‘Keerru’ by Fauzia Rafique reviewed by Rashid Javed Ahmed

Translated from Punjabi

Keerru : Punjabi novel

Novelist : Fauzia Rafique

Review : Rashid Javed Ahmed

It was by mere chance that I got to read this unique Punjabi novelette, thanks to Author Ayesha Aslam. Before this I had read Fauzia Rafique Jee’s poetry and I had published her Urdu poem ‘Zindagi thee / it was life’ in my magazine. I knew Fauzia Rafique Jee with reference to her work with Pakistan television Lahore where in better times my Punjabi and Urdu plays were also presented. I came to know of her earlier novel ‘Skeena’, and I have made a request to Sanjh Publication’s Amjad Saleem Minhas, Skeena’s publisher, for a copy. I will definitely read it if I get it.

Keerru is the story of Mohammad Hussain Keerru who is accused of blasphemy, he first escapes to Karachi from Lahore and then leaves for Canada. In Canada, he sees many colors of life and he adapts. Keerru’s mother arrives from Pakistan. She tells her story from the 1947 partition of the Punjab, what happened to her then, and how being a Christian she had to live in a Muslim cultural environment. She brings the novel to the next level by relating her story and talking about her marriage with Keerru’s father.   

In this novella every character tells us about their life themselves, and in this way Fauzia Rafique Jee has presented this story in a beautiful manner. There are five characters in the novelette: Keerru, Haleema, Naila, Isabella and Daljit. The story revolves around these people who have come out of their own countries to settle in Canada. The story of these characters creates a naked image of the class injustices and societal contradictions rampant in the Indian Subcontinent.

Haleema is the main character of this novelette, and her full name is Haleema Alice Bibi. Working as a servant in rich people’s homes, poor family’s daughter Haleema who never got the opportunity to go to school, is actually the most aware character of all. Haleema is a woman belonging to the lowest tier of her society and despite facing the various difficulties that life had subjected her to, and in spite of all the pain, hardship and sorrow, she still is able to have a sane mind. She is a personification of the highest values of humanity. Through Haleema’s character, Fauzia Jee has weaved all kinds of exploitation and injustice- whether religious or societal- so artfully that it has become its class identity. This is such a character created by the novelist that becomes the precursor for the whole body of thought behind the novella. Haleema and other people like her, die working day and night physically and mentally trying to sustain the systems of their lives. In this society, some people, some very few people try to support them but even they keep them out of their class. Living like insects, they believe that this is their fate and to change it or to come out of it is not in their power.

The second big character of the novelette is Haleema’s son Keerru. Saving his life from religious extremists, somehow, he arrives in Canada, and after working menial jobs for many years, he becomes the owner of a garments company. He has brought his mother over too who now lives with him and she takes good care of him and his friends. People often ask her the reasons why she named her son ‘keerru’, but to hear her answer, you’ll have to read the novelette because what will be the benefit in writing everything here. But I will definitely say one thing that Keerru’s character is a strange character who hates the reality of his inner self, there can’t be a bigger torture than this. I believe the name Keerru is given to him not by Haleema but by Fauzia Rafique herself, and what an amazing choice. Other than praising the beauty of the Punjabi language used, much admiration for using this name.

I will not talk about the rest of the characters because that would mean revealing most of the story, neither am I giving any ‘basic theme’ but the characters Fauzia Rafiq jee has created are full of life and they have distinct characteristics of their own. Through these characters, the readers come to know of the pain of exploitation of women and then the description of a charater’s rebellion as a way to come out of it. Repression of women has many forms and one of those is coercion and violence from man or husband, and many writers have spoken about it in their writings but what is a plus point with Fauzia Jee is that she did not make it into a slogan but through the story she has shown that the strength to be free of repression is also within women’s selves. Similarly, you will see the tall walls of social apartheid and casteism in the novelette.

I am not a critic but a reader of Punjabi and Urdu literature, and I have much appreciation for Fauzia Jee’s characterization. Five characters tell their stories in the language of ordinary people, sometimes they go in their pasts, then return to the present but the continuity of the story is never broken. The environment is described so well that the reader feels himself to be present there and everything passes in front of his eyes like a film.

About Keerru and Daljit’s relationship, Fauzia Jee has mentioned Shah Hussain and Madhu Lal, Bulleh Shah and Shah Inayat. Some people may object to it but I am in agreement with Fauzia Jee on this pointer.

I am very happy to have read Fauzia Jee’s novelette.     

Read Punjabi original at Penslips Magazine

View it on YouTube

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‘I’m Charlie / I’m Ahmad – Je Suis Charlie / Je Suis Ahmad’ by Fauzia Rafique

jesuischarlie

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.’ ― Noam Chomsky

I am Charlie
In protest and condemnation of the slaughter of 10 unarmed journalists of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, their bodyguard, and a police officer, by a faction of religious extremists who were ‘offended’ by the publication’s cartoon depictions of Prophet Mohammad.
Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws are based on this same thinking where hundreds of non-Muslims and Muslims face brutal lynchings and killings each year from militants claiming their religious sentiments were offended.
The perceived inciting of this ‘religious offence’ is given as a valid reason to shoot, kill, behead, stone, burn, drag- other humans.

