Iftikhar (Ifti) Nasim

By Ijaz Syed

NEW YORK, July 23: Iftikhar Nasim, a poet of Pakistan origin, died in Chicago of heart attack on Friday. He was 64.

The Faisalabad-born Ifthikhar Nasim – poet and Gay activist – had moved to the United States to pursue higher studies in law, but his passion was poetry. He wrote in three languages — Urdu, Punjabi and English.

A life sketch on the web says: “Ifti (as he was known in US) devoted his life to writing and has performed and published poetry in English, Urdu and Punjabi all over the world.”

Raana Javed, a lover of Nasim`s works, paid a moving tribute to the poet: ‘Our community has lost an important figure, but we must continue to be inspired by his activism, his art, and his exuberance… I have lost a special friend, but I will attempt to sustain the difficult work that he has done, and widen the path he has laid.’

The Person
1. http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2011/07/rip-iftikhar-nasim.html
2. http://www.desiclub.com/community/culture/culture_article.cfm?id=56
3. http://www.glhalloffame.org/index.pl?todo=view_item&item=91

The Poet
A video clip of a reading many years ago (1996?) . Introduced by Dr. Azra Raza.
http://www.dawn.com/2011/07/24/anniversary-how-i-started-writing.html
A later longer clip
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6059382105079073443

From Pakistan to Roger Park
4/22/2001
Chicago Tribune – Arts & Entertainment
By Cara Jepsen

Ifti Nasim has gotten in trouble for his writing ever since he was growing up in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad), Pakistan. It started when he was 16, at a protest against martial law. He was standing at the lectern, reading a politically charged poem. Suddenly the auditorium doors flew open, and a soldier shot him in the leg. Someone pulled him out of the way before he caught another bullet.

“I put a cloth on my leg and went home,” says Nasim, 53. “I didn’t tell anyone. The next day my sister came into my room and saw blood all over.” The wound became infected, and he was bedridden for six months.

The ordeal ruined a promising career in classic Kathak dance, which relies on intricate footwork. But it did nothing to diminish his budding activism. “When my parents found out, they were very upset,” he says. “They told me not to demonstrate. Of course I didn’t listen to them.”

But that was the least of his worries. Nasim had known from an early age that he preferred men to women, but he had learned to keep it under wraps. “I could not tell anyone that I could not be with girls – that I liked them so much I wanted to be one,” he says. “In Islam you can never be a homosexual. You might as well be a dead person.”

His parents arranged a marriage for him. “I did not want to live a double life,” he says. “I did not want to leave a wife at home and go out and pick up guys. I thought that was a dishonest way of living.” He’d read a Life magazine article that showed “gay people living happily ever after in the U.S.” and talked his father into bankrolling a three-month trip to America.

The months turned into years. He enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit, continued to write and worked to bring the rest of the family over. He’d assumed his sexuality was a passing stage until he moved to Chicago in 1974 and into the thick of the gay disco scene. “At first I was afraid to go into a gay bar,” he says. “But I went in. They were the nicest people on the planet earth. I said, What the [heck]-why haven’t I been here before? It was a non-stop party; I loved it.”

He also saw some terrible things, such his friends’ getting beaten up and robbed by homophobes. “I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes,” he says. “What had happened to the Life magazine story? But the gay liberation movement was on, and I joined.”

When he wasn’t selling cars at Loeber Motors (he quit several years ago to write full time, but still drives a gold Mercedes), he wrote poetry in Urdu, Punjabi and English, and continued to hit the clubs. In his poem ” A Car Salesman Blues,” he writes, “My show room is my stage and / I have a stage fright. I am smiling now but my ulcer is flaring up / One more rejection and I shall fall down / Like a mud wall in the rain.”

Nasim, who favors fur jackets and ample jewelry, has written three books of poems in Urdu that deal with the ostracism of homosexuals in Third World countries. The most popular, “Narman” (it means hermaphrodite in Persian), was distributed underground in India and Pakistan and sparked a movement called narmani, or honest poetry; While spawning an awareness of gay rights, it also earned him death threats from religious groups.

In 1986 he co-founded Sangat/ Chicago, a South Asian Les/Bi/Gay/Transgender organization and support group that takes its name from the Sanskrit word for togetherness. “They’re lost when they come here and find out they’re homosexuals,” .he says. “They are a minority within a minority.”

That work got him inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1996. But his frankness about his sexuality has alienated the family he brought over from Pakistan, with whom he has an uneasy truce. “My family isn’t my problem anymore,” he says. “I guess I’m their problem.”

He doesn’t plan on showing them his new book, “Myrmecophile: Selected Poems, 1980-2000” (Xlibris, 2000), the cover of which shows him in an over-the-top drag getup. (a myrmecophile is defined as an insect of a foreign species that lives more or less permanently in an ant colony;) Its personal and political poems are laced with humor and outrage and touch on everything from pedophilia and homophobia to Princess Diana and the nature of God.

In “Infanticide,” he writes, “In some primitive tribes / there was a custom: / the parents bury their female offspring /alive. / The birth of a male child was celebrated. / To be gay is like being born as a female offspring. / I would rather be buried alive…

When he’s not working on a novel set in the disco era, Nasim pens a weekly column for the Pakistan Express newspaper. In it he’s been critical of Muslim policies toward women and homosexuals. “I’m basically a Muslim person,” he says. “I don’t practice. But I compensate by helping other people, by doing my activism, But I don’t think activism should be extreme, either.”

