The Poems of Bedil

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Written by Randeep Singh

Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil (1644-1720) is one of the leading poets of the Indian school of Persian poetry.

Born in Azimabad (Patna) into a family of Uzbek descent, Bedil lost his parents at an early age and was raised by his uncle. He received a classical education, but also mastered poetry and philosophy through self-study. Bedil served in the Mughal army, but returned to Delhi during the reign of Aurangzeb. It was there that he devoted himself to writing poetry.

Bedil composed over 16 books of poetry including ghazals, rubais and masnavis. His poetry deals with philosophical and metaphysical themes and his verses are complex, challenging if also captivating. He was not well received in Iran which generally disdained the “Indian School” of Persian. He remains, however, an iconic poet in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The Urdu poets Ghalib and Iqbal cited Bedil as an important influence on their poetry.

The selected verses below were translated from Persian into Urdu by Afzal Ahmed Syed and from Urdu into English by Musharraf Ali Farooqi (unless otherwise noted).

For too long the heart’s desire bound me
With a drop of blood I was painted whole
Ulfat dil umr haashad dast o paaim basta ast
Qatra-e khoon az sar taa paa hunaaim basta ast

I read in the wave’s fickle, delicate form
The preface of the sea, the wind’s footprint
Mara ma’aena shad az khat-e shakasta mauj
Ki naqsh-e paa-e hava sarnoshat-e aeen darya’st

What heart’s shop is not adorned by desire?
The mirror’s realm of clarity reflects a bazaar
Ko dil-e kaz havas aaraaesh-e dakaanash neest
Dar safaa khaana har aaena baazaare hast

Behold the spring painted with hues of new secrets
What your imagination never grasped the spring reveals
Chasm va kun rang-e asraar-edagar daard bahaar
Aan cha dar vahamat naganjad jalwa gar daard bahaar

In the desert of fancy there are no fixed points
To find our bearings no need have we
Dar dasht-e tauham jahate neest ma’een
Maa raa chi zaroor ast badaaanem kujaayem

In contentment’s land seek not the sun and moon
If a bread and lamp in night rations has been provided to you
Dar mulk-e qanaat ba ma o mahar mapardaaz
Gar naan-e shabe heest o chiraagh-sar-e shaame

For ages we’ve been amused at expressing worthlessness
We are the opener of the pages of stories of nothingness
You could expect nothing from us, but name
we are the messengers of the world of nothingness

’aumrîst kî sargarm-e bayân-e heechîm
tumâr gushâyee dâstân-e heechim
bâ nâmi az ân mîyân, zi mâ qane’a bâsh
mâ qâsed-e paighâm-e jahân-e heechîm
(Translated by Nasim Fekrat)

Sources:

Annual of Urdu Studies: http://www.urdustudies.com/pdf/27/20BedilPoems.pdf

Encyclopaedia Iranica: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/bidel-bedil-mirza-abd-al-qader-b

The Burqini Ban

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Written by Randeep Singh

The Muslim women of France are being forced to be free, again.

A few days ago, on a beach in Nice, police forced a woman to remove her burqini. The woman was fined and charged with disrespecting secularism. She stood in the shadow of four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray. She was gawked at by others, told to go home.

I am not a fan of the hijab, niqaab or any form of face or head covering. I think they are a form of oppression. But it is not my place to tear them off Muslim women. Nor is it the place of a state with all its coercive powers to force women toward freedom by having them remove their clothing or head covering.

Like any law or ideology, French secularism is not neutral. It is the product of French culture, history and society. It reflects the will of the French majority. It did little for its Jewish minorities living in an anti-Semitic French society and culture before World War II, just as it struggles to manage an ethnically and religiously diverse society today.

The Muslim woman’s veil, in particular, has long haunted France. Colonial France saw the veil as the major barrier to the spread of her superior, egalitarian civilization. In the Algerian War of Independence (1954 to 1962), the French called themselves liberators of Muslim women. In 1957, Muslim Algerian women were publicly unveiled as part of the French “emancipation” program.

