Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Badge of honour

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s incisive documentary helps reignite the debate on honour killings in Pakistan.

Second success: Sharmeen with her Oscar. Photo: Reuters

Second success: Sharmeen with her Oscar. Photo: Reuters

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has won the second Oscar for a short documentary that brings international attention to an endemic evil in Pakistan (and India for that matter) known as honour killings. Officially, there are a thousand victims of honour killings every year but the actual number may be much higher. Aside from Sharmeen’s recognition by Hollywood, which by itself is a big win, the Oscar for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is a victory for Pakistan’s long list of activists who have been advocating to end this heinous practice. Days before the Oscars ceremony, a special screening of the movie was held at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s house. The Pakistan PM issued a statement saying he would bring changes to the legislation to end the curse of honour killings. Sharif’s recent overtures to causes such as minority rights and talking about a liberal Pakistan have come as a surprise, given his conservative politics, and his party’s attempts to prevent progressive legislation during the 1990s. Or it is a sign of Pakistan’s drift into extremism that even centrist politicians like Sharif are worried about the future of the country.

A Girl in the River narrates the heart-wrenching story of Saba Qaiser who survived an attempt to kill her and lived to tell her tale. Saba was lucky to survive. Most victims are not. The issue of honour killings is cultural as a woman’s conduct is seen as an instrument of honour of the family. That such tribal and feudal customs continue in the 21st century is a shame indeed. As if the customs were not enough, General Zia-ul-Haq and his successors worked on a law that compounds murder and also enables the murderer to seek forgiveness under an interpretation of Islamic law. In short, honour killings rarely, or never, get punished.

Worse, the parliamentarians, who in any democratic society are required to enact legislation that ends brutal customs, have been divided and complicit. In 1999, a young woman, Samia Sarwar, was killed outside the offices of Pakistan’s renowned human rights lawyers, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani. A resolution moved by a liberal senator in Parliament could not be carried through as a Pakhtun member of the Awami National Party objected to the attempt to interfere with the ‘honour’ culture. In the Musharraf era, a weak law was enacted but when a woman member of parliament presented a resolution, it was shot down. Sherry Rehman’s earlier efforts to table a reform bill were also rejected by the then ruling party closely allied to Gen Musharraf. The Islamists who were in the opposition supported the government on that front.

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“Remembering Intizar Husain”

Raza Rumi remembers Intizar Husain as a colossus of letters, but also as a formative influence for himself
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(L-R) Jamila Hashmi, Intizar Husain, Masood Ashar and Kishwar Naheed

I remember the languid afternoon in Lahore when I met Intizar Husain surrounded by his friends and admirers. This formal introduction happened as poet-writer Fahmida Riaz was visiting Lahore and wanted to see Intizar Sahib – as we all called him. This was nearly a decade ago and my memory of that meeting is a bit hazy. All I remember is that Intizar Sahib showed extraordinary enthusiasm when he heard my name.

Arrey I have been reading you in The Friday Times”, he said. Bewildered, I thought that he was trying to humour a young novice with literary pretensions. Noticing my maladroit attempt to hide my expression, he added in chaste, homely Urdu: “I had thought that this guy Rumi was some old man writing about the shared cultures of the subcontinent…Aap tau naujawan nikle (you turned out to be a youth).”

In those days, I was regular feature writer at TFT and had penned many a rant on the civilisational ethos of the Indian Subcontinent that has fast eroded in the past few decades. Little did I know that it would be noted by – of all the readers – Urdu’s master fiction writer and columnist, essayist and a critic!

ishtiaq2Intizar Sahib had resisted the temptations of turning into a cult figure, a pop star or a pir

This was a moment of reckoning for me. I was but a pygmy in front of this literary giant and man of all proverbial seasons. Hearing his acknowledgment was a kind of homecoming – a process that continues, distracted by the necessities of garnering jobs and nurturing pretenses of a ‘career’. Among other reasons to change direction in my life, perhaps Intizar Sahib was a major reason. His encouragement – to an utterly unimaginative person like me – acted as an elixir.

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In memoriam: Writers like Intizar Husain never die, they live on in their words and ideas

In celebrating his pluralistic literary roots, Intizar Husain was a truly contemporary writer

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Intizar Husain, the last of great Urdu writers, passed away yesterday at the age of 92.

He’d been hospitalized for some time in Lahore. His ardent followers had been worried that the worst was likely to happen. But the truth is that writers of Husain’s stature never die. They live in their words and the corpus of ideas that they bequeath to future generations.

Husain was definitely one such figure. He leaves behind some of the finest specimens of fiction, journalism, travel writing and critical essays. The sheer volume of Husain’s literary output is mind boggling as it indicates a life that was lived in a deep love of letters; engaged in an eternal search for meaning.

Intizar Sahib spent his early years at his birthplace Dibai in the Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. In one of his interviews, he said that the partition of India in 1947 made him a fiction writer. Nothing could be truer as the shadow of his migration to a new country became perennial. For much of his life, this event and the sense of displacement informed his creative musings.