His work inspires extreme reactions, On March 12 Nasim was at a restaurant near his Rogers Park apartment when a Muslim I man called him an “abomination” and allegedly threatened him with a knife. Nasim pressed charges.

He can’t discuss the incident -the court date is May 1- but Nasim says the notoriety surrounding it has deflected attention from his book. “The issue of my being a serious writer is being overlooked now,” he says. “I don’t like it. But in a way I’m relieved “that people are noticing finally the structure we put into place [in past decades] for gay and lesbian rights. We are seeing the results now. We are standing up for our rights. In a different time I would have walked away; Now I refuse to do that”
http://www.tullman.com/ff/iftibook/default.asp.
.

ABID MINTO REMEMBERING FAIZ in San Jose CA – July 16/11

FAIZ AHMAD FAIZ Centenary Celebration 2011
ABID MINTO REMEMBERING FAIZ
SATURDAY JULY 16th, 2011
5:30 PM SHARP
VENUE: PACC
1590 Oakland Road, Suite B213
San Jose, CA 95131
408-676-7725

DEAR HEART (Staged reading)
A Short Play
By Sam Litham & Munib Anwar
Stage Adaption by Saqib Mausoof
Featuring:
Jessica Risco as Alys
Kashif Maqsood as Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Produced by:
Ijaz Syed
Presented by:
FRIENDS OF SOUTH ASIA
PAKISTAN AMERICAN CULTURAL CENTER
Faiz Centenary Celebrations Committee

FAIZ was one of the most acclaimed poets of South Asia, born in Sialkot, Pakistan, writing in Urdu & Punjabi. He allied his poetry and person not only with the aspirations of Pakistanis but also with the international movement for peace and human rights. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

FAIZ’s outspoken condemnation of injustice and inequality led to the charges of high treason and was imprisoned. A romantic revolutionary poet kept writing, conventional theme of love & beauty submerged in larger social & political issues, Dast-e-Saba & Zindan Nama, two collections of modernist poetry blended with classical Urdu & Farsi tradition.

He was friends with Nazim Hikmet and Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Laureate.

FAIZ’s poetry is a message of hope for the people longing for peace and freedom, a source of inspiration for those seeking to build a just society.

ABID MINTO is currently the elected President of National Workers Party (NWP) of Pakistan, Abid Hassan Minto Minto (born 3rd February 1932, Rawalpindi, Pakistan) is a constitutional expert and senior lawyer of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He is also a literary critic and a leftwing civic and political leader. His legal career spans over 50 years during which he was elected member of the Pakistan Bar Council from 1966 up to 1983; President, Lahore High Court Bar Association (1982); Chairman, National Coordination Committee of Lawyers (1981 to 1985) and President, Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBA) (1997 to 1999).

Minto became a member of The Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) in 1949 and remained with it until it was banned in 1954 after the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case along with the Democratic Students Federation (DSF) which was also co-founded by Minto in 1949 while at Gordon College.

For More Information:
IJAZ SYED
Home: 408-629-5157
Cell:408-838-0952
E-Mail: syedi@sbcglobal.net
E-Fax : (413) 604-2161

Download PDF Poster.
.

Jindan Kaur of Cheechon-ke-Malian

‘JindaN Kaur! Tere sadke, Bibi!
TooN vadh hyateyaN maanaiN
TooN uchi, tera naaN hai ucha
Aakh na pawan pleed-zubanaiN’


By Majid Sheikh
Sunday, 18 Apr, 2010

“Baoo, mera akhri saa barra mitha hoyay ga.”

On Friday, I went to attend the book launching ceremony of Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah and the Partition of 1947 at a local private golf club. As I had read the book when it was first launched, a question lurked in my mind about what the future held for the ‘sub-continent of hate’ that we live in.

As the book launch was consigned to `partial chaos’ as participants launched, on invitation, into tea and cakes before the ceremony began, it was best to quietly leave and ponder over the suffering the partition of 1947 had brought to the poor of our land. As the posh of Lahore tucked into sweet delights, outside the heat beat down harsh and fast. My thoughts swayed from my usual Sunday article to focus on the outcome of a remarkable person we are researching with regard to the events of 1947, a `holocaust’ the sort the world has seldom seen, definitely the largest exodus in human history and one that our elders are still ashamed to discuss openly. For this I condemn my elders, for they have not been truthful about our past.

That is why what Jaswant Singh has to say in his book needs much deeper and honest appreciation by all, especially Indians. Sadly, both have their eyes shut tightly to the reality of partition. Let me dwell on my research subject, and as she lives on the edge of Lahore, her story needs to be described. We must not make the mistake our elders have made. We must confront the truth, and face it for a better future.

Last month while on a research visit to a village near Cheechon-ke- Malian, just 18 miles outside Lahore to the west, I set off in search of an old woman a worker in my place of work described as `Sikhnee’. The description had an allure to it, and as we are researching the subject, it made sense to meet this `Sikhnee’. At first her son, the bearded village `mullah’, refused to let us talk to the old woman. After a considerable persuasion, we managed with the promise not to direct others to their house, and that we would not name him or his mother. To this promise we stick.

