of an era
The Punjabi novel, it is
generally agreed, is a fragile species especially in the Western Punjab. It
is often assumed it may soon go extinct on this side of the border. The
reasons are many; one being that despite its status as the mother tongue of
millions, it is a language without any official status accorded to it by the
state. The other big reason is the absence of a modern literary culture where
people get to discuss novels.
A few novels — good or
bad — which do get written against all odds fall through the cracks as no
one hears of or reads them; they are neither appreciated nor critiqued. They
simply disappear along with the writers. Khalid Toor and his novels are but
one such example to come to light in the world of Urdu fiction.
Anwar Chaudheri’s slim
Punjabi novel ‘Saanga’is another example which was originally published in
2000. This remarkable little book should be read as widely as possible both
for its literary merit and political importance.
It remains the only novel,
to my knowledge, that charts the rise and fall of Pakistan People’s Party.
Since the PPP has finally been defeated, even if we make some room for vote
rigging, it is perhaps doubly important for those who care about the party to
read the novel to understand what went wrong and how the party’s true
promise to the poor masses remained unfulfilled.
As the recent pro-Morsi
clashes with the Army and the huge loss of life shows that public can be
mobilised, the question remains why was the establishment able to kill a
popular leader without any real opposition in the streets of Pakistan. If the
chief justice of Pakistan could stir masses to action, why couldn’t Bhutto?
Where was the disconnect and how was it created?
The novel makes an attempt
at understanding that bitter and shameful chapter of Pakistan’s history.
central character is a mutt, named Dabbu, born out of the mating of a
high breed of the dog and a mongrel mother. Since a very early age, he is
attached with a family of poor peasants who are forced off the land they had
tilled for generations. The PPP is referred to as the Poor People’s Party;
whose formation has awakened the disenfranchised throughout the country.
The peasants and labourers
are becoming aware of their rights, both social and economic. The feudal
class is retaliating. There is class tension. The family that has adopted
Dabbu the dog is headed by Husaino, displaced along with his wife, sons Peeru
and Meeru, a daughter, a daughter in law and grandchildren.
After several stages of
displacement, the family manages a roof over their head in the outskirts of
Lahore, but by then the political upheaval has dealt Husaino’s family a
tragic hand and no one is left unscathed. Dabbu the dog is witness to the
class clash, rising hopes for better life for the poor and the betrayal of
the promise, the murder of Bhutto, and the dark ages and reign of terror
initiated by General Zia.
Anwar Chaudheri makes us
see the changing world through a handful of major and minor characters but
creates a counter-narrative that reaches the reader through Dabbu’s
reflection. It is through the Dog’s consciousness that the reader is able
to empathise with Husaino’s wife Amma Subaan, her fears and concerns.
For example: “Dabbu sees
Amma Subaan as if she was his own mother; the same hopeless, sad eyes. Dabbu
had never seen her happy. She is always filled with worry and ache. These
days it seems helplessness has lit a fire inside her. She talks to herself
and begins weeping out of the blue.”
The novel also brilliantly
highlights the homo-social nature of the political culture inhabited by the
progressives and the leftists during Bhutto’s tenure as the men failed to
invite women to participate in the struggle for political and social change.
In the discussions of the
many characters, Anwar Chaudheri introduces to the reader via Meeru the
younger son who has become a low-level political worker of the party; the
women only exist on the margins and mostly as shadows. But to compensate and
to give women the agency they deserve, he empowers Meeru’s sister-in-law
Zaini and his sister Mariaan, who in some ways is a post-modern Heer.
As we see the activist’s
world in Lahore through Meeru’s eyes, again Dabbu is used as a
counter-narrative since he becomes the dog of the entire city. He roams all
day and only returns to Husaino’s abode to rest at night. It is through
Dabbu’s eyes that the reader sees the male characters falling apart as
Bhutto is toppled, hanged and political activists are sent to the Fort or
The finest moment of the
novel, in my personal view, appears towards the end. The political forces of
the country are making an attempt at challenging the US-backed military
dictatorship. Political leaders and party activists are protesting and
shouting anti-government slogans without resisting arrest. There is police
and army everywhere trying to quell the unrest.
Into this mayhem wanders
Dabbu who has already showed distaste for the men in khaki. As Dabbu avoids
the avalanche of the police boots, he finds himself face to face with army
personnel. In the scuffle, Dabbu digs his canines into the flesh of the army
man. This is too daring. This is poetic revenge. Dabbu is the consciousness
of the oppressed and is closest to authorial intervention. Dabbu feels in his
guts that the army is the major reason why Pakistan is in such a sorry state.
