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.

Urdu Poetry: Mir Taqi Mir

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Written by Randeep Purewall

Mir (né Muhammad Taqi Mir) was born in Agra in 1722. His father died when Mir was eleven years old, leaving the boy to seek an education and patronage in Delhi. Mir was educated in Delhi by the poet and scholar Khan-e-Arzu and supported by a nobleman, but left the city upon Nadir Shah’s invasion in 1739

It was years later after returning to Delhi, that Mir became a prominent poet, winning high-ranking patrons and competing with the poets Dard and Sauda in musha’ara (poetic symposiums). Delhi was being repeatedly invaded during this period, however, by Afghans, Jat and Marathas. For Mir, the times marked not only the decline of the city, but the setting of a civilization.

This age is not like that which went before it
The times have changed, the earth and sky have changed

In 1782, Mir left Delhi for Lucknow as had other poets like Sauda before him. He found patronage in Lucknow at the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula where he received a pension and continued to write poetry. He died in 1810.

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Mir’s verses express the impermanence of life and the grief at the loss of love, beauty and spring. At the same time, his poems underline the transcendent experience and journey of love through the colours of the garden, the movement of the stars and heart of man.

How long is the life of a rose?
The bud just smiles

Mir’s themes of love and beauty and pain and separation established the conventions of classical Urdu poetry and his style inspired later poets like Ghalib (1797-1869). He also helped establish Urdu as a literary language. Mir reviewed and refined the use of Urdu in the musha’ara of Delhi and naturalized its use of Persian expressions. He wrote, moreover,  in the everyday language of the city, making the language of Delhi, the language of poetry.

Selected Verse
(Trans. Russell, Islam; Sadiq; Ali)

Every leaf and every plant my state do know
The rose knows not what the garden knows

The world is full of illusions
We behold here what we imagine

The streets of Delhi were not mere streets
They were like the album of a painter
Every figure I saw there
Was a model of perfection

The spring has come, the flowers bloom cheek by cheek
Would you and I might stand thus in the garden!

The greatest sinner, Mir
Was he who adopted love as his religion

The moments of happiness
Within this world were few
Now weep for the smiling dawn
Of the garden like the dew

I never saw the stars so bright before
It was her eyes that taught them how to shine

To keep my eyes on you, and you alone
My one and only heart’s desire is this
To open them only if you are there
The height to which I can aspire is this

Mir, quit the company of Shaikh and Brahmin
And mosque and temple too – leave them behind.
Lay one stone on another in the desert
Worship your Love at your own humble shrine

I grant you sir, the preacher is an angel
To be a man, now – that’s more difficult

Go to the mosque; stand knocking at the door
Live all your days with drunkards in their den
Do anything you want to do, my friend,
But do not seek to harm your fellowmen

What days those were!
When I would drink and climb up to the tavern roof
And fall asleep, the white sheet of the moonlight over me

Man was first made of clay
And if the song you sing be good
This world of clay for years to come
Will listen to your voice

Sources:

Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (Columbia University Press, New York, 1973).

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Mir and Ghalib: Comparisons (trans by F.W. Pritchett), 1997.
http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00garden/about/txt_srf_mir_ghalib.html

Khurshidul Islam and Ralph Russell, Three Mughal Poets (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1991)

Muhammad Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (Oxford University Press, London: 1964)

Thanks Giving for Books

This November, we are motivated to remember the books that made a difference in our lives, and to offer thanks to the authors for writing them. Giving thanks below are Mariam Zohra Durrani, Sonja Grgar, Sana Janjua, Randeep Purewall and Fauzia Rafique.
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My ‘loved’ books

Journey to Ixtlan, Carlos Castenada
Affirmed personal metaphysical philosophy

Native Son, Richard Wright
Increased sociopolitical awareness about north america.

Primitive Offense, Dionne Brande
Influenced poetic work.

Sula, Toni Morrison
Touched by sula and toni.

Skeena, Fauzia Rafique
Healing; reincarnation of my ancestors and homeland.

Incognito, David Eagleman
Affirmed and empowered my personal metaphysical philosophy.

The Biology of Belief, Bruce H. Lipton
Affirmed and empowered my personal metaphysical philosophy.

A Woman’s Herbalist, Kitty Campion
Gave knowledge of herbs and techniques and concoctions.

Mariam Zohra Durrani
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Books I am thankful for

Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions, Diana Johnstone
Academically rigorous exploration of the role of the West and NATO in the breakdown of Yugoslavia, and one that exposes many of the propagandist depictions of Serbia that were promoted by western mainstream media during that time.