We met this old woman, aged approximately 78 if our calculations are correct, whose sun-tanned skin had freshness to it. The wrinkles on her face depicted her silent suffering. Maybe it was a thought in my mind. She was not bent as old women tend to be, but was a strong, well-set healthy woman used to working hard in the fields and in the house. Her name now is Fatima Bibi. Her husband was also the village `mullah’ and she married him in 1947. He died almost six years ago. “Jeth de pheli nu moya se,” said Fatima Bibi. She served me with a cold drink, and her great grandson also got one in the bargain.

Her story goes like this. Her real name was Jindan Kaur and her father’s name was Heera Singh Bhatti. They belonged to a village outside Sheikhupura just before Jandiala a hundred yards from the main `moogha'(water channel) as she put it.

In August 1947, their village was attacked by a Muslim mob. A few Sikh elders decapitated their daughters before the mob could reach the young girls. Ultimately, they were saved by the army, who came in two trucks full of soldiers. The entire village of Sikhs was taken to the Sheikhupura railway station and they were put into a railway bogey stuffed like animals and bound for Lahore, from where they were to go onwards to Amritsar in the new India, their new home.

Jindan then described the blood-curdling event of how their train was attacked near Cheechon-ke- Malian railway station. Every male member, including children, as well as old women, was hacked to pieces. “Tootay kar ditay sadday.” The young Jindan was taken away by the local toughs and they did what frenzied men do. “Javani lut lai. Kakh na chaddaya. Rool dita. Jeenday gee marya ve nahi.”

There were no tears in her eyes, for mine had welted on listening to her description of events. She looked at me and said: “Baoo, athroo da koi faida nai jaddon mera bapoo tootay ho gay.” The fate of her dear father had sealed time for her. She was the 15-year old Jindan when she talked lovingly of him. Her son was getting uneasy as she started to open up. I changed the topic to calm him. The ruse worked well. After a while I started off again to listen to what happened to Jindan Kaur alias Fatima Bibi.

The train had about 105 women, most of them young. Jindan was then a mere 15-year old. She was raped by a number of men, she does not recall the number. The young village mullah took her to his house after the `animals’ had satiated their lust. He nursed her to health. He then advised that she convert to Islam and he would marry her. It was a noble deed by any reckoning. He took her glazed eyes and her silence as acceptance for his offer. A year later, soldiers came to the village and offered all kidnapped Hindu and Sikh women to get on an army lorry to be taken to India. They, however, warned, that Sikhs were killing all their own women who had been dishonoured. Life continued to offer no choices.

Jindan was pregnant. She had no family to go to. Life did not offer a choice. For her life began and ended that fateful day. The rest has been mere existence and she waits for the day when she will be released from her mortal remains. The old Punjabi woman described her fate as only she could: “Baoo, mera akhri saa barra mitha hoyay ga.” Her son scoulded her for the remark.

The victims of 1947 abound in the villages of Punjab. In 2010 they are forgotten. The description `Sikhnee’ is a slur that she bears without malice. Her four sons and five daughters do not like the way people call her. Hate has an unforgiving element. Inconspicuous references hide a story, often one of pain and suffering. If only she could again call herself Jindan Kaur with pride and without feeling guilty. That day will surely come, of this I have no doubt.

There are thousands like her in Pakistan and India. They are the forgotten people our elders shut their eyes to. That is why preserving the truth of 1947 is critical if we are to claw our way back to normalcy. That is why what Jaswant Singh has to say matters too. That is why I left the `tea and cakes’ mob to think about Jindan Kaur. Life still does not offer her any choice.

Daily DAWN, Pakistan
From Ijaz Syed
syedi@sbcglobal.net

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Prof Hari Sharma (1934-2010)


Southasian activist, academic, visionary
Prof Hari Sharma (1934-2010)

‘It is with deepest sorrow that we announce the death of our friend and comrade, Hari Prakash Sharma, on March 16 following a prolonged battle with cancer. Hari took his last breath in his home of 42 years at Burnaby (a suburb of Vancouver), British Columbia, surrounded by his comrades Harinder Mahil, Raj Chouhan, and Chin Banerjee. All of them had come together in 1976 to form the Vancouver Chapter of the Indian People’s Association in North America (IPANA), which had been founded by Hari and many others at a meeting in Montreal in 1975.

‘Hari was born on November 9, 1934 at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh though his family came from Haryana. His father was a railway employee, so he moved from one place to another wherever his father was posted. Hari received his BA from Agra University and his Master’s in Social Work from Delhi University. The insight into the social life of India Hari got from his travels by train enabled by his father’s employment in the railways and his extensive travels by foot through the villages of India stimulated Hari to start writing short stories in Hindi. Hari is regarded as one of the finest writers of short stories in Hindi and many people had urged him to resume his writing in Hindi. One of his stories was adapted as a play and staged in New Delhi.

‘Hari moved to the US in 1963 for further education and did his Master in Social Work from the Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, in 1964 and Ph.D. in sociology from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY in 1968. He taught briefly at UCLA before accepting a position at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia in 1968, where he stayed till his retirement in 1999. He was honored by the University as Professor Emeritus.

‘Hari, like many enlightened academics of the 1960’s plunged in the anti-Vietnam war movement in the US and Canada. This is also the period when he espoused Marxism, which ideology he held dearly and steadfastly until his death.

