Music of the times
Narrative of a bonded labourer who made bricks and studied alongside
By Aoun Sahi
He is not the man next door as you may like to think in your first meeting. Liaqat Javed, 29, of Bhobattian, a suburban Lahore village, is the son of a debt-slave brick kiln labourer. He has worked with his family at different brick kilns for more than a decade. Though, unlike his brothers and friends, he did not miss his school. Till the time that he passed matriculation examination in 1997, he went to school in the mornings and worked at the bhatta in the evenings.
He always dreamt of getting rid of that terrible life. His friends at the kiln used to make fun of him. They thought he had no right to dream about getting out of there because they had all been sent to the world 'to serve as slaves'.
Not everyone around was discouraging though, least of all his parents, especially his father, who had to pay a price. They worked extra hours to manage his education expenses but never forbade him from pursuing his studies.
Fighting against all odds, he finally managed to do his Masters in Political Science from Forman Christian College Lahore. "My father had to borrow money on interest to pay my college fee. During my college days we lived in Landianwala Vara, a village situated on Multan Road, some 50 kilometres away from the college. I had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to reach the college in time. Throughout the day I did not eat because I couldn't afford it and had my meal after getting back home around 5 in the evening. I have spent days when I had only one or two rupees in my pocket but never missed the college" he says.
Javed now runs an organisation, Backward's Rehabilitation and Improvement Commission (BRIC) aimed at educating the children living at brick kilns with their families.
Before doing his matriculation Javed wanted to become a doctor, but one incident changed his entire life. "In 1990 an international NGO opened a school at the bhatta where we used to live. My younger sister Shahnaz and her friend Amina started going to that school. In 1995 a Swedish television channel made a documentary 'My Life is Mine' about that school with special focus on Shahnaz and Amina. In 1997 that NGO took both Shahnaz and Amina to Sweden where the media portrayed them as heroines and leaders of change. We still have copies of many Swedish newspapers and magazines that gave special coverage to both of them. But when they returned to Pakistan after one month the NGO closed that school and these girls were again forced to work at brick kiln with their families."
Javed was shocked at how the heroines of yesterday were pushed back to square one -- helpless brick-kiln labourers. That was the time when he promised himself to help them get rid of this slavish existence.
This was the beginning of his struggle. By now he had started thinking about all the children of brick kiln labourers. "I started teaching Shahnaz and Amina in the night and within one year both of them succeeded in passing their matriculation exams as well."
In 1997 they (Javed, Shahnaz and Amina) also started visiting different brick kilns on their own to motivate people to educate their children. "We also started giving basic education to these children. It was a challenging task as nobody was ready to help us. Even the international NGO that had publicised Shahnaz and Amina was not ready to listen to us. But we did not lose hope and confidence in ourselves," he says.
In a few years some youth brick workers became part of their struggle but they were unable to finance them and that was the reason they started raising funds by visiting different schools, madrasas and churches. "We used to ask for one rupee from each student and in this way our struggle continued. But it was not enough to meet all the needs. In 1999 we opened a primary school at a brick kiln near Manga Mandi but most of the time we were unable to even pay the salary to the only teacher of the school. He was a very nice person and did not demand a salary every month. But before Eidul Fitr he asked for salary and was justified. At that time I had no money. I borrowed 400 kg wheat from a woman in a village and sold it to pay him Rs 3300 as salary. So these were the conditions under which we were working," he continues.
In the year 2000 they decided to establish the BRIC and for the first time also hired an office for the organisation. "This was the year when I left living at a brick kiln for the first time in my life," he recalls. In 2003 the organization was registered as an NGO and the same year Rotary Club Mozang Lahore provided BRIC funds to establish 23 literacy centres on different brick kilns. "We ran a literacy centre for six months on a brick kiln and all the people from ages 10 to 24 were given basic education. The Rotary Club was even ready to fund us for 100 literacy centres but we were not content with the curriculum they wanted us to teach because we thought it was not appropriate for brick workers. In 2005 after having consultation with experts and keeping in mind the brick workers' psyche, economics and atmosphere we developed our own syllabus."