Sophie’s Choice, William Styron
Artful and heartbreaking account of the effects of holocaust on those who have survived it, and on those of Jewish identity in general.

Anna Karenina , Leo Tolstoy
Complex and beautifully philosophical portrait of 19th century Russia and stifling social norms that drive its heroine to her demise.

The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
Stunningly eloquent and touching portrayal of the immigrant experience in America, and the complexities of composite cultural identities.

The Tyranny of E-mail, John Freeman
A much needed and rare critical look at the often blindly celebrated cyber world we live in.

Geographies of a Lover, Sarah de Leeuw
An incredibly skillful book of erotic poetry that uses the raw imagery of BC landscape as a metaphor for the vigour and fullness of female sexuality

Skeena, Fauzia Rafique
A raw and brave account of a Pakistani woman’s life back home and in Canada, unflinching in its critical portrayal of patriarchy and chauvinism in both societies, yet laced with a warm, yet never sentimental, homage to the lead protagonist’s homeland

Sonja Grgar
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I love these books

In the Skin of Lion, Micheal Ondaatje

An Equal Music, Vikram Seth

The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon, the God

The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing

Black, George Elliot Clarke

The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi

The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Anderson

Blindness, Jose Saramago

Native Son, Richard Wright

Sana Janjua
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Thankful for the following books

A Diary of a Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith
It’s hilarious, a delightful and touching “light” read. I come back to it time and time again, probably because of its main character, Charles Pooter who is one of the great figures in English comic literature.

Dream of a a Red Chamber, Cao Xueqin
Reading this book was an experience. I almost felt like I was living the life of its characters, set in 19th century China. And the supernatural Buddhist/Daoist themes lend it a “timeless,” mysterious feel.

Deewan-i-Ghalib, Ghalib
I am still reading and learning Ghalib’s verses. His poetry is complex, challenging and captivating. His verses can be philosophical, melancholic and irreverant, telling us not only much about Ghalib’s life but of the twilight of the Mughal era.

Skeena, Fauzia Rafique
This was my first Punjabi novel (which I actually read in its English edition). It was a novel that not only made an old literature sound contemporary but one that did so poignantly without being sentimental. The scenes in the novel are etched in my memory and I enjoyed how it dealt with “political” themes like class, poverty and patriarchy, without ever once sounding political.

Randeep Purewall
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Thankful for every book read (to the end), but for some, more so.

Kafian, Madholal Hussain
Shah Hussain’s (Punjabi) poems emerged as songs in my childhood. Later, i realized, Kafian speaks to my totality in some way as it gives me a perspective to view and experience life. From then to now, if planning to travel for over a week, Kafian comes with me because it’s home.

Diwan-e-Ghalib, Assadullah Khan Ghalib
Mirza Ghalib’s collection of (Urdu) poems came upon me a little later than Kafian but in similar ways, and though a very different flavour, it also is a continuous source of pleasure and profundity.

Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre
Though i love Sartre’s trilogy The Roads to Freedom, thanks must be given for Nausea that I read in early youth and there it made me understand why i was feeling nauseous all the time.

After, i found two incredible books that helped me to make sense of the world that was unfolding in the ’70s, notes on alienation in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx and The Second Sex by Simone de Bouvois. Much gratefulness for both.

Power, Linda Hogan
Thanks to Linda Hogan for all her novels, they allowed me to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the lived lives of her characters. As well, because in Toronto in the ’90s, i was having this recurring image of an upside down tree with roots as branches, and it was disturbing me to the point where i began to mention it to friends including poet Connie Fife, who later brought me three novels by Linda Hogan. And unbelievable though it was, i found the exact scene of an upside down tree in one. There also was a reason for it: a storm, and there were people who were able to deal with it. I did not understand why i was having it, i still don’t, but the stress went away.

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
Special thanks to Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses (with Midnight’s Children and Shame since they come out from and flow into each other), the work that launched a strong and permanent literary assault on religious bigotry and its contexts of oppression; the telling of a story that showed us what literature can do. In its aftermath, the Author’s insistence on our right to freedom of expression, to discuss and to confront extremism, continues to strengthen the secular movement. The usage and expression is as revolutionary as the content. The Satanic Verses also is my most valued Banned Book.

The Beloved, Toni Morrison
Thanks to Toni Morrison for The Beloved, an unbelievable story of courage and endurance, of heroic survival and resistance, that claimed from me all the buried emotions of women’s system-sanctioned stoning-lynching-gangraping deaths, confinement and torture. I’m in awe of Toni Morrison for telling this story the way she has though i may not dare read it again.

