review
A political metaphor
A novel that should be read as widely as possible both for its literary merit and political importance
By Moazzam Sheikh
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.

Seamus the famous
Arguably the greatest poet Ireland produced since Yeats, Seamus Heaney became known for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth
By Mahmood Awan
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.

End of an era
Ahmad Hamesh left an indelible mark both in fiction and prose poetry
By Altaf Hussain Asad
Ahmad Hamesh 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

review
A political metaphor
A novel that should be read as widely as possible both for its literary merit and political importance
By Moazzam Sheikh

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.

Saanga’s 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 whipped publicly.

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 through fiction.

Moazzam Sheikh’s collection of short stories ‘Cafe Le Whore and Other Stories’ is due soon

Saanga

Author: Anwar Chaudheri

Publisher: Rutlekha, 2013

Pages: 166

Price: Rs 35

 

 

 

 

Seamus the famous
Arguably the greatest poet Ireland produced since Yeats, Seamus Heaney became known for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth
By Mahmood Awan

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 reporter once.”

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 thumb

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’; Field Work)

You confused evasion and artistic tact.

The Protestant who shot me through the head

I accuse directly, but indirectly, you

who now atone perhaps upon this bed

for the way you whitewashed ugliness and drew

the lovely blinds of the Purgatorio

and saccharined my death with morning dew.

(‘Station Island’, VIII)

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 2011.

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]

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of an era
Ahmad Hamesh left an indelible mark both in fiction and prose poetry
By Altaf Hussain Asad

Ahmad Hamesh 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.”

Hamesh’s magazine ‘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.

 

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