Punjabi Poetry: Ustad Daman

Trans.daman

Written by Randeep Purewall

Ustad Daman (né Chiragh Din) was born in Lahore in 1911. As a boy, he worked at his father’s tailoring shop while also attending school. Daman learned classical Punjabi poetry at home and was educated in Urdu. He also learned Persian and English including Shakespeare, Keats and Hardy.

Having participated in school poetry recitals, Daman began attending musha’ara in the parks, fairs and bazaars of Lahore as a teenager during the 1920s. The movement for India’s independence had already begun. In 1929, the Indian National Congress made its Declaration of Independence from Lahore. The city was also home to Marxist groups like the Kirti Kisan and anti-colonial and revolutionary groups like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.

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Daman recited his own revolutionary and anti-colonial poetry at the musha’ara. While attending one such gathering, Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Daman as the “Poet of Freedom.”

‘In China the Chinese are grand,
In Russia they do as they have planned.
In Japan its people rule over its strand.
The British rule the land of England,
The French hold the land of France,
In Tehran the Persians make their stand.
The Afghans hold on to their highland,
Turkmenistan’s freedom bears the Turkmen’s brand,
How very strange is indeed this fact,
That freedom in India is a contraband’
(Trans. F. Sharma)

Daman remained in Lahore upon the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The riots of the Partition had consumed his shop and library and he lost his wife and son to illness. His first act of political defiance came in 1958 when he made fun of Pakistan’s first military coup under Ayub Khan. Daman’s arrest however did little to temper his criticism of Pakistan’s military dictatorships and the corruption of its civilian governments in his poetry.

Daman wrote in Punjabi and the form, rhythm and metaphor of his poetry bears the influence of the classical and folk Punjabi tradition. If he could be sober and thoughtful in writing on the Partition, he could also adopt a more comic and satirical note in criticizing General Zia. He maintained a friendship with poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, but lived unassumingly in an old apartment in the precinct of the Badshahi Mosque.

Daman died in 1984. His poetry was published after his death by his friends and followers. The room he lived in near the Badshahi Mosque has since become an academy in his name.

Selected Poems (Trans. F. Sharma)

We may not say it but know it well
You lost your way. We too.
Partition has destroyed us friends.
You too, and us.
The wakeful have quite plundered us.
You slept the while, and we.
Into the jaws of death alive
You were flung. We too.
Life still may stir in us again:
You are stunned yet, and we.
The redness of the eyes betrays
You too have wept, and we.

What a house, this Pakistan!
Above live saints, down thieves have their run
A new order has come into force
Up above twenty families, below the hundred million.
Other people conquered mountains,
We live under the divisions heavy ton.
Other people may have conquered the moon.
But in a yawning precipice a place we’ve won.
I ran and ran and was aching all over,
I looked back and saw the donkey resting under the banyan.


Two gods hold my country in their sway
Martial law and La Illaha have here their heyday.
That one rules there over in the heavens
Down here this one’s writ runs.
His name is Allah Esquire.
This one is called Zia, the light of truth in full array.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Ecstacy does my land surround
All around the Army is to be found.
Hundreds of thousands were surrendered as POWs.
Half of the land was bartered away in the fray.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

On TV you give recitations from Quran
With fables and traditions you go on and on.
Here we are engulfed in a brouhaha
While up there you are still there, my Allah
A pretender has staked his claim today
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Thankful are some if they can chop wood
The others, on them, their orders bestow.
Why have the people lost their mind?
For every one the Almighty has a loving glow.
People are the real masters of this world
Orders do not from the handle of a sword flow.
The ones, Daman, who have forsaken God,
Those Nimruds are laid low at the very first blow.

Bollywood has run out of Punjabis

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One of the odder facts about Bollywood is who runs it. India’s Hindi film industry is located in Bombay (from whose ‘B’ we get Bollywood). But the two largest communities of this city have little to contribute to the movies.Gujaratis and Marathis are together some two-thirds of the city’s population. Gujaratis dominate most of Bombay’s commerce, including the large capital market, while Marathis run the state and administration efficiently. In Bollywood, however, there’s little sign of either community.Yes, we can point to a great Gujarati actor (Sanjeev Kumar) here and a great Marathi singer (Lata Mangeshkar) there. But they are exceptions.

