Arts & Culture

Conversation with Mushir ul Hasan on my book

25 March 2014

Last year, my book was released in Delhi. The video and transcript of the discussion have been uploaded now.

Mushir ul Hasan: I’m delighted to be associated with the launch of this book; however, I believe that the subtitle of the book could have been a touch different. ‘The impressions of a Pakistani traveller’ – immediately creates an image in my mind of the ‘distinct other’, and I think it is this sense that we’re probably trying to do away with here. One of the strengths of this book lies with the fact that it does try to bridge the intellectual and cultural gap that exists, or has been created, since both country’s gained independence in 1947.delhi-by-heart-cover21.jpg

I particularly noticed the fact that Raza doesn’t actually look at Delhi, its cultural profile and its social profile as an outsider or someone who hails from Pakistan. He demonstrates empathy and respect for the city and has knowledge of the city’s development and its growth. According to me, he relied on skill and intuition to study some of the features of this city – particularly those of you who have read the sections on the Sufi shrines. They’re not only informative to many readers, but evocative at the same time, and yet in a certain sense, they also represent, the true character and complexion of this diverse city. I would like to thank Mr. Raza for writing a book about ‘our city’; as it is a very lively, vivid and comprehensive narrative.

I would also want to bring to the attention of academicians, that in order to understand the book, one needs to draw a distinction between academic and journalistic writing. The thin line that divides the two is blurred nowadays, which is why I would be glad to recommend your book to my students to understand what eloquent and comprehensive writing is all about. The book has a considerable amount of interesting insights, with the exception of certain sections.

The book is incisive from the outset and it looks at a city through a holistic lens. To eloquently describe its history, its past and its present without having lived here is a commendable effort and I am lending my voice and my views, to the number of reviews that have already appeared in the newspapers, regarding the book. Almost all the reviews that I have read are very interesting and I do hope that this book will go a long way in familiarizing Raza’s countrymen and our countrymen with the vibrancy of this city, its multifaceted personality and the manner in which Delhi has grown over the centuries. Thank you once again, for writing such a good book.

Read full transcript and watch video on my blog “Delhi by Heart

Enduring Threads

20 December 2013

Raza Rumi

Raza Rumi was fascinated by artist Aasim Akhtar’s unique curation of Pakistani textile heritage at the Rawalpindi NCA – Click here to see more:

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Cotton dyed in natural colours with elaborate silver work. South Punjab

A recent exhibition in Rawalpindi showcased the rich variety of traditional textiles – lovingly weaved tales – from the various corners of Pakistan. Aptly titled, ‘Vanishing Worlds, Enduring Threads’, it presented a wide collection of textiles collected by artist and writer Aasim Akhtar. The threads, which Aasim had labeled as enduring, are disappearing fast, overtaken by mechanization, changing aesthetics and economic patterns. The exhibition was curated at the Potohar Art Gallery at the Rawalpindi Campus of the National College of Arts (NCA).

I was lucky to have the collector-curator walk me through the pieces on display, my instant reaction to which was how could anyone collect such a large variety and then keep it safely. One has to be as dedicated, eccentric and involved as Aasim to have picked up the best from villages, goths and remote corners of the country and create a formidable ensemble after two decades. From the better-known forms such as ‘phulkari’ to ‘chunri,’ the exhibition had some dying forms such as ‘lungi’ and animal trappings. (more…)

Japanese Art in Lahore

26 November 2013

A recent exhibition of Japanese paintings brought the restrained artistry of the orient to Lahore.
Review by Raza Rumi

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Stormy Sea off Kanagawa, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by the artist Hokusai (c 1830)

A recently held exhibition at Alhamra Arts Council brought the subtleties of classical Japanese art to Lahore. The two cultures met and interacted with each other. I was lucky to get a quick preview of the exhibition thanks to the dynamic Sabah Hussain who has untiringly promoted this inter-cultural dialogue in Lahore.

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The Actor Ichikawa Ebizo as Takemura Sadanoshin by the artist Sharaku (c 1794) Ebizo was a leading actor of his time

Sabah is also the founder and director of Lahore Arts Foundation and a renowned artist. A Lahori and a distinguished graduate of the National College of Arts, Sabah specialized in the preservation & conservation of works on paper at the College of Arts, London. Later she was trained at the Kyoto Institute of Technology Japan and in those rich environs she also studied the art of papermaking and printmaking. As a student of National College of Arts and Kyoto National University of Fine Arts & Music in Japan we have a rather curious artist-activist whom Lahore can only be proud of. (more…)

The almost forgotten radical message of Iqbal

9 November 2013

iqbalI am reposting this old blog on Iqbal Day:

God, You created the night, I made the lamp
You created the earth, I made earthen pot out of it
It is me who created the mirror out of stone
It is me who made elixir out of poison

Today Pakistan celebrates Allama Iqbal’s birth anniversary with the usual lip-service. The key messages of Iqbal seem to have been lost in the maze of officialdom. This is further exacerbated by the hijacking of Islam and politics by vested interests, not to mention the recent events that have shook us all. Iqbal opposed exploitation, Mullahism, emphasised the principle of movement in Islamic thought; and highlighted ijtehad (re-interpretation) of Islamic teachings through a modern parliamentary framework. Alas, all of that is nearly forgotten. 

