History

Do not let the hawks dictate terms, says Raza Rumi on Pakistan

26 May 2014

Raza Rumi

In Pakistan’s neighbourhood, a tectonic political shift seems to be underway. The Indian voters in large numbers have made their choice by preferring ‘strong’ leadership over dynastic rule, jobs over state handouts and ‘good governance’ over accommodation and appeasement of India’s diverse communities. All such choices are driven by a populist construct of Modinomics and promise of a corruption-free, booming India. In a way, this emphasis on performance was echoed earlier in May 2013 when Pakistan’s electorate voted in a new government and-not unlike India-rejected the Pakistan Peoples Party for a more growth-friendly Nawaz Sharif. On balance, this augurs well for the region where voters are getting smarter and the younger population, distanced from the past, is keen for a better life ahead.

 

India’s swing to the right is not different from Pakistan’s either. In the 2013 elections, the victorious Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the second largest party headed by former cricketer Imran Khan were also ‘right-wing’ in their worldview. Both countries now have to tackle the issue of minorities. In Pakistan, the miniscule non-Muslim population is under attack and the Shia minority faces persecution. In the 2014 elections, the Indian Parliament will have the lowest number of Muslim MPs. The strong identification of politics and religion marks the culmination of a century-old political process when religion was infused into political discourse and faith became a plank of political ideologies. (more…)

Civil-military relations in Pakistan- History repeats itself?

17 May 2014

It is time for Nawaz Sharif to revisit his earlier stints in power for obvious reasons

History repeats itself?

A supporter of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) stands with a pro-military sign near a graffiti during a rally in support of the Pakistan Army in Karachi

TS Eliot had termed April as the “cruellest month” in his famous poem ‘The Waste Land’.   The incumbent government experienced the travails of April, as it appeared to be rudderless and defensive. Not surprisingly, a key challenge for Sharif administration has been the management of relations with the powerful military. Media reports, at times, have overplayed the tensions between the two power-centres. On other occasions, there has been a sense of déjà vu: Even the third chance to exercise and enjoy power for Nawaz Sharif and his party loyalists has been far from smooth.

The Musharraf case seems to have become a liability for PM Sharif and his government. It takes no rocket science to conclude that the military and its ranks are not too delighted with their former chief facing charges of ‘treason’. The PMLN government remains committed to upholding constitutional governance but its selective view of accountability is worrisome. Gen Musharraf’s trial as a sole offender gives the impression of a person-specific application of law. Unless the abettors of extra constitutional acts are not questioned, fair application of law cannot be achieved. This becomes even more problematic when some of the Musharraf associates are found sitting in the cabinet or government benches in the National Assembly.

A few weeks ago, some of the over-zealous ministers opined on the role of the military and passed a few unsavoury remarks about the Musharraf, which led to the furore in the media. Not unexpectedly, the media remained divided and there was a robust debate on civil-military relations. However, it did not make much sense to relay old speeches of the present Defence Minister to prove how ‘unpatroitic’ PMLN’s cabinet was. This led to the need for the federal government to manage the brewing crisis. Statements of allegiance to the military were immediately issued by all concerned; and an impression was given that relations had returned to ‘normal. (more…)

Reviews on Delhi by Heart

17 December 2013

Fiction writer Intizar Hussain (DAWN)

“In his exuberance, Rumi started writing without planning beforehand, knowing not how his narrative will end. The narrative, however, came to an end by itself…”

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Asif Noorani (Daily Dawn)

“Raza Rumi’s Delhi by Heart is a research-based readable account of the city he fell in love with and its dwellers…”

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Yatin Gupta (Iyatingupta)

“Delhi By Heart was an eye opener for me in many ways and so much that I will definitely read it once more in future…”

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Dr Tariq Rehman (The News on Sunday)

“An authentic and readable social history of north Indian Muslim civilization…”

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Abdul Majeed Abid (The News on Sunday)

“A must read for prospective travelers to Delhi and fans of South Asian history”

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Madeeha Gauhar (Theatre Director/Activist)

“You cannot put Raza’s book into one genre, it’s a bit of everything, so beautifully organized that its a real delight…”

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Ishtiaq Ahmad (Daily Times)

“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…”

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Shivani Mohan (The Khaleej Times)

“Breaking barriers: A Pakistani within the heart of Delhi…”

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Kabir Pundit (Flipkart)

“Raza has succinctly revealed the city’s past not just as a mere chronicle but also as the spiritual hub of Muslim Hindoostan. It came as pleasant surprise that Delhi was/is the Sufi Mecca of the East…”

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The Deccan Chronicle

“The book, a sensitively written account of Delhi’s “grand theatre of the past and present”, is sure to make many nostalgic about “the composite identity of India” that got lost in 1947…”

