published in DAWN

Not being dead is a victory for Balochistan’s journalists

14 September 2014

 

Why, one would ask, is killing the only answer for disagreement?

Why, one would ask, is killing the only answer for disagreement?

 

To say that Pakistani journalists are under attack is an understatement. They are lucky if not assailed or killed.

Beyond the veneer of prime time television shows that many think constitutes ‘journalism’, there are thousands of media workers at risk. They are endangered and pressured by state agencies, political parties, militant networks and mafias, which share a common goal: suppressing information and muzzling those who dare to dig facts.

Comrade Irshad Mastoi and his two colleagues join the ranks of slain journalists who were targeted for their profession; this is unacceptable in a country that is ostensibly governed by a constitution.

I never met Mastoi but followed him on social media and occasionally, we communicated. His views were ‘dangerous;’ and he never refrained from expressing them.

Mastoi was a working journalist for 14 years and before his murder was also the Secretary General of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ). The killers, who remain at large, shot him dead along with an intern Abdul Rasul and an accountant of the news agency bureau that Mastoi was heading in Quetta. Mastoi was also affiliated with the ARY News and frequently wrote for vernacular and English papers.

That the murderers could enter into a news agency office located in a busy area of Quetta speaks volumes for the impunity with which such attacks are carried out.

Mastoi was 34 and his associate Rasul was a student at the Media and Journalism Department of the University of Balochistan.

What is the message for journalists and those who aspire to adopt this profession?

Pretty dire.

(more…)

Khushwant Singh: ‘The last Pakistani living on Indian soil’

12 April 2014

My tribute to KS (first published in DAWN on March 30)

IT is difficult to evaluate the legacy of writer, journalist and an icon of our times Khushwant Singh who passed away last week after leading a full life that many would dream of leading. Singh was immensely popular in Pakistan. For the past two decades I have spotted his books — legit and pirated — at almost all bookstores in every city. His writings had an impact and inspired generations to emulate his incomparable style. His larger than life stature in India was equally recognised in Pakistan.

Singh was born in Hadali village (now in Pakistan), lived in Lahore and until his last never disowned his roots. Such was his worldview that Partition and the ensuing bitterness did not change his empathy for Pakistan. This is why many Pakistanis were his friends and he gave them due attention, respect and time. A photograph of his best friend from pre-Partition days, Manzoor Qadir (jurist and Pakistan’s law minister under Ayub Khan) was displayed prominently in his living room.

It was Singh’s stature in the world of Indian journalism that is perhaps unprecedented for its influential relationship with readers. As a critic of the establishment, Singh guarded his intellectual independence. His proximity to Indira Gandhi and a brief period of closeness aside, he remained a fierce commentator on all things political and cultural. Singh for example returned the honours awarded to him after Gandhi’s operation at the Golden Temple in the 1980s. Over time, his column ‘With Malice Towards One and All’ became a regular window of refreshingly fresh and iconoclastic commentary. Singh’s attitude to Pakistan was always irksome for the rightwing Hindus and often he would get hate mail, which was a source of amusement to his expansive spirit. Of course Singh came from a privileged background and things were easier for him compared to a lot of writers and journalists across the region. But he did give up a career in law and diplomacy to become a writer. And a prolific one at that.

RAZAKHUSHWANT (more…)

Displacement & Discontent – Basti by Intizar Husain

6 March 2013

 

THE publication of Basti’s translation is an important literary milestone. The author, Intizar Husain, is perhaps the greatest living Urdu writer and his genius rightly deserves a wider audience than just readers of Urdu or Hindi fiction. Intizar Sahib’s stories have been translated earlier and they showcased his taut, lyrical, hauntingly evocative prose to those who were not familiar with the world of Urdu. However, the novel as a genre and as a kaleidoscope of society conveys a discreet vision of the world. This is why Basti’s publication by New York Review Books is a landmark with respect to globalising the beauty and intricacy of Urdu literature.Basti

Earlier, Qurratulain Hyder had translated her own novels (Aag ka Darya and Aakhir-i-Shab ke Hamsafar among others); her many admirers had been quick to point out that in the English translations she had been unfair, above all, to herself. The original Urdu novels are far more majestic than their translations. Except a few other novels, such as Abdullah Hussain’s Weary Generations (Udas Naslain), there is little that the world knows about Urdu literature. The Urdu short story has had a better deal in terms of translations, but the Urdu novel has largely been ignored.

Basti, at the outset, is the tale of a reminiscing Zakir, the novel’s protagonist who is a professor of history and a migrant to his new homeland from across the border. The novel primarily relates the various stages of his life.

Zakir lives in a dynamic, conflictual and contradictory world. There is no Hardyesque feeling of an individual pitted against the larger forces at work. Instead, throughout the novel, there are threads of nostalgia, displacement and ruptured continuities. The Partition of India in 1947 is the centre of the novel’s sombre, impressionistic landscape. That year turns everything topsy-turvy, and more so, it transforms the fate of the basti (settlement). Unlike other Partition literature, Basti avoids direct, graphic reportage on the psychological and physical violence inherent to Partition. The political chaos at one level is also interiorised by Zakir. There is, then, an intense feeling of alienation and emptiness that Zakir, as a migrant in a new country, feels. It should be remembered that Husain, now considered a torchbearer of progressive thought in Urdu language and literature, was never a firebrand revolutionary in the way that other luminaries in Urdu are known as. In fact, Zakir’s ambivalence towards politics and resistance is partly reflective of Intizar Sahib’s ideological moorings in the new discourse on jadeediyat or modernism.