Then there’s the policing of women’s morality. This, of course, is not unique to Muslim women. In 1907, the first woman to sport a sleeveless swimming outfit in Australia arrested. The two-piece bikini was banned in Spain, Italy and Portugal and denounced by the Pope. In 1967, French women in mini-skirts were stripped by a mob.

And of course, Saudi Arabia enforces the niqaab, Iran upholds the hijaab and Pakistan has its shariah-compliant bra. To veil or not to veil is a question answered by the state, cleric or clan, but rarely just left to the Muslim woman.

Further Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/24/the-burkini-ban-what-it-really-means-when-we-criminalise-clothes

Film Review: Aligarh

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Directed by Hansal Mehta

Starring: Manoj Bajpayee (Ramchandra Siras); Rajkummar Rao (Deepu Sebastian); Ashish Vidyarthi (Anand Grover).

Aligarh is a drama based on the true story of Ramchandra Siras. Siras was dismissed from his position as Chair of Modern Indian Languages from Aligarh Muslim University in 2009, on charges of homosexuality. Mehta’s film is both a sensitive look into Siras’ life and a nuanced critique of how Indian society marginalizes homosexuals in the name of morality.

At the heart of Aligarh is Manoj Bajpayee’s portrayal of Siras. Bajpayee bears Siras’ soul and isolation whether in his barring himself up away from the world or listening to Lata Mangeshkar on whiskey-filled nights.

He also reveals Siras’ quiet charm in his conversations with Deepu, the journalist who interviews Siras after his dismissal from Aligarh. When Deepu asks Siras if he is gay, Siras speaks of his sexuality in terms of metaphor. This is a way for him to leave behind the world of “gay” and “straight” for what matters. But it’s also how Siras makes sense of himself in a society which has no vocabulary for his experience.

Through the courtroom scenes, demonstrations and Deepu’s investigations, we see how the issue of homosexuality in India has become at once political, legal, cultural and moral. But for Siras, it isn’t about politics, activism, collective morality or social censure. It’s about living a life of quiet dignity denied to him.

Film Review: “Dheepan”

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Starring: Anthonythasan Jesuthaasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby, Vincent Rottiers

Directed by: Jacques Audiard

“Je m’appelle Dheepan.”

Dheepan begins on the twilight of the war in Sri Lanka. Sivadhasan (Jesuthaasan), a Tamil Tiger, mourns a fallen comrade. Yalini (Srinivasan), a young woman, wants to escape as a refugee.  Illaya (Vinasithamby), an orphaned girl, becomes Yalini’s ticket. Sivadhasan, now renamed “Dheepan,” Yalini and Ilaya leave Sri Lanka a “family” for France.

Set in a housing project on the outskirts of Paris and amidst a Balzac-like cast of thugs, gang members and drug pushers, Dheepan is raw, dark and moving. Audiard’s direction and storytelling create a picture as close to art and reality as cinema gets. Through the performances of Jesuthaasan, Srinivasan and Vinasithamby, one lives the tears, frustrations and spirit of Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaya. The war in Sri Lanka lives on not just in memories.

The cinematography of Eponine Momenceau deepens the ambiance with the paddy fields and funeral pyres of Sri Lanka to the smashed lighting strips and marijuana butts littering the housing project. In this Fifth Republic, there is no law, no fraternity. Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaya have to fight for a new beginning. In Dheepan, Audiard asks gracefully and frankly whether people can start again.

Rating: 88%

One Canada, One Citizen

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Written by Randeep Singh

It’s Canada Day, a good time to reflect on what Canada means to us. I immigrated to Canada like many before and after me. I became a citizen. I am proud to be Canadian.

The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (better known as Bill C-24), hasn’t made me any less proud to be Canadian, even if it does put me in a different class of citizenship.