From 2003 onwards the BRIC has run 74 literacy centres with the financial support of Rotary Club, Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) with Pastor Stanley Sjoberg of Stockholm Sweden at different brick kilns of Lahore, Kasur, Chiniot and Jhang districts. So far they have been able to educate 1604 brick kiln workers. "This year 16 students will appear in primary level exams and that is a big achievement for us," Javed announces proudly.
According to him funds are still the basic problem for BRIC. "So far none of the members is getting a salary. This year for the first time that we have received Rs 20,000 per month as structural expenditures from Pastor Stanley Sjoberg," he says. The entire staff of BRIC resides in the office of the organisation because none of them has his own house (as they come from families of brick workers).
One of Javed's student, Azeem Rashid, a 13 year old brick worker at Madina Brick Kiln will appear in primary examination this year. He says he has been working as brick worker that since his childhood and now he can make more than 700 bricks a day. "But I want to study and live a normal life."
"Javed bhai and other people came to our place in 2005. I was also a student at literacy centre. After completion of literacy centre duration of six month, I requested him that I want to study and since then BRIC has been providing me complete guidance and this year hopefully I will pass primary level," he says. Rashid too wants to liberate his family from this 'terrible' life "like Javed bhai".
He does not know that Javed has not succeeded in getting his whole family out so far. "It is right that I am now living a life many times better than brick workers and have succeeded in arranging education for one of my younger brother and sister but one of my elder brother still works as brick worker." Two brothers of Amina, his early day colleagues at BRIC, are also working as debt-slaves at the bhattas. "If we want to free them, we need to pay a heavy amount which they took as advance from the owners. Majority of them are illiterate. The brick kiln owners most of the time pay them upto Rs 2,000 but instead get signatures on a receipt of Rs 5,000."
He says the prime focus of his effort is to give the brick workers have basic education to get rid of this unjustified practice. "I know that my effort may have a minimal effect on the working conditions and lives of brick workers but one thing is clear that more than 90 per cent of those 1604 brick workers whom we have given basic education will at least educate their children. And that will be a huge contribution," he says. Along with educating the brick workers BRIC also provides health facilities and legal aid to them.
The most beautiful day in Javed's life came in 2005 when he paid Rs. 23,000 to the brick kiln owner to free his father. "I still have that receipt with me that mentions that my father has paid all the amount that he took as advance and now he is a free man." It took his father more than 30 years to become a free man again. "I am working hard and hopeful that in coming June I will also succeed in paying the debt of my brother. I wish every brick worker family has a Javed. This is what I am striving for."
The conscious decision to paint nude female figures in an unsupportive environment was a courageous act that made Colin David a symbol of freedom of expression
By Quddus Mirza
In the year 2000, when Bashir Mirza died a lonely person in his flat, the Arts Council of Karachi organised a condolence meeting. Like all such gatherings, people fondly remembered and spoke at length about him, but in a manner that was rhetorical and repetitive. The host, Anwar Maqsood, requested the subsequent speakers to be brief and wittily remarked that we may lose a painter during the course of another long speech on Bashir Mirza.
The situation was not too dissimilar at reference held for Gulgee a few days ago at the Lahore Grammar School. As speaker after speaker remembered the painter, someone whispered that Colin David was seriously ill and we must visit him. A group of artists then gathered and headed for Colin David's house, situated not too far from the school in Defence Lahore.
During that short ride, I had this prophetic sensation that Colin David may not survive long. I felt the strikingly similarity between the past and the future - Gulgee and David -- both tainted with the shadow of death. Once in his house, it was not possible to meet Colin David, and most of us in our stay - while he was alive, lying in his room, taking his medicine -- realised that we may only 'see', not 'meet', him again.
Although every human being, no matter what age, faith or profession he belongs to, has to face death (mortality, a distant concept in the early stages of life, turns into a real possibility in old age), it was difficult to associate death with David. He suffered in his last years, yet it was unthinkable he would ever leave this world; only because he was a person so full of vitality, humour and high spirits.