I am Charlie
To stand with grieving families and friends now facing trauma of the violent killings of loved ones.

I am Charlie
To strengthen and support progressive movements in France and elsewhere so that this incident is not used to further victimize Muslims, immigrants, People of Color, rights activists and other outspoken or vulnerable groups.

I am Charlie
To show solidarity with Vive Charlie Hebdo! to uphold our right to Freedom of Expression.
charliehebdo-cover

I’m Charlie
To challenge the argument that because Charlie Hebdo is seen to be a ‘racist’ publication (or ‘bad’ journalism) feeding into the systemic racism and Islamophobia of French society, we should not be enthusiastic in condemning the killings or going all out in support of the Freedom of Expression movement. This gives me the chills. It reminds me of some of the ‘reasons’ or ’causes’ of rape given to us that are based on the belief that women cause themselves to be raped by wearing provocative clothes or by staying out late at night or any number of things; Or that a child’s playful behavior invites an adult abuser to sexually abuse them. To say that a racist publication was attacked because it purposefully offended religious sentiments of Muslims in France and elsewhere, is actually saying that the victims of violence caused the violence by offending the sentiments of the attackers. Isn’t this the basis of ‘honor’ killings, blasphemy killings, and other hate crimes against women, minorities and under-privileged people in Pakistan? As well, enough victim blaming and shaming happens against underprivileged population groups in Canada. It’s not about the publication or attacked persons nor it is about placing value on them, but fighting the mindset that wants to or needs to annihilate it’s critics.

I’m Charlie / I’m Ahmad
To honor the Muslim police officer who may or may not have been ‘offended’ by Charlie Hebdo but he gave his life defending the journalists.

I am Charlie
To resist and fight the loud echoes in my ‘progressive’ circles scaring people with ‘Islamophobia’ allegations; and, the convoluted thinking of extreme religious fundamentalists who are silencing people by inflicting death.

I am Charlie
To insist on my right to investigate, describe, satirize, humourize and criticize without fear everything that concerns me.

I may detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ —Voltaire

Images and some information from PEN American Center‘s facebook and web pages.
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The Art of Madonna (Part I)

Madonna has always been a visual performance-artist rather than a classic singer songwriter in the way of Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde.  While her songs and albums have enjoyed commercial and critical success, it is arguably in her visual medium, and her music videos in particular, where her artistic statements on sexuality, race and gender politics find their most potent and provocative expression.

Like a Prayer

Click here to play video: http://vimeo.com/44003277

 Like a Prayer (1989)

When Madonna originally envisioned the video for “Like a Prayer,” she wanted to tell the story of an interracial love affair in the South between a black boy and a white girl who run away together and then are shot by the Ku Klux Klan. Mary Lambert, the video’s director, felt instead that the song was about sexual and religious ecstasy. Madonna visualized this ecstasy as  making love on an altar, an image which finds its way into the video’s climax.

The video begins with Madonna fleeing the scene of a young woman’s murder. She enters a church and sees the statue of a black saint which appears to be weeping. She reclines on a pew, falls into a dream, and through a series of flashbacks, recounts herself witnessing a white woman being murdered by white men for which an innocent black man (who resembles the saint in the church) is arrested. In the video, Madonna kisses the feet of the black saint, experiences stigmata, dances before burning crosses and makes love with the black man/saint on the altar.

From the beginning of her career, Madonna had provoked controversy by toying with religious iconography and sexuality. The “Like a Prayer” video added race to create an unholy trinity. Religious groups across America decried the video as blasphemous. The Pope banned Madonna from appearing in Italy and urged a national boycott of Pepsi which had featured Madonna and the song in a new commercial. Religious and family groups in America urged similar boycotts. Pepsi quickly pulled the commercial from TV airwaves. The video nevertheless topped critics list, winning recognition from Rolling Stone and Billboard as one of the top videos of the 1980’s and of all time, and winning MTV’s 1989’s “Viewer Choice” Award.

The “Like a Prayer” video presents a number of themes for analysis. Although the black saint in the video may be a replica of Martin de Porres (the patron saint of interracial harmony), the narrative of the video – where a black man tries to save a white woman and takes the fall for the men that murdered her – implies that this saint may be in fact be a (black) Jesus, something likely given the resemblance between the black man and the statue in the church, both played by Leon Robinson.

The love-making on the altar can also be interpreted symbolically. On the one hand, the image – along with the scenes of the burning crosses, the bleeding eye of the statue – can be seen tragically as the martyrdom of black men by White America for kissing, gazing or even wanting white women. On the other hand, Grant interprets the love-making as the most poignant scene of the video, driving home the message of racial equality.

Why the video provoked such a religious outcry is also a question. Robinson describes the video as “great for anyone religious – it shows Madonna witnessing an attack and then going to a church for guidance” – in this case, to confront the police as an eye witness to the crime the black man was wrongly accused of and have him set free. The Black Jesus alone was perhaps going too far from some. In this sense, Madonna’s dancing in front of the burning crosses not only symbolizes racial hatred in America and how it is institutionalized through iconography, but how it can be smashed as well.

Further Reading:

Santiago Fouz-Hernandez and Freya Jarman-Ivans. Madonna’s Drowned Worlds.