‘As a member of the Faculty of Simon Fraser University he became a champion of the academic rights of colleagues who were faced with the threat of dismissal for their support of the student-led movement for democratizing the university. He became an associate and friend of another Marxist Kathleen Gough, who was suspended for her political activities. Kathleen Gough and Hari P. Sharma co-edited the 469-page book, Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia, which was published in 1973 by the Monthly Review Press, New York. The book was sought by political activists of that time and many people know of Hari as an eminent leftist scholar because of that book.

‘The 1960’s were a period of international revolutionary upheaval. The Naxalbari peasant uprising happened in the spring of 1967. Hari was greatly inspired by it. He went to India and visited Naxalbari area. It is then he got committed to the path opened by Naxalbari and retained his faith in its ultimate success until his last days, while many of his comrades had simply written off Naxalbari as a thing of the past. Hari developed contact with peasant revolutionaries and maintained a living contact till his last days.

‘While associating with the Naxalbari movement in India, Hari carried on anti-imperialist work in Vancouver through the weekly paper, Georgia Straight, published by the Georgia Straight Collective, of which he was a founding member. In 1973 Hari went to the Amnesty International in London and the Commission of Jurists in Geneva and sent a written representation to the UN Human Rights Commission to publicize the condition of more than thirty-thousand political prisoners in Indian jails.

‘In 1974 he and his comrade Gautam Appa of the London School of Economics organized a petition of international scholars to protest the treatment of political prisoners in India, which he handed to the Indian Consulate in Vancouver, BC on August 15 of the same year.

‘In 1975 Hari enthusiastically accepted an invitation from his friends in Montreal. He along with many others founded the Indian People’s Association in North America (IPANA) on June 25, 1975, exactly on the same day on which Indira Gandhi declared the State of Emergency in India. Hari’s tireless work against dictatorship in India and in defense of political prisoners and oppressed peoples, and his energetic organization of progressive people across North America in the struggle against imperialism and for social justice, led to the revocation of his passport by the Indira Gandhi government in 1976.

‘Having engaged in various anti-racist struggles in the 1970s, IPANA in Vancouver, under Hari’s leadership became a primary force in the formation of the British Columbia Organization to Fight Racism (BCOFR: 1980), which proved to be an extremely effective instrument against the tide of racism in the province at the time. Hari and IPANA also played a leading role in the formation of the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union (CFU: 1980), which for the first time took up the cause of farm workers who had been historically excluded from protection under the labour laws and any protective regulation.

‘From the 1980s Hari’s work also began to focus on the condition of minorities in India, which came to a crisis with the attack on the Golden Temple and the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Hari stood firm in his defense of the human rights of Sikhs and, increasingly of Muslims who became the primary targets of the rising Hindutva forces gathered under the banner of the Bhartiya Janata Party. He organized a parallel conference on the centralization of state power and the threat to minorities in India to coincide with the Commonwealth Conference in Vancouver in 1987.

‘In 1989 Hari brought large sections of the South Asian community together to form the Komagata Maru Historical Society to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident, in which Indian immigrants traveling to Canada on a chartered ship were turned away from the shores of Vancouver by the racist policies of the Canadian Government. As a result of the society’s work a commemorative plaque was installed in Vancouver. In 2004, during a screening of the documentary film on this incident by Ali Kazimi, Continuous Journey, the Mayor of Vancouver presented a scroll to Hari dedicating the week to the memory of Komagata Maru.

‘Following the attack on Babri Masjid in December 1992 Hari became the prime mover in the formation of a North American organization dedicated to the defense of minority rights in India called, Non-resident Indians for Secularism and Democracy (NRISAD). This organization brought together Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Christians of origin in South Asia through educational and cultural activities. It had its most significant moment in Vancouver in 1997, when it celebrated the 50th anniversary of the independence of India from colonial rule by bringing together people from the entire spectrum of the South Asian community to focus on how much remained to be done on the subcontinent and the urgent need for peace between Pakistan and India.

‘Recognizing the need to build a North American front against the growing menace of Hindutva fascism in India, Hari travelled to Montreal in September 1999 to join the founding of International South Asia Forum (INSAF). He became its first President and organized the Second Conference in Vancouver from August 10-12, 2001.

‘Hari’s leadership again led to the development of NRISAD into South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD) in Vancouver to embrace the necessity of going beyond a focus on India to the entire South Asian region in the quest of peace and democracy based on secularism, human rights and social justice. SANSAD has pursued these goals vigorously, condemning the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 (for which he was denied a visa to go to India), championing the human rights of Kashmiris, promoting peace between Pakistan and India, supporting the rights of women in Pakistan, condemning violence against journalists and academics in Bangladesh, supporting the movement for democracy and social justice in Nepal, and defending the human rights of Tamils under the attack of the Sri Lankan state.

‘Besides being an able political organizer and a gifted writer of short stories, Hari was also a talented photographer. He photographed the common people of India, their lives and struggles. His photographs hang in many homes and have been displayed in many exhibitions. He proved himself to be an excellent director of political drama.

‘Political ideals remain steadfast. However, there has, naturally been, divergence of opinion on the strategy and tactics of achieving these ideals. During the course of long political activity of more than 50 years, Hari made many friends and comrades. It is natural that among these comrades there also arose disagreements on many issues. Nevertheless, Hari remained a comrade or a friend of all of them and they all are deeply saddened by his passing away.

