history and us
word about letters
Historiography has not been studied as a prpoper academic discipline. This volume attempts to remedy the situation
By Sarwat Ali
Saghir Main Tareekh Naveesi Key Rujhanaat
The study of history has gone out of fashion in Pakistan in recent times and does not attract the attention it did in the last few centuries when it was seen as a graph of humankind's evolution.
Mubarak Ali is one such historian who has kept the banner of the history above water for he recognizes the significance of the subject. Groomed and educated in the era when history was taken in full seriousness, he has developed organic links with the study of contemporary times so as not to reduce it to being a mere dry academic pursuit.
He has been holding conferences to be abreast of the changes that have come about in historiography (the practice of writing history) which has shifted its focus away from politics to economics, culture and even human emotions. He addresses the issue within the Pakistani context and instantly realizes the problematic areas. In organizing the past, a gap exists between the history of the Muslims and the history of the Sub-continent. The historical narratives of the four provinces are much longer than the history of Pakistan as a nation-state. The problems arising out of the two-nation theory as well as the role of religion also complicate the writing of history in the Sub-continent. It seems Mubarak Ali is in pursuit of establishing a credible link with the past.
One such conference was held recently where papers on such issues were read out and now those papers have been published in a book form titled Bare Saghir Main Tareekh Nawwasi Ke Rujhanaat. In this encyclopedic sweep, history as understood today has been separated from legend, mythology and other lore that has come down to us from ancient times in the form of epics, tales, and oral renderings. Some historians believe that mythology too is part of history because being the output of human endeavour, it is the repository of human thought and effort in those early years when the expression was more wholesome and had not been carved into various areas due to specialization facilitated by the advances in knowledge.
History, in its bare essentials or simplest sense, is the collection of facts about the past marshalled in a certain intelligible order. The first known historians of the world seem to be Hecataeus and Herodotus followed the same principles yet differed in many essentials ways and probably it was not till the eighteenth century when history was seen as tracing the course of man's evolutionary flight. The thinkers organized themselves to chart this development and to show the way into the future as well. The modern study of history is thus a chronicle of human evolution, the study of history being a tangible identification of the gains of human endeavour.
It is interesting to study how history has been written in the Sub-continent. Most of the chronicles of our past are narrated in the forms of fables and anecdotes –and the chronology and the perspective is usually left out. The fables have a timeless quality about them. They may be placed within some moral or ethical or religious context but they are not placed in the context of time and space.
Ghafar Shahzaad has written his paper on the history of the sufis in the second millennium when the Muslim rule first began tentatively, then established itself, flourished and in the eighteenth century started to decline. These eight hundred years should be seen as containing a wealth of information and analytical understanding of the times and the complexities involved. After going through the various now famous accounts like Fawaid ul Fawood, Dalilul Aarfeen, Seer ul Aulia, Seer ul Aarifeen, Saffena tul Aulia, Khaziinatul Asfia and Tareeqaat e Chishti Ghafar Shahzaad comes to the conclusion that these cannot be taken seriously as accounts that stand up to the test of scrutiny. The plethora of information cannot be corroborated and cross-checked as these were written more as homage to the greatest of the saint rather than a document to be judged in the light of pure objectivity. For him archaeological sites and their proper study is a more authentic method of understanding our history.
Another very interesting article is on the history of science by Anis Alam. Here too generally two points of views dominate. One the study of history called internal where only the changes and development in sciences were seen in a logical manner. How the sciences have developed through a causal consistency and that one discovery would not have been possible without the previous one. The other approach was to see science in the larger perspective of the society and how the factors there shaped the views that make the study of science worthwhile. The first approach kept the scientist inside the laboratory and the change in society as such did not fall within his purview but the second approach was much more controversial and offered the springboard of transferring social, political and philosophical ideas as being the foundation on which the structure of physical sciences was erected. In very simple terms according to this approach the scientific view, even in natural sciences could be multiple, depending on where it is emanating from, and undermined the accepted universality of scientific truth.
Another article by Huma Ghaffar is about the history of the Sub-continent as it has been written during the colonial period. The initial histories were written under the curious patronage of the British by the munshis in Persian like Muztaza Hussain Bilgrami, Shiv Parshad, Saleemullah and Ghulam Hussan Tabatabai. When the British themselves started to write, the first one was by Robert Orme followed by William Jones, Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Alaxander Cunnigham, James Mill, Henry Eliot, Dowson and Charles Grant. These historians wrote under various intellectual disciplines they were influenced by.
