Celebrating Gursharan Singh (1929-2011) – Surrey BC Oct 10/11

Mere dil vich dard jagaey, chutki le ja na, le ja na … chatta channan da dey ja na
(From ‘Chatta Chandna Da’ by Amritshar Natak Kala Kendra)

Bhaji Gursharan Singh passed away in his home in Chandigarh on September 27. This
great human being from Punjab, a revolutionary spirit, a ground-breaking artist who
changed the face of Punjabi theatre and culture, a champion of the downtrodden and
fearless defender of the oppressed is mourned not only in Punjab and India but wherever there are South Asians who ache for the deprivation and sorrow of others and who work for social justice.

Join us in celebrating the life of this revolutionary artist.
Monday, October 10
1.30 pm-4.30 pm
7475-135 Street
Surrey BC

Organized byHarinder Mahil, Chin Banerjee, Raj Chouhan, Sadhu Binning, Charan Gill, Makhan Tut., and Paul Binning, Sukhwant Hundal and Sarwan Boal.

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.
A later longer clip

From Pakistan to Roger Park
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”

Cultural Activist Nafees Ghaznavi Passed On

Pakistani Canadian cultural activist Nafees Ghaznavi passed away in Pickering Ontario this July 7.

Nafees consistently supported initiatives for equality and human rights. In Toronto in the Eighties he was actively involved in South Asian Resources and Information (SARI) with Himani Bannerji, Poonam Khosla, Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta, Judy Whitehead and others. During the Nineties, he moved back to Karachi where he continued to work for democratic change.

Nafees came to visit Canada to meet with friends earlier this month. However, he was living in a motel in Pickering, and died alone following a cardiac arrest. His body was found six days after his death.

Nafees was an advertising genius, and was instrumental in establishing Pakistan’s MNJ advertising company. Later, he went into travel business. He was a former editor of Canadian Asian News.

His neighbour in Karachi, Dancer/Activist Sheema Kermani, says this about him:

‘Nafees Ghaznavi was a wonderful human being, always a great supporter of the oppressed, supporter of all Left causes and a great supporter of my work and of Tehrik-e-Niswan. He was always there to help in any way he could. He was not just a personal friend but a great moral support as well. We will miss him.’
Sheema Kermani
Website www.tehrik-e-niswan.org.pk

Nafees was laid to rest in Pickering Cemetery Tuesday July 12.

Nafees Bhai, we will see you soon.

Poet Iftikhar Nasim Ifti Moves On

Way to go, Ifti!

Chicago-based Urdu poet, radio host and gay rights activist Iftikhar Nasim Ifti passed away this Friday night in Chicago where he was in a coma for two days.

Ifti was the Chief editor of Chicago’s ‘Pakistan News’, a radio host for program Sargam, and an author and a poet. He was the first Pakistani to recieve Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame citation.

Ifti was a beautiful person with a strong spirit.

See you soon, Ifti.

More information at Ravi International:

Sohan Qadri 1932-2011: A pure poet and painter

Sohan Qadri. Copenhagen. April 1991. Portrait by Amarjit Chandan

Punjabi artist and poet Sohan Qadri (real name Sohan Singh Barhing), who has died aged 78 in Toronto after a prolonged illness, leaves a rich legacy of pure poetry and art deeply immersed in Indian tradition. He is one of a few Punjabi painters who have made a mark on the international art scene.

Qadri was immersed in painting and meditation for decades. His dye-suffused paintings on meticulously serrated paper reflect his Vajrayana Tantric Buddhist philosophical beliefs. Dr. Robert Thurman, professor of Eastern religions at Columbia University and director of Tibet House, says: “If words were colours, Qadri’s art would not be as essentially necessary as it is.”

Qadri lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, for three decades but his career took him across Asia, Africa and North America.  He was born in the Punjab, in the village of Chachoki near Jalandhar. At the young age he was initiated into yogic practice first by Bikham Giri, a Bengali Tantric Vajrayana yogi, and few years later he became close to a Sufi figure, Ahmed Ali Shah Qadri, whose last name he adopted. From them he imbibed an ecumenical and a deep spiritual yearning.