All countries differentiate between citizens and foreign nationals or citizens and permanent residents. Canada previously revoked citizenship if it was obtained through fraud or misrepresentation. This was in accordance with the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; but, differentiating between citizens?

The French Revolution developed the modern idea of the “citizen.” The Revolution sought to create a society where people (men) existed as equal citizens before law, not as subjects with differing privileges. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt referred to citizenship as the “right to have rights,” the right to belong to a political community and have one’s rights protected by that community. In a 1997 ruling, Justice Iacobucci for the Supreme Court of Canada stated, “I cannot imagine an interest more fundamental to full membership in Canadian society than Canadian citizenship.”

In differentiating between different classes of Canadian citizens and in revoking (or maintaining) their citizenship status accordingly, the Government of Canada (the Conservative Party of Canada) is not only revoking a legal status; it is revoking all constitutionally enshrined rights associated with such status.

The law apparently infringes equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by discriminating between Canadians (individuals and groups) on the basis of national and ethnic origin. There are all sorts of practical and humanitarian concerns to consider. How can the government send de-nationalized persons “back” to a country which does not receive them? Can it return a person back to a country where he or she may be persecuted?

The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act is an act of splintering Canadian citizenship. It creates different classes of citizenship (for different reasons) just as states in the Deep South of the United States created different classes of American citizens through legal discrimination.

I can only take comfort that it will be challenged and under the grounds of the Constitution of Canada which affirms the equality of Canadians, regardless of their differences.

Further Reading:

http://www.toptipsclub.com/blog/immigration-citizenship/nine-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-changes-to-canadian-citizenship/

Works Cited:

“Revocation of Citizenship after the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act,” Peter Edelmann in Immigration Issues: Not Business as Usual, (Continuing Legal Education Society of BC, 2014).

Zinda Bhaag and Illegal Migration from Pakistan

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Written by Randeep Singh and Kulwindar Singh

Zinda Bhaag is the story of three young men in Lahore: Chitta, Khaldi and Tambi. Chitta plans to migrate to Italy under a fake passport. Khaldi dreams of becoming pukka in the United Kingdom. Tambi has recently been deported from the Ukraine. The West it seems is the promised land, the paradise the bright future, awaiting them.

The roads to though paradise are long and tough. Chitta travels to Europe in a cargo container through Iran to Turkey and into Greece, but dies somewhere along the way. Khaldi is refused all legal routes to enter the United Kingdom. Tambi spent two years in prison in the Ukraine for associating with his boss, a heroine dealer, before being deported back to Lahore.

Illegal immigration (including human smuggling) from Pakistan to Europe takes its route through African, Middle Eastern and West Asian countries, across land and sea. There are networks of agents, translators, lawyers, and informers stationed locally. along the way. The dangers on the way are many and include being defrauded, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment and death from lack of food, water and air. Those who survive do so suffer physical and mental trauma. Those who arrive in their host countries live without social assistance, exploited by their employers and on the edges of society.

Khaldi tries to enter the United Kingdom first through family sponsorship, later by student visa, and ultimately, illegally. The U.K. remains one of the most popular destinations for Pakistani illegal migrants from Pakistan. Many Pakistanis arriving there work in warehouses, kebab shops, off-licenses and butcher shops. Khaldi’s plans first to work as a taxi driver. Failing to enter legally, he takes Chitta’s fake passport, not knowing what his fate will be.

Khaldi is undeterred. Like many, emigration is his chance to be a “somebody.” Khaldi’s mum wastes no chance in reminding him how strapped the family is when so many other young men are wiring money home from abroad. Chitta comes from a poor family and sees no future for himself in Pakistan. Tambi conversely is disgraced for having “returned” to Pakistan without a penny to his name.

While Zinda Bhaag looks at the other motives for illegal emigration – including financial imperatives and lack of opportunity at home – it is ultimately a film about “trying to live a life of dignity and honour and failing.”[1] And while illegal migration has been explored in films like “Le Havre,” “West of Eden” and “Journey of Hope,” Zinda Bhaag deserves attention for the first Pakistani and South Asian film of any note to do so.