Fauzia Rafique
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Inspired by
PEN American Centre‘s Facebook post ‘Giving Thanks for Books’
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Film Review – 12 Years a Slave

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Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northup), Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps), Benedict Cumberbatch (William Ford), Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey), Sarah Paulson (Mary Epps), Brad Pitt (Samuel Bass). Directed by Steve McQueen.

Reviewed by Randeep Purewall

In 1841, Solomon Northup, a black American free man from Saratoga Springs, New York, was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. and transported to New Orleans where he was sold as a slave. McQueen’s adaptation of Northrup’s autobiography is a brutal yet necessary reminder of the cruelty of institution of slavery.

A black man born to West-Indian parents in the United Kingdom, McQueen tells the story of one man’s life as slave in the south without any of the sentimentality surrounding the “peculiar institution” as in Gone With the Wind or the fantasy of Django Unchained. “12 Years” is the true story of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an educated, violin player with a wife and two children. One day he is approached by two men who offer him the lucrative prospect of playing in a touring gig. He dines with them one night and is drugged. The next day, he finds himself shackled to the floor of a cell.

Solomon is then transported down the Mississipi where he is sold at a slave house in New Orleans to a plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Ford later sells Solomon to another planation owner, the sadistic Edward Epps (Michael Fassbender) where he spends out his days until he is rescued in 1853 by a local sheriff.

The film deserves praise as one of the few films in recent history to tackle the question of slavery with the candour it deserves. McQueen shows how slavery works through the injustice meted out by the slave owner and his overseers and the acceptance of injustice by the slave. In one searing Platt (Solomon’s slave name) is left hanging by a noose from a bough, after an attempt to hang him by the plantation overseer John Tibbets (Dano) fails. The image is of Platt hanging from the noose, his feet barely touching the ground beneath him, while the rest of the plantation slaves carry on with their work.

The crowning achievement of the film is the masterful direction of McQueen and the superb performances he elicits from his actors. Ejiofor captures the suffering and dignity of Solomon, as a man who does not sink into despair, with his hope for freedom still alive even as he is whipped from a tree and hung by a noose. Fassbender is effective as Epps, the cruel slaveowner, who reads scripture as justifying slavery as the will of God and who blames crop failure on the scorn of his slaves. Nyong’o who plays Patsey shows poignantly the predicament many black women slaves were the object of their master’s lust and of abuse by their mistresses. The film’s climax is the horrifying scene where Epps forces Platt to whip Patsey for visiting the plantation of another slave owner. When Epps is convinced Platt is going soft on the girl, he himself lashes her until the skin on her back is reduced to strips.

“12 Years” accomplishes all this through a fast-moving narrative, without preaching or condescending to the viewer but showing uncompromisingly what slavery was and how it was so brutal. Perhaps the most shocking and affecting scene in the film is where Platt wakes up in the cell and realizes he is no longer Solomon, the cultured violinist who sat at a table with the white man, but who, shackled like a creature, writhes in vain to recapture the freedom that has been stolen from him. That there was the indignity of slavery: to reduce humans to property, freedom to ownership and to forsake brotherhood for cruelty, all caught by McQueen’s heart-rending and unforgettable adaptation.

9/10

Film Review – “Wadjda”

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Starring: Waad Mohammad, Reem Abdullah, Ahd Kamel, Abdullahrahman Al Gohania, Sultan Al Assaf. Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour (98 minutes).

Reviewed by Randeep Purewall

Wadjda has generated so much publicity since its release at the Venice Film Festival in August 2013, one fears that the hype surrounding Haifaa al-Mansour’s debut feature would overshadow the film itself. Thankfully, al-Mansour has made a film that stands on its own merits as a funny, uplifting and endearing story of a girl wanting to buy a bicycle.

Wadjda is the title character played by Mohammad, a spunky, entrepreneurial ten-year old who wears sneakers to the madrassa, listens to rock and roll and dreams of buying a bicycle and racing one of the neighbourhood boys, Abdullah (Algohania).  Her mother (Reem Abdullah), when not distracted by Wadjda’s antics, does her best to convince her husband (Sultan Al Assaf) not to take a second wife.

At the madrassa, Wadjda is frequently censured by the headmistress Ms. Hussa (Ahd Kamel) for selling soccer bracelets, not wearing her hijaab and for acting as a go-between between girls inside the school and the boys outside. The headmistress thinks she may have gotten through to Wadjda however when she convinces the girl to enter a Qu’ran recitation competition for which the First Prize is enough money to allow Wadjda to buy the bicycle she hankers after.

