Momentary, Immediate, and Urgent: Amarjit Chandan

Amarjit Chandan joins our Ventures Tour tomorrow, Fri 2 Nov, at Off The Shelf Festival in Sheffield (details here). We asked him some questions in anticipation of his readings in Sheffield, Wakefield, Hebden Bridge, Halifax and Nottingham over the next few days.

How would you describe your poetry?
I have been asked this question many times and each time I evade it saying: I write about any thing – from God to the tomato. I’ve written a poem about the latter and I rather like it.
I think contemporary poets and literary critics including readers are better in describing a poet’s work.

When did you begin writing poetry?
I inherited poetry from my father who was a poet. My first poem was published in the prestigious Punjabi magazine Preet Lari when I was 20.

How have you developed and improved your poetry since you started? What is your writing process? Do you write alone or with the help of others?
One learns all the time. I write alone. It is revealed to me. It can happen any time, anywhere. I have written walking the streets scribbling on pieces of paper.

What encouraged you to take part in the Arc tour? What do you hope to achieve? What are you most looking forward to?
My publishers encouraged me! I’d like to reach more people who appreciate poetry. I’d talk about how the Punjabi listeners respond to poets reading in public. Unlike the English scene it is always lively. They respond to each word, image or a line they like by saying aloud like: Wow! Great! Marvelous! Mukarar – say it again! Bravo! The English tend to reach out to the poet after the reading, saying simply: that poem or line I really liked. A woman in Lancaster (34th Litfest 20th October) came to me telling how she was touched by my poem ‘To Father’ and could not control her tears.

How much does reading in new contexts change the way you think about your work?
Readers’ and listeners’ response is what really matters. I have read in all sorts of contexts – from large gatherings to intimate circles – amongst my own community and non-Punjabis. I feel rewarded even if there is a single person present who you know is touched by your words or a silent pause in your poem.
Sometimes I’ve a weird feeling while reading, which I have shared with my close friends, a parallel track runs in my thoughts that I shouldn’t be doing this – making public my innermost thoughts like a love poem or poems written about my loved ones. It wasn’t meant to be like this. My friends comfort me that it is sharing – that’s what poetry is all about.
Reading while recording in a semi-dark studio is bizarre and overwhelming – the subjects of your poems appear before your eyes and you talk face-to-face with them.

What do you think is most important in a poetry translation? Is fidelity to the original the most important thing, for example?
The original is crucial. The translation has to be faithful to the original in its own way.

What place do you think poetry has in contemporary culture?
Poetry has certain contemporariness about it by its very nature – it’s momentary, immediate, and urgent. It has the central place where our hearts are. It has always been the case and will ever be.

Are there any British poets you have been inspired by or you particularly admire?
I particularly admire John Berger. He is the master. As a man and a writer he is so inspiring. My writing is very much influenced by his work. Other English poets who are my favourite: Dannie Abse, Adrian Mitchell, Owen Sheers and Jackie Kay.

What are the difficulties facing poets in the Punjab?
Their main difficulty is to get published. There are no funding bodies like Arts Council etc. Most of the poets are into self-publishing or they have to pay the publishers and the readership is also shrinking. The poets in West Punjab Pakistan are in dire straits. It is the most populous province of Pakistan, with more than 55% of the country’s total population. Unlike the Indian Punjab, Punjabi has no status there: it has no official recognition in the Constitution of Pakistan. It is not taught at the primary school level. Even Punjabi members of national assembly are not allowed to make speeches in their own mother tongue.

Amarjit Chandan
22 October 2012

Posted by Arc, 1st November 2012

West Coast Tagore Festival 2012 – Richmond Nov 17/12‏

On behalf on the Vancouver Tagore Society
We cordially invite you to
The West Coast Tagore Festival
Of this year

Saturday November 17
Richmond Cultural Center
7700 Minoru Gate, Richmond, BC

A day-long celebration of work and life of Nobel-laureate Bengali poet and World cultural icon, Rabindranath Tagore.

Reputed scholars, multicultural poets and talented performing artists from diverse ethnic and cultural background will present works of Tagore as well as will showcase their own cultural contents, through music, dance, poetry, mini-drama, lectures, exhibits, etc.

The Festival is generously supported by the City of Richmond, and the esteemed partners include World Poetry Richmond, Writers International Network, UBC Bengali Cultural Group, Jasmine Dance Club, Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast, LMBCS, CFCCRS, and others.

Please stay tuned for the detail programming.

Free admission
(Donation appreciated)

Facebook Events Page

Downloadable Poster

From Duke Ashrafuzzaman

Contact Uddari

Release Writers and Publishers arrested in India

Two writers and two publishers were arrested in the Indian Panjab for publishing already published materials that are now deemed ‘casteist or derogatory in nature’. In our view, the local government is appropriating the Dalit issue by imposing this sudden censorship on publishing already published texts. We objects to this appropriation and the attempt to edit texts with hindsight, and demand the immediate release of publishers Amit Mittar and Ashok Garg, writers Jagjit Singh and Sukhwinder Singh. Uddari

Will writers’ penning Waris Shah, Bhai Gurdas next after Rajab Ali, to face police action?
An article by Neel Kamal
Times of India

BARNALA: If celebrated kavishar (folk writer) Rajab Ali’s poetry could get writers and publishers behind bars for reproducing it for it being castiest or derogatory in nature, the state action could also be the same against persons penning words from Bhai Gurdas, Waris Shah’s works having equally castiest content in few chapters! This is the question doing rounds in the minds of Punjab writers and prominent personalities, who have read works of Bhai Gurdas, Waris Shah and eminent Punjabi writer of yore Dhani Ram Chatrik apart from Rajab Ali. The ‘words’ from Rajab Ali’s poetry, which become basis for the arrest of writers and publishers could also been seen in works of other celebrated writers, rue the writers feeling suffocated over the arrests.

It is exactly a week when the two writers and publishers were arrested by Punjab police on the charges of using castiest, derogatory words in two different books pertaining to Rajab Ali. The police had on September 15 arrested the publishers and writers suspecting the books could cause unrest in the state and could lead to rioting or division among communities. Taking the wild imagination of the police head on, the writer fraternity has slammed the state authorities for arresting the writers and publishers only for reproducing the original poetry of Rajab Ali, who had died in 1979. The writers terming the arrests as uncalled for and against the freedom of expression, abuse of law has demanded their immediate release.

Barnala based publisher Amit Mittar, Samana in Patiala based publisher Ashok Garg, village Sahoke in Moga based writer Jagjit Singh and another writer Sukhwinder Singh were arrested on Saturday and are cooling the heels in Barnala and Patiala Jail, waiting to be bailed out.

“The very poem, which allegedly hurt the feeling of dalit community was written decades back by Rajab Ali(1894-1979), whose works have been published by the state run languages department besides various other publishers”, said Shiromani Sahitkar award winner author Om Parkash Gasso.

Many writers and prominent personalities including Institute foe development and communication director and Punjab Governance Reforms Commission chairman Parmod Kumar, Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer Ajmer Aulakh, London based poet Amarjit Chandan, Canada-based writer Navtej Bharti, Professor of Contemporary India Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands Ronaki Ram, Shiromani Sahitkar Om Prakash Gasso, political scientist and historian Harish Puri, writer Nirupama Dutt, Filmmakers Rajeev Sharma, Jainder Mauhar, Daljit Ami, author Satnam, Mushtaq Soofi and Maqsood Saqib condemning government move of arresting the writers have signed a representation to the government demanding their immediate release, arrested under SC/ST act.

Gasso said “these arrests have started debate on the historical books whether they need to be modified of accept it as it is. It is weird that you book a person for editing or publishing pieces in the book which were originally written more than 50 years back. The book was never banned or opposed”. Reprint of the already written words cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered to be a criminal offence. Rajab Ali’ works and the mention of the then used caste names in his poetry have to be understood in the historical context, said Parmod Kumar adding not only Rajab Ali but Waris’ Heer, Bhai Gurdas’ poetry too have words related to various casts”.

The Punjab government, in its overzealous thoughtlessness, has entered a wrong territory, as this is not the only text containing traditional caste names. Such a cleansing, as the Punjab government has attempted to carry out, will need doing away with all the classical Punjabi literature containing the traditional caste names. This includes poetry by the likes of Bhai Gurdas, Waris Shah, Shah Husain and Dhani Ram Chatrik, who are regularly published by various state departments and universities run by the Punjab government, reads the petition made by the signatories. The members of some organizations few days ago had held protest at Moga against the caste based remarks used in the books.