[1] Interview with Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, Dharmsala International Film Festival: http://diff.co.in/blog/interview-meenu-gaur-farjad-nabi/

International Women’s Day: The Gulabi Gang

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Written by Randeep Singh

The days leading up to International Women’s Day saw the screening of “India’s Daughter,” a documentary on the rape of murder of Jyoti Singh in New Delhi in 2012. Singh’s rape and murder provoked a national catharsis of demonstrations, clashes with police and soul-searching on how to better protect India’s (middle-class) women from sexual predators.

Singh did not come from privileged circumstances, but she had the aspirations of a middle-class woman. That made her worthy enough of respect of the middle-class. There were however no moments of silence for those indigent Indian women who are raped daily, no national march to fight for the rights of the dispossessed in rural India, the majority of the country’s women.

The Gulabi Gang is a woman’s movement that was started by poor women in 2006 in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh. It began as a band of women who humiliated and punished men for abusing their wives. Today, it has over 300,000 members and fights against dowry death, rape, child marriage and child molestation and caste oppression in northern India.

The Gulabi Gang do not attend classes at Delhi University, read Byron or catch flicks at the multiplex. The antithesis of the modern, enlightened Indian women, they have struck at the heart of patriarchy without the help of NDTV, academia and marches along Rajpath. The fact that this movement has taken place and grown in rural India, tells us that this is where the real battle against violence against women is to be fought if it is to be won.

India Bound

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Written by Randeep Singh

The film Haider was released on October 2, 2014. The film is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the violent backdrop of Kashmir in the mid-1990s. Among other things, Haider looks at the atrocities of the Indian army. It has become one of the most critically acclaimed films in India this year.

On October 15, 2014, the Allahabad High Court issued notices to, among others, the film’s director, director and actors to respond to a petition. The petition was filed by the Hindu Front for Justice an organization which seeks to restrain the film’s screening on the basis that it insults the sovereignty, integrity and unity of India.

How does a film like Haider endanger the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India? Aren’t India’s restrictions on the freedom of expression, such as national security, public order and incitement to violence,  sufficient to deal with problems that may otherwise imperil the “sovereignty, integrity and unity” of India?

The “sovereignty, integrity and unity” limitation on freedom of expression merely enables the Indian power to curb any thought or opinion it deems “anti-national.” And what is more cherished to the Indian nationalist mythology than the idea that India is a benign, secular democracy, a view questioned by Haider?

In its stamping out of ideas, thoughts or opinions, which just may have a ring or truth to them, the Indian state privileges the right of an ambiguous and undefined the “nation” over those of democracy which relies on a free flow of ideas. The result is a narrowing of the Indian mind.

If Haider is restrained from playing in Indian cinemas, the Indian state and its fascist enthusiasts will have again (as they have done before with M.F. Hussain, Deepa Mehta, Sonali Bose, Arundhati Roy, Wendy Doniger) have privileged the rights of the “nation” over those of Indians themselves.

Film Review: “Haider”

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Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Shraddha Kapoor, Narendra Jha, Irrfan Khan
Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj

Reviewed by Randeep Singh

This third adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedies by Vishal Bhardwaj is not a tragedy in the same way as the play from which it is adapted. The tragedy in “Hamlet” comes from the hero’s fatal flaw, his indecision whether to avenge his father’s murder and the needless deaths which result along the way. In Bhardwaj’s “Haider,” the title role (played by Shahid Kapoor) is unwavering in his determination to murder his uncle, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon), contending only with chance and circumstance. There is no fatal flaw in the character of Haider and no tragedy as such.

The tragedy in Haider is the tragedy of Kashmir, the backdrop against which this modern-day Indian adaptation is told. It’s no irony that we see elections being conducted in a land where the day’s rhythms are determined by curfews and where the call to prayer is drowned out by army loudspeakers. The tragedy is most poignantly rendered in Haider’s search for his father, one of the many “missing” fathers, sons and husbands in Kashmir. It is realized visually too through the film’s stunning cinematography, the pure snow of the valley speckled with blood, veiled by smoke, partitioned by barbed wire.

