South Asian Literature

Citizen of the world

26 November 2014

He wanted variety and could not confine himself to a uni-dimensional career or vocation. Other than being a rare blend of East and West, Patras exemplified the modern man – searching for new meanings in life and experimenting with experiences

Patras

This December witnessed a literary landmark of post-internet Pakistan.A dedicated website – www.patrasbokhari.com– on Patras Bokhari, a towering literary figure, was launched at the Government College University, Lahore. It is well-known that the GC produced world-famous personalities while it was the leading educational institution in this part of the subcontinent, but its stature as a hub of education, culture and literary regeneration declined over the years. Some observers hold, however, that the recently increased autonomy and elevation of GC to the status of a university will reverse the decline. It was the glorious tradition of this institution that produced giants such as Patras, Faiz and Iqbal, amongst many others.

Prof Syed Ahmed Shah Bokhari (1898-1958) is most famous through his penname “Patras” Bokhari. While he was a first-rate educationist, broadcaster and diplomat, perhaps his lasting fame is the result of his stature as an inimitable essayist and humourist – a rare trait amongst the mourning and elegy-prone South Asian creed. Patras Ke Mazameen , immortal as they are, set the standard for high quality, incisive satire and humour. Unlike the medieval mores of literature being the preserve of the courts and its courtiers, these essays reach out to everyone, encompassing a modern sensibility that makes them pertinent and attractive even today. There is a distinct universality in these writings that perhaps had to do with the humane and cosmopolitan side of Patras himself. The compelling evidence of this aspect was his huge success as a diplomat when he served as Pakistan’s permanent envoy at the United Nations in the early 1950s, enabling him to be titled ‘a citizen of the world.’

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Meena Kumari, the poet

30 October 2014

After my earlier article on the life of Meena Kumari, I explored the iconic actor’s prowess in an entirely different area of personal expression – poetry

Meena KumariMeena Kumari

My heart wonders incessantly
If this is life, what is it that they call death?
Love was a dream?
Ask not about the fate of this dream?
Ask not about the punishment
I received for the crime of loyalty.
(This is Life)

 

Meena Kumari, the iconic actor, will perhaps be better remembered by posterity as a poet of unique sensibility. For three decades she ruled Indian cinema – now referred to as Bollywood; and even after her tragic death due to alcoholism in 1972 her film Pakeezah continued to fascinate cinegoers. In a relatively short life, Meena achieved a place on the silver screen that few can match. Unlike the current trend of actors staying in business beyond their welcome, Meena died at her peak when she was barely thirty nine years old.

A few months ago I had reviewed Vinod Mehta’s biography of Meena Kumari authored in the 1970s (Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography) and wondered why her poetry had not been widely published. Within a few weeks, I was delighted to receive a copy of Meena Kumari the Poet: A Life Beyond Cinema – a collection of her poems translated by Noorul Hasan, a competent translator and a former Professor of English. The book has a thought provoking introduction by Philip Bounds and Daisy Hasan and a few other gems that have been rescued from the anonymity of film journalism.

Meena Kumari2

Meena Kumari3

Meena Kumari’s lasting friendship with the poet Gulzar is well known. In fact, Gulzar was even present in the hospital when Meena struggled for her life and finally gave up. It was Gulzar who published her poems after her death. In Pakistan, pirated copies of this orginal publication were available everywhere during my childhood. At railway junctions with small bookstalls, on the pavements where old books were sold and all other places where popular literature was bought and sold. However, this collection gradually faded into oblivion and today the English readers in India and Pakistan may not even know about the poetry of Meena Kumari, which by all standards is formidable. Hasan, the translator tells us in the preface: (more…)

In An Antique Land

28 March 2014

Another review on my book “Delhi By Heart” appeared in Outlook Magazine India.