He joined the Simla College of Art, in Shimla in 1957, against the wishes of his parents, and after graduating he taught art for four years at Ramgarhia College Phagwara. Soon after he became part of the circuit of the Indian modernists that included M.F. Husain, Syed Haider Raza, Ara, Ram Kumar, and Sailoz Mookherjee. Mulk Raj Anand, was the first to recognise Qadri’s talent and organised his first exhibition in Le Corbusier’s brand new architectural complex in Chandigarh. He was the mentor friend of Shiv Kumar the poet and in 1964 formed the Loose Group a circle of artists and poets in Kapurthala including Hardev, Shiv Singh, SS Misha, Ajaib Kamal and Ravinder Ravi.

Soon after, Qadri departed for Nairobi, Kenya in 1966, where under the patronage of the African cultural figure Elimo Njau, he had a successful exhibition at Paa-yaa-paa, a non-profit art gallery. At the time, the gravitational pull for artists was Paris, where Qadri lived for a few years before settling in Copenhagen, where he was invited by the Danish Ministry of Culture. In the 1970s, he, along with a group of artists and counter-culture figures, illegally occupied an old gun factory, which eventually became the famous free city Christianna.

At an early age, Qadri abandoned representation in a search for transcendence. He wrote: “When I start on a painting, first I empty my mind of all images. They dissolve into primordial space. Only emptiness, I feel, should communicate with emptiness of the canvas.” Despite the fact that he lived in Northern Europe, his work is distinctly Punjabi/Indian. His colours are luminous—Sindhoori reds, peacock blues, intense oranges, along with blacks and grays. A rigorous Scandinavian aesthetic distills these Punjabi colours. The luminous monochrome surfaces of his paintings are repeatedly incised and punctured in an orderly manner, which creates a strict structure. The art critic Donald Kuspit has said: “Using abstraction to convey transcendence, Qadri is the pre-eminent aesthetic mystic of modernism.”

Qadri was friends with a wide array of cultural figures over his long career, including the Surrealist master Renee Magritte and Nobel Laureate Heinrich Böll, who became one of his important proponents. Böll said: “Sohan Qadri with his painting liberates the word meditation from its fashionable taste and brings it back to its proper origin.” Qadri had more than 70 exhibitions across the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Qadri’s unique collections of poems written in classical Punjabi idiom include Mitti Mitti, Navyug New Delhi (1987); Boond Samunder, Lok Sahit (1990); Antar Joti, Navyug (1995). Amarjit Chandan’s long conversations with Qadri in Punjabi were published in Hun-khin (The Now Moment) Navyug, 2000.

Such widely respected poet scholars as Harbhajan Singh and Jaswant Singh Neki greatly admired Qadri’s ‘poetry’ (which Qadri called ‘the other poetry’). Sati Kumar wrote:

Neki approaches Qadri’s creative process from the point of view of the bãni utterances of the Sufis and Nanak. One can surely try to understand Qadri’s poetic accessories from the viewpoint of Indian thought, but to me it seems that this ‘other poetry’ is a specimen of another – a kind of inverted – lore. Only those who know the other lore can read this poetry. It can cause a headache to linguists for its grammar that is not to be found elsewhere and its word-formation that is also rare. Kabir’s language was described as sadhukkarhi – the language of sadhus. Qadri’s language, too, is of his own making. There is no doubt that Qadri has walked into Punjabi poetry like a not so polite sãdh mendicant and there is no match for his crisp and ringing language that sounds like a sãdh‘s chimta tongs. After a very long time an original poet appeared in Punjabi poetry.

