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Bollywood, Muslims, culture and exile


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Two great personalities, Abdus Salam’s death anniversary and Dilip Kumars’ birthday were commemorated recently in Pakistan. This was followed by the remembrance of the fall of Dhaka for us and Independence Day for Bangladesh. Abdus Salam’s anniversary went by unceremoniously, while Dilip Kumar’s birthday was enthusiastically celebrated. Dilip Kumar’s 90th birthday was seen as a noteworthy event and the date was monumental enough to take up formidable space in the newspapers. The total number of likes for these two columns was a colossal 4 likes and 3 tweets. Of the two different personalities, one chose self-exile and the other opted to remain in India. We take pride in producing artists, only when they have made a name for their artistic expression or scientific achievements outside the country.

-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.

Muslim actors, painters, poets, scientists, musicians, writers are successful in India. The examples of Dilip Kumar, Bollywood Khan actors, M.F. Hussain, Raza, Ghulam Rasool, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, A.R. Rehman, Rafi, Mehdi Hassan, Shakir Hussain, Mehboob Khan and ex-president Abdul Kalam are testimony to the prominence of Muslims across the border. Muslims excel in cultural, artistic and scientific fields in a country where they are in a minority. Talented Muslims tend to flourish outside the countries where they are a majority.

-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.

Before Partition, Lahore was the cultural capital of India. The successful artists, directors, poets, actors and musicians flocked to Lahore. Artists like Pran, Manto, Noorjehan started their careers from Lahore. Lahore was a hub of these activities because it was not a Muslim majority city. It was a city that had Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, besides Anglo Indians, Ahmadis and many more. This myriad of different faiths and races produced an environment of tolerance, and reciprocal learning. We might criticise Lord Macaulay’s education system and the Indian penal code but the British education system was secular and was not prepared to produced ideological minds and impose a singular identity.

-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.

The mystique of Lahore in India is still present because of pre partition image of Lahore. It was here where the first modern Indian artist, Amrita Sher Gill and Abdur Rehman Chughtai lived and were family friends. As Safdir Mir noted, Amrita Sher Gill looked for her artistic inspiration in modern Indian rural peasants, while Chughtai traced his artistic roots to the central Asian tradition of miniatures. Two modern Urdu poets, Iqbal and Faiz were products of the British era and were under attack from the Muslim clergy. One died before partition and the other was either incarcerated in Pakistan or lived in exile. Even a religious scholar like Abul Ala Maudoodi was a product of the British Raj. If he had written, ‘Khilafat aur Malokiat’ today, he would have lived in exile like his follower Javed Ahmad Ghamdi.

In Pakistan, sharia and not culture defines the identity of the country. Culture is looked at suspiciously as a vehicle of separate identity against the common identity of Muslims. By eliminating different cultural identities, sharia is considered as binding us into a single Muslim identity. The sharia enforced black veil is preferred over the culturally diverse head gears like shawls, chadders, dupattas and scarves.

-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.

After partition we deliberately tried to forge a singular identity based on religion and suppressed the different identities of Bengalis, Pashtuns, Balochis, Sindhis and Punjabis. We tried to impose a single identity on the culturally rich Bengal, the land of Tagore and artists of the caliber of Zainulabidin. This only resulted in losing the eastern wing of Pakistan. Here, we tried to kill culture by banning films, music and dance during Zia’s era. Later basant, classical dance, singing and dhol performances at sufi shrines (Shah Jamal) were obliterated, instead we had attacks on the Christian population, bomb blasts at Data Sahib’s and Baba Farid shrines to further decimate Pakistani culture. In India, BJP came to power for their appeal to a single identity of Hindutwa, we saw attacks on Indian Picasso, M.F. Husain, who later died in self-exile.

-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.

