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The Perils of Reporting in Pakistan

The toll of Taliban attacks is measured in more than bodies.

Stay in the news business long enough, and you become hardened to brutality. But the reports from Pakistan overnight […]

December 16th, 2014|Rumi|0 Comments

Writing from the Heart

What a Lovely Review on my book “Delhi by Heart” published  in South Asia Magazine!

By Tariq Bashir

Delhi by Heart is a passionate rendition of a great city’s story steeped in history and rich traditions of […]

Analysis: Attackers punch hole in Islamabad security

Raza Rumi

A police commandos stop a photo journalist near a local court building after a gun and suicide attack in Islamabad on March 3, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: Today’s suicide bombing at the Islamabad courts complex suggests that the capital and its sensitive installations are vulnerable. The premeditated murder of a judge, who had turned down an appeal made by the Lal Masjid clerics, has raised question marks for the future of Pakistan’s battle with terrorism. If judges are not secure in the capital, one wonders who will ensure their safety in less developed, remote districts where terrorist networks run their bases.
A few weeks ago, interior ministry officials had told the nation that the capital was not safe. While briefing a Senate committee, the ministry termed Islamabad’s security situation ‘extremely dangerous’ due to the presence of militant groups. In particular, the risk was heightened due to the presence of alleged sleeper cells al Qaeda, TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) within the limits of Islamabad. The interior minister was quick to contradict his own ministry’s report and told the nation last week that reports of sleeper cells operating in Islamabad were exaggerated and that the capital was safe. He also insisted that neither foreign agencies nor terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, were operating from Islamabad.Nisar also announced a set of measures, which were being taken to improve the situation. Sadly, the political rhetoric has been exposed as today’s attack in Islamabad comes as a major security lapse right under the nose of the interior minister, leaving the prime minister red-faced for saying a bit too much.

But at the end of the day it is about collective responsibility in a parliamentary system. The government’s vacillating policy on negotiating or fighting the militants has much to contribute to the worsening security scenario across the country. […]

‘On the wings of time, grief flies away’

Salma Mahmud’s new book is not a just a readable memoir, it sets a standard for fine writing.

Salma1
MD Taseer with his first born, Salma

Perhaps the most memorable time of my career as a media walla is to have worked with Salma Mahmud as a fellow editor and writer. Her writings for TFT have been noted far and wide, eliciting feedback from celebrities to obscure readers across the globe. While she was completing a series on her great ‘Uncles’ (friends of her eminent father M D Taseer), I suggested that these memoirs be turned into a book. After initially feigning scorn at the idea, she relented; and now we have Salma Mahmud’s ‘The Wings of Time’ – a book that is pleasurable for its sparse yet lyrical writing and valuable for the histories it puts together. These reflections and anecdotes would not appear in Pakistan’s official and highbrow historiography as the intent of the book is different. It is a recollection and a reclaiming, with lots of indulgence and warmth.salma2
Salma Mahmud, or Salma-ji, as I call her, is the eldest child of Dr M D Taseer, the noted poet and critic, the first Indian to obtain a PhD in English from Cambridge University. Her other sibling, the late Salmaan Taseer, also made his mark in Pakistan as a brave defender of human rights and offered his life while fighting bigotry against the powerless of the country. Salma was born in Baramula, Kashmir, and was later educated in Lahore where she attended the Kinnaird College before pursuing a Masters degree at the University of Edinburgh. Mahmud is considered a seasoned teacher of the English language and literature and her facility with words made her an ideal editor at TFT. During her career, she has also translated several pieces of Urdu fiction into English and written extensively on literature, history and art.

As a quintessential daddy’s girl, Mahmud’s reverence for her father is evident throughout the book. At the same time, she doesn’t lose sight of the political and cultural context in which Dr Taseer lived and worked. She narrates the story of his times with exceptional honesty; illustrating the “the irreplaceable literary milieu in which he lived.” Indeed, the period of 1930-1950 witnessed immense turbulence but also gave birth to various literary and cultural movements. As the book and its rather deftly veiled melancholy mood tells us, the “milieu has vanished forever”. Mahmud chronicles this sadness and celebrates the histories of “a bevy of brilliant intellectuals who filled the existential void that existed within” Taseer due to his “aloneness”.

salma3 Author, Mariam and Salmaan on a motorbike

Mahmud’s mother, Christabel George, whom Taseer met at Cambridge, descended from a talented Huguenot family on her maternal side. She was the poet’s companion until his death in 1950. Her role in bringing up the three children was not less than heroic and Mahmud is rightly proud of her familial heritage: the complete package of literary taste, fondness for books and ideas and of course humaneness.

Daddy, Uncle Majeed Malik, Mummy, Salma, Mariam and Salmaan Daddy, Uncle Majeed Malik, Mummy, Salma, Mariam and Salmaan

The first part of the book, titled Prologue, has four chapters that provide a fine account of the luminaries whom Mahmud met as a child and continued to know and appreciate as she grew up. The sketches of her ‘uncles’ are unparalleled. For instance, we find out how writer and educationist Pitras [AS] Bukhari single-handedly saved UNICEF “from being closed down by the US government in 1952, when he made a spirited defence of the organization during a UN committee meeting.” Bokhari was our representative at the UN immediately after the creation of the new state. Mahmud writes that after hearing Bukahri’s defence, “Eleanor Roosevelt was so impressed by his eloquence that she declared the United States had decided to let UNICEF remain.” Having written about Pitras here and there, I felt completely ignorant as I found out from Mahmud that on Pitras’s grave in Westchester, this couplet by Robert Frost, written personally by the poet for Bukhari, is engraved upon the headstone:

Nature within the inmost self divides

To trouble men with having to take sides. […]

A portrait of Rumi

Thanks to Taimur on Twitter, I found this portrait of Mevlana Rumi:

October 24th, 2011|Photo stories, Rumi|3 Comments

Soul of all souls

Soul of all souls, life of all life
you are That.
Seen and unseen, moving and unmoving
you are That.
The road that leads to the City is endless;
Go without head or feet
and you’ll already be there.
What else could you be? —
you are that. […]
June 26th, 2010|Rumi, Sufi poetry, Sufism|6 Comments

You have fallen in love my dear heart

You have fallen in love my dear heart
Congratulations!

You have freed yourself from all attachments
Congratulations!

You have given up both worlds to be on your own
the whole creation praises your solitude
Congratulations! […]

June 20th, 2010|Poetry, Rumi, Sufi poetry, Sufism|7 Comments