Colin David was a man of few words. When I interviewed him for this newspaper five six years ago; it was not easy to extract long answers from him to fill a newspaper page. However, even those brief statements were enough to portray his genius as a painter and a teacher, and to gauge the sharpness of his mind. His comments on the act of drawing, matters of observation, rules of perceptions and the structure of paintings were thought-provoking and inspiring.
His ideas about drawing, painting and the overall act of art making were reflected in his work. With a controlled hand he used to depict his model on a seemingly flat background that gave the illusion of three-dimensional space. The hand was always restrained, yet it managed to shape the contours of the body with a sensitive distribution of tones and shades - a task not too easy for painters, but came so naturally to Colin David.
I was fortunate enough to peep into his studio while he was painting in 1983. Being a second year student of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts (NCA), like most other students I was deeply impressed with his skill but did not have the nerve to go to him and ask him about his work. He was a star and we were in awe of him. He appeared serious, distant and highly professional in his attitude.
It was only from the slit of his door at his office in college that I saw him painting the portrait of a student. The girl in red top, orange trousers and red shoes was drawn and painted with so much ease and with such mastery that it was a surprise to see her emerging on the canvas. Her features, figure and posture reflected the command of a painter, who transcribed her body in an interesting composition, without using an extra brush mark or tint. In all his figurative paintings and other canvases Colin David demonstrated a great balance of control and command.
A similar control and command was evident in his sense of humour. Though he did not talk much, his comments on certain practices of his contemporaries were true and hilarious at the same time. I remember him calling different portraits of Quaid-e-Azam made by his fellow artist at NCA as the exhibition of 'Quaid's cousins'. He himself portrayed Jinnah for another exhibition held at NCA. During Zia's regime, the state was trying to project the father of the nation like an orthodox Muslim leader, always represented in cap and shirwani; along with his quotes about the Islamic character of the country (a stance that suited the dictatorship of Zia - established and sanctified in the name of religion). Seeing all this, Colin David depicted the Quaid in a Western suit, playing billiard and a Havana cigar in his mouth: A truthful picture that defied the state-sponsored image of Jinnah.
Throughout life, defiance was reflected in his painting. Though he never approached his subject in this way, the conscious decision to continue painting nude female figures in a country and times that did not support art, nor allowed nudity, was a courageous act. He painted what he liked -- even though he did not display it in public -- and did not bow to outside pressures. Those pressures were not only mild persuasions by fellow painters, requests from gallery owners or demands from collectors, they manifested in the form of sticks and stones in the hands of hooligans who invaded his private exhibition arranged in his house in 1989 and tried to destroy his canvases.
There was no compensation for the loss of his paintings or a permanent solution for the fear of recurrence, but Colin continued to paint nude - a theme he liked most and explored in diverse manners. The choice of his subject was a personal matter, but because of his unchanging position, in a way, he became a symbol of freedom of expression. He did not join a movement, nor did he participate in any procession organised by the 'civil society', but with a dedication to his own choice and freedom, he demonstrated great courage and consistency.
It was probably this symbolism attached with him that his funeral, on a sunny afternoon in Lahore, became such a huge affair. A great number of mourners from all sections of society came to pay tribute to that brave man, who was laid to rest for his final resurrection on the Doomsday. Or maybe for another resurrection before that -- as a great painter of our times!
The contribution of Shah Latif Bhitai to music can be seen in the context of the relationship between a high classical tradition and its regional sources
By Sarwat Ali
The recently concluded urs of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai at Bhit Shah was a reminder of the central role that music plays at such congregations. In the case of Shah Latif it should come as no surprise because he codified the system of music that must have been sung or played during his lifetime.