Al-Mansour has created an engaging film which touches on some of the issues faced by women in Saudi Arabian society through Wadjda, her mother and Ms. Hussa. Wadjda, irreverent and care-free, has to hear from her mother and Ms. Hussa how girls cannot ride bikes and to live with the feeling of being second-best to her father for not being born a son. In one scene, Wadjda sees an empty space on her father’s family tree where she had placed a sticker with her name on: only the male branches of the family are included.

Ms. Hussa is a modern-day Wackford Squeers: cold, unfeeling and embittered by an inegalitarian social culture. She chastises schoolgirls for laughing, telling them a woman’s voice is her nakedness and in one scene, publicly shames two students for engaging in “forbidden” acts, after which no girl may exchange flowers or letters or hold hands with one another. Wadjda’s mother lives in fear her husband will take another wife so he can have a son. She tries on a dress she sees in a shop window not because she likes it but because Wadjda’s father might do so.

These three female characters form the heart of “Wadjda” and are performed wonderfully with pluck, steel and grace by Mohammad, Kemel and Abdullah respectively. From start to finish, it is Wadjda, who wins our hearts, as she smarts her way out of trouble, takes advantage of an opportunity or flirts convention. The film is not without its saccharine moments including when Abdullah tells Wadjda that he wants to marry her when she grows up. Those frills aside, Wadjda is a charming film about a girl who wants her bike, her freedom, which alone makes it worth the hype.

8.5/10

The Art of Madonna (Part II)

Justify My Love (1990)

The black-and-white European-art style “Justify My Love” video was shot in Paris by director Jean-Baptise Mondino. The video begins with a worn-out Madonna being approached by a stranger in a hotel hallway. While they kiss and prepare to make love, Mondino teases out a series of sexual images, including bisexuality, androgony, cross-dressing, voyeurism and sadomasochism. Madonna leaves the stranger behind and runs down the hallway, laughing. The video ends with the words “poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.”

justify 2

Click here to watch video: http://vimeo.com/59487452

The video is deliberately surreal, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. The furor over the video was all too real. MTV banned the video for its sexual content. Madonna responded by releasing a video-single of the song, which became the best-selling video-single of all time. It was named the “Best Video of the Year” by the critics of Rolling Stone magazine and as one of “Best 100 Videos” of all time by that magazine.

“Justify” asks what constitutes acceptable sexual behaviour in (American) society. For Madonna, sexual behaviour with a woman as its subject was always going to be socially problematic. “I was not objectified,” she explained to Bob Guccione Jr., “and that is unacceptable.” The “Justify” video shows Madonna granting permission to her lover to enter her room, taking control of her fantasy, creating one erotic scene after the next and leaving the man after she’s done with him. While a public backlash was brewing against her for going too far, Camille Paglia defended Madonna for exposing the puritanism and hypocrisy of America.

The video also appealed to sexual sensibilities other than standard male heterosexuality. In presenting, homosexual behaviour, cross-dressing and gender-bending, “Justify” challenged the idea of a  heteronormative America. As Madonna explained, “sex is the metaphor that I use, but for me it’s about love…tolerance, acceptance and saying, ‘Look everybody has different needs and wants and preferences and desire and fantasies.’”

Madonna was not the first mainstream artist to showcase voyeurism, androgony or even bisexuality, but she was the first to present that content as natural outside of the conventions of heterosexual male desire. As J.D. Considine points out, music videos like George Michael’s “Freedom 90” featured lesbianism but as a spectator sport for straight men. “Justify”  on the other hand implied that both bisexual and homosexual desires were acceptable subjects for fantasy.  “These feelings exist” said Madonna in her interview on Nightline defending “Justify,” and “I’m just dealing with that truth here in my video.”

Written by Randeep Purewall

Further Reading:

Camille Paglia, “Madonna – Finally, a real feminist,” The New York Times, December 4, 1990

J.D. Considine, “How to justify Madonna’s new video?” The Baltimore Sun, December 9, 1990.

The Art of Madonna (Part I)

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

Like a Prayer

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

 Like a Prayer (1989)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Randeep Purewall

Further Reading:

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

The Story of Kainat Soomro

Outlawed-in-Pakistan

In 2007, Kainat Soomroo says she was walking home from school in her hometown of Mehar, Sindh. She went into a store to buy a toy for her niece. While looking around in the store, someone covered her mouth with a handkerchief. She fainted.