Harbhajan Singh wrote on conversations Hun-khin The Now Moment:

The knower of the mystery Kabir had said, jo ghar jare apna chalé hamaré sãth – let him join me who is ready to set his house on fire. To set one’s house on fire means to get rid of one’s words, their meanings, one’s senses, habits and beliefs. It means to come out of the boundaries drawn by them. Only when one renounces one’s parents, neighbours, ancestral heritage, the legacy of untold centuries crystallised in the discriminating sense that judges between good and bad does one the earth as mother, truth as father and the parrot as teacher. The Now Moment provokes one to face such challenges. That is why Qadri does not share anything with the tradition of Punjabi poetry. Even in Urdu poetry, Ghalib is the only one who abides in Qadri’s circle.  …

These conversations cannot be understood if we remain confined to our education. If we wish to understand them, we must first break free of our limitations.

(This and Sati Kumar’s quote translated from Punjabi by Rajesh Sharma)

Qadri’s poetry in translation is published under the titles The Dot & the Dots, Poems & Paintings, Stockholm (1978); The Dot & the Dots, revised edition, Writers Workshop, Calcutta (1988); Aforismer, Danish translation, Oslashmens Forlag Copenhagen (1995) and The Seer, Art Konsult, New Delhi (1999).

Qadri was generous in designing book covers for his writer friends – Surjit Hans, Sati Kumar, Ravinder Ravi, Jagjit Chhabra, Amarjit Chandan and others.

He family life was unconventional. His two daughters and a son survive him. His Swedish partner Anna Maria bore him son Soham and younger daughter Pooja. His daughter Purvi, now aged 50, is from his Punjabi wife Daisy Rumalshah who predeceased him in 1980.

Sohan Qadri – real name Sohan Singh Barhing – Punjabi painter and poet born 2 November 1932 Chachoki Punjab; died 1 March 2011 Toronto

View Word Doc


HRCP outraged at murders of Minorities Minister, and an HRCP Coordinator

Press release: HRCP outraged at foul murders

Lahore, March 2: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed its sense of outrage and grief at the murder of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and HRCP coordinator in Khuzdar district Naeem Sabir and called the assassinations the work of militants out to eliminate anyone who raises his voice against persecution of the vulnerable people.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, HRCP said: “The assassins of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and Mr Naeem Sabir, HRCP coordinator in Khuzdar district, may perhaps belong to different groups but they represent the militant hardliners who are out to obliterate the rights of the non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan and eliminate the human rights defenders who raise their voice against persecution on any ground. HRCP expresses its sense of outrage and deep grief at the foul murders.

While Mr Shahbaz Bhatti had been active as a human rights defender before he joined the federal cabinet, as a minister he had confined himself to performing his official duties. HRCP shares the anguish of his family at this difficult time. His murder says much about the state of security for the ordinary Pakistanis who do not share the religious faith of the majority.

Naeem Sabir had been associated with HRCP since 1997 and had been promoting human rights in Khuzdar with courage and devotion. Of and on he had been targeted for his activities by minions of the state. But in the recent past he had apparently given no cause for offense to anyone except the local satraps who could not bear his truthful coverage of human rights abuses. HRCP deeply condoles Naeem’s death and shares the grief of his widow and a less than two year old child. HRCP demands that those responsible for the killing must be brought to justice and that the government must do all it can to ensure that the two murders do not join a long list of similar killings where impunity for the killers and perpetrators has been the norm. The Commission also reminds the government of its responsibility to offer succour to the bereaved families.”

Dr Mehdi Hasan

From Citizens for Democracy

Asma Jahangir: Taseer’s murder will embolden the Pakistani religious right

Deutsche Welle.de

Asma Jahangir is the president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association and one of the country’s leading human rights activists. She was the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a non-governmental rights-based organization, and has also worked with the United Nations as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Deutsche Welle: The Governor of the Punjab Salman Taseer was apparently murdered for opposing Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law. How difficult will it be now for others who are campaigning against the law?

Asma Jahangir: Obviously it has posed difficulties, because people’s lives will be at risk more and more. Not only that Salman Taseer was murdered, on top of it there are people coming on television and justifying his murder. Even the interior minister said that if somebody blasphemed in front of him, he would shoot him himself. Salman Taseer actually had not said anything which was in any way blasphemous. He had only said that the law needs to be looked at. So yes, I think it will become difficult for people to campaign against the law. But I also see that there is a lot of resilience in the Pakistani society because a lot of people have come on television, and a lot of people are saying that this is not the way to go.