‘Hari leaves behind him a legacy of activism in the service of the oppressed. He is an inspiration to engagement in the struggle for a better world, to a never-flagging effort to create a world without exploitation, without imperialist domination, without religious, caste, ethnic or gender oppression, a world that Marx envisioned as human destiny.’

Chin Banerjee
Harinder Mahil
Raj Chouhan
Daya Varma
Vinod Mubayi
Charan Gill
SANSAD

From Ijaz Syed at syedi@sbcglobal.net

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Lahore’s First Punjabi Bookstore Deemed Shut

Kitab Trinjan (KT), the first dedicated shop of Punjabi books in Lahore, is due to close end of this month.

Kitab Trinjan was established in 1997 to encourage the publishing and dissemination of Shahmukhi Punjabi literature in a situation where Punjabi books were shunned away by the ‘regular’ bookshops that were happy instead to sell the more ‘lucrative/prestigious’ Urdu and English books. With regard to the privilege enjoyed by English and Urdu at the regular book shops, however, the situation in 2009 remains more or less the same.

In the last 12 years, thanks to the continuous and ongoing volunteer work of Zubair Ahmed Jan, Kitab Trinjan has sold more than 1,200,000 (12 Lakh) Punjabi books; bought 7,71,635 books from other publishers; published works created by modern Punjabi writers under various imprints; but most of all, has built a cultural community unique to itself. This community is built by extending regular interaction, support and contribution to literary communities of the Punjab, Panjab and the Diaspora. Zubair’s ongoing support to Sangat Shah Hussain in Lahore, to the online Punjabi news and cultural digest Wichaar.com, to the largest online archive of Punjabi Gurumukhi/Shahmukhi literature Apnaorg, to the only Punjabi literary quarterly magazine that prints simultaneously in Gurumukhi and Shahmukhi Temahi Sanjh, for example, has strengthened the respective organizations and cultural communities.

I had the opportunity to visit Kitab Trinjan in its very first year when Activist Zafaryab Ahmed told me in Islamabad about it, and later introduced me to Author Zubair Ahmed who was instrumental in establishing, and then managing it. Later, i went to the shop, a 1.4-roomed top floor of a depleted inner city building in Lahore, though inside, it was the most inspiring place to be. In fact, that was the first time that i had actually seen hundreds of Shahmukhi Punjabi titles in one place. It created a feeling of wonderment where i was enchanted also by the fact that the development of Punjabi literature was not in the hands of policymakers of Pakistan but us, the writers and readers of Punjabi.

Here is a 1998 photo of Kitab Trinjan from the outside, taken by Amarjit Chandan, a long time supporter of KT.

Kitab Trinjan. Lahore..1999. Pic Amarjit Chandan(2)

Detail, Kitab Trinjan by Amarjit Chandan, 1998

In 2006 and 2007, i found Kitab Trinjan in a newer, bigger and brighter place. It was doubtless the most well-organized and well-managed book shop of the three Punjabi book sellers on and around Mozang Chowk since Zubair had help from KT’s only paid worker, Ghulam Haider who worked as a full time sales associate.

The following are the reasons given for the closure of Kitab Trinjan: That there were no Punjabi book stores in 1997 and now there are two more that are operating as full time businesses; That there is duplication of services between Suchet Kitab Ghar and Kitab Trinjan; That KT is limited by its voluntary nature; and, that Zubair Ahmad, the Volunteer Manager of KT, wants to focus on his creative work.

The above reasons do not jell with me as they defy all logic; and in that, it seems that this decision is taken for the benefit of less than half a dozen people instead of the benefit of even those 6,896,000 Punjabis who were living in the city of Lahore just after Kitab Trinjan first opened its doors. In the 1998 Census, the total population of Lahore was counted as 6.8 Million, however, later estimates indicate that the population of Lahore was 10 million in 2006.

My problem is as follows:
The first reason encourages us to believe, in defiance of all demographic considerations, that perhaps there are no Punjabi speakers in the additional 3.2 Million people that were counted as living in Lahore in 2006; that may be there is no increase in the city population since 2006; or if the population increased it did no sprout any new buyers of Punjabi books; that there are no new students of Punjabi language; and, certainly no new lovers of Punjabi literature. Else, the simple fact of population increase would have been enough to justify the continued existence of, at least, these three Punjabi book stores. In other words, such reasoning suggests that 3 BOOK STORES are too many for 6 to 8 MILLION Punjabi speakers of Lahore.

The second reason perpetuates confusion as it meddles with the roles of Suchet Kitab Ghar a Publisher of books and magazines who operates as a distributor/retailer to support its primary role as a Publisher; and Kitab Trinjan, a Bookseller/Distributor who has published books only on occasion.

The third and the fourth reasons are issues that can easily be resolved by Zubair himself if given the chance. Having an outlet for Punjabi books at his home in one of the suburbs of Lahore will eliminate the daily hardship, and leave more time for creative work.

I also do not share the ‘expatriate’s politically correct’ statement forwarded by my friend and another long time supporter of KT, Ijaz Syed, in his response to the closure of Lahore’s first Punjabi book shop.
‘My heartiest felicitations to the Central Committee members for taking this timely decision! Kitab Trinjan played its historical pioneering role in the publication and distribution of punjabi books at a time when this service was most needed. In my view, along with other Central Committee friends, a lot of credit for maintaining and managing Kitab Trinjan for these twelve long years rightly goes to Zubair Jan. Of course, none of this would have happened without Najam Sahab‘s benevolent presence.’