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Intizar Husain was a sought after presence at literary festivals, where his vast body of work was discussed

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miniature painting goes global

Steeped in the past, and yet, modernist in its application, neo miniature is the new face of Pakistani miniature painting and art. Having evolved as a genre that is entirely indigenous in its expressions, it has also globalized Pakistani cultural idiom and has inspired a generation of artists within and outside the country

Pakistani miniature painting and art. The survival of a revival

Raza Rumi believes the neo-miniature movement is located within the resilience of Pakistani society as well as its struggle to reinvent aesthetic and cultural parameters of identity.

Pakistani miniature painting art

My detailed report for DAWN:

Nearly two generations of Pakistani artists have experimented with the traditional genre of miniature painting and art; some have even gone on to expand its scope and vocabulary. It is on the shoulders of such artistic endeavor and innovation that Pakistan’s neo-miniature movement has now turned global.

Neo-miniatures retain traditional techniques while incorporating contemporary themes, and some have even deconstructed the format and articulated sensibilities that otherwise would be identified with post-modernism.

Its entry into Western markets — galleries and private collections — is are recognition of the rigorous technique and innovative thematic inferences employed by Pakistani artists. Undoubtedly, Pakistani art has found a discernible niche in the global art market. Continue reading

Faiz Ahmed Faiz: A window to what could have been

Most of us recognize Faiz Ahmed Faiz for his immortal poetry. Few are aware that Faiz Ahmed Faiz was also a prolific prose writer and that too in English. In 1947, he was asked by the great progressive of his times, Mian Iftikharuddin, to edit The Pakistan Times. In addition, Faiz was made the head of the editorial board of the Urdu daily Imroze and was also associated with the literary weekly Lail-o-Nahar.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

This foray into journalism came after a five-year stint with the welfare department of the British Army that hired Faiz in 1942 for its publicity wing. This decision to join the army was made due to his clear stance against fascism.

After Independence, Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote for The Pakistan Times for four years until 1951, when he was arrested for supporting the Rawalpindi Conspiracy. Faiz wrote extensively on a variety of issues in the voice of a conscientious commentator. The writer was less of a revolutionary and more of a journalist trying to pursue a balance.

In an editorial dated September 13, 1948, Faiz Ahmed Faiz paid rich tributes to Jinnah, the founder of the nation. He also added how India and Pakistan in quick succession lost two great leaders — Jinnah and Gandhi. Faiz had termed Gandhi’s assassination in an earlier editorial as “one of the darkest crimes in history” and “comparable only to the crucifixion of Jesus.”

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Dear Infidel: The Dilemma of British Muslims

I was a student in the United Kingdom when The Satanic Verses – the controversial novel by Salman Rushdie – created pandemonium across the globe. Images of the book being burnt were flashed across the television screens. My British Muslim friends were divided – some passionate about the issue of blasphemy, others unconcerned or detached from the divide. However, this moment marked a moment of imagination of a “new Islam.” Author Sadia Abbas has delineated this construction of the “violent” versus the “civilised” (Western world) in a new book entitled: At Freedom’s Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament (Fordham University Press). With the “defeat” of Communism and move to “liberate” Kuwait in 1991, a new kind of sensibility was brewing. The September 11 attacks a decade later cemented this construction and today the Muslim, especially in the West is a loaded term open to multiple interpretations; and a new imagination of Islam rules the public mind.

It is in this context that a recent novel Dear Infidel by Tamim Sadikali is an important work of fiction emanating from the United Kingdom where new Islam is also under heavy scrutiny. Sadikali, an authentic voice from the “hood” has both the panache and punch to weave a story around issues of “British Muslim” identity and how it is informed by race, ethnicity, dilemmas of assimilation. Dear Infidel is a story of disparate lives of young Brits negotiating multiple identities in a post-9/11 world. Continue reading

Sticky wicket: Why cricket is a lot like sex

Something primal and deep is at work. And could be linked to the most cherished South Asian male sexual fantasies.

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Many years ago, Dr D Pressed, a senior Pakistani psychologist, told me: “Basically a good cricketer is judged by his ca­pacities in two areas: How hard he can hit and how long he can play.” Was this not similar to what men con­sider the key elements of being great lovers?, she added. Locker room talk in India, Pakistan and possibly the world over literally glorifies such techniques when men boast of their sexual exploits. Whereas one stud tells of how many hours he could perform – literally echoing the goal of every cricketer: “Mein ney uskay chackay churaa diye (I scored many ‘sixes’)”.

Over time, I have learnt more from the Jungian practitioner, and to clarify, how to deconstruct the game of cricket and its enduring popularity in South Asia. Something primal and deep is at work. And could be linked to the most cherished South Asian male sexual fantasies. And more so about how men think women could be “satisfied” with their performance. Male fantasies tend to revolve around the vital organ, which according to lots of current research, in the words of Dr D “is the great redunda for many women”. This is why cricket is an extension of this syndrome. Continue reading