Kapoor captures Haider as a sensitive young poet in the earlier part of the film, but gives a less nuanced performance when Haider experiences episodes of madness. The stand-out performance in the film is that of Tabu as Ghazala who hauntingly portrays a woman torn by loyalty as a mother, a widow and a new wife. Kapoor and Tabu are supported by an excellent supporting cast, particularly Menon as Khurram and Narendra Jha as Haider’s father, Dr. Hilal Meer.

The film isn’t entirely stellar. The climax, while effective, almost turns comical with the transformation of three elderly gravediggers into militia men. The madness and suicide of the Ophelia-adapted character, Arshi (played by Shraddha Kapoor), is also so rushed that it never really sinks in. The tragedy though as Bhardwaj makes clear is not that of Arshi or even of Haider. In closing the film with Faiz Ahmad Faiz’ poem “Intesaab” (‘Dedication’), Bhardwaj’s “Haider” becomes a dedication to the congregation of mourning that is Kashmir, a tragedy awaiting its final curtain.

8.5/10

Buddhist Social Philosophy

 

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Written by Randeep Singh

What does Buddhism[1] say about social matters?

In Buddhism, all things are governed by the universal law known as Dharma. In the physical world, Dharma regulates the expansion of galaxies, the flow of the seasons and of the rise and setting of the sun. In the social world, Dharma is found in the obligations and responsibilities we owe to one another as humans.

To live in accordance with Dharma socially is to live a moral life (sila) in harmony with the well-being of others. Buddhism in particular looks at the Dharma in relation to suffering and the end of suffering.

Suffering arises socially when we think we exist separately from one another. In Buddhism, nothing exists separately from anything else and there is no “self” or “essence” which divides one thing from another. The end of suffering begins when we realize that we do not exist seperately from anything or anyone but in a dynamic interdependence with everything and everyone around us. There is no “self” dividing me from my neighbour.

In so realizing, I regard my neighbour as myself. Dharma is realized by “doing good to others, avoiding harm to others.” Buddhist ethics consider how one’s words, actions and livelihood affects other people and the quality of one’s relationships with those people. Kind words, a smile, a handshake, all make a difference. Dharma is apparent through the effects of our moral actions on our lives (‘karma’) and how the cumulative effects of our action produce social relationships, networks and society.

Above all, human relationships provide support and solace in a world of suffering. The loneliness of human existence, the pain of separation, the sorrow of losing someone close to us, all are lessened through the bonds of love, friendship and brotherhood. The ideal society in Buddhist philosophy is one where each person lives in respect and with affection toward others, creating relationships in the spirit of love, compassion and joy in the happiness of others.

Footnote:

[1] I define Buddhism as the teachings of the Buddha and take them as a philosophy like the the teachings of Aristotle, Confucius or Plato, not as a religion per se.

Further Reading:

Ainslee T. Embree ed., Sources of Indian Tradition, Vol. 1: From the Beginning to 1800, Columbia University Press, New York: 1988.

Damien Keown, Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2006).

 

Don’t Cry For Punjabi

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Written by Randeep Singh

We hear about the “loss” of Punjabi, the “tragedy” of how Punjabi is not taught in schools in West Punjab, of how Punjabi youth speak only Urdu, Hindi or English in Lahore or Chandigarh. “Imagine the sound of Punjabi and the rich cultural heritage it boasts,” writes Affan Chaudhary, “lost forever.”[1]

If there’s a tragedy, it’s the idea that the demise of Punjabi has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more one believes it, the less likely one will do anything to reverse it and the less likely that anything will change in any positive respect, least of all the feelings of doom and gloom.

I am not denying Punjabi faces challenges, but the circumstances suggest a more balanced view on the question.