Deutsche Welle:Will Salman Taseer’s murder polarize the Pakistani society further? Will it increase the divide between right-wing and liberal Pakistanis?

Asma Jahangir:Some of us are of the opinion that we have to now begin to negotiate with them (the religious right), and have a dialogue with them rather than just talk at each other. I don’t know what the outcome will be because the ball is in the court of political forces of the country. The have to take the initiative. Civil society has been doing it for many years.

Deutsche Welle:Hundreds of educated young Pakistanis have welcomed Taseer’s killing on social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter. What does this celebration of violence mean for the future of Pakistan?

Asma Jahangir:Well, it just means that we are on the way to fascism. But we must not ignore the fact that Facebook and Twitter are also manipulated by a very well-knit group of militants, who are also backed by elements within the state.

Deutsche Welle:Do you mean to say that it does not reflect a mainstream trend?

Asma Jahangir:I do not think that it shows the mainstream trend, but there are people who will welcome a murder like this.

Deutsche Welle:Most leaders of Pakistan’s religious parties have not condemned the murder. On the contrary, some religious leaders have warned that anyone expressing grief for Taseer could also meet the same fate. How serious are these threats?

Asma Jahangir:Today at Taseer’s funeral there were thousands of people, and they were surely there because they were grieving. The right wing is always threatening us. Every single day we get threats from them. If they could, they would kill all of us.

Deutsche Welle:What should the Pakistani government do now? Will it not be synonymous with surrendering to the religious extremists if the government doesn’t do anything to amend the blasphemy law?

Asma Jahangir:To my mind, Taseer’s murder was as political as it was religious. The fact that they have killed a governor from the Pakistan People’s Party also shows that they want to destabilize the government and derail the democratic process. So they are succeeding in that way. The government is walking a tightrope. They have to do something about it, but they have to have the leadership to take other people along with them.

Deutsche Welle:Will it not embolden the religious right in Pakistan if the government does not do anything about the blasphemy law?

Asma Jahangir:They are already emboldened. They have been emboldened for months. This has further emboldened them, and I believe it will continue if the government and other political parties do not come out and say enough is enough. Somewhere this has to stop. There will be further bloodshed. People will be scared, may be they won’t say anything, but every time there is somebody who is going to be arrested because the law has been misused, people will also get angry.

Interviewer: Shamil Shams
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

From http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6388814,00.html

Blasphemy Laws take two more lives in Pakistan

Two Christian brothers murdered in court rooms

Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Emmanuel of Daud Nagar Faisalabad, the two brothers arrested July 2nd under false accusations of blasphemy, were today murdered in district courts by ‘an unknown person’.

What a great loss! Sad and telling. A hurtful provocation.

This senseless double murder has caused deep sorrow to the family and friends of Rashid and Sajid, and to all of us who were hoping for their release after a fair trial.

Rashid and Sajid were not allowed to stand trial because the blasphemy case against them was propped up by extreme right wingers on the basis of  ‘doctored’ evidence. Those religious fanatics had made their intentions clear in public gatherings in the past week where ‘Muslim leaders from various religious political parties, among them Khatme-e-Nabowat, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and Namoos-e-Risalat reportedly reiterated death threats against the brothers, because the government had not sentenced them to death. We are told that among the speakers were Sahibzada Abulkhair Mahumed Zubair and Syed Hidayat Hussain Shah, who are known for inciting violence in the area. At the meeting it was announced that a set of gallows had been set up at the tower of Ghanta Ghar (in the centre of Faisalabad), in preparation for the hanging of blasphemous Christians.’ Asian Human Rights Commission, Urgent Appeals, July 14, 2010

The fact that Sajid and Rashid were murdered inside the court rooms is yet another slap of supremacy thrown on the face of the government of Pakistan, and at the same time, on its peace-loving people who are struggling to develop a more secular and democratic environment where citizens’ basic human rights are protected.