In accordance with the ‘enlightened expatriate’s politically correct guide’, a non-critical acceptance and appreciation of this decision has duly been tendered by Ijaz, else, why would he call it a ‘timely decision’? Is it really the requirement of this time to close one of the three (progressive) Punjabi book centers in Lahore?
Na!
I think it’s time to relocate this one, and open the fourth.
Tell you why.
When Kitab Trinjan was selling an average of 1 lakh books per year, Suchet Kitab Ghar and Sanjh Publications were also registering sales, I am willing to bet on it! So, if in the last 12 years, all three have shown an increase in sales, i don’t see why Kitab Trinjan needs to shut. Also, if the establishment of a sales/distribution center by Suchet Kitab Ghar (and Sanjh) did not have a negative impact on Kitab Trinjan, why now, Kitab Trinjan needs to be eliminated in the interest of one or both?

Maqsood Saqib of Pancham/Suchet and Amjad Salim of Sanjh Publications have, for different reasons, earned my un-wavering respect and love as people and professionals; and, i fully support the work of both. The same, may be more so, is true for Zubair Ahmad of Kitab Trinjan.

In other words, Bawa Jees te Bawi Jees, please do not be presenting Lahore in such narrow terms. The City and its people need and deserve all three of these wonderful spaces to develop Punjabi literature; and still, a few more. Not less!

Fauzia Rafique
gandholi.wordpress.com
frafique@gmail.com

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On the Passing of Ahmed Faraz by Moazzam Sheikh

1 October 2008

It would be accurate to say that Faraz was the most famous and beloved twentieth-century Urdu poet from the subcontinent, after Iqbal (1877-1938) and Faiz (1911-1984). He may even be the most sung or popular among his contemporaries in any South Asian language. This is no small feat, since many of Faraz’s contemporaries have penned verse that is considered equally serious and innovative.

Destiny often plays a role for he who meets fame in his lifetime, or whose genius is unearthed after he has become dust and earth. Let me elaborate: It is difficult to understand the world of Urdu poetry from outside. Urdu poetry, especially in the ghazal format, cannot be separated from its counterpoint: the musical tradition of singing ghazals. In India and Pakistan, there is a breed of singers who primarily sing ghazals. The best of them are referred to as ghazal maestros. These singers work diligently to perfect their craft and dedicate it to ghazal singing, resisting the temptation to become film playback singers or pure classical singers of raags. Great singers treat evocative and subtle ghazals avec grand soin. Conversely, some ghazals have achieved iconic status, and, singers feel honored to have sung a ghazal by Ghalib or Mir and are judged against the major singers who have performed the ghazals before them.

Poets can be deeply indebted to a singer for a particular tune. Often a famous ghazal is sung by many singers and of course many times by the same singer, each time with a different embellishment, a new aspect in a line, a word, or a note. Ahmed Faraz was, perhaps, luckiest in this respect. The great Indian playback singer, Lata Mangeshkar, the nightingale of South Asia, once praised the Pakistani ghazal maestro Mehdi Hasan for his voice, saying Lord Rama’s chariot had passed through his throat. It should be noted that the ghazal Lata alluded to, Mehdi Hasan’s most famous, both in India and Pakistan and beyond, sung in the semi-classical mode, “Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhane ke liye aa” (If you’re still angry, then, come even if it is to hurt my heart) was penned by none other than Ahmed Faraz.

But many years before the ghazal in Mehdi Hasan’s voice took India by storm, it had already been a mega hit as a film song in a Pakistani film, Mohabbat, sung by Hasan. Hasan provided the singing voice to Mohammad Ali, the movie’s star. The fact that a ghazal could be taken by a film music director and put into the service of a commercial enterprise speaks volume about the kind of fame, respect and love Ahmed Faraz had come to enjoy.

Faraz is predominantly a poet of ghazals, although he wrote poems as well, many of which became very popular both in India and Pakistan as well as wherever people can speak or understand Urdu or Hindi. As a Pakistani, I grew up hearing his name all around me. Music directors picked his ghazals for their movies, in which he lent his voice to my favorite actors, like Nadeem and Mohammad Ali. Pakistan Television often invited singers, both male and female, to record their renditions of Ahmed Faraz’s famous ghazals. Those recordings were then beamed all over the country. Often the movie and the non-movie versions competed against each other. One of Faraz’s best-loved ghazals “Yeh alam shauq ka dekha na jaaye” (Intolerable is this state of desiring) is one such gem. It has been sung for the screen by Naheed Akhtar, a great playback singer of her time, ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali, and Tahira Syed, who performed it for Pakistan Television. The last of these is the most haunting, in my humble view.

No South Asian writer’s work can be fully appreciated without the lens of colonialism and post-colonialism. With the interference and meddling of the British (acting under the influence of a Victorian and post-Renaissance mentality), into India’s indigenous literatures, the prime mode of expression of Urdu poetry, the ghazal, came under tremendous pressure, as it came to be seen as backward and degenerate. The ghazal was seen as artificial, pretentious, soaked in the vapors of alcohol. Men who wrote and recited ghazals, and the culture that promoted them were deemed incapable of rational, scientific thinking, and any serious, concrete thought. MacCauley’s poisonous words about Indian literature in his infamous minutes (1835) were having a disastrous effect on the perception of the ghazal. It is due to the genius of the Urdu language and her poets and the resilience of her native idiom that the ghazal fought back colonial prejudice and reclaimed its rightful position.