Who was Babu Rajab Ali

Rajab Ali was born in village Sahoke of Moga district and had migrated to Pakistan after partition. He wrote about one dozen kissa and poems about the Hindu mythology, historic figures, Sikh history and heroes like Bhagat Singh, Saka Sirhind. He wrote long poems in Punjabi folklore like Heer Ranjha, Mirza Sahiba, Dulla Bhatti and Sohni Mahiwal. Even more than three decades of his death, still across the rural Malwa region of Punjab, Rajab Ali’s memories and poems are celebrated.

URGENT: Coming Together for Ahmad Salim – London August 4/12

Author/Archivist Ahmad Salim, winner of Pakistan’s Pride of Performance, is very ill and will probably undergo liver transplant within the next THREE to FOUR months.

In spite of his suffering, he is concerned about archives of South Asian Research and Resource Centre (SARRC) that he worked hard to build over decades. Now, the SARRC materials are used by researchers worldwide.

Friends in UK are taking the lead by inviting you to a meeting to discuss what we can do for Ahmad Salim and for the continuation of SARRC. If you don’t live in London or cannot attend the meeting, please contact Nuzhat or Abbas at:

More information on Ahmad Salim

Date and Time: Saturday 4 August 1500 to 1700 hours
Venue: C/o Rashad Aslam,
Adam Bernard Solicitors
25 Barking Road, Upton Park
London E6 1PW
Mobile (Rashad Aslam): 07833 345 535

Hope to see all of you there.

Nuzhat and Abbas
Mobile Nuzhat: 07962 426 065
Mobile Abbas: 07890 844 149

An Afternoon of Bengali Poetry বৈকালিক – Richmond July 28/12

Vancouver Tagore Society & City of Richmond with World Poetry



An Afternoon of Bengali Poetry


Saturday July 28, 2012

Rooftop Garden, Richmond Cultural Centre

7700 Minoru Gate, Richmond, BC V6Y 1R9

Admission: Free

Program Schedule

 Welcome Poems: 1:30PM

Two Birds – Rabindranath Tagore / Lee Tan

An Eventual Victory – Alan Hill / Alan Hill

Keynote Speech: 1:40PM

The Evolution of Bengali Poetry – Leena Chatterjee / Anuradha Mitra

Woven Tapestry of Words – World Poetry: 1:50PM

Day’s End – Rabindranath Tagore

Tirthankar Bose (Bengali), Ariadne Sawyer (English, translated by Willliam Radice),

Bong Ja Ahn (Korean), Subrath Shrestha (Nepali), Yilin Wang (Chinese),

Jacqueline Maire (French), Selene Bertelsen (Middle-English), and

Anita Aguirre Nieveras (Tagalog)

Amorous, Rebellious, Humorous: Spirits of Bengal through its Poetry: 2:00PM 

Couple-Confluence – Abul Hasan / Emilia Jahangir & Avik Ranjan Dey

Tryst – Rabindranath Tagore / Sanzida Habib Swati, Amlan Das Gupta,

Shankhanaad Mallick & Arno Kamolika

Banalata Sen – Jibanananda Das / Duke Ashrafuzzaman

Man and Nature – Amitava Das Gupta / Sanzida Habib Swati & Amlan Das Gupta

My Letter to Ranjini – Srijat Bandopaddhaya / Avik Ranjan Dey

Ballad of A Farm-laborer – Nirmalendu Goon / Anika Mahmud, Amlan Das Gupta &

Sanzida Habib Swati

Poem of May Day – Subhash Mukhopaddhaya / Chorus

Oh Great Life – Sukanto Bhattacharja / Emilia Jahangir

Give Me Food, Bastard – Rafique Azad / Sabuj Mazumder

My Rights – Shankha Ghosh / Amlan Das Gupta

The Rebel – Kazi Nazrul Islam / Shankhanaad Mallick, Anika Mahmud & Arno Kamolika

Deep Inside My Soul – Syed Shamsul Haque / Sabuj Majumder

For You, Freedom – Shamsur Rahman / Zeenat Zahan Anita

Truth Absconding – Asad Choudhury / Shankhanaad Mallick

Delicious Food – – Sukanto Bhattacharja / Maisha Haque

Nanda Lal – Dijendralal Roy / Anika Mahmud, Avik Ranjan Dey & Others

Solution to Food Scarcity – Sukanto Bhattacharja / Anika Mahmud & Zeenat Zahan Anita

Doctor Safdar – Hosne Ara / Amlan Das Gupta & Arno Kamolika

Mamur Bari – Lutfar Rahman Riton / Sabuj Majumder

Sound of Words – Sukumar Roy / Shankhanaad Mallick & Sanzida Habib Swati

Distant Journey – Satyandranath Datta / Chorus

Vote of Thanks & Refreshments: 3:00PM 

Wrap-up: 4:00PM

Host – Duke Ashrafuzzaman

Music – Sabuj Majumder & Arno Kamolika

Set Design and Décor – Shakhawat Hossain

Coordination – Raihan Akhter



Facebook’s Lifted Ban on the poem ‘Pakistan’s Mock Oscar’

Yesterday, Facebook blocked an Uddari post containing my poem ‘Pakistan’s Mock Oscar’ on basis of it being ‘spammy’ or ‘unsafe’. View the details here:

I am grateful to Uddari readers, my peers in the writing community, and Facebook friends for responding to my ‘urgent’ message by checking out the links from different places, searching the poem on the Net, sending messages of support, and sharing ideas on what to do next. In particular, my warmest regards to Qayyum Khosa, Khalid Toor, Sarwar Sukhera, Shahid Mirza, Janet Kvammen, Ihsan Ul haq, Kadri Pereira, Chaman Lal, Surjeet Kalsey, S. K. Alam, Valerie B.-Taylor, Hasan N. Gardezi, Rajesh Sharma, and Cesar Love for rapid responses and for staying with it.

As this activity was taking place, and you can view a part of it on my timeline at Facebook, the block on the poem was lifted. Link to my timeline:

The block may have lasted a couple of hours but it has left us with a few important questions. Like most questions, these are about How and Why if not Who, Where and When. How did it come about that this particular poem was blocked in the first place? Are there certain words that Facebook filters catch onto, and if so, what are those? And then, why this particular poem raised some alarm and faced a block when many other poems have not raised/faced any?

So, let’s look at the possible keywords that could have caused some concern. It can’t be ‘pakistan’, ‘mock’ or ‘oscar’ because we are not where it can matter to anyone. Sure isn’t the ‘vegetarian menu’ or the ‘lush green/ forest’. ‘US-NATO’, ‘Daisy-Cutter’, ‘BLU-82, 1500lb.’, ‘(ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder, polystyrene) bomb’ may be. Or may be it’s ‘extreme violence,/disfigurements, deaths, causing irreparable damage/to body and spirit,’.

Second guessing the keywords is one thing, but the first thought is that it was a robot or a software filter that flagged it, but if so, why did it not flag it on June 5 when it was published at Uddari and shared at Facebook. Why did the filter flag/block it on June 7?

Valerie B.-Taylor, the president of New West Writers who came searching to Uddari to read the poem, said to me on the phone, ‘The poem has nothing pornographic, graphic, racist, sexist or homophobic, and it does not incite hatred or violence. There is no reason for anyone to block it.’ She also said another important thing: ‘By blocking you, they are blocking me because i can’t share the poem either.’ As Khalid toor concludes it, ‘Believe that no one can stop the voice of Truthfulness’.

More likely, some ‘humans’ did not like the content of the poem as opposed to the robots not liking some keywords in it.

We better be ready.

Fauzia Rafique

Facebook blocks Fauzia Rafique’s poem ‘Pakistan’s Mock Oscar’

An Uddari post has been blocked by Facebook. This morning, several attempts to share it were blocked with the following message:

Sorry, this post contains a blocked URL
The content you’re trying to share includes a link that’s been blocked for being spammy or unsafe:
For more information, visit the Help Center. If you think you’re seeing this by mistake, please let us know.

I tried to create a Facebook Note without any URL with the following note and the full text of poem.

‘The poem raises serious questions about NATO/US role of multi-pronged aggression in the World, with reference to Afghanistan and Pakistan. This attempt to stop me from sharing it on Facebook is NOT COOL.’

It was again blocked.