Details are not available at this time except for the following information that came as part of another message from Labour Party Pakistan (LPP).
‘Police today also failed to protect the two Christian brothers falsely accused of blasphemy. Both were murdered today in district courts by an unknown person. There has been a violent reaction to these murders by the Christian youth. In retaliation, Muslims youth are also attacking Waris Pura area where the majority is Christians. At the time of writing this report, there are reports of cross firing in Waris Pura.’ (socialist_pakistan_news@yahoogroups.com in ‘Strike to go ahead despite the ban and threats’)

The murders have taken place in a situation where a ‘strategic dialogue’ is taking place with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Islamabad (Pak-US strategic dialogue to enhance bilateral ties: Gilani), and there are various reports of violence and unrest. Intelligence reports reveal that ‘terrorists have planned to attack Pakistan Air Force bases and landing strips across the country, as well as women’s educational institutions in Lahore and Rawalpindi.’ (Reports warn of attacks on PAF bases, women’s institutes ). In the last 24 hours, people have come out to protest their living conditions, for example against load-shedding (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), and against torture by Rangers (Kasur and area). Workers are protesting and are on strike in various cities for better pay and working conditions. There were riots in different parts of Karachi over ‘water and power’. A suicide attack on an imambargah in Sargodha injured 15 Shia worshippers. Earlier, there were attacks on Ahmadi Muslims, and on the shrine of Data Sahib, a Sunni Muslim Saint.

In this violent wave, the unjust and political killings of Rashid and Sajid are a cruel mistake that may cost a lot more innocent lives.

To pay respects, for more information and to give support, contact
Atif J. Pagaan at Pakistan Minorities Democratic Harmony Foundation
Email: atifpagaan@yahoo.com

For updates on this issue, check

View earlier reports
July 17, 2010
July 12, 2010

Fauzia Rafique

Contact Uddari

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

From Ijaz Syed at syedi@sbcglobal.net

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Professor Hari Sharma Moves On

Vancouver scholar and civil rights activist Hari Sharma passed on yesterday at 75. He was suffering from cancer.

Friends who met him in August of last year, found him enjoying every aspect of his life ‘whether in a seminar or while chanting in a rally or being in a debate over a social issue at his home in Burnaby.’

Funeral information:
Monday, March 21, 2010
3 pm
Riverside Funeral Home, Delta
7410-Hopcott Road
Delta B.C.
Phone: 604-940-1313

Photo: Fraser Valley Peace Council

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Ram Sarup Aņkhi 1932–2010

Ram Sarup Aņkhi, who has died aged 78, was a prolific Punjabi writer with 15 novels and eight story books and five collections of poems to his credit.

Aņkhi was Brahmin by caste but Sikh in appearance. He kept the Hindu name as is the custom in the Malwa region of East Punjab. Only a tiny minority of Brahmins converted to Sikhism and changed their names – Bhai Bhagwan Singh of Ghadar Party, Gyani Hira Singh Dard, SS Amol and Vidhata Singh Tir being the four most famous names amongst them.

Known as a mesmerising storyteller, Aņkhi chronicled rural life in Malwa in the latter half of the 20th century. In his writings, the Malwa landscape comes alive. His Sahitya Academy Award winner novel Kothey Kharhak Singh ਕੋਠੇ ਖੜਕ ਸਿੰਘ, named after a fictitious but typical Malwa village, is a novel of epic dimensions spanning three generations. It covers the period starting after 1940-42 and moving to Janata Party’s rule after the Emergency and thence to Indira Gandhi’s return to power in the early 1980s.

In his later novels, self-evidently titled Salphas ਸਲਫਾਸ 2006, (a chemical used by debt-ridden Malwai Jatts to commit suicide), Jamināñ Wāley ਜਮੀਨਾਂ ਵਾਲੇ (The Landed Gentry) 2004, Kaņak da Qatalām ਕਣਕ ਦਾ ਕਤਲਾਮ (Slaughter of the Wheat) 2007 and Bhima ਭੀਮਾ (a Purbia farm worker) 2009 etc., he portrayed the post-green revolution Malwa with all its acute socio-economic problems such as the onslaught of corporate capitalism, pauperisation of small peasantry, mass drug addiction, influx of Purbia migrant labour and, in consequence of all this, disintegration of village communities.