One of the greatest patrons of music in South Asia has been the sufis. Certain sufi orders were more indulgent towards music than the others, while some were antithetical to it. But by and large the Chishtis, Qadris and the Qalandaris were more favourably disposed towards it. Actually it is a little hazardous to subsume under broad categorisation the question of acceptance and patronage of music, for within the sufi orders many variations and dimensions existed. The shrines of many sufis have become the centre point of musical activity, labelled generically as 'sama', with the weekly and yearly moots attracting musicians from far and wide, who also owe a great allegiance to their sufi saints. Two types of musical activity takes place on the shrine of Shah Latif during the days of the urs. Dressed in black the 'waee' is sung on the shrine by traditional 'waee' singers in the style said to have continued since the days of the Shah but concerts in the outer premises of the shrine are organised where the singers and dancers from all parts of Sindh perform mostly in various forms of folk music.
Shah Latif lived in the era when Muhammed Shah was the ruler in Delhi. The central empire in Delhi had started to disintegrate and many experiments were being made in music. Kheyal was gradually becoming a more acceptable form of music than dhrupad. Some of the great musicians sensing the decline had started to move away from Delhi seeking patronage in smaller states. The overstated dhrupad was probably no longer the most representative form of music in an age that saw destruction and undoing of the very social and philosophical fabric on which rested the pillars of the medieval state. The form that resonated in the imperial palaces only echoing the glory and heroism of the times were being replaced by a more flexible style of singing. An epical sensibility was gradually giving way to a romantic vision of life.
At the same time Shah Latif played a major role in the cross fertilization that was taking place in his region. He went along with it, codified the raags and classified the musical system in an attempt to bring the two to some meeting point.
In all he selected thirty six raginis. Thirty were earmarked for the exclusive singing of Shah's own poetry while six were used for singing other compositions. The raags of classical music which are mentioned in his works are Kalyan, Khambhat, Siri, Suhni, Sarang, Kedara, Desi, Baruva Hindi, Sorath, Baruva Sindhi, Ramkali, Bilawal, Asa, Dhanasari, Purbi, Kamod, Yaman, Husaini and Basant.
Shah's raags indicate that he retained Kalyan, Khambhat and Bilawal in their shudh (original) state because these constituted the three basic thaats to which also belong some other melodies of the group. The fourteen other melodies of the classical tradition were retained in the form in which they were being sung by the people. The functional compositions of each of these melodies do not necessarily conform exactly to their classical prototypes. The following seventeen were selected from Sindhi folk music Samundi, Abri, Madhoor, Kohiyaree, Rana, Khahoree, Rip, Lilan, Dahar, Kapaitee, Pirbhati, Ghatu, Seenh Kadaro, Marui, Dhol Maru, Hir and Karayal.
One wonders what kind of music was being sung and played in Punjab at the same time. It is said that the dominant form of music in the Punjab till the middle of the 19th century was the dhrupad. And in the later part of the century perhaps a gradual change in taste started to accommodate kheyal. It was only in the 20th century that kheyal was finally accepted as the dominant form of singing in the high classical tradition.
It should not be forgotten that the weakening of the Central Empire in Delhi very badly affected the Punjab. All the armies from the North and North West passed through Punjab to raid and conquer Delhi. Punjabi poetry of Bullah Shah and Waris Shah give strong evidence of the state of destruction, pillage, insecurity, breakdown of the order in society that the raids of Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali had caused.
There seems to be less evidence of change in music of the times, and if there was any change it has not been recorded. Or perhaps the rule of Ranjit Singh in the first half of the 19th century recreated some semblance of stability and order.
Or that the Punjab was too close to Delhi physically to forge its own identity, rather its identity flowed into the mainstream that made up the identity of the central court.
This may not have been the case with places that were farther away from the centre of power. The new music tradition founded by Shah Latif had tremendous influence on the development of musical taste in Sindh. Many classical melodies became popular throughout the province and many folk melodies which originally had local status and significance gained wide popularity and came to be sung in areas outside the province.
The contribution of Shah Latif Bhitai to music can be seen in the context of the relationship between a high classical tradition and its regional sources. His was an attempt at codifying a system of music that was more specific to the region.