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The Reuters

Delhi by heart” is a kind of travelogue about a city that is the source of a shared heritage that spans hundreds of years…”

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The Indian Express

“Rumi calls this book Delhi by Heart and from the first page, you can make out that a large space in his heart is occupied by Dilli. The Delhis of the past and the present are as enmeshed in the book as they are in reality and that is its strength…”

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The Kashmir Walla

“Raza Rumi’s Delhi by Heart is an important addition to the literatures on Delhi…”

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The Express Tribune

“In candid tones, journalist and analyst Raza Rumi explores an Indian city, and indeed his own identity as a Muslim in the Subcontinent, in his first book, Delhi by Heart…”

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The Caravan Daily

“Raza Rumi’s in-depth research into Delhi’s abundant monuments and the forgotten, sepia-toned sagas attached to them, makes Delhi by Heart a compelling read.

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Amazon

“A sensitively written account of a Pakistani writer’s discovery of Delhi”

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Livemint

“Pakistani journalist and blogger Raza Rumi’s first book is an account of his travels in Delhi and his interactions with its people..”

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Tehelka

“Raza Rumi’s enthralling travelogue Delhi by Heart, is an attempt to rise above the hatred that has marred Indo-Pak relations…”

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The News

“A Lahori’s take on Delhi…”

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The Friday Times

Rumi’s book is not besmirched by preformed ideas or deeply ingrained prejudices, says Dr. Syed Amir

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An Indian Muslim

“It took me sometime before I could buy Raza Rumi’s ‘Delhi by Heart’. But the moment I got it, I just couldn’t put it down. I read the entire book within a day…”

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IBN Live

“The author has ensured that everything you read in this book stays with you for a long time..”

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DNA India          

“Raza Rumi’s recent book Delhi By Heart is a first — a long detailed account of Delhi of the past and the present from a traveler from across the border…”

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Time Out Bengalaru

“The book works on many levels – as a travelogue, or as a potted (and selected) history of a city, and a way of life…”

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Frontline

“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…”

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The Tribune India

“This book by Raza Rumi is much more than the “impressions of a Pakistani traveler”. In searching Delhi, the author is trying to understand his as well as the identity of millions of other Muslims of the subcontinent…”

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Time Out Delhi

“The book works on many levels – as a travelogue, or as a potted (and selected) history of a city, and a way of life.”

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HarperCollins

“Rich with history and anecdote, and conversations with Dilliwalas known and unknown,Delhi By Heart offers an unusual perspective and unexpected insights into the political and cultural capital of India… ”

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Rana’s Blog

“It is rare that one comes across a book with a soul and this is a book which is all heart. It is an outpouring of love by a Pakistani based on his visits here…”

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Raza Rumi’s Interview with The Indian Express

“I found myself as a split individual, because my identity and nationalistic pride was with Pakistan, but my entire history, heritage and who I am, is linked to this place — whether it’s cuisine, history or heritage. Lahore and Delhi are like twins…”

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The Real Meena Kumari

8 November 2013

The soulfulness of India’s greatest tragedienne was born of an abiding love for reading and writing. 

Raza Rumi reviews a biography of the alluring star

The real Meena Kumari


Barri Bechari Hai
Meena Kumari
Jisko Lagi Hai

Dil ki Bimari Meena Kumari ruled the world of Indian cinema until her death in 1972 due to liver cirrhosis. Since her death her popular image has been that of a suffering tragic heroine who died of loneliness and excessive drinking. However, the story of Mahjabeen (Meena Kumari’s real name) is neither as simple nor stereotypical as painted by her panegyrists and detractors alike. I recall the days in my childhood when Meena Kumari’s last film Pakeeezah was scheduled to be shown on Doordarshan. The excitement was incredible and everyone I knew anticipated watching it via (illegal) TV signals from across the border. Such was her magic and appeal. And needless to state, sheer beauty.
tft-37-p-16-c

Harper Collins have republished well known Indian editor, Vinod Mehta’s biography of Meena Kumari authored in the 1970s (Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography). This is a fine introduction to a larger-than-life person and performer. By no means authoritative it does give a fairly detailed account of her life, achievements and travails. As Mehta mentions at the start of the book, in 1972 he was a struggling ad copywriter “going nowhere. With false bravado which comes easily to a person who has achieved little, I accepted the commission and duly delivered the finished manuscript” in a few months. Mehta was “embarrassed at the effort” because the subject of his biography was not available for interviews, and Dharmendra — “the man who had callously used and discarded her” never gave him the time to hold detailed interviews. Having said that, the biography is fairly well-researched and brings forth lesser known facets of this exceptionally talented woman who remains a bit of an enigma to date. (more…)

Book review: An ambitious undertaking

19 December 2012

Pankaj Mishra’s new book is an ambitious undertaking. “From the Ruins of Empire: the Intellectuals who Remade Asia” traces the lives and works of three Asian intellectuals who were at the forefront of several resistance movements in times when colonists had occupied countries and exercised almost absolute intellectual power.