The dominant communities of Bollywood are two: the Urdu-speakers of North India and, above all, the Punjabis from in and around Lahore. They rule Bollywood and always have. To see why this is unusual, imagine a Pakistan film industry set in Karachi but with no Pashtuns or Mohajirs or Sindhis. Instead the actors are all Tamilian and the directors all Bengalis. Imagine also that all Pakistan responds to their Tamil superstars as the nation’s biggest heroes. That is how unusual the composition of Bollywood is.

A quick demonstration. Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan are the three current superstars. All three are Urdu-speakers. In the second rung we have Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor and Ajay Devgan. Of these, Hrithik, Ajay and Akshay are Punjabi while Saif is Urdu-speaking. Shahid Kapoor, as his name suggests, is half-Punjabi and half-Urdu-speaking.Behind the camera, the big names are Punjabi: Karan Johar, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Yash Chopra of Lahore.The Kapoor clan of Lyallpur is the greatest family in acting, not just in Bollywood but anywhere in the world. It has produced four generations of superstars: Prithviraj Kapoor, his sons Raj, Shammi and Shashi, their children Rishi and Randhir, and the current generation of Ranbir, Kareena and Karisma.

Bollywood is a Punjabi industry. We have Dev Anand of Lahore, Balraj Sahni of Rawalpindi, Rajendra Kumar of Sialkot, IS Johar of Chakwal, Jeetendra, Premnath, Prem Chopra, Anil Kapoor and Dharmendra who are all Punjabis. Sunil Dutt of Jhelum, Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Vinod Mehra, Suresh Oberoi of Quetta, and all their star kids are Punjabis. Composer Roshan (father of Rakesh and grandfather of Hrithik) was from Gujranwala.

What explains this dominance of Punjabis in Bollywood? The answer is their culture. Much of India’s television content showcases the culture of conservative Gujarati business families. Similarly, Bollywood is put together around the extroverted culture and rituals of Punjabis.

The sangeet and mehndi of Punjabi weddings are as alien to the Gujarati in Surat as they are to the Mohajir in Karachi. And yet Bollywood’s Punjabi culture has successfully penetrated both. Bhangra has become the standard Indian wedding dance. Writer Santosh Desai explained the popularity of bhangra by observing that it was the only form of Indian dance where the armpit was exposed. Indians are naturally modest, and the Punjabi’s culture best represents our expressions of fun and wantonness.

Even artsy Indian cinema is made by the people we call Punjus – Gurinder Chadha, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.

Another stream of Bollywood is also connected to Lahore, in this case intellectually, and that is the progressives. Sajjad Zaheer (father of Nadira Babbar), Jan Nisar Akhtar (father of lyricist Javed and grandfather of actor/director Farhan and director Zoya), Kaifi Azmi (father of Shabana), Majrooh Sultanpuri and so many others have a deep link to that city.

Now here’s the problem, actually two problems. First: Bollywood’s Punjabis are removed from the land that nourishes them. Punjab’s cultural capital is Lahore, and most Bollywood Punjabis haven’t ever seen it. Gulzar, whose real name is Sampooran Singh, told me that he didn’t want to return to his native Jhelum. He said he had left an idyllic place and had held on to its memories, which he records in his lyrics. But he’s exceptional and carries his world with him. People like Karan Johar, Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan are all Bombay yuppies, whose first language is English. The dialogues are all written in Roman because few read Urdu or Hindi.

Second: While Partition sent the Hindu Punjabis to Bollywood, Lahore’s Muslims are lost to it. The Punjabis of Lahore possess something that all India loves, and that is a high culture in Urdu. This is why Bollywood will always be made in a language that both India and Pakistan recognise as their own.

Unfortunately, there is no young Gulzar in Bollywood today, and there has never been another Manto. Our supply of Lahoris has run out.

The Punjabi provided the firepower of Bollywood, but he needed the space to express himself. Manto discovered this after Partition. Sitting in his lovely house, Lakshmi Mansion off the Mall, I thought of how much of a Bombay writer Manto was. He may have been Lahori but he belonged to Bombay. Bombay has always been India’s most liberal city because the dominance of mercantile Gujaratis and efficient Marathis has made it so.