Kainat claims she was kidnapped and raped by four men over the next three days. After the third day, she escaped back to her family. Her father tried in vain to report the matter to the police. She was declared an outcaste by the local jirga (council). Her family was told to redeem its honour by killing her.

Instead, her parents defied the jirga and fled with Kainat and the rest of the family to Karachi . There they enlisted the help of a lawyer and of the NGO-group War Against Rape (W.A.R) who helped them bring the four men to trial.

The men were acquitted however as there was no evidence corroborating Kainat’s oral testimony. A month later, Kainat’s brother was murdered by unknown assailants. One of the accused rapists, Ahsan Thebo, claims also that Kainat married him during her captivity, though some suspect this was a tactic to avoid criminal responsibility since marital rape is not a crime in Pakistan.

Kainat and her family now live in poverty in Karachi and have suffered repeated threats on their lives including Thebo’s threat to take Kainat back or kill her. Yet Kainat remains undeterred:  “I want justice, I will not stop until I get justice.”

Her case is currently under appeal.

Written by Randeep Purewall.

http://www.war.org.pk/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/pressroom/press-release-outlawed-in-pakistan/

Pakistani women Rehana Kausar and Sobia Kamar marry in Britain’s first Muslim lesbian partnership

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Posted by Randeep Purewall. Referred to by Tooba Masood.

Two former students from Pakistan are believed to have become the first Muslim lesbian couple to marry in a civil ceremony in Britain.

Rehana Kausar, 34, and Sobia Kamar, 29, took their vows at a registry office in Leeds earlier this month before immediately applying for political asylum, it was claimed.

Relatives of the couple said the women, who studied in Birmingham, had received death threats both in the UK and from opponents in their native Pakistan, where homosexual relations are illegal.

During the ceremony the couple reportedly told the registrar that they had met three years ago while studying business and health care management at Birmingham, having travelled to the country on student visas, and had been living together in South Yorkshire for about a year.

Ms Kausar, originally from Lahore, also holds a master’s degree in economics from Punjab University.

“This country allows us rights and it’s a very personal decision that we have taken. It’s no one’s business as to what we do with our personal lives,” she was quoted as telling the Birmingham-based Sunday Mercury newspaper.

“The problem with Pakistan is that everyone believes he is in charge of other people lives and can best decide about the morals of others but that’s not the right approach. We are in this state because of our clergy, who have hijacked our society, which was once tolerant and respected individuals’ freedoms.”

Homosexual sex is illegal under Pakistani law. There are also no laws prohibiting discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.

In recent years in Britain, some Muslim gay and lesbian couples have opted for a nikah, an Islamic matrimonial contract, which is officially the reserve of heterosexuals. These services, conducted in Arabic with additional duas – prayers – are not recognised in the UK unless accompanied by a civil ceremony. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in the Islamic faith and the notion of same-sex marriage is abhorrent to many Muslims.

A relative of one of the women told the Sunday Mercury: “The couple did not have an Islamic marriage ceremony, known as a nikah, as they could not find an imam to conduct what would have been a controversial ceremony. They have been very brave throughout as our religion does not condone homosexuality. The couple have had their lives threatened both here and in Pakistan and there is no way they could ever return there.”

Ruth Hunt, deputy chief executive for Stonewall, said: “There is a very cautious step towards social visibility for some gay men in Pakistan but lesbians are completely invisible. Pakistan is not necessarily a safe place for couples to be open about their love.”

The Home Office said it was unable to confirm any details about their political asylum request.

Written by Charlotte Philby, The Independent (May 26, 2013). For original story, click here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/pakistani-women-rehana-kausar-and-sobia-kamar-marry-in-britains-first-muslim-lesbian-partnership-8632935.html

Film Review – “Anhe Ghore Da Daan” (‘Alms for a Blind Horse’)

Anhe Ghode Da Daan

Starring: Samuel John, Mal Singh, Sarbjeet Kaur, Dharminder Kaur, Kulwindar Kaur, Labh Singh, Lakha Singh, Gurinder Makna. Directed by Gurvinder Singh (113 mins)

Reviewed by Randeep Purewall

Adapted from Gurdial Singh’s novel of the same name, Anhe Ghore Da Daan is the story of an elderly Punjabi Dalit father who lives in the village (Mal Singh) while his son, Melu (Samuel John) lives in the city.