It is a fascinating narrative, which challenges the Eurocentric version of ‘the truth’ and claims “the central event of the last century for the majority of the world’s population was the intellectual and political awakening of Asia and its emergence from the ruins of Asian and European empires”. Mishra focuses on Jamal-al-din al-Afghani (1838-1897), a renaissance figure who was a formidable critic of the Western intellectual ascendancy, Liang Qichao (1873-1929), a thinking journalist who was a proponent of Confucian ideals, and Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), an epitome of the great Bengali renaissance and the awakening of Indian consciousness.

Thus Mishra constructs a powerful account of how white men once “conquerors of the world, were no longer invincible”. Mishra’s personal identity has gradually espoused the cause of internationalism. He lives in the West and travels to the East as an ‘insider’ thereby picking up the threads of societies in transition which most Western writers are unable to fathom. Al-Afghani, for example, argued for intellectual resistance to the hegemony of the West, which unfortunately has been distorted to the extent that today rationalized use of violence has entered the battle of ideas. The Muslim world has a lot to learn from al-Afghani, whose legacy has been squandered over time. In a way, Mishra’s book comes as a major source of reviving the public debate on today’s ‘Muslims versus West’ real and imagined conflict. (more…)

Poetic resistance to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s murder

22 August 2012

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.

Bhutto’s memory now is a collective anguish for the Sindh province of Pakistan as it has been re-invoked by a line of “martyrs” from his family. The cult has therefore turned into a folk tale of injustice, betrayal, murder and popular redemption. 33 years later his son-in-law rules the country and re-invokes the tale of martyrdom as a political cause. ‘Your Essence, Martyr’ is also important as a work of literature, for it continues the literary tradition of Marsiya and Noha, elegies composed for the martyrdom of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) grandson and his companions who were slaughtered at Karbala in the 8th century. The great Urdu poets Mir Anees and Dabir elevated this literary form to its heights in the 19th century. The modern Urdu poets of Pakistan took this tradition many steps further by composing elegant and politically poignant poetry for Bhutto.

These poems were read out in “small private gatherings in homes or whispered to one another in cafes”. The preface of this book also notes “martyrdom is a leitmotif in these poems”. Some of them were composed “under the poet’s full name, but many of these poets used pseudonyms or their real initials dissembling anonymity or at least an identity to possibly serve as a rouse against the torturer’s whip and the hangman’s noose”. Indeed this volume documents a “deed against tyranny”. For this reason alone, it is no ordinary collection.

Your Essence, Martyr is a slim volume. It presents 70 translated poems, competently rendered into English by Rafey Habib, Faruq Hassan and David Matthews. I only wish that the original Urdu were also included in the volume for bilingual readers.

Almost all poets of the contemporary era contributed to this volume. From Faiz Ahmed Faiz to Ahmed Faraz and from Zaheer Kashmiri to Josh Malihabadi. I had forgotten about Rasul Bakhsh Palejo who later became a PPP opponent; he also wrote a moving poem entitled My Brother.

Faiz’s famous tarana “Hum dekheinge” is included here and Faruq Hassan has done a remarkable job of capturing its innate elegance and simplicity. The translated title of this anthem, nowadays abused by rightwing movements and characters, has been translated as “God’s Name Alone Will Abide”.

“When we the righteous people,
Outcasts from Harem,
Will be seated on the throne;
And from the Ka’abah of God’s earth,
All idols be banished,
All crowns tossed out,
All thrones let fall.”

Not unlike this collection, Faiz was also reinventing and recreating Muslim traditions. The Mohammediyan revolution of the 7th century had led to the restructuring of tribal society in Makkah where a black slave was asked by the Prophet (PBUH) to mount the Ka’abah and give the call for prayer.

My personal favourite since my younger days has been Ahmed Faraz’s “Phir bhi kaisa sakta haye” and David Matthews’s translation does immense justice to the original:

“In the streets the smell of gunpowder,
Or is it blood that perfumes the air
There is one journey on which
Not the feet but the Heart tires
Everyone’s arms are frozen;
Everybody’s body is burning”

There are poems by Farigh Bokhari, Shohrat Bokhari and Javed Shahin, which are written with a tremendous sense of grief and pathos that is not always conveyed by the translations. But this one by Javed Shahin hit me as I read it again:

“April is the cruelest of all months
Flowers grow in this month
And the land takes on a new shape.

