Arts & Culture

Watching the watchdog

27 August 2014

“Democracy is like an infertile woman that cannot produce anything”, thundered a popular columnist (a real opinion-maker) at the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent in North America (APPNA) convention held in Washington, DC. A few women participants objected, but overall, the trashing of ‘democracy’ back home in Pakistan was applauded by many a successful professionals present in the audience. Later, at another event I heard the view by a speaker that Muslims and democracy are incompatible. These are not isolated sentences. A worldview that Pakistan’s Urdu media has cultivated considers democracy a colonial legacy that the British left. A few go to the extent of arguing that in an Islamic Republic a Caliphate is the only option.

Another columnist recently wrote how our democratic and constitutional system is the “rotten dress which protects certain segments of society” and now the time had come to decide if we could live with an ‘itchy’ body [politic]. Considering that half of Pakistan’s existence has been under the rule of a narrow group of civil-military bureaucracy, it is difficult to argue how can even a most imperfect democracy not be more inclusive? (more…)

The day I’m killed

22 August 2014

Dr Azra Raza – a fearless and sensitive soul – sent me this poem via email.

Travel Tickets

The day I’m killed,
my killer, rifling through my pockets,
will find travel tickets:
One to peace,
one to the fields and the rain,
and one to the conscience of humankind.

Dear killer of mine, I beg you:
Do not stay and waste them.
Take them, use them.
I beg you to travel.

Palestinian Poet, Samih Al Qasim, Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Mustafa

The image is of slain Mustafa – my colleague & a member of my family- who was killed by terrorists while they attacked me in Lahore.

(more…)

Yes We Lost Our Direction!

15 August 2014

Inspired by this excellent story by Amna Khawar on Pakistan’s travel/tourism posters, I tweeted about the way we have taken a totally different direction – of disinheriting ourselves of a rich heritage, scaring away tourists and allowing extremists to hijack our identity. Here’s what I said with the posters found by Amna K.

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…)

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