Another article, by Jaffar Ahmed, is about the subaltern point of view. How history often written from the point of view of the victors and the rulers should be seen from the point of view of the ruled and the vanquished. This approach has been inspired by Marxism and it is now the standard method of offering an alternative history.
In summation, all the articles in this selection are thought-provoking and direct us to the importance of the discipline which has been neglected or ignored in Pakistan because it raises uncomfortable problems and consequently demands a laidback, dispassionate, and academic analysis of the problems.
Amjad, Shakhsiat Aur Fun
By Altaf Hussain Asad
Jhang has produced many prominent persons. Be it the doyen of mystical poets Hazrat Sultan Bahu or the one and only Nobel laureate of Pakistan, Dr Abdus Salam, the prodigal sons of Jhang have attracted prestige in every age. In the recent past, it was the wiry bespectacled poet Majeed Amjad who scaled new heights in poetry. In an era when Faiz Ahmed Faiz and N. M. Rashid were the focus of attention, Majeed Amjad also intrigued the critics. In fact, he stole the show without even an iota of publicity. Because he did not actively seek fame, he remained quite an enigma for all the literati. Even after his demise, very few critics gave him the importance to which he was entitled.
Nasir Abbas Nayyar, the author of Majeed Amjad: Shakhsiat Aur Fun, has done well by digging out details as regards his personal life for the benefits of us. Not only that, he has also written on his poetry in a book that has been published by the Academy of Letters. The volume is an important document. Though books written for such institutions can hardly be termed as authentic, Nasir Abbas has worked hard to present his case with lot of ingenuity.
The book is divided into five chapters that deal with the life and art of Amjad. At the start, the author paints the personal life of the poet with the help of primary sources. Born in Jhang on 29th June 1914, Majeed had to bear the first blow of his life when his father divorced his mother without any reason. So with her mother, he had to shift to the house of his maternal grandfather when he was only two. But the atmosphere at his maternal grandfather's home was quite congenial for him. Maulvi Noor Muhammad, his grandfather, was not only a religious scholar but was also a scholar of Persian. Composing verse in Persian was also his pastime. Manzoor Ali Fauq, who was an uncle of Majeed Amjad, was also a poet of some standing in the circles of Jhang. Such literary atmosphere proved to be a good early influence for Amjad. Naturally, the company of the poets in his family inspired him from the very start. These examples show his ancestors infatuation with the written words. But the matter does not end here. One of his great grandfathers earned the ire of the British government for exhorting his adherents to fight against the colonial rulers in the war of independence of 1857. His fatwa against the rulers landed him in jail. This shows that Majeed's ancestors were not only good at churning out verse; they also knew the art of using sword as per the requirements of the time. As the atmosphere was quite healthy for literature, Majeed is said to have started composing verse while he was in the seventh grade. The author thinks this claim to be an exaggeration. However, the literary ambience affected him to a great extent.
After graduating from Islamia College Lahore in 1934, Majeed had to face acute crisis due to joblessness. He tried his hands at few odd jobs to eke out his living. It is interesting to mention that Faiz and Rashid were also ruling the roost in the same period in the literary circles of Lahore. But Majeed maintained quite a solitary profile. By nature he was shy and reticent. He had only a handful of friends in his hometown. An interesting incident occurred in Jhang when he started editing a weekly Urooj. This brief stint helped him greatly as he used to write editorials, and other essays for the weekly. His affair with journalism ended on a sad note. In 1939, a nazm written by him appeared in the weekly under the title 'Qaiseriat'. It was about the Second World War. The authorities sprang to action quickly as they thought it 'revolutonary'. Thus the sword of Damocles fell on the weekly and it was closed down. There were more setbacks in store for him. His marriage was a total disaster. He passed the last twenty eight years in Sahiwal while his wife stayed in Jhang. Majeed Amjad breathed his last on 11th May 1974. He died in a way he lived his life. No one was around when he breathed his last. He did not share his tribulations with even his closest friends who were not many. The author takes Javed Qureshi, then Deputy Commissioner Sahiwal, to task for the poor arrangements of his last rites. His corpse was dispatched from Sahiwal to Jhang in a truck that used to transport animals from one city to another. The author asks why the Deputy Commissioner did not order an ambulance for shifting the corpse.