But that is a real old story, For now it is the month of the death of colour and fragrance

And the martyrdom of flower

It is a month of transforming brides into widows

And of taking the braves to the scaffold”

Shahin plays with the April metaphor, which had traveled from T S Eliot into the oeuvre of modern Urdu poets. By expanding and reimagining the metaphor, he creates exceptional verses.

Palejo’s poem is the most heartwarming. Unlike the other poets, his style is folksy and etched into the Sufi traditions of Sindhi literature and therefore it stands out. Ironic that his son recently held a rally against Bhutto’s surviving party in power, three decades after Palejo Senior wrote these lines:

“Brother, my dear brother
Till the end of time,
You will live in our hearts.
I swear by my country,
I swear by the tears
Which were shed by your father and mother,
And by the whole nation at your burial,
That we, in our thousands,
Will walk the same path you did
And not let your place be vacant
We in our thousands have given our word
To destroy your murderer and free our country”

Palejo’s reaction to Bhutto’s murder is nationalistic and vows revenge and independence. Not surprisingly, after the death of Benazir Bhutto in 2007, similar feelings erupted in Sindh and her husband the incumbent president now had to say ‘Pakistan Khappay’ and discourage the separatist path.

Bhutto therefore is both a symbol for democrats as well as the most vital source of inspiration for Sindhi nationalists. Only a man of his stature, contradictions and immensity could have gained such a place in people’s hearts and poetic metaphors.

Zahir Kashmiri, the eminent poet and political activist, takes Bhutto’s murder back to the greater anti-establishment narrative within Muslim history:

“Again the lips of Mansur opened with Ana’l Haqq!
Then he wildly departed to the rope and the gibbet
We, who are compelled to follow the path of Mansur,
Have a special tie with the daring of plain speaking.”

Your Essence, Martyr: Aurangzeb Alamgir Hashmi (Plainview Imprint ISBN: 978-969-9670-00-82011)

Published”>August 03-09, 2012 – Vol. XXIV, No. 25

Hundreds of decaying historical buildings across Lahore await Attention

21 August 2012

Third story for the Herald’s annual heritage issue:

Once renowned as a city of gardens and monuments, Lahore now manifests decaying cultural heritage, rampant urbanisation and unregulated commercialisation. The monuments of Lahore, whether great or small, suffer from lax conservation efforts, if any at all. In fact, the lesser ones are in a tragic state of despair. Among these, several old heritage monuments are nearly obliterated.

Lucy Peck, the author of Agra: The Architectural Heritage on a recent visit to Lahore said that “she found it very depressing” because she was looking forward to visiting a couple of historic mosques. The Chinian Wali mosque, which was once decorated with kashi tile work, has been resurfaced with modern tiles, done in a crude kasha style. And the Sheranwala Gate mosque has disappeared completely except for the mehrab niche,  which is still there.” Bhadhar Kali Mandar, a Hindu temple believed to be over 2,000 years old and situated east of Thokar Niaz Beg on the southern outskirts of Lahore, is facing decay and destruction. The temple has a central building with a huge pool in the centre that was once fed by 12 wells through an indigenous drainage system. Its walls had beautiful frescoes, some of which have managed to survive over the centuries. At one point in time, this temple would host the biggest Hindu festival in Lahore.

According to Haroon Khalid, a cultural researcher, writers such as Kanhiya Lal Hindi and Abdul Latif have mentioned this festival in their works. This temple is visible from Multan Road with its plinth six feet high from the ground and the temple structure itself rising to approximately 20 to 25 feet. When Khalid contacted the archaeology department office situated in the Lahore Fort, an office representative said he was ignorant about the temple, suggesting Khalid contact the Auqaf department which, in turn, said the temple was not within its jurisdiction. Since Partition, the old temple lies abandoned and its walls have become fragile. In order to ensure the safety of those inhabiting the temple, local residents have decided to demolish it and construct quarters without the permission of any relevant authority.

Adjacent to the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir is the tomb of Nadira Begum Bano, wife of the Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh, the ill-fated heir to Shahjehan’s throne and the crown prince of his Indian empire. Unlike other Mughal tombs which have been constructed in the midst of gardens, Nadira Begum’s tomb is built amidst a water tank without a dome, bearing a flat parapet on all four sides and appearing more like a pavilion. During the British Raj, the tank was dismantled and its bricks were recycled and used to build the Lahore Cantonment. During the Sikh period, the tomb was robbed of its costly marble and semi-precious stones. Today the building retains a simple and blank facade, shorn of all ornamentation.

Photographer Saad Sarfraz Sheikh having documenting the tomb for years, says it was declared a protected monument in 1956 and since then responsibility for its conservation lies with the archaeology department. In 1956, a comprehensive scheme was framed by the department for its repair and restoration. Evidently, this scheme never materialised.  (more…)

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