The high classical tradition being the most standardised version of our musical system is seen in some quarters to have stifled the growth of other influences more rooted in the various regions of South Asia. To many the Sindhi sensibility is best represented in the folk tradition when rendered in its most raw form. This derives its strength from the argument that the classical tradition associated with the elite is so over wrought and stylised that it smothers the genuine and most authentic expression of the common man.
Contemporary Pakistani artists provide voices that examine the politics and society through dress
By Atteqa Ali
In the work of Pakistani artists, clothing plays an important role. Items of dress become characters in narratives about the nation and its citizens; however, the plots are twisted. The garbs that are typically associated with this South Asian country do not connote what we might initially believe them to mean. A veil, for example, is perhaps not a sign of a woman's oppression, as many in the West may think. Like the invisible fabric of the Emperor's new clothes, there is a dimension here that is often overlooked or ignored. It is one that tells about the stereotypes of Pakistanis and their country.
The general view of Pakistan in the international mass media is one of a troubled, unstable society where terrorists roam freely and women have no power. The South Asian people might wear a range of outfits; however, on the nightly news abroad Pakistanis are either seen sporting a military dress (males) or veiled from head to toe (females). With the same kinds of images repeated over and over again in the media, the dangerous and oppressive view of Pakistan gets affixed in the imagination; therefore, a simple piece of cloth can mean a lot more than something that dresses the body.
Contemporary Pakistani artists, both in their home country and abroad, provide voices that examine and explore the politics and society of Pakistan through dress. But they do so in a complicated manner. They appropriate the stereotypes of the nation and people and -- like clothes that come off the body -- they turn them inside out. Pakistani artists depict a society in turmoil and an identity that is in flux. Yet, they question why this kind of environment is present in the country.
For Hasnat Mehmood a turbaned man serves as a generic ruler. With this head-dress, he appears to be a Mughal Emperor; however, in the artist's mind it can be any leader who uses pictures to manipulate the public. Hasnat comments on the abuse of power and its manifestation in imagery through his reference to the postage stamp. The stamp has always been a powerful tool for rulers. It is an effective way to spread propaganda. In the prolonged British Empire, for example, the image of the queen informed subjects afar to whom they should be loyal.
Misrepresentations continue to abound in South Asia. Leaders build public monuments to project themselves and historical events as great and brave; however, this is usually a skewed perspective. Ayesha Jatoi pointed this out by doing the laundry under a fighter jet that sits at 'China Chowk' in Lahore. It served the Pakistani air force during the 1971 civil war that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. The artist has used the jet to make her statement about war and destruction. For her, these are the results of male aggression. The stereotypically female, private act contrasts with the public symbol of male power that served as her site.
Instead of trying to soften a harsh structure, Naiza Khan hardens feminine clothing. In her work, lingerie is turned into armour; it stands stiffly as if embodied. The soft bits of clothing are no longer delicate and sensual. Rather, Naiza creates a sturdy, feminine army. An installation of these sculptures calls into question the perceptions of women, both within and outside of Pakistan. They are neither aggressive nor fragile.
Using the veil as a symbol in her paintings, Aisha Khalid reveals the prowess of women as well. Her images do so in oblique ways. This is perhaps necessary in an Islamic society where the social conventions expect women to be invisible and silent. Aisha challenges this assumption and other long-held beliefs about Muslim women. Using the miniature painting technique to create luminous images in which there is little to indicate a woman directly, the artist makes her women 'visible'. Her strength is revealed not by showing her directly, but by giving her a presence.
For men articles of clothing can be similarly oppressive. An example is Rashid Rana's mixed media work, Who' s Afraid of Red where he has cut a wedding jacket in half. More recently, his digital image, Identical Views, looks at similar concerns. In it, he shows himself getting dressed in a variety of outfits. The title suggests that the mirror images are the same from one side to the next; however, there is discrepancy amongst the views. This simple work that seems to be about the artist only extends to aesthetic obsessions like vision along with socio-political matters about identity and how slippery it can be. Identity shifts with each costume change.
Even though this ability to shape and shift is what all of these artists offer in their works, it feels impossible at times for Pakistanis to shed the clothes that weigh them down.