It wasn’t an easy journey.

Faraz became a sensation with the publication of his first collection of ghazals and poems. Each new collection added to his fame and stature as a major poet. Most critics agree that his verse—at least the earlier half—is light and romantic, but still touched a certain nerve. It spoke to an important part of the human heart. I believe there were several reasons for audiences’ positive response. Most other major poets steered the Urdu ghazal in the direction of social consciousness, issues of isolation, man’s confrontation with the material world, dictatorship and the tyranny of modern times. What Faraz offered in contrast was the ghazal’s essence: love, ache, longing, beauty, separation, union, life, death. But with a fresh and highly creative vocabulary!

Unlike two other great male contemporaries of his, Nasir Kazmi and Munir Niazi, Faraz didn’t suffer the scars or trauma of partition directly, and that’s why his early verse is not mainly concerned with those issues. Although his verse is light, it retains a highly skillful control of Urdu diction and meter. It is often read against that of the other three towering poets of his time, Munir, Nasir, and Kishwar Naheed’s highly feminist poetry.

Although Faraz never lost his original charm in verse, a new poet was beginning to emerge from inside him as social conditions and the political realities of Pakistan, and most of the world, began to change in the 60s. The student movement, labor agitation, the formation of the Pakistan People’s Party, the first free elections of 1970 and the political opposition to American-backed military dictatorships, all had a profound influence on his consciousness. Despite this crucial transformation, Faraz remained a poet of love and the heart. He was not a political poet in the sense of Hikmat, Faiz or Neruda. Nor was he a philosophical poet in the tradition of Tagore. What earned Faraz political respect was his resilience against state oppression. If he felt like saying something, he said it. If that went against the status quo, so be it.

As has been quoted in several homages and obituary write-ups, his first confrontation with tyranny came from the democratically elected leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In a public soiree, Faraz recited a poem, not a ghazal, passing a guilty verdict on the Pakistani Army for their crime in killing their own in the then East Pakistan. He called the soldiers “professional killers.” He was arrested and put in jail without a warrant or trial. Other intellectuals, such as Kishwar Naheed and the cream of society, like the melody queen of South Asia, the singer Noor Jehan had to pull all the strings available to them to get him out. A lesser poet would have learned his lesson, his spirits broken, but Faraz proved he was stronger than his enemies. He chose to walk in the footsteps of the sufi poets of the Punjab, and modern rebel poets such as Jalib and Faiz. You could jail him, exile him, throw him out of his job, but you couldn’t bend or silence his verse. When he wanted to say something direct, no fear or metaphor could hide it. His second showdown was with the intellectually zero dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Again Faraz did not bow down. This time, he chose exile in the tradition of Darwish of Palestine and Faiz, who went to Beirut, and Fahmida Riaz of Pakistan who went to India.

It is testament to his greatness that when his poetry changed and absorbed social and political contours, he followed its call, even at the risk of his life. Other articles have pointed out that he was fired from his honorary position and his belongings thrown out, solely due to his critique of the American-backed General Musharaf. It is remarkable that in this day and age, any civilized country’s leadership can stoop so low as to treat one of its most respected poets this way. At least that should have earned Pakistan a gold at the Olympics, in the poet-thrashing category.

You can take a poet out of a language, but you cannot take language out of the poet. I’d argue that Faraz’s greatness lies in the era he wrote in, not because he broke any major ground, or for any experimentation he did with form and registers of language. Unlike Faiz or Firaq who are pre-partition poets, Faraz belongs to the post-partition era. For his poetry to reach all corners of India at a time when it’s eradication was part of state policy hints at the subtle but tremendous appeal of his verse to singers, the young and the uninitiated.

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over twenty years, I had countless opportunities to see Faraz read. Of those opportunities, I missed all but one. Before I went I was ambivalent about the seriousness of the crowd. But I was glad I went. I also went because a California-based singer was supposed to sing ghazals in the second half of the program. The LA-based Moni Deepa Sharma, of Bengali origin, had fallen in love with Urdu and had gone to Aligarh University to study the language, so she could sing Urdu poetry one day. She has become California’s premier ghazal singer. It was a sight to watch a Bengali being connected to a Pathan’s ghazals through a bridge written in Urdu. There cannot be a greater homage to a language, and admirers of Urdu are indebted to people like Faraz who inspire non-Urdu speakers to fall under its spell.

Information provided by Ijaz Syed

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The (Poetic) Clash of the (Literary) Titans: Derek Walcott and VS Naipaul

Derek Walcott, a St. Lucian Nobel Laureate, has launched a poetic attack on the person and work of another Nobel Prize Winner, someone more known in our part of the world, VS Naipaul from Trinidad.
Walcott presented his new poem ‘The Mongoose‘ to conclude a session of readings from his new book “White Egrets” at the Calabash Literary Festival (May 26-28) in Jamaica.