But Bollywood dearly misses its Punjabis, and awaits the day it can get them again.

Written by Aakar Patel. Originally published in the The Friday Times (July 22-28, 2011): http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta2/tft/article.php?issue=20110722&page=9

 

Film Review – “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”

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Starring: Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi and Haluk Bilginer. Directed by Mira Nair. (130 mins).

Reviewed by Randeep Purewall

The film adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel took three years to adapt for the screen. Whereas Hamid’s novel centered on two characters, the protagonist Changez Khan and an anonymous American, in a Lahore café, Nair’s film adaptation is a full-charactered narrative shot which shows the protagonist leaving Lahore (filmed in Delhi) to pursue an education and career in the United States where he lives the American Dream in New York City until 9-11. He returns to Lahore, becoming a professor.

The lead is played by Riz Ahmed who did well as a streetwise Brit and jihadist in “The Four Lions.” As Changez, Ahmed does well enough as someone searching for himself but falls short in scenes such as his having to leave America, moments otherwise rich in dramatic potential which would have underlined the torment of the character’s being American, Pakistani and Muslim.

His limitations are all the more apparent when he’s is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast including Liev Schreiber as Bobby, the American in the Lahore café, Kate Hudson as Changez’ partner Erica and a superb Kiefer Sutherland as Jimmy, Changez’ Wall Street boss. Turkish actor Haluk Bilinger is a revelation in a small but seminal role as a publisher in Istanbul who compares Changez to the Janissaries, Christian children taken from their homes and trained to fight in a Muslim army only to reconquer and destroy the homelands where they were born and nurtured.

The film is stunningly shot with searing images such as the one above. After being stripped and probed by American airport security, Changez looks through opaque glass at footage of the Twin Towers coming crashing down along with his American Dream. Nair uses music to great effect too. In one of the film most poignant scenes, Changez looks at men performing namaaz in the Suleyman Mosque in Istanbul while a boy looks back at him. The scene erupts in a clash of drums in a explosive mix of Khusrao’s “Mori Araj Suno” and Faiz’ “Rabba Sachiyaan,” highlighting Changez’ inner turmoil.

Amongst growing student protests over the presence of Americans in Pakistan, Bobby urges (Professor) Changez to control the protests: the white man tells the brown man or Muslim man to “do the right thing.” Nair say she wanted the film to start a dialogue but she provides an answer instead. Reading a eulogy at the funeral of a friend killed in the protests, Changez prays the youth of Pakistan will let their inner lights shine with a force greater than the suns’. Perhaps that is the Pakistani dream which Changez asks his students about in an earlier scene. Only for many Pakistanis, the dream is to send their kids to the West, have them score good jobs there and perhaps go West themselves.

6.5/10

‘MERA RANG DE BASANTI CHOLA’ by Ajoka – Lahore 14-15 Sept/11

AJOKA THEATRE
in collaboration with
Lahore Arts Council
presents
‘MERA RANG DE BASANTI CHOLA’
Based on the struggle of the great freedom fighter Bhagat Singh
On 14th & 15th September 2011
At 7:30pm
VENUE: Hall #2
Alhamra the Mall
Lahore

Written by
Shahid Nadeem
Directed by
Madeeha Gauhar

For further Information & passes
Ajoka: 042-36682443, 36686634 , 36677047
Alhamra: 99200917-8

MERA RANG DE BASANTI CHOLA
Mera rang de basanti chola is a much deserved and long over-due tribute to one of the most influential revolutionary leaders of the independence movement and the one of the most charismatic sons of the Punjab, But the story does not end with the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades on 23 March 1931. The story of this fearless 23-year old revolutionary freedom fighter gets intertwined with some other stories of struggle between defenders of freedom and justice and the forces of darkness and oppression. As the play reveals links with the past and the future, the spirit of Bhagat Singh lives on. His last words were Inqilaab Zindabad. These words still resound in the air of Lahore, we can feel his presence and seek inspiration from the way he lived and died.

See following links for press reviews on this play
http://www.dawn.com/2011/05/29/theatrics-in-death-is-life.html
http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta2/tft/article.php?issue=20110624&page=22
http://tribune.com.pk/story/167327/revisiting-bhagat-singh/
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