Please tell Facebook that ‘Pakistan’s Mock Oscar‘ is not ‘spammy’, and i can’t see who it can be ‘unsafe’ for. Freedom of expression matters?

View it below:

‘Pakistan’s Mock Oscar’ a poem by Fauzia Rafique

Drone attacks, dollar stacks
Prestige shmacks
___ Pakistan’s mock Oscar
___ The latest US-NATO jok(e) Oscar
___ Rhyming is important
___ But get the point across, Oscar

‘Humanitarian’ food drop
U.S. cargo C-17
(thou must use humanitarian aid) with
the Daisy-Cutter
BLU-82 – 15,000 lb.
(ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder, polystyrene) bomb
vietnam, gulf, afghanistan
clear-cut, 100 to 300 meter,
lush green,
forest, wetland or mountainous,
(flowers, birds, fields, animals, homes, humans, butterflies) batter
into flat—
But remember, air-drop some food
before and after.
___ You gleefully support this deadly
___ Mental bloody flock, Oscar
___ Connections are important
___ At least be your own boss, Oscar
Pakistan’s mock Oscar
The latest US-NATO jok Oscar

All 15 menus, vegetarian
(made for hindus, where’s afghanistan, not in india?)
2,200 calories per body (and many
many body bags) per day
Sample: beans and rice
in tomato sauce
(fruit bars, vegetable crackers, fruit pastry, herb rice,) non-alcoholic towlette.
“This is a food gift
from the people
of the United States
of America”
In English, Spanish and French
(Gift-wrapped for England, Spain and France).
919,967 people killed
Men, women, children, civilians.
___ Our Freedom must Endure all the mass-killing
___ Operations of your Goldi-lock, Oscar.
___ Markets are important
___ But do consider our loss, Oscar
Pakistan’s mock Oscar
The latest US-NATO jok Oscar

Saving face
Women’s rights
Ignorant chauvinist man fights
(extreme violence, disfigurement, irreparable damage to body and spirit) because
it was impossible to restrict
control contain possess
that one special woman in his life.
This other human who,
amidst all man-favoring laws
stays strong
and able
to exerciseher will.
But this is not what you want.
For you, this is the subject:
Third world women’s rights!
Ignorant chauvinist man fights!
Islam in bad sights!
Wah Wah Human Rights!
At last some Pakistanis in limelights!
___ This lime does not light
___ Any part of my block, Oscar
___ Distinction is important
___ But this is the wrong gloss, Oscar
Pakistan’s mock Oscar
The latest US-NATO jok Oscar

Me, us and we
your numerous humble subjects
(mullah, military, industrialists, landowners, politicians, media, artists, professionals) we
are all here
ready to be bought
and sold
by you, take us
with drone attacks, dollar stacks, prestige shmacks.
But my sister’s acid-burnt face
you recently employed
to hide your own
extreme violence,
disfigurements, deaths, causing irreparable damage
to body and spirit,
is an outrage.
Innocent brave faces of my sisters
___for petty political gain!
___It does not rock, Oscar
___Your art is full of crock, Oscar
___Diplomacy is important
But find some other sauce, Oscar
Pakistan’s mock Oscar
The latest US-NATO jok Oscar
Surrey, June 2012

Jok (spirit) – ‘A Jok is a class of spirit within the traditional Acholi belief system that are viewed as the cause of illness.[1] Traditional healers first identify the Jok in question and then make an appropriate sacrifice and ceremony to counter them.[1] The range of Jok is extensive and includes a number that have been influenced by the experience of colonization.’

Fauzia Rafique

Original post:

Meera Ji’s 100th – ‘Ambiguity itself’ by Sarwat Ali

May 25, 1912 – November 4, 1949

On his hundredth birthday that falls on May 25, 2012, Meera Ji’s experimental poetic expression can be evaluated more objectively

Meera Ji died young, not fully appreciated for a poetic expression that was very experimental and hounded for his unconventional lifestyle.

Given the current situation where the ideological divide between the right and left is no longer the decisive criteria in assessing a work of literature, some newer critical canon is waiting to be established. Since the erstwhile divide imposed with rigidity posited literature as front for an ideological battle, it was not always assessed on the basis that was its very own.

Meera Ji’s life was difficult because he decided to swim against the current of the mainstream Progressive Writers Association. His was a distinct voice, very individual, extremely subjective and sensitive to the smaller issues and feelings which otherwise get swarmed by overwhelming questions.

He wrote nazms (poems)and was obviously inspired by much that was happening in the West in literature and other disciplines like psychology. Initially the nazm was a revolt against the highly stylised dominant form of the ghazal (rhyming verse). It was considered to be less well-wrought, less dependent on associated references and loaded metaphors. It was closer to being a statement and this objectivity was a much cherished aim in the 19th century but, by the time nazm came within the creative grasp of Meera Ji, it became the poetic manifestation of an inner voice.

Meera Ji’s inner voice was of suppressed instincts that did not find an outlet in poetry directly but only in the well-wrought framework of an inherited tradition. The instincts were given a form that was artistically closer to the chaos and anarchy of the instinctual aspects of a human being and its expression too had to be reflective of the turmoil that makes up the essential self of man.

Before Meera Ji, Noon Meem Rashed had written the nazm inspired by the late Romantics and the Imagists. Rashed really worked on his poems, and at times the hardwork showed. But where Rashed’s effort was contrived, Meera Ji wrote with an effortless ease. This is not to say that he did not work on his poems and wrote in a fit of inspiration, only that his effort did not become obvious and his craft was more honed than some of his contemporaries.

Meera Ji’s work was seen by some as directly flowing out of sexual energy and was libidinal, as if what he wrote was actually an expression of the lack of an outlet for sexual expression as well. But this was only a selective reading of his works. He was less concerned with repression and its lack of outlet and more with the mysteries of the sex drive, the basic instincts that filled human life with the force and the energy to think beyond the precision of the event. It was fully comprehended without wrapping it in an elaborate system of thought. Meera Ji had the spontaneity of a super craftsman.

In his earlier phase, Meera Ji wrote nazms that were formalistic and structured. In the later phase, under the influence of the geet (song), he wrote poetry that was extremely lyrical but did not follow any formalistic design. The geet does not, as a genre, follow a formal structure and is quite accommodating in its pattern and rhyme scheme; the only criteria being that it should retain its lyrical quality. This criterion was fulfilled with great promise by Meera Ji. His geets were extremely lyrical and did not follow the form of a nazm. He was in the process of discovering an inner structure for the unity of the poem as compared to a more formal one. The association of meaning, the references and the allusions, all knitted his nazm to give it a sharpened edge that possibly could not have been achieved if the dictates of a formal structure had been lurking in the background during the act of creation.

As the inner structure was not apparent, Meera Ji was criticised for being ambiguous. The subject that Meera Ji found to be potent was ambiguity itself and the initial reaction of the reader to be lost in the maze of an experience, though overwhelming, was shrouded in mystery and questioned by many. The subject itself was not cut and dried and laid down in any order. This ambiguity was the consequence of the magical environment that Meera Ji was able to weave in his poems, the atmosphere that he created, full of indirections with no direct linkages.

Meera Ji was a very well-read man and extremely educated about the poetic forms of the past and the age that he was living in. The greatest proof of that are his extensive prose writings on various poets and literary movements. As a critic, Meera Ji was a critical observer looking very closely at the writings and poems, developing arguments backed by historical references and contemporary instances. His critical pieces had no ambiguity, no magical maze — instead, only clarity of thought and a forcefulness of reasoning.

His understating of contemporary poetry and the reasons that gave birth to such a poetic expression was quite astonishing. The poetry closer to his own was ruthlessly scrutinised and he found these either truly inspirational, or at least the words resonating his own poetic experience.

Meera Ji was not alone in that ambiguous mysterious, haunting world; it was the sensibility of an age that he was only sharing. The European poets of the late nineteenth and twentieth century had moved away from the formal structures to explore an area of experience that could not be grasped by rationality and scientific explanation. New doubts had arisen and questions were being raised also by poets, some directly and some not so directly. As in those poets, in Meera Ji too, childhood played a critical part. For authenticity, he could relate to that primal experience and then to its sublimation, mythology, which gave an artistic cover to the hopes, aspirations and foibles of human existence.

The personality of Meera Ji too was put under the microscopic lens and many moral issues were raised regarding his conduct in society. But he was essentially a poet in rebellion against the mainstream culture of his times. For him truth lay beyond social norms and manners, even if it involved sacrificing mundane living. His love for poetic truth was just as sincere as his love for Meera Sen. He lost in love but succeeded in immortalising the supremacy of love through his poems.