In the other chapters, the author scans the poetry of the great poet that really died unsung. He focuses on his nazm as well as his ghazals. Interestingly, very few people focused their attention on his ghazals as Amjad composed more nazms than ghazals. The author notes that his ghazal is quite different from his contemporaries and the classical traits can only be felt in a few. He further adds that there is a lot of diversity in the nazms of Majeed. It is not right to term the mood of his nazms as out and out 'sad'. Majeed Amjad was also the celebrator of the nature and its various shades. The author also analyses the recurring theme of 'death' in the nazms of the poet. The way he mentions death in his poetry it becomes evident that he is not afraid of death. Rather he wants to welcome death without any fear.
Although the book is a bit short, but it should be studied in order to have a deeper look at the life and art of Majeed Amjad.
The Sultan of Poets
Rodaki is generally considered the first great poet of the Muslim Persia. Born in middle years of the ninth century in a small village near Samarqand called Rod, his full name was Abu Abdullah Jafar ibn Mohammad Rodaki. He was congenitally blind.
Joe Waiz Lal who taught at Baptist Training Institution of Delhi during the early decades of the last century wrote in his An Introductory History of Persian Literature, "Rodako had an extraordinary memory and learnt the Holy Quran by heart when he was only eight years old. He began to write poems in his childhood. Apart from being a great poet, he was also a good singer.
Not much is known about Rodaki's life but all the historians of Persian literature agree that he was one of the few fortunate poets who were greatly admired by their contemporaries. He was acknowledged as "the greatest living poet of the Muslim world" who was a talented versifier with a simple vigorous style. He was believed to have composed no less than thirteen hundred thousand verses that could 'fill a hundred volumes'. One of his contemporaries, poet Murafi of Balkh, extolled Rodaki as "peerless amongst the Arabs and the Persians" and called him 'the king of poets'.
When Maulana Mohammad Hussain Azad wrote, Sukhandan-e-Faras, the first book on the history of Persian literature in Urdu, he labelled Rodaki as 'the Father of all poets'.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is the latest admirer of Rodaki. Speaking recently at the 1150th birth anniversary of the poet, organised by the permanent representatives of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan at the UN headquarters in New York, the secretary-general of the world body paid rich tributes to the poet "who so beautifully extolled the virtues of good and justice."
Mr Ban said: "Rodaki should serve as an inspiration to international efforts to combat extremism and attempts to divide peoples and cultures." He further observed that Rodaki is truly the 'Sultan of Poets' whose poetry can bridge the divisions that threaten our world.
First Book awards
Working under the leadership of poet Hina Babar Ali, the Pakistan Centre of the PEN-International, has invited nominations for two awards for the best 'first book' in literary prose and poetry. The awards will be given to the first books of Pakistani authors the first edition of which were brought out during 2006-2007 in English, Punjabi, Urdu or any other regional language of the country. Each award carries a cash prize of Rs20,000 and a certificate.
Interested writers have been asked to send four copies of the book to the PEN Centre, Ferozepur Road, Lahore by the end of September¸2008.
Remembering Sheikh Ayaz
Sheikh Ayaz, as Ghulam Rabbani Agro once told me, often regretted his acceptance of vice-chancellorship of the Sindh University. The post was offered by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Agro, who was at that time chairman of the Sindh Adabi Board, says that he tried to persuade the poet to decline the offer but failed.
Lamenting his decision, Sheikh Ayaz later wrote that the years he had spent at the university "were a waste of my time and I paid a heavy price for it." Sheikh Ayaz's choice was not liked by Sindhi nationalists. It badly affected his popularity and many thought he was abandoning his political beliefs that had won over the Sindhi youth.
But now ten years after his death, Sheikh Ayaz's status as a great modern Sindhi poet has been restored and it has been accepted that he was the finest embodiment of the Sindh's soul.
Last year an international conference was held in Hyderabad to pay homage to Sheikh Ayaz. Mohammad Qasim Bughio, organiser of the conference, has now announced the holding of another international conference in the first week of November, 2008. A statement issued by him says that "research scholars from all over the world would participate in the conference and present papers on contribution of Sheikh Ayaz to language, literature, education and society, general and applied linguistics, literary classics, literary criticism, comparative studies in literature, drama, film and television."