In the village, the father joins other men of his community to seeks redress for the treatment meted out to Dharma (Labh Singh), a Dalit tenant forcibly evicted and arrested by the police for occupying a house that has been sold by the landlord. In the city, the son is a vagabond of sorts, separated from kith and kin, driving a rickshaw to make ends meet and swigging cheap liquor with other rickshaw-waale on the ramparts of an old fort.

Other than the feisty Lakha (Lakha Singh) who resists his fate, the characters in Anhe Ghore Da Daan are acted upon: a Dalit mother is abused by her employer for cutting some mustard stalks for her animals to eat, one of Melu’s fellow rickshaw drivers curses power plants, alcohol and the callousness of the modern world. Gurvinder Singh paints a world where the pollution in cities, union strikes and factory life slowly encroaches on a village life which is neither gay nor idyllic as otherwise portrayed in Punjabi popular culture.

In a Bressonian style, Singh strips the film down to its bare essentials, letting the images tell their own story from the two horse carts vanishing into the morning fog to the parade of turbans and shawls through the village lanes to Melu asleep in his rickshaw nearby a riverbank with two power-plant smoke stacks looming overhead. The visuals and cinematography of Satya Rai Nagpaul disseminate ideas about the marginalized, suggesting new avenues for story-telling.

The plot may seem languorous, the dialogue sparse and the pace sluggish. Still, Anhe Ghore Da Daan is a welcome experiment in Punjabi-language cinema. The morning fog at the opening of the film is reminscent of that in a Song landscape painting: the characters and details of daily life are insignificant in relation to and often obscured by overpowering, amorphous forces. Beautifully shot and rendered, well-acted, and impacting the viewer slowly, Anhe Ghode Da Daan, along with Sabiha Sumar’s Khamosh Pani (2003) ranks as one of the finest Punjabi-language art films in recent years.

8/10

Film Review – “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”

The-Reluctant-Fundamentalist-_-Riz-Ahmed

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

“Cinema for Change” – Addressing Violence Against Women

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The South Asian Film Education Society (S.A.F.E.S.) hosted its first “Cinema for Change” film festival from April 19 to April 21, 2013. The theme: “Addressing Violence Against Women.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Guest Filmmaker, Samar Minallah, appeared at the opening night by Skype from Pakistan. Her documentary, “Swara: A Bridge Over Troubled Water,” looked at “swara,” the practice of using unmarried girls as compensation to settle disputes between families.  The practice of “swara” in the film of the same name, typically takes place as follows. One man kills another man and the family of the man who has been killed wants compensation from the murderer. The compensation takes the form of a girl, transferred from the family of the murderer to the family who would otherwise seek revenge. The girl is then expected to live in the “other” family as a daughter-in-law.

The practice of “swara” is well-known in North-West Pakistan and in other tribal communities and stopping it, Minallah admits, can be dangerous. The murderer (whose family pays the girl as compensation) is “let off the hook;” stopping that compensation would mean that the murderer must otherwise pay for his crime which, Minallah notes he will typically go to any lengths to avoid. Although Minallah acknowledges the challenges in fighting “swara,” she has helped bring awareness of the issue to the public and to policymakers through short public service-announcements. She also works to sensitive the police to the problem after the practice was made illegal through legislation passed in 2004. A growing number cases of “swara” moreover are being reported and addressed through public interest-litigation (200 cases were reported in 2011).

swara

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The second day saw the screening of “Common Gender” (2012), a Bangladeshi activist-documentary on the life of the hijra (intersexual) community of Dhaka and the violence underlying the social process of gendering. The two other films were “Afghanistan Unveiled” (2007) and “Provoked” (2006).

The film “Provoked,” is based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a Punjabi woman in the United Kingdom who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her husband in 1989. Her conviction was set aside in 1992, partly through the help of the women’s advocacy and outreach group, Southhall Black Sisters. The judge noted that because of years of  abuse, Kiranjit suffered severe depression and battered women syndrome; her mental responsibility for the act was thus “diminished.” She had also been “provoked,” but was unable to retaliate right away because of her mental state. Her case (R v. Ahluwalia) changed English law, leading to the setting aside of convictions for battered women in 1992 and thereafter.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

In “Saving Face,” we hear the stories of two survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan, Zakia and Rukshana. While highlighting the brutality of the attacks and their affect on the women, we see how the problem is being fought through cooperation between reconstructive surgeons, policymakers, lawyers, the media and NGO’s is key in bringing perpetrators to justice and helping women rebuild their lives.

