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Even as Lahore limps to normalcy

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for killing at least 72 people in a heinous attack in Lahore at a popular park where scores of families had gone to spend their Sunday. Images of wailing mothers and a bloodstained park continue to haunt the people of Lahore, Pakistan and the […]

March 30th, 2016|Extremism, Pakistan, Published in The Hindu, terrorism|0 Comments

‘About suffering they were never wrong’

Miniaturist Saira Waseem is the latest exponent in a long list of Pakistani artists resisting the country’s political, cultural and social erosion.

Saira waseem4Passion Cycle, 2005

Pakistani art going global is a remarkable story, for it typifies the ineffable contradictions of the country. In part it is a testament to the country’s creative expression, an explosion of sorts; and partly a mode of resistance to the anti-art ideology that is permeating the social fabric. It’s not just painting or the booming art galleries, there is a revival underway of the moribund television drama, the resuscitation of cinema and continuous experimentation with music.

Salima Hashmi, a leading arts academician and practitioner noted in a recent essay that the “proverbial worst of times are certainly the best of times for contemporary Pakistani art.” Our foremost historian, Ayesha Jalal in her latest book “The Struggle for Pakistan” views the creative expression as a resistance to Pakistan’s forced Islamisation. Jalal writes:

saira waseem5 Ethereal I, 2014

“The globalization of Pakistani music has been accompanied by a remarkable leap in the transnational reach of the creative arts…a younger generation of painters are making creative uses of new ideas and technologies to both access and influence a diverse and dynamic transnational artistic scene. The dazzling array of new directions in the contemporary art, literature, and music of Pakistan displays an ongoing tussle between an officially constructed ideology of nationalism and relatively autonomous social and cultural processes in the construction of a “national culture.”

Jalal as a contemporary historian reminds us that the domestic battle of ideas and ideologies is not over and is assuming newer shapes. At the same time, the issue of a crumbling Pakistani state haunts the future trajectory. Is the arts and literature renaissance of sorts an antidote to a state unable to fulfill its basic functions such as securing the lives of its citizens? There are some immediate examples from the subcontinent that come to mind: The reigns of Wajid Ali Shah and Bahadur Shah Zafar in nineteenth century India were also remarkable for their artistic endeavours before the final takeover of the British. Not entirely relevant, these are important phases of our recent history to be remembered.

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Reclaiming the legacy of ZA Bukhari

By Raza Rumi

Defining ‘Pakistani’ culture has been a problematic endeavour right from the inception of the country. Pakistan has straddled between 5,000 years of its ancient past, a thousand of years of Muslim rule in the Indian subcontinent, and the secular, plural reality that exists to date. Few individuals attempted to understand this. And fewer could actually lead the arduous process of articulating and shaping a truly nuanced and composite Pakistani culture. Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari, popularly known as ZA Bukhari, was one such Renaissance man who will always be remembered for his life and works, but more importantly for filling the void, which was created due to the truncation of Indo-Muslim identity in 1947. At the time of Independence, Pakistan was beset by the greatest of its challenges, ie of coming to terms with its past and deciding about its future trajectory, conflicts which remain unresolved despite six decades of fruitless struggles. […]

W.H. Auden’s poem – Partition

My friend IK has reminded me of W.H. Auden’s poem “Partition,” published in 1966. These moving verses  highlight the absurdity of the way the border was created sixty two years ago: 

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on the land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
“Time,” they had briefed him in London, “is short. It’s too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we’ve arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.” […]

Impressions – White Mughals by William Dalrymple

My bright, young friend Imaduddin (left) has written this excellent, terse review of the engaging book White Mughals.

Yesterday when he emailed me this text, I was intrigued by his views as well as envious of his ability to say a lot in so few words. […]

July 8th, 2008|books, History|5 Comments

The story of an ivory chair – Murshidabad’s gift to Hastings

Dr Amin Jaffer, the expert on Indian arts and furniture, currently working at Christie’s holds forth in a conversation below. The chair above is a fine work of craftsmanship and amalgamation of Eastern and Western aesthetics in the eighteenth century India. The chair was presented to the infamous Warren Hastings by the female Rani (ruler) of Murshidabad. Amazing that it survives…

we’re very lucky to have found a group of correspondence relating to Warren Hastings and the ruler of Murshidabad, the old princely capital of the state of Bengal and she was the regent, she was called Mani Begum, who was originally a dancing girl and she married the Nawab and when the Nawab died and there was a sort of power vacuum, Warren Hastings installed her as the regent and she thanks Hastings and his wife Marion by giving them, over a number of years, pieces of very, very high quality ivory furniture.
And when Hastings comes back to England, it’s his agent in Calcutta who’s transacting the shipping of the furniture and Hastings asks him repeatedly to give letters to the Begum to thank her or to tell her how fantastic the furniture looks in the house in Dalesford – Warren Hastings’ great house which he built in the Cotswolds and that’s how we really know that this piece, one of a pair, belonged to this great important commission.
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June 5th, 2008|Arts & Culture, History, India-Pakistan History|1 Comment

On Bhagat Singh, his vision and Jinnah’s support for his struggle

In his incisive speech to the Constituent Assembly on September 12 and 14, 1929, Jinnah harshly condemned the criminal colonial rule and the Government's actions against revolutionaries

March 28th, 2008|Culture, History, India, India-Pakistan History, Politics|21 Comments