First, Punjabi is neither an “endangered” nor a “vulnerable” language.[2] While it may not enjoy national or official status like Hindi, Urdu or French, neither is Punjabi an endangered or vulnerable language like Basque, Corsican or Gaelic all with less than one million speakers.

Punjabi is in fact one of the world’s most spoken languages with its number of speakers ranging from 80 to 110 million.[3] The total number of Punjabi speakers moreover has been increasing, not decreasing, since 1951.[4]

Second, rather than compare Punjabi to Urdu and Hindi, it would make more sense to compare Punjabi to languages like Gujarati, Pashto and Telugu with which its shares a similar legal and official status. What does the experience of these languages have in common with Punjabi? What initiatives have such languages taken in promoting awareness and education in one’s mother tongue in ways which can help Punjabi?

Third, few languages have proved so culturally vibrant in India, Pakistan and in the diaspora as Punjabi. Punjabi has historically dominated the film and music industry in Pakistan thanks to icons like Noor Jehan. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan raised the profile of Punjabi poetry through his musical performances. And Punjabi MC’s bhangra/dance track “Mundiyan To Bachke Rahin” topped charts in the UK, Italy and Germany and crossed over into hip-hop collaborations with Jay-Z and Timbaland.

We could add the growing popularity of Punjabi through Sufi Rock, Coke Studio and Bollywood. The point is that any discussion on Punjabi needs to count its achievements and opportunities along with its setbacks.

So don’t cry for Punjabi just yet.

[1] Affan Chaudhary, “I Speak Punjabi but My Kids Might Not,” in Express Tribune (March 16, 2012): International Tribune: :://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/10622/i-speak-punjabi-but-my-kids-might-not/

[2] UNESCO defines an endangered language as one which children no longer the language as a mother tongue in the home; and a vulnerable language as one which is spoken by most children but whose use is restricted to certain domains like the home.

[3] Ethnologue lists Western Punjabi (Lahnda) and its various dialects as the 11th most spoken language with 82.6 million speakers with an additional 28 million speakers of Eastern Punjabi. The Swedish language million speakers, the Swedish language encyclopedia, Nationalencyklopedin (2007) lists Punjabi as the 10th most spoken language in the world with 102 million speakers.

[4] http://www.statpak.gov.pk/depts/pco/index.html

 

Book Review – Punjab: A History From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten

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Written by Randeep Singh

Punjab: A History From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten (Rajmohan Gandhi, Aleph Book Company, New Delhi: 2013).

Gandhi’s Punjab surveys the history of the region from the decline of the great Mughals to the invasions of Afghan rulers and Nadir Shah to the reign of Ranjit Singh and the British Raj to the creation of independent India and Pakistan in 1947. The book is engaging, commendable for its scope and brings to the foreground figures like Adina Beg Khan, Ganga Ram and Fazl-i-Hussain who are otherwise passed over in Indian histories on the region.

From the outset, Gandhi underlines the importance of understanding a common Punjabi identity (‘Punjabiyat’) through centuries of foreign invasion and colonial rule. Unfortunately, his history, coloured by colonial and nationalist historiography, produce a distorted picture of the Punjabi.

In categorizing Punjabis before the 19th century as either Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, Gandhi replicates the colonial-era practice of classifying Punjabis (and Indians at large) solely by their religious identity forgetting that Punjabis before the colonial era typically defined themselves by their clan, village and caste. Such a categorization overlooks the diversity amongst and overlap between Punjabis and the extent to which they cooperated with one another across religious lines as under Adina Beg Khan, Ranjit Singh or in the Punjab’s Unionist Party.

Gandhi’s chapters on independence and partition moreover largely follow the contours of the Indian nationalist narrative. He adopts a critical tone towards the Muslim League in the making of the Partition without questioning in the same breadth the politics of the Indian National Congress and the British. Such a filtering of history is unlikely to advance understanding between Punjabis of India and Pakistan.