Recommended by Ijaz Syed


A poem by Meera Ji

Piyaare lamhe aayen ge aur majboori miT jaye gi
Hum dono mil jayen ge aur sab doori miT jaye gi

Har dam Behne wali aankhon ki mala bhi TooTay gi
Teri meri hasti iss bairi bandhan se chooTay gi

Lekin yeh sab baatein hain apne jee ke behlaanay ki
Dukh ki raat main dheere dheere dil ka dard miTaanay ki

Rotay rotay hanstay hanstay ruktay ruktay gaanay ki
Sukh ka sapna sookha hai aur sookha hi reh jaye ga

Sooni saij pe prem kahani premi yoon keh jaye ga
Hote hote sara jeewan aankhon se beh jaye ga

Text from:

More on Meera Ji

‘Manto and Sindh’ by Haider Nizamani

Saadat Hasan Manto (1912–1955)
Birth Centenary 1912 – 2012

SINDH has no equivalent of Saadat Hasan Manto as a chronicler of Partition. And the absence of a Manto-like figure in Sindhi literature on that count is good news. It shows the resilience of Sindh’s tolerant culture at a time when Punjab had slipped into fratricidal mayhem.

While Amrita Pritam called out for Waris Shah to rise up from the grave to witness the blood-drenched rivers of Punjab, Sindhi woman writers such as Sundari Uttamchandani were not forced to ask Shah Latif to do the same.

From Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s Facebook Page

The tragedy of Partition inflicted different types of pain on the Punjabi and Sindhi communities and these peculiarities shadowed and shaped post-Partition communal relations between people of different faiths who traced their roots to these regions. What Manto endured and witnessed in 1947 and afterwards, became, through his eloquent writings, simultaneously an elegy and indictment of Punjab losing its sense of humanity at the altar of religious politics. The political air in Sindh was filled with religious demagogy but it did not turn into a communal orgy.

Urdu literati and historians interested in Partition and its impact on the subcontinent have used Manto’s birth centennial, that was recently observed, to remind us of his scathing sketches of lives destroyed by Partition. Ayesha Jalal in her essay ‘He wrote what he saw — and took no sides’ published in the May issue of Herald, writes Manto “looked into the inner recesses of human nature…” to “fathom the murderous hatred that erupted with such devastating effect” …in “his own home province of Punjab at the dawn of a long-awaited freedom”.

There was no eruption of murderous hatred between Sindhi Hindus and Muslims. They did not lynch each other en masse as was the case in Punjab. The violence against Sindhi Hindus and their mass migration to India was a tragic loss scripted, orchestrated and implemented by non-Sindhis in Sindh. As result of varying trajectories of interfaith relations during the Partition period, the intelligentsia of Sindh and Punjab evolved and adopted different views towards Hindus and India.

The collective memory of the Partition days in Punjab is marked more by the stories and silence of the victims and perpetrators of violence. Even the journey towards the safer side was fraught with danger. People who survived had bitter memories of the ‘other’.

The Sindh story is not the same. Ram Jethmalani, a leading lawyer in India today and a member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was a young advocate in Karachi in 1947. His senior partner was none other than A.K. Brohi, a right-wing Sindhi lawyer who became federal law minister during the Zia period.

Jethmalani has no compunction in saying that there was no love lost between the two because of Partition. Jethmalani stayed back in Karachi and only left for Mumbai in 1948 when Brohi told him he could not take responsibility for his safety as the demography of Karachi had changed with the arrival of migrants from the northern Indian plains. That arrival was accompanied by violence against Sindhi Hindus.
Kirat Babani, a card-carrying communist, chose to stay in Sindh after 1947 and was thrown in prison in 1948. Released 11 months on the condition of leaving Karachi within 24 hours, Kirat took up a job with Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi, pioneer of the peasant struggle in Sindh. The administration pressured Jatoi for harbouring an atheist. Jatoi advised, much against his desire, Kirat to go to India. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that groomed L.K. Advani, a native of Karachi who later became India’s deputy prime minister, acknowledges that Sindhi Muslims did not push Hindus out of the province.

Sindhis lost on two fronts in the wake of Partition. The migrant Sindhi Hindus had minimal clout in the Indian state. While many of them had led a comfortable life in Karachi and other towns of Sindh, their position in India was of a vulnerable minority. Instead of a consolidated presence in a particular region, Sindhi Hindus were scattered all over India. Their intelligentsia had to fight hard for official recognition of the Sindhi language in India which was finally achieved 20 years after Partition.

Ironically, Sindhi is the only language without a state in the Indian Union. In Sindh, the departing Hindu middle class left a void that was politically, economically and culturally filled by non-Sindhi speaking migrants.

Sheikh Ayaz – photo from

In post-1947 Punjab, Hindu and India were, and still are, used synonymously at a popular level. When Pakistan and India went to war in 1965, the intelligentsia in Punjab cheered on the soldiers to crush Hindus. Sindh’s supreme poet of the time, Sheikh Ayaz, questioned waging war through a poem mentioning the name of his Hindu Sindhi counterpart Narayan Shyam in a simple yet powerful way. ‘When battle lines are drawn, opposite me is Narayan Shyam; he and I speak the same language, cherish the same culture; and you expect me to shoot him?’ Ayaz’s book was banned.

Manto bemoaned how people living in relative harmony lost all sense of humanity in the political mayhem accompanying Partition. This did not happen in Sindh, so luckily Sindh doesn’t have a Manto.

Manto died more than half a century ago but Punjab and Sindh today are beset by issues that rankled the outstanding writer.

In Punjab, Salmaan Taseer was gunned down for saying things that Manto would have said. In Sindh, the manner in which some women are coerced into renouncing their faith proves neither the superiority of one religion nor the inferiority of the other. It shows erosion of the composite ethos where once people of different faiths lived free from fear.

The writer is Canada-based academic.


‘Manto – my Garain’ by Daljit Ami

 Saadat Hasan Manto (1912 – 1955)
Birth Centenary 1912 – 2012

Revisiting Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) on his birth centenary turned out to be an experience which cannot be described by a single adjective. It was not just a return to Manto but also a home-coming to my associations with him. I was introduced to Manto in the 1980s during my graduation in A S College Khanna, in Ludhiana district of Punjab. There, I could immediately relate to Manto’s Toba Tek Singh, as the prevalent vicious communal atmosphere and brutal state response was nothing short of insanity. After graduation I came to Chandigarh which, despite being the capital of Punjab was aloof from the madness reigning in the countryside.

Here, Manto again helped me to understand how the same situation could have different impacts. The massacre of April 1919 of Jalianwala Bagh, Amritsar had changed the life of Udham Singh and Saadat Hasan Manto in different directions. Udham Singh became part of history as Ram Mohammad Singh Azad when he avenged the massacre of Jalianwala Bagh and was hung by the British. In another but equally powerful trajectory, Manto wrote his first short story, ‘Tamasha’, using the backdrop of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, and went on to become one of the most acclaimed story tellers of the Subcontinent, with prolific writing until his untimely death at forty two.

In Chandigarh I learnt that Manto belonged to Papraudi, a village near Samrala in Ludhiana district. We Punjabis have a fluid definition of the term ‘village’. Whenever a Bihari labourer received a visitor, we used to say that someone had come to meet him from his village. It did not matter that one was from Gopalganj at the western end of Bihar and the other from Kotihar in the east. Similarly, when we moved out of our villages the concept of village expanded along with the distance from native place. Living in Europe or North America, someone from Bahawalpur (West Punjab) and other one from Patiala (East Punjab) can comfortably claim that they belong to same village. Manto’s village is just 15 km from my village, Daudpur — in the same district and tehsil. This piece of information made me feel closer to Saadat Hasan Manto. From a mere reader I became his garain or someone from the same village.

In the 1990s Lal Singh Dil, a revolutionary Punjabi poet was running a roadside tea stall in Samrala, from where I used to change my bus while commuting between Chandigarh and Daudpur. Mostly, I used to stop at his tea stall to talk about poetry, politics and literature or sometimes just to chat. It was a great feeling that Manto, Dil and I are garain.

