A suffocated but 'secure' city
Such is the state of mind of the citizen that I am referring to that he was unwilling to even consider my question when I asked about how he felt at living so close to the prestigious and pompous Expo 2005, that was being held at the modern Expo Centre in the town. It took me a fair amount of patient persuasion that he agreed to answer, but with a reply which was a question in fact. He asked me point blank, "Would you like to live close to the Expo Centre, and be within security range of all the exhibitions that are held there, and the VIPs who visit it periodically, and... ", he went on. I knew what he was implying.
That was smart of this Gulshan-i-Iqbal resident, and I obviously responded by saying that I would not want to reside there, though there was a time when I did live close to it, and found the residential area quite free of environmental suffocation, that seems to be perceptible now. He referred to the difficulties that he faced in reaching home, and the restrictions there were on guests coming to the homes of residents during the days when exhibitions are held including the Expo 2005.
The people who frequently use Sharea Faisal, or those whose offices are located on Ziauddin Ahmad Road, and other streets and thoroughfares that are closed, with and without notice, too often resulting in traffic jams which persist for a couple of hours, at times, can perhaps no more call that environment "satisfactory."
Indeed, by the time this column is published, the Expo 2005 and its fanfare would be over, hopefully. How did the people in the Sindh capital feel about the event, and its implications? Think about it. One needs to refer to an appeal that was made through print media by various officials to Karachiites to bear with the Expo 2005 and make it a success. There was also a private TV channel suggesting to the citizens to be "role models" for the event. The anchor person saying resides in London, please note.
One thought about all this. In fact the Karachiites had no real or imagined option. They had no choice. If a road was closed, it was closed. And law enforcing agencies had created barriers to enforce that.
In fact, one senses that given the state of insecurity, which has crept into our lives in the wake of the 'war against terrorism,' it appears that there is something that is going wrong, or perhaps that the city is growing unprepared, in terms of its existing and anticipated infrastructure and development, for the growing security measures that are being taken, and those that will be taken in the days ahead.
Take for example the location of the US Consulate General on Abdullah Haroon Road, which when closed creates a confusion which has a spill over effect on the rest of the defunct district South. Closures and barricades due to the British Deputy High Commission and the French consulate in Clifton, and Bath Island, respectively, do also create inconveniences, but less for the common man. These all are grim reminders of how risky and threatened the city has become over the years.
With the Expo 2005 came scores of visitors, and participants, from overseas as well. What was the impact on them of a city where there was so much of pronounced and visible security? That this is a good place to invest. Was this the message? Some ripples of insecurity were also created on Friday morning at two points where minor "blasts" took place near the Chief Minister's House and the Expo Centre.
A Karachiite who resides in Gulistan-i-Jauhar, and usually takes Sharea Faisal to get home, and instead took the Baloch Colony route during the week, revealed that he found it very helpful to listen to an FM channel at his car radio, which gave him a comprehensive view of traffic jams all over the city, created because of the Expo 2005 security measures. There is reason to believe that other FM channels should also focus on this aspect of our urban lives. They should let us know when the VVIPs are in town. For their presence, as we have come to realize (and perhaps accept) is one visible reason why roads are closed.
The more impatient and agitated citizens who have suffered repeatedly because of VVIP security measures point to the way in which the Jinnah Hospital-NICVD Road is choked when a nearby road that houses the army house is closed for long hours. The subsequent bottleneck at the Cantonment Railway Station, where those long buses for upcountry stations are parked, is known to us all.
The point to realize is that we have reached such a point in the city's expansion (population factor mainly) that the slightest imbalance and deviation from routine creates a traffic mess. A drizzle, a road repair, a sewerage overflow, road digging, and so on, upset the flow of vehicles. And these are somewhat smaller factors.
Like in other areas of our lives, we have lost opportunities either through sheer inefficiency mismanagement, mishandling, corruption, or lack of vision. Therefore corrective measures being taken now by the authorities concerned may not rescue us at this stage. The answer lies in suffering. Hard times; really. It calls for patience.