Aņkhi also edited a Punjabi short fiction quarterly Kahāni Punjab ਕਹਾਣੀ ਪੰਜਾਬ since 1993 assisted by his son Krantipal, who is currently teaching at Aligarh Muslim University.

Reviewing his two-volume autobiography Malhey Jhārhiāñ ਮਲ੍ਹੇ ਝਾੜੀਆਂ (Thorny Bushes with Berries published in 1988 and later updated twice) Atamjit, Punjabi playwright and columnist wrote:
‘It is not only his art of storytelling that mesmerises its reader; his simplicity, honesty and bluntness also produce magic.
‘Content with his life in his native village Dhaula, its surrounding areas and later on in the town of Barnala, Aņkhi has always sought his themes, locales and characters from within this region. His vast canvas of narratives never required anything from outside. Many may like to see it as a limitation but he is happy to portray what he knows best. ‘He explains how with the passage of time the same landscape has seen a sea change and this transformation is depicted in his novels like Kothey Kharhak Singh.
‘Aņkhi creates the much-desired diversity by using characters from different economic, social and religious backgrounds. There are many divergent tendencies and traits in his personal life too: he is Brahmin by caste but Sikh in his appearance; he was wild in his childhood but is very disciplined in his writing; he started as a poet but ended up as a fiction writer; and he married thrice.’

His novel Zakhmee Ateet (The Wounded Past. 1981) was published in the Farsi script by the Institute of Punjabi Language & Culture, Lahore. Some of his books were also translated into Gujarati, Hindi and English.

He is survived by his widow and their three daughters and two sons. A daughter predeceased him.


Ram Sarup Aņkhi, Punjabi writer, born August 28, 1932 Dhaula Sangrur died February 14, 2010 Barnala Sangrur

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Santokh Singh Dhir 1920–2010

By Amarjit Chandan

Santokh Singh Dhir, who has died aged 90, was a major Punjabi writer and one of our last links with the second generation of grandees.

Dhir was born to a Sikh father and a Hindu mother. His life was a hard struggle raising a large family. He started to work as a tailor, but soon left tailoring to work as a journalist for Preet Lari ਪ੍ਰੀਤ ਲੜੀ, a progressive Punjabi monthly and the daily Nawan Zamana ਨਵਾਂ ਜ਼ਮਾਨਾ of the Punjab communist party. But journalism again was a temporary stitch; he became a full-time writer and survived on writing alone for the greater part of his life. From Bhasha Vibhag Punjab to Sahitya Akademy Delhi name any Punjabi literary award Dhir and had it. He was a member of the (East) Punjab communist party’s state council.

Known for his eccentricities he survived in his later life on state grants and friends’ generosity. Punjabi University, Guru Nanak Dev University and Punjabi Sahit Sabha Delhi had awarded him life fellowships.

Dhir once had to go to Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki for psychological treatment. Both were poets and close friends but were diametrically opposed in their political views. While Dhir was a die-hard communist, Neki was and is a metaphysical poet and a staunch anti-communist. Dhir wrote a poem titled Ikk Beemār A Patient [to his Doctor]. It goes like this: Doctor, have you got answers to the worldly aspects of human existence? Do you know that an unending wrestling match is going on between Mr Yes and Mr No. The poet however did not tell the doctor who wins ultimately and who the referee was.

Punjabis are insensitive to mental health issues and for that matter Dhir was ridiculed and joked about in Punjabi literary circles. The raised finger of his right hand always trying to make a point became his trade mark. Despite his limited means he was always immaculately dressed and put surma kohl in his eyes. Gargi titled his book of literary sketches as Surmey vāli Akkh after Dhir before he made phone calls to Amrita Pritam, that is, on whom he had a brief crush.