I went to Lahore in 2003 to attend the Punjabi World Conference. In a parallel program on the Seraiki language someone told me that Hamid Akhtar was also in the gathering. Hamid Akhtar was an old friend of Manto and Sahir Ludhianvi and his ancestral village was also in Ludhiana district. They all migrated to Pakistan after Partition but Sahir eventually returned to India. Hamid Akhtar was looking very frail, as he had just recovered from throat cancer. I was told that his hearing was very weak so he would not be able to understand many things and, furthermore, he could not speak very easily.

However, I was sure that he could listen to his garain. I touched his feet and greeted him with folded hands, ‘Sat Sri Akal’. He looked at me and I introduced myself, ‘Mein Samrale toh ayan’ (I have come from Samrala). In a trice, Hamid was on his feet. He hugged me and announced, without the help of a loudspeaker, ‘Eh mere pindo aya. Manto de pindon (He has come from my village, from Manto’s village).’ He made me sit next to him, all the while holding my hand. His first question: ‘Samrale vich kithon ayan’ (From where in Samrala do you come)? I replied, ‘Daudpur.’ With a few explanations, he could understand the geography as well as roads from Daudpur to Papraudi and to his native village near Jagraon. Hamid subsequently recovered from cancer and has visited Chandigarh twice, thereafter. He would call and ask, ‘Mein aa gayan, sham nu tun meinu sharab pilauni aa’ (I am here. In the evening you will take me for a drink). We would end up discussing Manto, Sahir, India and Pakistan. This is Sadda Gran, our village.

Recently, I visited Papraudi to make a special program for the news channel Day and Night News, on Saadat Hasan Manto’s birth centenary. One of Manto’s contemporaries, Ujjagar Singh, remembers having played with him when they were children. At the age of ninety plus Ujjagar Singh has memories of Manto and his family. He identified Manto’s house, which was auctioned after Partition by government as ‘evacuee property’. I asked him if he had read Manto’s writing. He replied, ‘I have not read him as I can’t read Urdu. I have heard that he is a renowned writer. He has made our village proud.’ I talked to at least half a dozen people but none of them was familiar with Manto’s writings.

Then we went to the village Gurudwara where the Punjabi Sahit Sabha, Delhi, opened the Manto Memorial Library two years ago. The caretaker of the Gurudwara, Lakhwinder Singh, looks after the library as it is housed in his one room accommodation. The bookshelf carrying 200 books has two translated volumes of Manto’s stories. The library attracts not more then a couple of readers a month so Lakhwinder Singh has not felt the need to unbundle books. Now Punjabi Sahit Sabha Delhi is planning to shift this collection to Samrala. Hopefully Manto’s writings will have more readers in his home village.

Continuing my quest for Manto the person, I went to Amritsar to film the places he is supposed to have frequented. One such place is Katra Sher Singh where he lived. The demography of this area has changed, as it was a Muslim dominated locality before Partition, and witnessed remorseless killings and brutality of untold magnitude. Katra Sher Singh now has a Hindu-Sikh population. No trace of its bloody past or its displaced populace is visible to an observer.

Manto might have gotten his characters of ‘Khol Do’ and ‘Thanda Ghosht’ straight out of these environs, I imagine as I walk the streets. Since I had been steeped in Manto for many days, I could feel the traumatized young Sakina’s presence. As in ‘Khol do’, she is not confined only to being Sirajudin’s daughter, but symbolizes the vulnerability of women subjected to sexual violence during Partition. Even after 65 years, it is scary. I do not want to dwell on what Manto had gone through while witnessing and then recording these details. He took refuge in ‘Toba Tek Singh’’s Bishan Singh, who says, ‘Aupar di, gargar di, bedhiyana di, annex di, mungi di daal of the lantern of the Hindustan of the Pakistan government, dur fiteh munh.’ All the words of this sentence are familiar but still it is an enigma inviting silence. Manto too, is such an enigma who may have grown out of words so he chose silence at the age of forty two. As a garain of Manto I am unnerved by his silence, Sakina’s predicament and Bishan Singh’s gibberish. Oh, when Manto is not confined to any one village, why should I think that I am the only one who is scared while revisiting him? It leaves me with a final question: can scared people celebrate birth centenaries?


 Manto and wife Safia


Manto and one of his children


With his three daughters


Manto family


Manto’s residence at Beadon Road, Lahore. Photo by Amarjit Chandan, Dec 2011.


Manto’s Nameplate: ‘Saadat Hasan Manto – Short Story Writer’


Munib Anwar as Manto with another actor, London 1999


Paul Waring’s set of Manto’s ‘Toba Tek Singh’


Manto’s resting place in Lahore


The Epiteph:  Meri qabr ka qatba
Saadat Hasan Manto
qabr ke hai
jo ab bhi samjhta hai ke uss ka naam
lauh-e-jhan pe
harf-e-mukarrar nahin tha
padayesh 11 May 1912, wfaat 18 Januar 1955

The epiteph of my grave
This is
the tablet of
Saadat Hasan Manto’s
who still thinks that his name
was not a repetitive letter
on the page/tablet of life (Manto)
Birth May 11, 1912, Death January 18, 1955

(Refers to Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s couplet ‘Ya rubb zmana mujh ko mittata hai kiss liye, loh-e-jahan pe harf-e-mukarrar nahin hoon main’ – ‘O Creator why does world wants to rub me off, i am not a repetitive letter on the tablet/page of life’


2005 comemorative stamps on his death centenary

Photographs from Amarjit Chandan Collection

Previously published at and

PS: According to Amarjit Chandan, Hamid Akhtar’s ancestral village was Mehatpur near Nakodar. Akhtar passed away in 2011.

Daljit Ami is a documentary filmmaker, journalist and cultural activist from Chandigarh. After studying Ancient Indian History Archaeology & Culture, and later, Mass Communications, he has worked on several independent films and documentaries dealing with poignant social issues in northern India. Ami also contributes to Chandigarh’s Punjabi Tribune as an Assistant Editor.

Saadat Hassan Manto From Wikipedia: ‘(Punjabi, Urdu: ‏‏سعادت حسن منٹو) (May 11, 1912 – January 18, 1955) was a short story writer of the Urdu language. He is best known for his short stories, ‘Bu’ (Odour), ‘Khol Do’ (Open It), ‘Thanda Gosht’ (Cold Meat), and his magnum opus, ‘Toba Tek Singh’. Manto was also a film and radio scriptwriter, and journalist. In his short life, he published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches.[1] Manto was tried for obscenity half-a-dozen times, thrice before 1947 and thrice after 1947 in Pakistan,[2] but never convicted. Some of his works have been translated in other languages.’
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‘Remembering Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955)’ by Tariq Ali

“Something terrible happened fifty years ago today when India was divided. It is time to recognize it and see if it can be understood and transcended. The survivors owe it to those who perished.”

Saadat Hasan Manto’s centenary is being observed quietly by friends and admirers in Lahore. No official recognition or mention. He’s almost become a non-person. Manto died in Lahore in 1955. He was forty-three years old. The life of one of our greatest short-story writers had been prematurely truncated. I was eleven years old at the time. I never met him. I wish I had. One can visualize him easily enough. In later photographs the melancholy is visible. He appears exhausted as if his heart were entrenched with sadness. In these his face displays all the consequences of a ravaged liver.

But there are others. Here his eyes sparkle with intelligence, the impudence almost bursting through the thick glass of his 1940’s spectacles, mocking the custodians of morality, the practitioners of confessional politics or the commissariat of the Progressive Writers. ‘Do your worst’, he appears to be telling them. ‘I don’t care. I will write to please myself. Not you.’   Manto’s battles with the literary establishment of his time became a central feature of his biography. Charged with obscenity and brought to trial on a number of occasions he remained defiant and unapologetic.

It was the Partition of India in 1947 along religious lines  that formed his own attitudes and those of his numerous detractors. The episodes associated with the senseless carnage that accompanied the withdrawal of the British from India loom large in Manto’s short stories. A few words of necessary explanation might help the reader to understand the corrosive impact of  Manto on the reading public. The horrors of 1947 were well known, but few liked to talk about them. A collective trauma appeared to have silenced most people. Not Manto. In his stories of that period he recovered the dignity of all the victims without fear or favor. Even the perpetrators of crimes were victims of a political process that had gone out of control.

In these bad times when the fashion is to worship accomplished facts real history tends to be treated as an irritant, something to be swatted out of existence like mosquitoes in summer, it is worth recalling that something terrible happened fifty years ago today when India was divided.  It is time to recognize it and see if it can be understood and transcended. The survivors owe it to those who perished. At least a million men, women and children lost their lives during the carnage of ‘ethnic cleansing’ that overcame Northern and Eastern India as the Punjab and Bengal were divided along religious lines.