And believe me, all through the week, I have heard from people how long they have taken to get to work and back. And in these days of expensive fuel and costly cars and their maintenance, the impact is stinging, crippling. Even public transport owners and operators are protesting on this count. Rising prices of essential goods, tied to day-to-day living, are a thought that crosses the mind as I say all this.
One veteran journalist, who resides in North Nazimabad, A Block, complained mildly, that it took him and his son almost two hours to reach home from down town, for which he had to detour through Mauripur Road. Those who know Karachi would realize what I am saying.
The thought that we will go through all this, all over again, when they come. That is what demands courage and patience.
The debt we owe to Hali
It was again a death anniversary which the local branch of the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) commemorated the other day. Poet of the famous Musaddas and the author of Muqaddama-i-Sheir-o-Shairi, the contemporary of Mirza Asadullah Ghalib and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Maulana Altaf Husain Hali, died 90 years ago and the PAL arranged a seminar on the occasion. Initiating the proceedings, the resident director of the PAL, Kazy Javed, said Maulana Hali took a leading part in rebuilding Muslim society in India during the 19th century.
Besides being a pioneer of modern writing, he set new parameters of literary criticism. Moreover, he took upon himself the task of extending the efforts of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the field of education, an area in which the Muslims were lagging far behind others in the subcontinent. During his stay in Lahore, it was Hali who, together with Maulana Azad, created a revolution in the thinking patterns of the intellectuals of the Punjab. Despite that, he was all but forgotten here.
Dr Naheed Qasmi read a lengthy paper on the life and works of Maulana Hali and proved that he served as a bridge between Ghalib and Allama Iqbal. She emphasized the fact that a tussle had started during that period between modern and ancient thought and it was Hali who advocated that we could stick to our traditional and conventional foundations and yet learn from modern cultures and societies. Her point was that Hali deserved credit for instilling in our people an interest in modern studies and foreign literature.
In his paper, Prof Shafiq Ahmad Khan said that it was because of Maulana Hali that people started taking interest in adopting fresh and modern trends in writing. In addition, it was he who made literature a means for the uplift of social values.
In his presidential remarks, Prof Hasan Askari Kazmi was all praise for Maulana Hali because of his Musaddas which, provided vigour to the rudderless Muslim society of his time and gave it confidence in itself and the courage to stand on its own feet. It should also not be forgotten, he said, that together with Maulana Muhammad Husain Azad, it was he who laid the foundation the modern nazm in the country.
As mentioned above, Hali is known more for his Musaddas and the Muqaddama. The Muqaddama covers more than 200 pages in which Hali has dealt with the art of poetry and sums up the essentials which form the life and substance of all good poetry. As someone said, "it stands as a valuable book of criticism and enjoys in Urdu literature exactly the same importance as Wordsworth's Prefaces enjoy in English literature."
However, Sir Abdul Qadir accepts Hali mostly as a poet. In the Urdu literature of the nineteenth century, he says, "Hali has also attempted prose, but it does not seem to be his special line. He is essentially a poet by nature."
I may add that as a poet, Hali confesses to being more under the influence of Nawab Mustafa Khan Shaifta than under that of Ghalib. "I learnt more from Shaifta," he once said.
* * * * *
Besides commemorating birth and death anniversaries of the dear departed, the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) has been inviting living literati to speak about themselves and recount the phases through which they had passed to get recognition. In this connection, the first to be invited was the editor of the monthly Takhleeq and noted poet, Azhar Javed, and then the bureaucrat plus short story writer and novelist, Muhammad Saeed Sheikh. I have already written about both these functions.
Earlier this month, the 'live show' arranged by the PAL was that of Kanwal Feroz, the poet who also edits the monthly Shadaab. Presiding over the function was the erudite leading lawyer, Syed Afzal Haider. The chief guest was the former head of the Punjab University Department of Mass Communication, Dr Shafique Jullundhri.
Kanwal Feroz started with his birth in 1938 at Ferozpur (India) and later migration to Pakistan. While in Sargodha, he got guidance in poetry from the late Altaf Mashhadi and also made a humble beginning in journalism. Having worked for several newspapers and magazines, he shifted to Lahore in 1969 and took poetic guidance from Ehsan Danish. At the same time, he launched his semi-literary monthly, Shadaab.