Similarly, the first Pakistani Nobel Prize Laureate Abdus Salam had to live in self-exile. Even religious scholars like Fazl-ur-Rehman and Daood Rahbar were forced to flee the country. Recently, Javed Ahmad Ghamdi fled the country and is now living in self-exile in Indonesia. The two greatest novelists of modern Urdu literature, Abdullah Hussain (udas naslain) are living in England, Quratulain Hyder (Aag ka darya) Ustad Bare Ghulamali Khan, Sahir Ludhianvi decided to move back to India. Writer and political activist Sajjad Zaheer was extradited to India and film Director Zia Sarhadi settled permanently in England. Saadat Hassan Manto and Saghar Siddique opted to stay in Pakistan and thus, face court trials and die in their early 40s. Zia Moyauddin and NaheedSiddiqui stayed outside Pakistan for most of their creative life. Recently, Adnan Sami decided to settle permanently in India. The first Pakistani pop singer, Nazia Hassan lived in England and shot to fame when she joined forces with Bollywood. Recently, we see new successful writers who are writing in English for international readers like Mohsin Hamid, Mohammad Hanif and Ali Farooq Qureshi. They are the brave souls who have moved to Pakistan, like Saghir and Manto. Lets see how Pakistan treats them.



The author left architecture for painting but ended up as a cartoonist and now writes Hijjo. He is the jack of all trades.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (52) Closed