The extract of the poem comes from ‘Rhyme and Punishment for Naipaul‘ by Daniel Trilling of (June 1, 2008) The Observer

An extract from ‘The Mongoose’

I have been bitten, I must avoid infection

Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction

Read his last novels, you’ll see just

what I mean

A lethargy, approaching the obscene

The model is more ho-hum than Dickens

The essays have more bite

They scatter chickens like critics, but

each stabbing phrase is poison

Since he has made that snaring style

a prison

The plots are forced, the prose

sedate and silly

The anti-hero is a prick named Willie

Who lacks the conflict of a Waugh or Lawrence

And whines with his creator’s

self-abhorrence

The mongoose was brought to the Caribbean from India by the British. Looking for the complete text of the poem.
Information pointed to by Ijaz Syed.
View complete works by Walcott and Naipaul below
More on Walcott
More on Naipaul

A Book Launch and an Event Report

Information about the launch of a new collection of poems on London titled ‘All That Mighty Heart: London Poems’ edited by Lisa Russ Spaar is online at the Cultural Events page.

Also, view a report “May 12 Karachi Carnage Remembered in San Francisco Bay Area” by Ali Hasan Cemendtaur on a recent event held by Friends of South Asia (FOSA), in Pakistan Link.
Pakistani-American law professor Tayyab Mahmud, Ijaz Syed, Javed Ellahie, and Dabbir Tirmizi at “Pakistan’s Judicial Crisis and Remembering Karachi May 12 Carnage”

View the report here: www.pakistanlink.com

1. Royalty Rights in Punjabi Publishing

I had the opportunity to publish my novel Skeena in Punjabi (Sanjh Publications, Lahore 2007) last year, and while it was one of the most creative and inspiring experiences for me, it did include, and still does, confrontations with my peers around royalty rights and promotional strategies.

All the wonderful things began happening with Ijaz Syed in California who after reading the English manuscript of Skeena, recommended it to a publisher in Lahore; who in turn, offered to publish it in Punjabi and invited me to come to Lahore to translate it. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, and Ijaz Syed again stepped up by bringing me over to California where i enjoyed his hospitality and that of his family and friends. I am most grateful for the time and attention i received there from Nusrat Syed, Sarmad Syed, Vidhu Singh, Sanjeev Mahajan, Shaista Parveen, Salma, Cesar Love, Nidhi Singh and Rob Mod. Later, Ijaz, Sanjeev and Shaista were prevailed upon to buy me a one-way ticket to Lahore.

This also meant a chance for me to live in Lahore for a meaningful length of time in 2006 after having left it for Canada in 1986.

This was a dream situation for me also because Skeena is a character and story rooted in Pakistani Punjab, that then reaches out into the Punjabi communities of Toronto and Surrey. The very diversity of our communities had shackled the English manuscript with sentences upon sentences of Punjabi while the living culture of Muslim characters had laiden it with shots of Arabic. This was pointed out by most of its readers, and by Editor Michele Sherstan in Vancouver who had worked with me on Skeena in 2004. At that time, I knew that the novel had to be re-expressed in Punjabi before the English can ever be published; yet i had been away for so long that many sounds and words shivered below the surface of my mind as i looked for the courage to draw them out in the open again.

It will be an understatement to say that i am grateful to Skeena’s Punjabi Editor Zubair Ahmed for giving me the courage, the skills and the environment to rewrite Skeena in Punjabi. Zubair is a rare friend who cares for me and my work, and challenges me to do better. He spent countless hours of volunteer work to edit more than three hundred manuscript pages of Skeena as he supported me to shape my voice in Punjabi. Zubair also provided a comfortable and creative environment at Kitab Trinjan, a Punjabi bookstore on Temple Road that he manages on permanent part time voluntary basis for over a decade now. I was also happy to know Trinjan’s only full time employee Ghulam Haider; as well, Zubair introduced me to some most wonderful people there including his wife Samina, and Amjad Salim of Sanjh Publications who later published Skeena in Punjabi.

The publisher who had originally offered to publish Skeena was excited about the submission of the Punjabi manuscript, and we were beginning to discuss production and promotion when i realized that nothing had been mentioned about royalties yet. After a while, i asked the publisher as to how much royalty i was going to get; the question set off a wave of double headed culture shock hitting both the publisher and the writer. The publisher nearly fell off of his chair, so to speak, telling me that the top most Punjabi authors in Lahore pay the production cost to get their books published, where I, a mere writer of unpublished novels, am asking for royalty when my book is being published for free. Across from him, my eyes were popping out of my forehead because years of living in Canada had made me unprepared to deal with a situation where a small or medium level literary publisher was apparently operating for many years without recognizing an author’s right to royalty.

That culture shock helped me to figure out that royalty is NOT one of the rights accepted by Punjabi publishers or writers. So, this was the beginning of many inspiring discussions and fiery confrontations on royalty rights, book promotion strategies and maaNboli language issues in Lahore and other cities. I am aware that fighting for royalty rights for Punjabi writers/creators, and generating a debate on this issue by pushing it on the Net is not going to make me popular in Punjabi literary circles on either side of the border. Still, i will continue to share my ideas and experiences in Uddari Weblog because i think that the non-recognition of royalty rights is central to the ailments of Punjabi publishing industry.

Before i end this post, let me put your mind to rest: Yes, Sanjh did accept, and respect, my royalty rights.

Fauzia Rafiq
2. Royalties for Punjabi Language Authors
3. Author Royalties Down to Definitions in the Punjab

Royalties and Copyrights