By Venky Vembu

In his novel The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh writes of the imagined cartographic lines that divide people in the Indian subcontinent and cleave their souls. Many of these “shadow lines” are etched in bitter, hand-me-down memories and imaginations, and for that reason are rather more indelible than lines on a map, which can perhaps be redrawn over time.Delhi By Heart: Impressions Of A Pakistani Traveller

Indians and Pakistanis may have shared a civilisational bhai-bhai bonhomie, but the horrors of Partition, compounded by decades of mutual mistrust at the political level, have served to  ensure that, outside of the world of the mom batti wallas at the Wagah border, there is little interest in knowing each other beyond a demonisation of ‘the other’.

As Pakistani writer and development professional Raza Rumi observes in this account of his travels to Delhi, although he himself is decidedly of the post-Partition generation, he was born into “textbook nationalism” and grew up in a milieu that conditioned him to resent India. But Rumi’s own family history is illustrative of the interwoven strands of subcontinental social history. His Hindu ancestors from Lahore were on a pilgrimage to Benares when their caravan was looted. They were offered shelter in the khanqah of a wandering Sufi dervish, and were drawn by his magnetism to embrace Islam.

Read full review on my blog “Delhi By Heart

Delighted!

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

Writing from the Heart

15 March 2014

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 religion, literature, music and cuisine. By all standards it delhi-by-heart-cover21.jpgfigures as an excellent first book by Raza Rumi who seems immersed in,and equally perturbed by, the violence and mindless massacre of Partition, as the book unfolds. His Apa’s unfulfilled longing to roam the streets of her Amritsar, and the charred remains of burnt houses in the Shah Alam area of Lahore when she returns after the wave of riots has subsided, paint a heart-wrenching scene befitting any good movie on 1947. Raza Rumi writes from the heart.

At times he sounds like a traumatized adult who is baffled and confused at the raison d’être that forcibly detached him from his history, his cultural ‘half’ when he sets out to find many unanswered questions and does find some of them.

His quest starts from the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi wherefrom emanates an absorbing and highly readable account of Delhi. The dramatis personae of Rumi’s excellent work include historical figures like Amir Khusrau, Nizamuddin Auliya and Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, to name but a few and the contemporary characters of Delhi like Qurat-ulAinHaider, Saadia Dehlvi, Khushwant Singh and many others.

Read full review on my blog “Delhi by Heart

Book Review: South Asia 2060: Envisioning Regional Futures

5 November 2013

My review for The Friday Times

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South Asia 2060: Envisioning Regional Futures is a comprehensive volume of essays edited by Adil Najam and Moeed Yusuf. Given the importance of the South Asian region, this book attempts to fill in a huge gap that has existed for decades. Discourses on South Asia for reasons well known, have been obsessive about all things security and in recent times terrorism. The editors note that South Asia “sits atop a globally strategic location” and gladly move on to other important topics, which makes this volume a useful contemporary reference. The introduction notes the immense potential for energy trade as well as the significant regional security implications for the world at large. This is why the future of South Asia is not just important to those who live in the region; it is duly a global concern. The 37 papers authored by 44 experts, in the volume trace the multiple futures and mercifully avoid the common fallacy of reducing South Asia to India and Pakistan and their bitter rivalries.

The introduction summing up the book rightly identifies that the idea of South Asia is a contested one and its ownership – political and economic – would determine the future. Commenting on the term Southasia introduced by Nepal based Himal magazine, the editors state: “…the future of the geography we know as South Asia will depend, at least in part, on what happens to the idea of Southasia. We are not in a position to say what that will be just yet, but it is clear that the aspiration of Southasianness is entrenched more deeply in the South Asian mind than we had imagined. It is an idea that our regional politics has often rejected and fought against. But the resilience of the aspiration suggests regional politics may eventually have to embrace it.” Thus the emergence of Southasia, a regionalized identity, will be a political process and the book suggests that there is no one course or prediction to hold it.

In this context the paper, the paper by US based Pakistani historian Manan Ahmad Asif entitled “Future’s Past” contends that though the immediate history of Pakistan and India might broadly be cause for pessimism (such as the violent partitions of ’47 and ’71), there is nevertheless a greater, storied and shared history that can be recalled in order to realize how communities in South Asia can peacefully co-exist. (more…)

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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