All this despite Gandhi’s reminder to us throughout of  a Punjabiyat symbolized by Farid, Waris Shah, Amrita Pritam and Shiv Kumar. His own history could have contributed greatly to that Punjabiyat and to Punjab studies. One can only hope that Gandhi’s Punjab will inspire more balanced histories on the region in the years ahead.

 

 

 

 

An Evening with Saeen Zahoor

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Written by Randeep Singh

On May 31, 2014, Pakistani Sufi singer Saeen Zahoor performed at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, sending the audience into trance, dance and inspiring reverence throughout.

The evening brought together local Indian and Pakistani performers, organizers and audience members. Indo-Pakistani band Naqsh IPB opened the evening with their blend of modern Sufi, rock, classical and filmi musical stylings. Through clashing drums, pulsating guitar riffs and the soaring vocals of Daksh Kubba, Naqsh warmed up the crowd for Saeen.

He entered in his long black kurta embroidered in yellow, ghungroo bells jingling around his ankles, carrying his colourfully decorated ektaara (one-string instrument). “I am not an artist,” he began, “I am a dervish who recites the name of His Master.”

Saeen didn’t just sing: he performed in every sense of the word. The spirit of Bulleh Shah poured through Saeen, his songs, his dance, his story-telling. His two hours on the stage was a musical theatre on the life and poetry of Bulleh Shah.

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After declaring his devotion to Bulleh Shah in “Ni Mai Kamli Haan” (‘Crazy I Am!’), Saeen sang “Aukhen Painde Lambiyaan Raavan” (‘Hard and Long are the Paths’), of how Bulleh Shah journeyed for miles in search of his teacher. On meeting his teacher, Shah Inayat, Bulleh Shah asks: “how does one find God.” Shah Inayat, planting spring onions, replies: “what do you want to find God for? Just uproot this from here and plant it there.”

Saeen then broke out ecstatically into “Nachna Painda Ae” (‘Dance One Must’) swirling on the stage in his ghunghroo bells just as Bulleh Shah had once for Shah Inayat.

Saeen also sang on Bulleh Shah’s rebukes to legalistic Muslim clerics in “Bas Kare O Yaara Ilm” (‘Enough of Learning, My Friend’). Saeen tells us, Bulleh Shah gave up the shariah for the way of Love just as Heer refused to marry another man according to the shariah because she had been wedded spiritually to her Beloved. On love’s path, Saeen sings “let’s go Bulleh to that place where everyone is blind” in “Chal Bulleha Uthe Chale.”

From his stepping onto the stage, the audience became disciples of Saeen. He sang with abandon, he whirled with frenzy and he ended the night to the boom of the dhol drum bringing the audience to its feet. The air was filled with passion, energy and devotion. People went up to the stage and paid their respects by touching their heads to the stage or folding their hands in reverence: the theatre became a Sufi shrine, a dargah.

Above all, Saeen ensured Bulleh Shah will live on as a shared heritage. His spirit and art were the spirit of love and unity. Says Saeen: “humanity is to love one another.”

The Dharma Politic

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“Hatred is not appeased by hatred. Hatred is appeased only by Love”
(Dhammapada, 1.5)

Written by Randeep Singh

What role does politics play in Buddhism?

Buddhism originated at a time in India when the state was active in expansion, trade, war and diplomacy. The state is found in the Buddha’s ideas and his teachings have the following implications for politics.

First, like all phenomena in Buddhism, politics is imperfect, subject to change, interrelated and composite and conditioned by many interdependent factors, such as geography, history, inter-state relationships and how people relate to the ruler.