The novel should be taught
to students in high school as an attempt to make them politically aware
Moazzam Sheikh’s collection of short stories ‘Cafe Le Whore and Other Stories’ is due soon
Author: Anwar Chaudheri
Publisher: Rutlekha, 2013
Price: Rs 35
In an old Irish
folk tale, a questioner asks Finn McCool: “Tell us Finn, what is the best
music in the world?” After a long pause, Finn replies: “The music of what
happens”. The man, who composed, analysed and amplified not only the music
of what happens but the music of what might happen died on August 30 in
Dublin at the age of 74.
Seamus the famous as he was
known among his friends was the greatest poet Ireland has produced since WB
Yeats. He was so famous that Dublin literary circles used to joke that Heaney
doesn’t have a postman but a postvan for the delivery of his posts. He was
a master poet, a Nobel laureate and the unrooted son of Bellaghy.
He was a legend in the
world of literature but a farmer’s son at heart. “I live in the city and
Heaney lives in the countryside, in the memory and elsewhere,” he told a
Heaney was born at a
Mossbawn farm in Bellaghy, Co Derry (Northern Ireland) on April 13, 1939, the
eldest of the nine children of “an ever growing family” as stated in his
Nobel lecture. He attended St. Columb’s College in the city of Derry; the
move which he would describe as “from the earth of farm labour to the
heaven of education”. In 1957, he joined the Queen’s University, Belfast
and later taught at the same campus embarking on a lifelong academic career
which included Professorship of Poetry both at the Harvard and the Oxford.
Heaney was awarded the
Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical
depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”. When asked how
it felt having his name in the Irish Nobel pantheon featuring William Butler
Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett, Heaney responded: “It’s
like being a little foothill at the bottom of a mountain range. You hope you
just live up to it. It’s extraordinary.”
Although he accepted that
Nobel Prize is a life-changing event, he was never affected by that status
like his close friends and fellow Nobel laureates Josephy Brodsky and Derek
Walcott. Replying to a question just after the Nobel announcement, he
responded: “This is the way I have lived since I began to write since last
thirty years so my writing plans haven’t changed, my circumstances have
changed with so many interviews.” He was awarded the Commandeur de
L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters)
from the French ministry of culture in 1996.
His other accomplishments
include: Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), TS Eliot Prize (2006) and two
Whitbread prizes (1996 and 1999). He won honours from Trinity College Dublin
in 2012 when it named one of Ireland’s most prestigious academic
appointments after him — the Heaney Professorship in Irish Writing at
Trinity College Dublin. Heaney had twelve collection of poems to his credit
these include ‘Death of A Naturalist’, ‘Door Into The Dark’.
‘Wintering Out’, ‘North, Fieldwork’, ’Station Island’, ‘The Haw
Lantern’, ‘Seeing Things’,’ The Spirit Level’, ‘Electric
Light’, ‘District and Circle’ and ‘Human Chain’.
I met him last year at the
Dalkey Book festival where he had a poetry reading session. This was one of
his last public appearances. It was a full house and he mesmerised the
audience with his delivery and his poetry in his so loving native Northern
accent. He looked tired and fatigued. Among the attendees was Bono the U2
singer who regarded Heaney as “a great, great poet who changed his life”.
No poetry reading was
complete without him reading his masterpiece ‘Digging’ from his debut
collection ‘Death of a Naturalist’. In the poem he recalled his father
and his grandfather cutting turf and scattering new potatoes. He remembered
the “cold smell of potato mould”, “the squelch and slap of soggy
peat”, but lamented that he had no spade to follow those men winding with a
remarkable poetic prophecy:
The cold smell of potato
mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt
cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken
in my head.
But I’ve no spade to
follow men like them.
Between my finger and my
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
He wrote his first
poems under the pseudonym of “Incertus” which means uncertain and
“uncertain I was” he once said: “It was after reading Ted Hughs and
Patrick Cavanagh that I thought that this material of my own from my county
Derry is workable.” He moved from North to South in 1972 and that’s where
he committed himself to poetry and allowed himself to be called a poet. “To
me it’s a very large word ‘Poet’ and to think and allow yourself to be
called poet is to consecrate yourself. I think it’s very serious,” he
said in an interview.