For instance he was clear about the layers of exploitation:

The world does not like tricks and
Of science and wit nor, their contests
This age does not like ancient thoughts,
From core of hearts their show detests.

O wise economist, the books you write
Are quite devoid of useful aim:
They have twisted lines with orders strange
No warmth for labour, though they claim.

The idol houses of the West,
Their schools and churches wide
The ravage caused for, greed of wealth
Their wily wit attempts to hide (more…)

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed on my book

10 September 2013

A lovely review of my book in the Daily Times by Ishtiaq Ahmed

When Indians and Pakistanis visit each other, questions of identity, patriotism, and self-esteem almost invariably crop up in even the most enlightened circles. That for more than a thousand years Indian-Muslims were a hyphenated community among many others such as caste Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Dalits, and all of them together were described generically even as Hindus by foreigners, is often forgotten.

Delhi by Heart is a jolly good, multifaceted account penned by Raza Rumi of Lahore of his sojourns in the Indian capital, Delhi, over many years. He puts his experiences in perspective by drawing attention to indoctrination at school and in higher educational institutions in Pakistan, which aims at inculcating the belief that India and Indians are mortal enemies. He makes this admission without mincing words: “I grew up and lived in a milieu that conditioned me to resent India, especially its role in dismembering the Pakistani state in 1971. I also lived in the semi-schizophrenic state of being part of the ‘enemy’ landscape.”

However, cultural references, historical threads and many other bonds from a shared heritage were far too strong. As happens ever so often in this globalised word, people are on the move more and more. Rumi met Indians when he was studying abroad and later interacted with them at the Asian Development Bank and then as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. Such experiences helped him discard the crass prejudices he had imbibed during socialisation at school and college.

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Rumi’s Dilli

10 September 2013

Here is a wonderful review of my book in India’s Frontline magazine

 

The Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi is both an insider and an outsider as he explores the trail of Sufism to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. By SHUJAAT BUKHARI

DELHI has been explored by scores of authors, both Indian and foreign. A few prominent books such as Delhi: A Novel by Khushwant Singh (1990), Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity by Sam Miller (2008) and City of Djinns by William Dalrymple (2003) immediately come to mind. Being the political nerve centre of South Asia for centuries, Delhi has always had an attraction for foreigners. Its ups and downs, too, have a unique touch of beauty and now that it symbolises the unity in diversity of the world’s largest democracy, it must surely rank high as a destination.

While we are familiar with the traditional representations of Delhi, a new book, Delhi by Heart by the Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi, is creating a stir in literary circles.

A book on Delhi by a Pakistani is “intriguing”, given the atmosphere of hostility has existed between India and Pakistan for over six decades now. Stereotypes have worked well to keep the citizens of the two countries apart, though until 65 years back, the people and places of India and Pakistan had a lot in common. Which is why, when one opens this 322-page book, it turns out to be exceptionally different because it not only takes a reader through the insights of someone from an “enemy” country but also helps us to rediscover Delhi and its glorious past.

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Book review: Poetic resistance to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s murder

24 August 2013

As a young student I obtained a tattered copy of ‘Khushboo ki Shahadat’ from an old bookstall in Lahore’s Urdu bazaar. This was the mock glasnost era of General Zia-ul-Haq when he had allowed a handpicked legislature to function under his authoritarian control as Chief of Army Staff. In those days we grew up with polarized notions such as democracy cannot function in Pakistan and thus dictatorships were essential; or that Bhutto was the greatest leader Pakistan had but he asked for his death at the hands of a tainted judiciary. Thus Bhutto was a mythical figure hated by Zia’s cronies, of which there was no shortage in that era, and loved by his “ignorant, treasonous, and misled supporters”.

So you can imagine that picking up a collection of poems regarding the death and martyrdom of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was not an easy feat for a confused middle class teenager. As I brought the book home and started to read the poems, my first impression was that of the deep commitment and bond the poets were sharing with their readers for a fallen hero who was not even accorded a decent burial in his village somewhere in the Sindh province. Of course this was also the province that resisted Zia valiantly and bitterly and continues to challenge his hypernationalism, which ironically was popularized by Mr Bhutto during his turbulent career.

My copy of the collection is still buried somewhere in the heaps of books that will not be read given how fast Pakistan is turning into an anti-knowledge and anti-culture land of zealots. But as they say, great literature rarely goes into oblivion; and so this volume of poems has been published several times under the three beleaguered PPP governments. More importantly, the celebrated academic and translator Alamgir Hashmi has edited a volume of translations and had it published as “Your Essence, Martyr; Pakistani Elegies”. The extraordinary creative outburst at the time of Bhutto’s judicial murder in April 1979 appears and reappears; it is a wandering ghost of history. Bhutto’s legacy, controversial for sowing the seeds of contemporary Islamism and jingoistic nationalism, as well as his stellar refusal to bow down before the military dictator, lives on. (more…)

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