In “Bol” (2012) Meghna Halder presents a short-film in three parts through masks, puppetry and shadows. Whereas the “The Cyclist” looks at the facelessness of the Indian Muslim woman who died in a bomb blast in Bangalore, “The Rape” looks at how two women went missing in Kashmir and were presumed to have been raped and disposed of by the Indian Army. In “The Mask,” Meghna presents the story of a man who wakes one day to find his face has been stolen. All three films were layered with meanings, teasing one’s interpretations.

While the issue of violence against women is ongoing and oftentimes distressing, I admire the filmmakers’ use of film as a medium for raising social awareness of the problem. In Minallah, we saw an example of the activist film-maker who has continued to make films despite risk to herself. In three films, we saw how individual and community activism can bring about social change such as the passage of law against “swara” and acid-attacks in Pakistan or the precedent-setting case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia in the United Kingdom. While the struggle continues, the SAFES has hopefully played its own part in presenting “cinema for change.”

For a list of all films shown and descriptions, go to: http://southasianfilm.blogspot.ca/

Destination South Asia

Here’s a taste of some of the talks at Destination South Asia which took place at the University of British Columbia on March 23, 2013.

“Why is Poverty Declining so slowly in India,” Dr. Ashok Kotwal

  1. India continues to be so poor because most of its population continues to be employed in agriculture which pays so little if anything.
  2. Indians need to shift into non-farm jobs, like manufacturing but India does not have enough skilled labour partly because.
  3. Indians are so poorly educated or not educated at all

Some other points from Dr. Kotwal’s paper on the subject (http://www.ideasforindia.in/Article.aspx?article_id=110 )

  1. Most Indians (93%) have no job security nor access to credit, infrastructure or skills training as they work under the table (the ‘informal sector’), and;
  2. Unskilled and poor workers have benefited little from the “high growth” because they lack the skills to take part in such skill-intensive sectors as business services (which employ only a small part of the labour force anyway).

How will India reap its “demographic dividend” when its people are unskilled, undereducated, malnourished… ?

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“Beyond Political Frames: Literary Voices on Partition,” Nabila Pirani

Short-stories on Partition are written by writers alive at the time of the event, offering the benefit of immediacy to the reader, but can bring out the human and social aspects of Partition more effectively than purely historical or political narratives.

Summarizing the stories “Siqqa Badal Gaya,” “Lajwanti” and “Khol Do” by Krishna Sobti, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Saadat Hassan Manto respectively, Pirani, and the following discussion, revealed the many textures and tones of the Partition era.

In “Siqqa,” Pirani underlines how for many Punjabis, the violence of partition was mostly in the background and how the experience of partition changes through the perspective of a woman writer and protagonist. In “Khol Do,” Manto upsets the apple cart by suggesting that men from a particular community may have raped their own women. Lastly, in “Lajwanti,” Pirani looked at the invisible walls that develop between a husband and a wife who had recently been returned to her husband after being classed as “missing.”

“Pakistan’s Fading Cultural Heritage,” Umair Jaffar

Pakistani singer

The Institute for Preservation of Art and Culture (IPAC) is a Pakistani non-profit organization which seeks to support struggling artists and ustads and to preserve and propagate the classical and folk musical and artistic heritages of Pakistan.

The soul of Pakistan can be heard in the ballads of Marwari women in the Southern Punjab anticipating the return of their husbands from war as it is in the Nur Sur tradition of Baluchistan, a folk story-telling tradition stretching back to the Greek period. There are the instruments, like the Sindhi “borindo,” have been found in excavations in the Indus Valley from over 4000 years ago. And, we see how ancient instruments like the Baluchistani “banjo” can produce the sounds of the modern electric guitar.

Jaffar points out that public media presentations of folk and classical music performances were banned during Zia’s time resulting in a growing number of Pakistani youth over the years who have become disconnected from those traditions. At the same time, some traditions have also enjoyed an upsurge, such as in Baluchistan where folk music traditions have revived as part of a general cultural revival in recent years. I argued that folk and classical music traditions are bound to decline in a country where the languages held in greatest esteem (Arabic, English and Urdu) are not connected to nor supportive of its folk traditions. On the other hand, the traditions of poetry and music connected to the mother tongue helped produce the likes of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

 

“History of Intercultural Dialogue and Engagement in Vancouver,” Naveen Girn

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Girn’s presentation including rare photographs, news excerpts and audio clips and now part of the public archive, serves as a reminder of the history of South Asians in Vancouver.