In the months that preceded Partition, Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other glared into each other’s hate-filled eyes before embarking on  frenzied blood-baths. The character and scale of the butchery was unprecedented in Indian history. In fact even Jinnah, as late as June 1946, was prepared to consider a federal solution as proposed by the Cabinet Mission sent to India by the Labour Government. It was the Congress Party which made that particular solution impossible.

This failure meant that exactly one year before Partition, the Hindu-Muslim riots started in Eastern India. During four days in August 1946, nearly 5000 people were killed and three times that number wounded in Bengal. The mood in the Punjab became edgy. Fear overcame rationality.

My mother, an active member of the Communist Party, often recalls how in April 1947, heavily pregnant with my sister and alone at home, she was disturbed by a loud knock on the front door. As she opened the door  she was overcome by anxiety. In front of her stood the giant figure of a Sikh. He saw the fear on her face, understood and spoke in a soft, reassuring voice. All he wanted to know was the location of a particular house on a nearby road. My mother gave him the directions. He thanked her warmly and left. She was overpowered by shame. How could she, of all people, without a trace of prejudice, have reacted in that fashion?  Nor was she the  only one. Manto’s stories help us to understand the madness that was bursting into bloodshed.

Trains became moving graveyards as they arrived at stations on both sides of the new divide, packed with corpses of fleeing refugees. As always, it was  the poor of town and country who were the main victims and they were buried or burnt in  hastily dug pits. Neither the song of the nightingale nor lamps or flowers would ever grace their graves. They are the forgotten victims of that year. No memorial in India or Pakistan marks the killings. The Partition of India was a tragedy and a crime. It was neither inevitable nor necessary and  its traces are only too visible in the unending anguish of the great  sub-continent. Faiz Ahmed Faiz,  one of the greatest of 20th century Urdu poets,  born in what  became Pakistan, spoke for many  in his poem Freedom’s Dawn on August ‘47:

This leprous daybreak, dawn night’s fangs have mangled—

This is not that long -looked-for break of day,

Not that clear dawn in quest of which those comrades

Set out, believing that in heaven’s wide void

Somewhere must be the star’s last halting place,

Somewhere the verge of night’s slow-washing tide,

Somewhere an anchorage for the ship of heartache.

But now, word goes, the birth of day from darkness

Is finished, wandering feet stand at their goal;

Our leaders’ ways are altering, festive looks

Are all the fashion, discontent reproved;–

And yet this physic still on unslaked eye

Or heart fevered by severance works no cure.

Where did that fine breeze, that the wayside lamp

Has not once felt, blow from—where has it fled?

Night’s heaviness is unlessened still, the hour

Of mind and spirit’s ransom has not struck;

Let us go on, our goal is not reached yet.

A year later, another poet Sahir Ludhianvi, who crossed the border and came to Pakistan could not bear the atmosphere and returned to India. He sent an explanation in the form of a dirge addressed to fellow-writers in Pakistan:

Friends, for long years

I have spun dreams of the moon and stars and spring for you,

Today my tattered garments hold nothing

But the dust of the road that we have travelled.

The music in my harp has been strangled

Its tunes buried by wails and screams

 Peace and civilization are the alms I crave

So that my lips can learn how to sing again.

Saadat Hasan Manto, was moved to write ‘Toba Tek Singh’. Manto wrote sparsely, each word carefully chosen. His diamond-hard prose was in polar contrast to the flowery language of many  contemporaries. He wrote about sexual frustration and its consequences, of jealousy and how it often led to murder. One of his stories, ‘Behind the Screen’, describes a wife’s revenge once she discovers her husband has a secret mistress. The wife takes the husband to his lover’s apartment and in his presence has her body chopped into tiny pieces. The story was based on an actual event that took place in the North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan. Manto spared his readers the real life ending: the wife  had her rival’s flesh cooked and forced her husband to eat the cooked flesh, a striking demonstration of the saying that truth is stranger than fiction. (footnote: cf Khalid Hasan, ‘Sadat Hasan Manto: Not of Blessed Memory’, Annual of Urdu Studies, 4, 1984, P.85)

‘Toba Tek Singh’  is a masterpiece, set in the lunatic asylum in Lahore at the time of Partition.  When whole cities are being ethnically cleansed, how can the asylums escape? The Hindu and Sikh lunatics are told by bureaucrats organizing the transfer of power that they will be forcibly transferred to  institutions in India.  The inmates rebel. They embrace each other and weep. They will not be parted willingly. They have to be forced on to the trucks. One of them, a Sikh, is so overcome by rage that he dies on the demarcation line which divides Pakistan from India. Confronted by so much  insanity in the real world, Manto discovered normality in the asylum. The ‘lunatics’ have a better understanding of the crime that is being perpetrated than the politicians who have agreed to Partition.

Few politicians on either side had foreseen the results. Jawaharlal Nehru’s romantic nationalism portrayed independence as a long-delayed “tryst with destiny”. He never imagined that the tryst would be bathed in countless gallons of Indian blood. This was partially the result of a failure by the Congress High Command to make the large Muslim minority an offer it could not refuse.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was a second-rate politician, but with a first-class lawyer’s brain. Initially he had used separatism as a bargaining ploy. Even later, he genuinely believed that the new state would simply be a smaller version of secular India, with one difference. Here Muslims would be the largest community. He really believed that he would still be able to spend some time every winter at his mansion in Bombay, the only city where he had found love and happiness.

Jinnah conceived of  Pakistan as an amalgamation of an undivided Punjab, an undivided Bengal together with Sind, Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province. This would have meant that forty percent of the Punjab would have consisted of Hindus and Sikhs and forty-nine percent of Bengal would have consisted of Hindus.   It was, alas, a utopian nonsense. Once confessional passions had been aroused and neighbors were massacring each other (as in the former Yugoslavia during the last decade of the 20th century) it was difficult to keep the two provinces united.

“I do not care how little you give me,” Jinnah is reported as saying in March 1947 to the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten,  “as long as you give it to me completely.”

A dying old man in a hurry, who could have been a willing collaborator in establishing a single state with important safeguards for the minority, had the Congress been capable of strategic insights, but now he wanted his own statelet, however small and awkward it might appear on the map.

India had come a long way in 1947. All previous rulers had attempted to govern with the consent of the ruling elites of whatever religion. The Mughal Emperors, themselves Muslims, had learnt this lesson very quickly and Akbar had unsuccessfully attempted to create a new religion synthesising Hinduism and Islam. Even the last of the great Mughals, the religious-minded Aurungzeb did not attempt any Islamicisation of his army:  his ablest Generals were Hindu chiefs!

The British, when confronted with the nightmare of actually governing India, realized that, despite their more advanced technology, they would not last too long without serious alliances. They could only govern India with the consent of its traditional rulers.  The raj was maintained by a very tiny British presence: in 1805 the pink-cheeked conquerors numbered 31,000; in 1911 they had grown to 164,000 and in 1931 there were 168,000. In other words the British in India never comprised more than 0.05 of the local population.

It was this fact that concentrated the finest minds of the raj on politics and strategy. The civil servants trained by Haileybury and other imperialist nurseries in Britain to govern a mighty sub-continent were political administrators, often of the highest order. They learned to speak Urdu and Bengali so that they could, when necessary, communicate directly with peasants and administer justice. They also learned how to divide local rulers from each other and how to fan religious prejudices. The birth of modern Sikhism and Hinduism owes a great deal to the British presence in India. In return, local potentates were permitted to learn English and taught the etiquette of nibbling cucumber sandwiches with His Excellency at Government House.

If the British had granted India self-government on the Canadian and Australian pattern after the First World War it is unlikely that the sub-continent would have been divided. Partition was not a planned conspiracy by either the British or Jinnah. It came about because of a combination of circumstance during the Forties, including the Second World War. Jinnah backed the war effort, the Congress demanded Independence. Some scores had to be settled. Pakistan was imperialism’s rap on the knuckle for Indian nationalism.

Nehru and Jinnah were both shaken by the orgy of barbarism. It offended all their instincts.  But it was Mahatama Gandhi who paid the ultimate price. For defending the right to live of innocent Muslims in post-Partition India he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a fundamentalist Hindu fanatic. Godse was hanged, but two decades later, Godse’s brother told Channel Four that he regretted nothing. What happened had to happen.