Basti was criticised when it was first published in Urdu. Critics, often driven by ideological imperatives, considered it to be a lesser novel for its evident refusal to apportion blame or affix responsibility. However, the novel has proved to be a formidable work of art. Almost like “rocks beneath” (to borrow a phrase from Emily Bronte), it is a narrative that is neither noisy, nor voluminous or polemical. Its melancholy mood, layered plot and composite portrayal of human emotion ensure its timelessness and universal appeal. (more…)

Social media and Pakistan – prospects and possibilities

13 May 2011

By Raza Rumi

In a picture taken on May 27, 2010 Pakistani IT professionals Omer Zaheer (L) and Arslan Chaudhry browse their newly created networking site in Lahore. Pakistanis outraged with Facebook over “blasphemous” caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed have created a spin off networking site that they dream can connect the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. A group of six young IT professionals from Lahore, the cultural and entertainment capital of Pakistan, launched www.millatfacebook.com for Muslims to interact online and protest against blasphemy. – AFP Photo

When I started to blog, almost by accident, a few Pakistani bloggers were found in cyberspace. Within half a decade the number has multiplied beyond belief.

From the senior writers to young students, blogging is now an avenue that allows forunfettered self-expression and also puts the mostly urban youth in touch with the world. Most importantly, blogging has broken the geographical and ideological barriers with the neighbouring India. A decade ago, such prompt and often real time link was unthinkable.

The pace of change in Pakistan’s crackling society is rapid enough to confound any observer. Within South Asia, its rate of urbanisation is the highest and informal estimates suggest nearly 40 per cent of its population lives in urban spaces. Add to this the growth of young population, social transformation is guaranteed. (more…)

‘Reforming’ the education system

30 April 2011

By Raza Rumi

Pakistani students sit inside and on top of a rickshaw heading to their schools in Muzaffargarh in Punjab province, Pakistan, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. AP Photo

The recent debates on education have also highlighted how the education sector is not receiving its due compared to say defence, infrastructure and other expenditures made by the government. However, the discussion has yet to move to the most important area i.e. quality of schools and what sort of learning are they providing?

The task of reforming the education system is huge, complex and some would say next to impossible. However, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution has opened the doors to avenues for change. Firstly, education is a provincial subject and the transfer of budgets (with increased allocations through the National Finance Commission Awards) implies that there is now more flexibility and autonomy with the provinces in matters of policy and operations. Secondly, the inclusion of right to education in the fundamental rights also ensures that this is now a justiciable right as well as a paramount priority of the state. (more…)

My session with Intizar Husain: Karachi Literature Festival 2011

19 February 2011

Huma Imitiaz has summed up the session I moderated at the KLF. Huma has been kind to me but I am just a humble student of literature and facing Intizar Saheb in this session would remain a milestone in my imagined literary journeys, yet to start…

“There are two forces that have risen in Pakistan: women and mullahs,” said writer and journalist extraordinaire Intizar Husain, at the Karachi Literature Festival. The crowd roared in approval, and Husain smiled. At his session, held on the second day, the room was nowhere near full capacity, but those in attendance were hanging on to his every word. In a one on one discussion with writer Raza Rumi, Husain talked about a variety of subjects, from writing techniques to the Lahore that once was.
(more…)

Guest Stars at the Long March

29 June 2008

My article that appeared in Dawn. here.

THE enthusiasts for the long march towards Islamabad are justifiably feeling let down by the grand posturing, thundering rhetoric and the subsequent retreat from agitation outside the dreary citadels of power in Islamabad’s dark heart.

A Bastille, which was not meant to be? Interpretations abound and explanations are flowing in from the motley groups who ventured to change the contours of state-society relations. The lawyers’ movement is profoundly significant. It constitutes the finest historical ‘moment’ in our troubled history. However, many observers have hinted at its limitations and the problematic phase that the movement has now entered.

Unlike China, Pakistan’s long marches have been nefarious for their results. Orchestrated by political and non-political actors to undermine the democratic process, we are well aware of this stratagem. This time it was different, complex and refreshingly path-breaking alas with similar results: pressurise the beleaguered PPP government still trying to find the proverbial power-ground beneath its truncated legs. In that sense, the march was a roaring success. From the sloganeering against the much maligned Asif Zardari, to de-legitimising three decades of PPP’s valiant struggle against dictatorship culminating in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Irony, that all is now a forgotten snippet of history. What is indeed more pressing, as we are told time and again, are the sacrifices made by the honourable judges. Indeed they have altered the parameters of the state and perhaps buried the subordination of the judiciary to the all powerful executive. Well, one may ask what about Asif Zardari and his eleven and a half years in jail without a single conviction? Therefore the vilification of Zardari by anti-Musharraf sections of the media and by the historical long march is symbolic. It is a testament to the deep-seated middle class trend of demonising politicians and party politics that are prerequisites for democracy and means to establish the ‘rule of law’.

The opportunism of individuals and groups jumping onto the lawyers’ bandwagon is also alarming. It is most convenient to have been all-powerful army chiefs, heads of the ISI and former honchos of the civilian bureaucratic monolith and once the party is over, re-christen yourself as firebrand democrats. The patriotic Hameed Guls, Aslam Begs and Faiz Ali Chishtis and the neo-constitutionalist Roedad Khans and right-wing ambassadors (who slept while Afghans were killed for strategic depth), must be questioned by the anti-Musharraf movement for it was their historical culpability that undermined civilian governance. Is it not important that circumspection be exercised while letting them be the spokespersons of the new vanguard? If Zardari has to be isolated then these dubious characters must also be questioned. (more…)

Next Page »