The story of South Asians in Vancouver can be said to begin with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. To attend the Jubillee in London, England, the army regiments of the subcontinent had to first pass through Vancouver. By 1907, a sizeable number of South Asians had settled in the city and that year saw the opening of the 2nd Avenue Gurdwara in Kitsilano, the first gurdwara in North America.

More than a sacred space, the gurdwara was a meeting ground for Indians of different communities, including socialists, revolutionaries and members of the Ghadr party. The early community lived through the 1907 race riots in Vancouver and the Komagata Maru, published their own news magazine (associated with the Ghadr movement), forged associations with members of Anglo-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian communities and sent delegates to Ottawa to petition the government to grant South Asians the right to vote. The gurdwara also hosted Rabindranath Tagore, who Girn points out slept in the basement there after being turned away from the Hotel Vancouver and Nehru, who visited in 1949.

The Pity of Partition: Dr. Ayesha Jalal’s Lectures at UBC

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As part of the Virani Lecture 2013 series at the University of British Columbia, Ayesha Jalal delivered two lectures on the Partition, the first on March 14, 2013, the second on March 15, 2013.

The first lecture, “The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide,” looked at Manto’s life before, during and after the partition and how he portrayed it in his stories. By looking at Manto’s early revolutionary aspirations in Amritsar, his days as a screenwriter in the film industry of cosmopolitan Bombay and his reluctant boarding of a ship to Karachi in 1947, Jalal showed how partition can be examined through analyses that are not communitarian in tone but, as in Manto’s case, cosmopolitan and post-communitarian.

manto book

The second talk by Jalal, “Separating at Close Quarters: Interpreting PartitionViolence,” sought to dismantle some of the dominant modes of interpreting partition. First, Jalal pointed out that it was not religion as “faith” that was responsible for the violence but rather religion as “difference” between people. Second, communal differences were affected by the material considerations of acquiring “zan, zar, zameen” (gold, land, women). Partition was as much about looting mansions, snatching land and appropriating women as it was about killing one’s fellow man.

Third, traditional analyses of partition forget to mention that most Punjabis refrained from violence, looting, rape and arson. Most of the violence Jalal argued was perpetrated by mobs, thugs and vigilante groups but little beyond that. Muslims helped Hindus and Sikhs helped Muslims reach safe passage. In other cases, women who were  kidnapped decided to stay on the “wrong” side of the border after the formal exchanges of abucted women had been made between India and Pakistan. Any analysis of partition violence Jalal argued has to consider factors beyond just religion.

Jalal is Professor of History at Tufts University and has taught at Columbia University, the University of Madison-Wisconsin and Harvard University. For more information on Professor Jalal’s book on Manto, please click here:  http://www.soas.ac.uk/csp/events/annual-lecture/file79820.pdf.

Translations of Classical Chinese Poetry into Punjabi

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Poems of Chinese poet, Li Bai (701-762). Translated by Randeep Purewall, edited by Fauzia Rafique.

日     照     香     爐     生     紫     煙

遙     看     瀑     布     掛     前     川

飛     流     直     下     三     千     尺

疑     是     銀     河     落     九     天

Xiang Lū* te dhūp channan dhund udānda ae

Dūron maiñ vekhiya ek ābshār

uDdā vagdā dhenda tīn hazār foott thalle

Jivaiñ tāriān de rāh arsh toñ digdī ae

The mist rises from sunlit Xiang Lu

From afar, I see a waterfall

Flying, flowing plunging three thousand feet

Like the milkway falling from heaven

問     余     何     意     棲     碧     山

笑     而     不     答     心     自     閒

桃     花     流     水     杳     然     去

別     有     天     地     非     人     間

Lok pūchde maiñ sāvī choTi te kyoñ rehnāñ

Muskdā maiñ chup apne dil de sukūn’ch

Aarū de phūl pānī te tarde jānde

Fāniāñ de is jahāñ toñ agge kisse haur jahāñ’ch

They ask me why I live on Green Mountain

Smiling, I stay quiet, my heart at peace

Peach blossoms float along the water’s surface

To another world beyond that of mortals

床     前     明     月     光

疑     是     地     上     霜

举     头     望     明     月

低     头     思     故     乡

Mere bistre de samne chamkde chan de lo

Farsh de paindi lagge jivaiñ korā

Sar chañdeyañ maiñ chan taknāñ

Sar niwañdeyañ apna ghar yaad karnāñ

Before my bed the bright moon shines

So that it seems like frost on the ground

Raising my head, I gaze at the moon

Lowering my head, I think of my home

* Xiang Lū: the name of a mountain in southern central China