That past now rots in the present and threatens to further poison the future.  The political heirs of the hanged Godse are shoving aside the children of Nehru and Gandhi. The poisonous fog of the religious world has enveloped politics. History, unlike the poets and writers of the sub-continent, is not usually prone to sentiment.

Partition was a disaster, adjacent to which there lurked another. The two parts of Pakistan were divided by a thousand miles of India, culture, language and political tradition. The predominantly Punjabi military-bureaucratic elite belonged to West Pakistan, while the Bengali majority of the population (60%) lived in East Pakistan. The refusal of the military rulers to permit democracy led to a successful uprising in 1968. A dictator was toppled. In the elections that followed the Bengalis of East Pakistan won a big majority. They were not permitted to take office. The Army invaded the Eastern part of its own country.  There was a massacre of intellectuals and mass rape (Punjabi soldiers had been told to ‘change the genes’ of Bengalis forever) followed by a civil war. Bangladesh was born. One partition had led to another.

India, too, was severely damaged by Partition. The Nehru years (1947-64) disguised the processes underneath, but now the Furies are out into the open. Bombay, once the centre of cosmopolitanism is now Mumbai and under the sway of a neo-fascist Hindu organization. In their absurd search for a new Indian identity, the scoundrel parties have re-discovered Hinduism and sections of the ‘secular’ Congress have fallen into line.  Communal riots have claimed tens of thousands of lives over the last fifty years.

Manto was amongst the few who observed the bloodbaths of Partition with a detached eye.  He had remained in Bombay in 1947, where he worked for the film industry, but was accused of  favoring Muslims and was subjected to endless communal taunts, even from those who had hitherto imagined to be like him, but the secular core in many people did not survive the fire.  Manto came to Lahore in 1948, but was never happy. He turned the tragedies he had witnessed or heard into great literature. He wrote of the common people, regardless of ethnic, religious or caste identities and he discovered contradictions and passions and irrationality in each of them. In his work we see how normally decent people can, in extreme conditions, commit the most appalling atrocities. ‘Cold Meat’ is one such story. In 1952 he wrote: “My heart is heavy with grief today. A strange listlessness has enveloped me. More than four years ago when I said farewell to my other home, Bombay, I experienced the same kind of sadness…”

Years later he was still trying to come to grips with what had happened:

“Still, what my mind could not resolve was the question: what country did we belong to now, India or Pakistan? And whose blood was it that was being so mercilessly shed every day? And the bones of the dead, stripped of the flesh of religion, were they being burned or buried? Now that we were free who was to be our subject? When we were not free, we used to dream about freedom. Now that freedom had come, how would we perceive our past state?

“The question was: were we really free? Both Hindus and Muslims were being massacred. Why were they being massacred? There were different answers to the question; the Indian answer, the Pakistani answer, the British answer. Every question had an answer, but when you tried to unravel the truth, you were left groping.

“Everyone seemed to be regressing. Only death and carnage seemed to be proceeding ahead. A terrible chapter of blood and tears was being added to history, a chapter without precedent.

“India was free. Pakistan was free from the moment of its birth, but in both states, man’s enslavement continued: by prejudice, by religious fanaticism, by savagery.”

In a series of Open Letters to Uncle Sam he marked his displeasure at the state of world politics and Pakistan’s Security Pact with the US. He displayed a remarkable prescience as expressed in this extract from his ‘Third Letter to uncle Sam’, written shortly before his death:

“Another thing I would want from you would be a tiny, teeny weeny atom bomb because for long I have wished to perform a certain good deed. You will naturally want to know what.

You have done many good deeds yourself and continue to do them. You decimated Hiroshima, you turned Nagasaki into smoke and dust and you caused several thousand children to be born in Japan. Each to his own. All I want you to do is to dispatch me some dry cleaners. It is like this. Out there, many Mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the after-drops of urine as they resume their walk. This they do in full public view. All I want is that the moment such a person appears, I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the Mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding.

“As for your military pact with us, it is remarkable and should be maintained. You should sign something similar with India. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us, the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle.

“Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is a Kashmiri, so you should send him a gun which should go off when it is placed in the sun. I am a Kashmiri too, but a Muslim which is why I have asked for a tiny atom bomb for myself.

“One more thing. We can’t seem able to draft a constitution. Do kindly ship us some experts because while a nation can manage without a national anthem, it cannot do without a constitution, unless such is your wish.

“One more thing. As soon as you get this letter, send me a shipload of American matchsticks. The matchsticks manufactured here have to be lit with the help of Iranian-made matchsticks. And after you have used half the box, the rest are unusable unless you take help from matches made in Russia which behave more like firecrackers than matches.”

Given the circumstances it is hardly surprising that he sought solace in alcohol and drank himself to death. He had written over 200 short stories and had no doubt of  his place in literary history and left behind the following epitaph for himself:

“Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto. With him lie buried the arts of short-story telling. Here he lies underneath tons of mud still wondering if he was a better short-story writer than God.”

TARIQ ALI’s latest book “The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad’ was published by Verso.


Celebrating 100 years of Saadat Hassan Manto (May 1912-2012) – Lahore May 14-17/12

By Kanwal Dhaliwal from Uddari Art

Celebrating 100 years of Saadat Hassan Manto (May 1912-2012)
In collaboration with the
Lahore Arts Council
Presents a
Tribute to Manto
On 14th, 15th , 16th & 17th May 2012 at 7pm
VENUE: Hall #2, Alhamra the Mall, Lahore.

You are coordially invited to the following events
14th and 15th May
Siyah Hashiye
Toba Tek Singh
Khol Do
Adapted by: Shahid Nadeem
Directed by: Madeeha Gauhar
Dramatised Readings
Akhri Salute
By Naeem Tahir

16th and 17th May
Naya Qanoon
Adapted by: Shahid Nadeem
Directed by: Naseem Abbas
Dramatised Readings
Sawerey Jo Kal Ankh Mairee Khuli
Pardey ki Baatain
Dekh Kabira Roya
Uncle Sam Ke Khatoot
By Naveed Shahzad, Naseem Abbas, Furqan Majeed

More Information:
Ajoka: 042-36686634, 36682443, 36677047 Alhamra: 99200917-8

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Used copies of ‘Skeena’ selling for $307.53 at Amazon

A Facebook user Andrew John Gie, clicked over to Amazon to buy Fauzia Rafique’s novel ‘Skeena’ when he noticed that the price of a new copy is $20 yet two used copies are being offered at $307.53 each.

Fauzia’s response:
‘Hilarious. But also, after reading Skeena no one would want to really sell it.’

Thank you, Andrew. Yes indeed, it is being sold at $307.53 plus $3.99 shipping. The sellers are two businesses based in two different US states.

And here is the link:

New still at $20:

‘I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights’

Above is an incomplete sentence that has been banned by a Canadian school to protect children from ‘political messaging’. It is from one of Dr. Seuss series of books first published in the 50s but now it has been ‘reviewed’ in the context of a prolonged strike action by BC teachers, and perhaps the Occupy movement. O hillarity!

At Uddari, we would also recommend the following sentence:
DISPLAY DR SEUSS’s SENTENCE (in its incompletion) IN ALL CLASSROOMS ACROSS CANADA. Her’s an incarnation by TRAP, The Real Art of Protest.

by Jill Pantozzi

We’ve all heard of books being banned before, and as ridiculous as we may sometimes find the titles on those lists, none may be more ridiculous than this one. A school in Canada has chosen to ban Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle for being subversive to children. I do not like this one bit, in fact, it has me in a snit. (Don’t worry, that was my one and only attempt at rhyming in this article.)

Read on…


‘Capturing the Essence of Patriarchy in Skeena’ by Shikha Kenneth

Book Review

By Fauzia Rafique
Libros Liberated, Surrey, 2010
Pages: 206
Price: $20.00
Shikha Kenneth

A Vancouver-based South Asian Canadian writer of fiction and poetry, Fauzia Rafique captures the essence of patriarchy in her novel Skeena. The narrative, in fact, encompasses both the universality of patriarchal violence and the specificity of violence against women in Pakistan.

The story spans thirty years of existence of a Muslim woman named Skeena. Here the protagonist narrates her life history – from 1971 to 2001 – thereby lending an autobiographical touch to this fictional text. The novel is divided into four sections; each segment touches upon the various forms of violence introduced into Skeena’s life. The narrative focuses on Skeena’s interactions with her family, friends and community, and her observations about numerous aspects of social oppression such as patriarchy, religious fanaticism, immigration, racism, class distinction, war, etc.