Dhir’s short stories Koi Ik Sawār ਕੋਈ ਇਕ ਸਵਾਰ, Sānjhi Kandh ਸਾਂਝੀ ਕੰਧ, Savér Hoņ Tak ਸਵੇਰ ਹੋਣ ਤਕ, Măngo ਮੰਗੋ are his masterpieces and world classics. Baru the hero of Koi Ik Sawār inspired me to write a poem on him and Dhir. The story’s three English translations exist done by Khushwant Singh, Amrik Singh and Balwant Gargi. A TV film was made on it but Dhir did not like the film. His short autobiographical novel Yādgār ਯਾਦਗਾਰ (1979) on the theme of platonic love is written ‘with light with utmost restraint’ as Harbhajan Singh the poet put it. Touched by it I wrote an essay on his classic poem Nikki saleti saRhak da tota ਨਿੱਕੀ ਸਲੇਟੀ ਸੜਕ ਦਾ ਟੋਟਾ which was linked with the novel. Dhir later included it as a prologue in its third edition.

His early collections of poems Guddiyān Pottelai ਗੁੱਡੀਆਂ ਪਟੋਲੇ (1944), Pauhfutala ਪਹੁਫੁਟਾਲਾ (1948), Dharti Mangdee MeehiN Ve ਧਰਤੀ ਮੰਗਦੀ ਮੀਂਹ ਵੇ (1952), Pat Jhharhey Puran*ey ਪੱਤ ਝੜੇ ਪੁਰਾਣੇ (1955) and Birharhey ਬਿਰਹੜੇ (1960) and his short fiction collections Chhittiān de ChhaweiN ਛਿੱਟਿਆਂ ਦੀ ਛਾਵੇਂ (1950), Savér Hoņ Tak ਸਵੇਰ ਹੋਣ ਤਕ (1955) and SāNjhi KaNdh ਸਾਂਝੀ ਕੰਧ (1958) are full of verve. It is a treat to read his early work written in musical Puādhi Punjabi dialect and in the diction close to folklore.

After Dhir reached middle age, he lost the verve in his writing. The style turned dry, bland and somewhat loud. His close friends Balwant Gargi and Gurcharan Rampuri concurred with me.

Unlike his contemporary Punjabi Marxist writers, he wrote about sex without any inhibition. But later revised one of his novels Sharabi ਸ਼ਰਾਬੀ (1963) expunging sexually explicit parts in its second edition renamed Do Phul ਦੋ ਫੁੱਲ. This kind of self-censorship is unprecedented.

A few months ago Dhir asked me to preface his last collection of poems Kodhrey dee Roti da Mahān Geet ਕੋਧਰੇ ਦੀ ਰੋਟੀ ਦਾ ਮਹਾਨ ਗੀਤ. I felt honoured. But none of the poems touched me and I politely declined his invitation.

I felt sad when I last met him in the end of last December at his Mohali home. He was lying low. I tried to cheer him up telling jokes but he did not respond.

His four daughters and a son survive him. His family has given his body to the Post Graduate Medical Institute (PGI) Chandigarh for scientific research. This gesture was most probably made according to his will but I find it a bit sentimental. There is no dearth of unidentified bodies in Indian medical institutions. Dhir deserved a dignified funeral befitting his stature.

Santokh Singh Dhir, Punjabi writer born Bassi Pathana District Patiala December 2, 1920, died Chandigarh February 8, 2010

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Vimla Dang rests in peace

Vimla Dang:  1926 – 2009

In Chheharta, this Sunday, a great Punjabi Kashmiri woman completed the journey of her magnificent life. She was a revolutionary activist from her student days who worked for social change with a singular determination, and was honored with many rewards including a Padma Shri award.

Vimla Dang was born in 1926 in Allahabad, and raised in Lahore where she married Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Satya Pal Dang in 1952, and moved to Chheharta the same year.

On May 10, 2009, after experiencing a brief illness, Vimla passed away. View her profile: A Great Woman from the Punjab.

Though expected, death is always unexpected in the moment of its appearance. On May 9, this comment was posted by Chitra, Vimla’s Grand Niece, on the above page:
Vimla Dang is Kashmiri, married to a Punjabi :) I’m proud to say she’s my grand aunt.’
In response, i had requested more information and photos.

