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