He has been promoting national integration through this magazine and has been awarded a gold medal for it by the Media Foundation (International). He is also recognized as a champion of human rights. As a poet, he has three published collections of verse. These have received favourable reviews.
Several literary personalities attended the function and those paying a tribute to Kanwal Feroz included Sultana Munawar, Husain Majrooh and Dr Ajmal Niazi. Mr Haider advised Kanwal to think about writing his memoirs as these would amount to being a historical record of his time.
Decline of the Chittar
Not many years ago, if one visited any Lahori bazaar, the happy chatter of buying, and gossiping would often be interrupting by a series of resounding smacks. The smacks were instantly recognizable as a Hawaii chappal hitting flesh, and if one elbowed through the instantly collected crowd, in the centre would be some poor unfortunate cringing under the blows and calling someone else 'baji'. At the heart of this familiar scene was a powerful yet mysterious bit of cultural psychology.
Somewhere in the course of development, all women in this society, were trained to produce a hair trigger response to threat, which was to take off their chappal and start raining blows. It is said that fighter pilots decline after their mid-twenties because their reflexes are no longer fast enough for modern air-to-air combat. If so, I think it is time the PAF inducted middle aged women, because the speed with which the 'chittar' was unleashed, was something out of the movie 'Matrix'.
According to the laws of psychology, for an action to be instantaneous, it either needs to be instinctive or highly practised. It seems highly unlikely to me that the 'chittar strike' is instinctive, if for no other reason than because it is not found cross culturally. However, and here is the mystery, neither do I have evidence that it is highly practised. There are after all, no 'chittar' academies or lyceum.
It is not taught to school children. According to Sherlock Holmes, after excluding all impossible explanations, the explanation that remains, no matter how unlikely, must be the true one. By this logic, I have arrived at the conclusion that 'chittar' use must be secretly but intensively taught at all women's universities. The biggest evidence in favour of this admittedly unlikely explanation is that I have noticed that women who have been to co-ed institutions seem not to have this response.
Nor is this the only mystery here. The second enigma is the overpowering effectiveness of the 'chittar', which defies the laws of physics. I myself have seen a national level boxer, who shrugged off ten rounds of punches, shrivel and crouch under a 'chittar'. I suspect, the reason for this effectiveness is not the physical impact, which is merely stinging, but the social impact which annihilates.
On impact, the 'chittar' immediately robs the victim of all social standing, dignity and identity. Interestingly, I have always thought that George W. Bush has the face of a person who has recently been beaten with a 'chittar', or if not, is expecting to be at any moment. But this is probably across cultural misperception.
Without our noticing it, the 'chittar' is slowly disappearing from the cultural landscape. In my opinion, its decline can be attributed to two factors. Firstly, more women are now going to coed institutions where the secret training on this weapon is not available. Some of them have half developed skills (presumably given at home), but nothing like the eye blink responses of the old days. Secondly, more women now wear heels which completely lack cultural weight.
The number of men who's social standing would be improved if they were beaten with heels form a large majority in this city. I was reminded of this sad decline when I watched one of those 'most shocking video' clips, shot in Lahore, where a man petting a tame lion got attacked. In most countries, people would have produced a tranquilliser gun, but here a 'chittar' was immediately brandished before the lion, who fearing for his reputation, instantly released the victim.
To conclude this story, I hope that before the 'chittar' completely disappears, it makes one last bloody stand. In the ministry of education. Among their recent escapades, occurring in my small sample and no doubt on a larger scale nationally, is asking a scholar at Oxford to appear in their 'merit' exam at their own cost and also of giving someone who applied for a Phd scholarship, an undergraduate one.
In journalism, one is expected to be fair and balanced. I am also charitable. The only possible explanation that I can come up with is that the Ministry is staffed by Olympic class idiots, who would have a hard time finding their own bottoms even if allowed to use both hands, given three attempts and allowed to consult a friend. Either that or GW bush secretly works there.