The next day, yesterday, Amarjit Chandan forwarded an email message from Sukhdev saying ‘Vimla Dang is no more‘, and a few hours later, sent this photo titled ‘last Rites’.
.Vimla Dang. Last Rites

It is hard sometimes to feel gratified with the fulfillment of some requests. However, I was prompted again this morning with another comment ‘Vimla Dang passed away yesterday‘ from Bharat Bhushan.

Vimla Dang! What an inspiring life!
Thank you.

CPI leader Vimla Dang dead
She fought for downtrodden till her last breath

The Tribune Chandigarh May 10 2009


A pall of gloom descended on the industrial township of Chheharta, near Amritsar, when veteran CPI leader and former MLA Vimla Dang died at a private hospital here this morning after a brief illness. She was wife of Satya Pal Dang, also a veteran CPI leader.

Supporters and senior Communist and local leaders reached the house of the Dang couple to pay homage to the departed leader. She was cremated in the Naraingarh crematorium. The pyre was lit by Anil Dang, a nephew of Satya Pal Dang.

National general secretary, Communist Party of India (CPI), AB Bardhan, Joginder Dayal, national executive member, CPI, Bhupinder Sambhar, state secretary, Mangat Ram Pasla, state secretary, Marxist CP, Congress and BJP candidates for the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency Om Parkash Soni and Navjot Singh Sidhu, respectively, and other senior Communist leaders attended the cremation.

Awarded with Padma Shri in 1998 for her contribution to the social sphere, Vimla, along with her husband, had fought many relentless battles for the cause of the downtrodden. They took a principled stand against militancy in Punjab. She remained president of the Punjab Istri Sabha and took up the cause of women’s emancipation and 33 per cent reservation for women.

She belonged to a Kashmiri Pandit family and graduated from Kinnard College for Women, Lahore, before shifting to Mumbai after Partition. She got married to Satya Pal in 1952 in Mumbai after she returned from Prague, where she represented India in the International Union of Students.

After marriage, the couple shifted to Chheharta. They decided not to have a child as they did not want to divert their attention from people’s struggle.

Though the couple led “underground” life during the British rule and both were entitled to Freedom Fighters’ Pension, they never claimed the same till date.

The couple retired from the National Council of the CPI and decided not to contest the assembly elections with the plea that there must be an age limit for holding a political office.

The Tribune Chandigarh May 10 2009

Photo: Satya Pal Dang (centre), husband of Vimla, and other leaders pay last respects to her in Amritsar on Sunday. Photo by Vishal Kumar

Fauzia Rafique

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Journalist Khalid Hasan Moves On

Khalid Hasan with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Birmingham, 1978

Pakistan journalist Khalid Hasan passed away in Lahore today. He was fighting with prostate cancer for a few years.

His last column was published December 28, 2008 on the internet.

‘Khalid Hasan (خالد حسن) is a senior Pakistani journalist and writer. He was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. He began his long career in journalism and writing with The Pakistan Times, Lahore as senior reporter and columnist in 1967. He was asked by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on taking office in December 1971 to join him as his first press secretary. He went on to spend five years in the country’s foreign service, with postings in Paris, Ottawa and London. He resigned in protest when the Bhutto government was overthrown by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and worked in London with the Third World Foundation and the Third World Media before leaving to join the newly-established OPEC News Agency (OPECNA) in Vienna, Austria, where he stayed for 10 years. He returned to Pakistan briefly in 1991 where he worked as a freelance journalist for the next two years. He moved to Washington DC in 1993 and worked out of there as US correspondent for The Nation, Lahore. From 1997 to 2000 he was in Pakistan as head of the Shalimar Television Network. He returned to Washington in 2000 as special correspondent of the Associated Press of Pakistan, which he left to join Daily Times and The Friday Times, Lahore in 2002. He continues to work as the correspondent and columnist of these two publications in Washington. Khalid Hasan is a prolific writer and translator. He has published over 40 books, in Pakistan and abroad.’

View Khalid Hasan’s website here:

Fauzia Rafique

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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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