Poetry for Heaney was about
time, place and memory. The troubles in the North did influence his poetry
which he discussed in detail in his Nobel lecture. His two remarkable poems
about his second cousin Colum McCartney who was killed by a group of loyalist
paramilitaries in random sectarian assassinations in 1975 sums up the twenty
years of killings and the caste system Heaney went through during his stay in
the North. Heaney missed the funeral due to a Literary festival which he
lamented in his book Station Island’s poem “Station Island, VIII” in
the voice of his cousin who then directly accuses him of having aesthetically
prettified his death in the earlier elegy (‘The Strand at Lough Beg’;
You confused evasion and
The Protestant who shot me
through the head
I accuse directly, but
who now atone perhaps upon
for the way you whitewashed
ugliness and drew
the lovely blinds of the
and saccharined my death
with morning dew.
He was unapologetically
Irish and despite his love for rural south Derry, boglands and “the
north”, he spent much of his life in Dublin. Ironically, as he himself
admitted, there is not a single poem inspired by the city of his residence.
In 1983, he expressed his strong national identity in a fall-out with poets
Andrew Motion and Blake Morrison who included him in The Penguin Book of
Contemporary British Poetry. Heaney responded in An Open Letter, a 198-line
poem: “Be advised, My passport’s green. No glass of ours was ever raised,
To toast the Queen,” and then almost 30 years later, Heaney did in fact
raise a glass to toast the Queen during her historic visit to Ireland in
Heaney once quoted what he
had translated from Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles when his friend the great
Polish poet Czes?aw Mi?osz died in 2004. Telling the story of the old king
who dies and vanishes into the earth, the play’s messenger says, in
Heaney’s words: “Wherever that man went, he went gratefully.”
Mahmood Awan is a Punjabi
poet who works and lives in Dublin. He can be reached at [email protected]
breathed his last in Karachi a few days ago at the age of 73. His death is
being mourned widely in the literary circles as he was witness to an era in
which many new literary movements were born. He actively participated in
these movements and made more foes than friends due to his staunch views.
In 1968, his first
collection of stories ‘Makhi’ was published which established him as an
important story writer with a distinctive style of his own. Literary critics
and readers still remember his title story ‘Makhi’ which was translated
into many languages.
Due to his unique style, he
was bracketed with the likes of Enver Sajjad, Khalida Husain and Surinder
Parkash. Noted storywriter Asad Muhammad Khan nostalgically remembers the
days spent with him. “I had a long association with Hamesh Sahib, and in
those days I was influenced by him and other architects of ‘New Story’.
They were all my gurus and I learnt a lot from all of them.
“When his collection of
short stories was published under the title ‘Makhi’, I was really
impressed by his craft. Particularly his short story ‘Makhi’ had an
immense effect on me. Hamesh sahib was also among the advocates of prose
poetry. I used to advise him that he should not waste time on unnecessary
controversies. Hamesh sahib will be missed by all.”
‘Kahani Mujhe Likhti Hai’,
the second collection of his stories, appeared in 1998 and the only
collection of his prose poetry ‘Hamesh Nazmein’ was published in 2005. In
the view of Kishwar Naheed, his prose poetry is more important than his
stories. She laments that he wasted his time in many a controversy which he
should have avoided. “Ahmad Hamesh wrote brilliant prose poems and he
should have written more poems. I think he should have devoted more time to
writing. He was a good writer but somehow he was not lucky enough. He was
truly a Bohemian soul.”
‘Tashkeel’ stopped from being published due to lack of resources. The
magazine was is in hibernation for more than five years. His daughter Injila
Hamesh, who is also a poet, says he had to stop the publication of the
magazine due to financial constraints. She is all praise for her father who
fought with cancer and never gave up.
“My father was writing
his autobiography in his last days. I will try to get it published as it will
be history of an era in which he lived,” she says.
Critic Asif Farrukhi got a
chance to listen to a few portions of his semi-autobiographical novel from
Ahmad Hamesh. He is all praise for the novel which Hamesh left incomplete.
Farrukhi gives full marks to Hamesh for carving out a new path in poetry and
fiction. “He had a distinct style of his own as he didn’t believe in
imitating others. He didn’t write that much but whatever he wrote was not
run-of-the-mill stuff. He read out a few portions of his incomplete novel to
me and I must say it is an unusual novel. I am very sad he didn’t get a
chance to complete this novel. I am sure this novel would have been an
unusual literary piece.”
He also worked for NAPA and
translated many famous Hindi plays into Urdu.