Second, politics is governed by the universal moral law or dharma. The ruler in Buddhism is appointed by the people (Maha Sammata) to protect their life, security and property.[1]  The moral law of Dharma requires such a ruler to be benevolent (adosa), moral  (sila) and not to act contrary to the will of the people (avirodha).[2]

Third, the “benevolent ruler” (dharma raja) is essentially the secular counterpart of the Buddha, a person who has realized his highest spiritual and ethical potential (buddha) and who directs that energy (chanda) to the people’s welfare. He improves their economic condition so they have a foundation upon which to pursue a good life.[3] He avoids harm to others in thought, word or action, particularly through the practice of non-violence (ahimsa).[4]

The purpose of Buddhism is to end human suffering. Government in Buddhist politics lays the foundation for such a life by enabling the people to fulfill their potential for goodness and happiness and, thereby, putting an end to suffering. The Dharma Politic is “for the good of the many, for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world.”

 

 

[1] Digha Nikaya, 3.80.

[2] “Ten Duties of the King” (dasa raja dhamma). Jataka I, 260, 399

[3] “Kutadanta-sutta” in Digha Nikaya. Emperor Ashoka of India (r. 269-232 BCE) for instance provided public works and medical care. In China, Buddhism encouraged the building of orphanages, hospitals and rest homes for the elderly; see Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey, Kenneth Chen (Princeton University Press, NJ: 1985). 484.

[4] The Buddhist-influenced Gupta Empire (c. 320-551CE) for instance was noted for its minimal state interference in society and its abolition of capital punishment.

 

The Trouble with Hindutva

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Written by Randeep Singh

With the likelihood that a Hindu-right led government will come to power in India in the current elections, it’s worth examining the foundations of Hindutva (‘Hindu-ness’), the ideology underlying the Hindu right.

The seminal text on Hindutva is “Essentials of Hindutva” written by Veer Savarkar around 1922.

According to Savarkar, “Hindutva” is a cultural and national (not a religious) idea underlined by a common nation (‘rashtra’), race (‘jati’) and culture (‘sanskriti’). To qualify as a “Hindu” (Indian), one must regard “Hindustan” (India) as one’s fatherland (‘pitrabhumi’), motherland (‘matrabhumi’) and holyland (‘punyabhumi’).

Those who do not regard Hindustan as their holyland – namely Muslims and Christians – lack the “cultural” element necessary to be a Hindu. They can only become Hindu if they choose to embrace Hindustan as their holyland as well.

The trouble with Hindutva begins with the term “Hindu.” The term “Hindu” is a term foreigners used in referring to the inhabitants of the subcontinent, a point Savarkar concedes noting that it was the ancient Persians who first used the term. The term “Hindu” is scarce found within Sanskrit literature and Hindus have traditionally referred to one another not by “Hindu” but by their respective caste names (e.g. Bania, Chamar, Brahmin etc.). Savarkar’s national “Hindu” moreover is essentially north-Indian, upper caste and Brahmanic in race and culture.

Second, Savarkar’s essay is not so much a work of political ideology as it is itihaasa, a work combining history, myth, legend and fantasy. Savarkar does not question whether Rama, Krishna or the Mahabharata are mythological figures, whether the Aryans originated from outside of India and and whether Sanskrit was a language restricted to upper-castes. Any such inquiry is drowned out in an epic call for “Hindu” unity.

Third, Savarkar’s basic failure to define the term “nation” results in ambiguity and contradiction in his defining a Hindu. To say that a Muslim is not a Hindu (Indian) because Islam’s holyland is Saudi Arabia, is tantamount to saying that a Catholic in Spain cannot regard himself as Spanish because Christianity’s holyland is Palestine. It is also interesting that while Savarkar disqualifies Muslims as Indians because they lack the essential prerequisite of culture (i.e. viewing India as their holyland), he qualifies as Hindu those Caucasians who convert to Hinduism despite their lacking his otherwise essential criteria of race.

Savarkar’s “Essentials of Hindutva” is a yearning for unity. One can understand its appeal to millions in India, particularly those of a religion as diverse as Hinduism. That yearning is perhaps necessary to the idea of India; but any imagined unity like Hindutva’s imagines its others too as Ayodhya and Godhra have demonstrated. The coming election will help determine Hindutva’s place in India’s imagination tomorrow.