irish paradigm can be revealingly transported to the Indo-Pak cultural set up. Given that Pakistan was the birthplace of Hinduism, and the land where the Vedas were composed and Sanskrit grammar first written, we could claim that our books cure the poison of snakebites in the Republic of India. But our 'Venerable Bede' is yet to be born or has he come and gone in the person of Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh. Do we have a Heaney?
Heaney's formative years were spent in a climate of utter discrimination of his Catholic community at the hands of the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland. In 1922, the fears of this Protestant majority of being swamped by the Catholic majority of Ireland had led to the British partitioning the island at the time of independence of the country. Northern Ireland thus remains part of United Kingdom, although a peace process is slowly making headway. It was only in 1947 that Catholics were allowed admission to colleges in Northern Ireland. By the time Heaney was a college lecturer the number of catholic graduates had increased to a large enough number to create political pressures for greater rights for the entire community.
A famous poem Heaney wrote at the time is called "Digging". It opens with the lines:"Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests; snug as a gun" and ends thus: "Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests/I'll dig with it". A gun and a pen: two instruments of resistance. While making it clear that had no intention of wielding a gun, he holds out a promise for his pen. He would dig into the roots of his culture, the past of his community and the history of the country. The pen becomes his spade, and here we get Heaney's art manifesto. In times of civil war, a committed poet not wanting to use his gun, vows to help his side by uncovering ancient grievances; grievance being the space between truth and justice.
Seamus Heaney's Irishness has a distinctly European dimension. All writers associated with modern Irish literary revival shared this world view, if only to look beyond London as a way to lighten the burden of colonial memories. Heaney articulated this dimension through translation. Heaney wrote, "The translations here are not asking to be taken as alternatives to the originals but are offered as paths to lead our eyes left across the page, back to the Irish. There is an ideal of service behind it all, a literary ideal, it should be stressed, not a propagandist one".
In his essay on "The Impact of Translation", he expounds that translation is a vehicle for reviving and renewing a tradition and a culture, and for allowing literature to take a lead in opening itself up to other languages, traditions and identities. In our age of globalisation, translation has come to acquire a critical urgency for the survival and flowering of languages and traditions, especially of poorer countries like Pakistan. No wonder there is so much talk on going on the future of Urdu language.
Heaney was being honoured for "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past". He came to Sweden to tell the world that the local work of poets and dramatists had been as important to the transformation of his native place and times as the ambushes of guerrilla armies. His final credit to poetry is "both for being itself and for being a help, for making possible a fluid and restorative relationship between the mind's centre and its circumference". Here Heaney stands at the two ends of the same century, beckoning our poets to come close to learn how to wield a gun, pen and the spade.
By Kazy Javed
Five meetings were held in Lahore past week to condole the death of Punjab poet, short story writer and research scholar Kanwal Mushtaq who passed away in the second week of June at 62.
The first meeting was organised by the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and Culture at the Alhamra Hall. The second meeting was arranged by the Pakistan Academy of Letters while the third was held by AG Josh who is the editor of the monthly literary magazine Adab Dost. The fourth and fifth meetings were organised by the Punjab Association of Progressive Writers and Bazm-e-Humqalm. These condolence meetings were attended by a number of men and women of letters many of whom paid rich tributes to the departed soul. His lifelong commitment to the promotion of Punjabi language, literature culture was greatly praised and his literary achievements were eulogised.
Kanwal Mushtaq belonged to a group of writers and activists that emerged in the 1960s and devoted themselves to the cause of Punjabi language. But those were very difficult days for the people who had conceived any longing for the development of their mother tongue. They were denounced as traitors and the right-wing press painted them as the Soviet or Indian agents. Some organisations of Punjabi and Sindhi writers were officially charged with anti-state activities and banned during the early days of General Ayub Khan's military dictatorship. However, some writers and activists continued their struggle in the face of overwhelming odds.
Kanwal Mushtaq was a founder member of the Punjabi Adabi Sangat that became more active in the 1970s. He used to attend its weekly meetings regularly. He also started the publication of a quarterly literary journal in those days. Titled 'Suraj Mukhi', it was one of the avant-garde Punjabi language journals. But it failed to sustain its existence for a long time mostly because of financial problems. Kanwal Mushtaq also worked for some other magazines. He served journalist Abdullah Malik as his literary assistant for many years. During the recent years, he had been associated with the World Punjabi Congress as its secretary general.
My last meeting with Kanwal Mushtaq took place in the third week of May when he came to my office. During a chat over a cup of tea, he told me that Dr. Shaista Nuzhat had offered him a job with her Punjab Institute. I advised him to join the Institute. We also talked about the next seminar of the World Punjabi Congress which was to take place in October this year.
Khadim Hussain Soomro has many friends in Lahore. He is a Sindhi language poet and researcher who was born in the small town of Sehwan Sharif and now resides in Karachi most of the time. He visits Lahore at least twice a year. Every time he is here, he brings some copies of his new publication for his friends.
Many years of Khadim Hussian Soomro's life were spent in the company of the great Sindhi nationalist writer and politician GM Syed. After the death of the Syed, he wrote and compiled four books on his life, religious ideas and political struggle. His latest book on Syed, 'The Path Not Taken' was published by the Sain Publications of Sehwan Sharif.
Soomro's new book 'Sufi Poets of the Indus Valley' was recently launched at a gathering of writers and poets at the Press Club, Lahore. Jointly organised by the Sindh Sufi Institute and the Speakers Forum, the meeting was presided over by Iftikhar Hussain Bukhari while Chaudhry Mohammad Iqbal, Punjab minister of health, was the chief guest. Journalist Aziz Mazhar and literary critic Dr. Aalam Khan were the main speakers at the occasion.
Khadim Hussain Soomro says that all the sufi poets of Sindhi Punjab and other regions of Pakistan gave the message of universal brotherhood, peace, religious harmony and tolerance. He believes that the modern world seriously needs all these teachings.
'Sufi Poets of the Indus Valley' carries a critical study of the classical poets of Sindhi and Punjab. The author of the book has undertaken a comparative study of the 15 century Punjabi poet Baba Nanak and the 18 century Sindhi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai to make it clear that the teachings of both the poets are almost similar.
Book on Kant
Immanuel Kant is usually rated as the most important of the modern European philosophers who greatly influenced almost all the notable philosophers of the 19th century including Fichte, Schelling, Herbert, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Marx. Allama Iqbal also admired him and made a number of references to his books in his lectures on the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam.
Kant's magnum opus 'Critique of Pure Reason' was first published in 1781 and its three English translations were compiled by Max Muller, Melklejohn and Kemp Smith. It is one of the very few books of European philosophers that have been made available in Urdu. The Urdu translation was published by the Bureau of Translation of the Jamia-e-Usmania, Hyderabad Daccan in the early 1940s.
I don't know if the translation was read by many but an interest was certainly developed in Kant's life and thought. Perhaps this is the reason that made Professor Maatzeed Wallur Rehman who was associated with the Jamia-e-Usmania to translate Professor A.D. Lindsay's introductory book 'Immanuel Kant' into Urdu.
It has now been republished by the Book Home of Lahore. The 96 page book is useful for all those who want nodding acquaintance with Kant and some of the basic problems of the modern western philosophy.