The first section of the novel titled “The Inner Yard” opens with the image of a young Skeena finishing her homework which involves memorizing the phrase ‘thank you’ to store it in her vocabulary. The young protagonist is, in fact, continually and rigorously instilled with the code of femininity by the older women of her family. Obedience and submissiveness are required as feminine attributes within the socio-cultural ideology of Skeena’s community; however, Skeena is forbidden to demonstrate such qualities in front of lower castes and classes, thus throwing light on the hypocrisy and oppressiveness associated with social binaries. Rafique has, in effect, skillfully woven the complexities, contradictions, brutality and duplicity of various social practices into her narrative.

Since childhood Skeena is forced to witness the brutal consequences of the Islamic teaching propagated by a maulvi: “Good women are obedient to men” (41). According to him, physical violence is decreed by God as an apt punishment for women who attempt to transgress social conventions. The maulvi’s ideology – which he states to be authorized by religion – encourages village men to view violence as an essential factor which cements the male’s position of power within his community. Skeena witnesses several instances of violence inflicted on women often leading to the loss of their lives. For instance, a village youth named Gamu is not held accountable for his act of brutally murdering a woman because he is his mother’s only son. The lascivious Munshi’s marriage to young women of different ethnicities is lauded by Skeena’s community for he forces these Kafir women to accept Islam as their religion. Skeena’s best friend Nooro, a victim of the custom of dowry, is beaten severely by her female in-laws for daring to suck on a piece of lemon without their permission. All these instances instil a sense of determination within Skeena to attempt to transcend and overcome the violence-ridden social standards.

The second section of the novel aptly titled “Wild Elephant” shows Skeena entering her youth with an ambitious mind to challenge the injustices of society. Her family raises numerous objections to her plans. Skeena desires to attain a law degree but her mother and brother forbid her to enroll in any kind of co-educational institution. Her dream of participating in Asian Games for her college female hockey team is shattered for the mullahs issue a fatwa that it is “obscene” for women to enter any such sport (182). Skeena is prohibited by her mother from joining politics and advised to concentrate on learning her marital duties.

However, her association with a young Muslim woman activist named Ruffo proves a catalyst for Skeena’s breaking away from the shackles of societal conventions.
Ruffo drinks, smokes, and does not view woman’s virginity as being a requisite for matrimony. Her blatant disregard for narrow-minded social practices influences Skeena to oppose the patriarchal laws laid down by her mother. After Skeena is caught by the police for attending secret political conferences, her mother banishes her to their village, placing her under the servants’ surveillance. But this exile is not enough to suppress Skeena’s fighting spirit. She threatens violence to save Jeeno – wrongly accused of adultery by a maulvi – from the wrath of the villagers. Skeena thus ends up becoming the antithesis of the woman her community wants her to be.

In her introduction, Fauzia Rafique reveals that the name ‘Skeena’ has diverse meanings in different languages namely the “spirit of tranquility” in Arabic, the “indwelling feminine face of divinity” in Hebrew, and the “River of Mists” in Nisga people’s language. Skeena’s mother has raised her according to the values and qualities represented in her forename. But Skeena ruins all her mother’s efforts to cultivate her into an ideal patriarchal feminine figure. Skeena is self-aware, insightful, rational and empathetic to other women’s experiences of violence. She is aware that social biases are anathema to progress and she strives to rise above them. She is, in fact, the “wild elephant” threatening to trample the socially constructed patriarchal values promoted by her family. However, Rafique avoids turning her protagonist into a feminist revolutionary. The author keeps her writing realistic by showing Skeena being forced to surrender to familial pressure and married off against her will to her Canadian groom, a doctor named Ihtesham.

The next chapter of Skeena’s life comprises her nine-year marriage marked by domestic violence. Ihtesham basically relegates her to the position of a servant in their home. Moreover, he uses her to vent his sadistic impulses. Skeena’s mother-in-law is characterized as a “foul-mouthed, mean, selfish, and ruthless woman” (129). She too is a patriarchal subject who maintains her dominant status in the household by allowing her son to be physically abusive to his spouse. “Mumie Jee” deliberately creates conflict between the married couple by accusing Skeena of having illicit relations with one of their male acquaintances. However, she ignores her son’s extramarital affairs. The dynamics within Ihtesham’s family shows how patriarchy constitutes both men and women who would always associate themselves with different forms of violence to maintain control over others. Rafique also delves into the psyche of the victim of domestic violence. Despite witnessing violence throughout her young life, Skeena has never been a direct recipient of it until her marriage to Ihtesham. Moreover, her being an immigrant in Canada adds to her sense of detachment and passive stance towards violence. But once she manages to escape her marital home and reach a women’s shelter, her association with other battered women instills a sense of independence in her. She leaves behind her elitist notions such as viewing any form of help from women rescue centers as charity and despising menial jobs. With a broadened perspective Skeena relocates to Surrey, British Columbia.

The last section of this book focuses on Skeena’s quest for transcendence which involves her struggle to dissociate from the numerous social identities imposed on her. Living in Surrey as a divorced woman, Skeena comes across new people who pose a new set of challenges to her. She is forced to endure a dead-end job. Her boyfriend named Iqbal Singh comes off as emotionally abusive in his attempts to dissuade her from living an independent life. Moreover, she faces the brunt of racism when news of ‘twin towers destruction by Muslim terrorists’ hits the global media. Skeena is shunned by her close friends. She is put under police surveillance based on the past facts of her attending political meetings with Ruffo in Lahore as well as her persistent interest in women political activists. However, this “house arrest” has a different outcome than the previous two.

The novel ends with Skeena escaping from her apartment by jumping off the balcony with the notion “I have no history, I have no biography, I have no name” (206). The last chapter entitled “Teasing the Awake” shows Skeena facing hardships in her new environment but finally daring to take the first step in challenging patriarchal ideology. Skeena realizes that her social identification as an educated Muslim woman makes her the target of criticism and violence. Despite losing every relationship to different forms of violence, Skeena tries to disentangle herself from fear and oppression forced upon her by her biological, racial and socio-cultural history. The novel thus ends on a positive note.

Skeena can be viewed as Rafique’s detailed examination of patriarchy and the manner in which it operates in society. The author successfully captures those nuances of violence undergone by third world women which are often overlooked within the stream of feminism. Rafique puts forth various feminist realizations through Skeena’s perspective such as “it is difficult to fight for human rights when they are usurped by divinity” (182). Passive existence is often viewed as woman’s sole means to escape from violence. Indeed the fear of evoking the wrath of society forces most women to accept their own oppression. Moreover, most victims of violence are not able to cultivate the feeling of tolerance in their treatment of others. For instance, Skeena befriends a lesbian couple named Maggie who is a Jew, and Joyni, a Christian, in Surrey. But these differences that set them apart from social norms as well as from each other do not deter them from judging Skeena as their enemy after the terrorist attacks on America. Skeena is forced to battle the ideologies that hold men as being superior to women. Her brother, her husband Ihtesham, and her boyfriend Iqbal Singh (Gamu’s new persona to escape his past as a murderer) are all staunch followers of patriarchal ideology. Several scenes in the novel, in fact, shed light on the position of third world woman caught between the dogmas of their ethnicity and biology.

The novel makes it clear that the boom in technology and the rise of global media have not been successful in broadening the socio-cultural perspective. Instead these innovations may really be leading to an increase in insularity and violence. The novel takes a well-informed view of the way contemporary socio-political events have impacted women. Skeena’s interaction with women belonging to different ethnicities reflects the conflicting views that have arisen between Western feminist theory and third world feminism. For instance, there is a sense of impatience, lack of understanding, disdain, and frustration within the Canadian white women over Skeena’s failure to pull herself away from her cultural ties.
Rafique displays real authorial skills by managing to save her fictional work from turning into a sermon on feminism. She has been successful in uniting various contemporary topics of interest and presenting them in the form of an expansive, emotive, well-paced and realistic fictional work.

Published in
South Asian Ensemble
A Peer-reviewed Canadian Quarterly of Arts, Literature and Culture
Vol. 3, Number 4, Autumn 2011 &
Vol. 4, Number 1, Winter 2012
ISSN 1920-6763

Pages 223-28

For South Asian Ensemble
Editor Rajesh Kumar Sharma