vjaiswal35 Dec 20, 2012 07:08am
Solutions are written large provided you can read them.
hemujaipuri Dec 20, 2012 04:18am
Embrace the ideology of Abdul Kalam Azam , one of the foremost Islamic thinkers our sub continent has produced .
syed Dec 19, 2012 03:10pm
Mr writer get your facts straight please...Mehdi hasan is indian from bollywood?
Mayank Dec 20, 2012 01:14pm
Please do some homework & correct your facts. India always had very rich cultural heritage, but yes Muslims have contributed a great deal to this.
Imran Qasim Dec 19, 2012 04:43pm
Give some solution for this. We know all these things Thanks Imran Qasim
Amir Dec 19, 2012 04:55pm
Wah...Very well written. Loved the critic. Sadly its all true too. If we take the lens of religion off, we will not be able to dispute even a single fact. What a shame... Also sadly, I am a patriot who found the life in Pakistan too constricting and left for places that provided more room for self expression, and by God I have never looked back. I am happier than I ever was when I lived in the land of the not so pure....
Rao Dec 20, 2012 04:53am
Had Jinnah lived for a few years longer, Pakistan would have been a different country. If Jawaharlal Nehru didn't have a long tenure of 16 years, even India would have been worse off.
gita Dec 19, 2012 03:54pm
Well written article. As a minority, Muslims wish to excel, but in a majority community a collective identity seems to shift focus. No question, the partition of India was a disaster
Ravi Dec 20, 2012 12:32am
I guess you mean for Pakistan!
Farhat Khan Dec 19, 2012 06:10pm
More power to you and your pen !
Avik Ray Dec 19, 2012 05:27pm
Bottom line, its better to lift the border and be a powerful minority in a much larger country. It has been like that for thousands of years.
majid mukhtar Dec 21, 2012 03:26pm
i hope muhammad haneef and mohsin hamid stay in pakistan and produce more creative writing as they are doing, they are undoubtedly gifted, :)
saleem Dec 19, 2012 06:22pm
I agree
Sudhirendar Sharma Dec 19, 2012 05:52pm
Dear Sabir bhai,, Bhai Wah! You have stated stark reality. Cultural expression by definition is secular and need free environment to flourish. Well said! Sudhirendar Sharma New Delhi, India
sudhirendarsharma Dec 19, 2012 05:55pm
Dear Sabir bhai, Bhai Wah! You stated the start truth. Cultural expression by definition is secular which needs a free environment to flourish. Thanks for this wonderful write-up. Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Jamal Syed Dec 19, 2012 06:04pm
Excellent article! I will add Iftikhar Arif to the list as well.
Imran Dec 19, 2012 06:03pm
Indian Muslims are in a minority but barring the few usual Khans, they can hardly be called prosperous.
soDoYou Dec 19, 2012 06:04pm
As a Majority, why don't you take the time to learn the Successes of Muslims in Pakistan? A nation that formed with nothing to it's name. Everything from Military to Science, to Infrastructure had to be built on it's own. Moving forward from Arts, to Sports, to Sciences Pakistanis still in Pakistan have made incredible strides. The only difference is most of you couldn't be bothered to celebrate them or even be bothered enough to learn about them. You're too busy moaning while the reality passes you by.
Rao Dec 20, 2012 12:50pm
How heartbroken must have been those people. Some of them, like Prof. Abdus Salam, repeatedly came back to Pakistan and tried to live there. I wouldn't like even my worst enemy to suffer such enforced exile life.
Krishna Dec 20, 2012 04:34am
I see the only difference between India and Pakistan is tolerance..
Sandeep Dec 19, 2012 06:18pm
In Kerala there is a forest temple shrine named Sabarimala. And the most often heard voice in this shrine is a a bhajan by a christian singer named K.J.Jesudas,
hemujaipuri Dec 20, 2012 04:16am
We in India need to appreciate the dangers of uniformity and singular cultural identity that communal parties preach . In India's diversity is our unity and strength .
hari Dec 19, 2012 10:06pm
Urdu,sufi tradition are excellent example of secularism in prepartition india. The exclusivist tendencies creeped into socio political space in pakistan society has killed innovation tempararily. There is always a light at the end of tunnel, Hope this would be true for intellectuals in pakistan too.
pathanoo Dec 19, 2012 06:34pm
A society where State enforces an exclusive brand of religion on it's people is a society FRAGMENTED & DOOMED. Show me otherwise if you can?
Deb Dec 20, 2012 08:23am
Had there been no partition.. No kashmir issue, no Taliban, no terrorist attack, no Kargil war, no Taj attack, no blame on hiding OBL, no military supremacy........ ... bigger market for Bollywood... and greater opportunity for all and so on. But let us not live in dream. Both countries are separate . Let our Pakistani brothers live there happily.
Ather Dec 20, 2012 08:23am
agreed with the cartoons
adam memon Dec 19, 2012 03:18pm
Good article.Let us learn a lesson from it.
Employee Dec 19, 2012 09:42pm
Your ID cards are awesome. You Rock!
gill Dec 19, 2012 03:17pm
very good Sabir, the illustrations are also super!
chetan Dec 20, 2012 02:36pm
When you talk about Dilip Kumar , why do you also include AR Rahman in the same vein? These both are opposite cases but reading the article gives a wrong impression. I hope you correct that.
Gulbagh Singh Dec 20, 2012 01:12am
I thank you very much for your truth and guts. Please stay safe.
Fida Sayani Dec 20, 2012 01:52am
it was created for Muslims, thanks to Gandhi, Nehru and Patel.
Great Thinker Dec 20, 2012 02:52am
Sabir: Probably this is the fundamental problem with Pakistani's. Everything is Muslim or "non-Muslim". Whatever the heck it means. Indians do not look at artists, scientists or itellectualls with a religion brush. The skill and talent matters foremost. The very fact that Dilip Kumar's birthday was celebrated with such pomp, but not Manmohan Singh or other "non-Musim" birthday's who have been born in what is now Pakistan is hilarious. If the title of your article were "Bollywood, *Pakistanis*, culture and exile", it would have had a different angle.
Rao Dec 19, 2012 03:13pm
No wonder in a nation created for Muslims, the people are getting killed in their mosques & dargahs.
Khan Dec 19, 2012 04:00pm
Facsism is our national policy although may not be the sate policy.
True Muslim Dec 19, 2012 04:05pm
Bollywood sells dreams .Producers, directors, actors, actresses make millions by producing song & dance movies, away from realities of life - while in India ,dreamers among slum dwellers, are easily trapped by the allure of silver screen, in Pakistan we are busy trying to decide what form of Islam makes a true Muslim. Someone asked a fish to describe heaven/paradise. Fish replied,"muddy river full of worms". to each his own.
Sikander Abbas Dec 19, 2012 08:32pm
you summed it real well. You should have finsihed your sentence by stating further that talented musllims (which are very few as compare to the jews and christians) are moving and settling in non-muslim countries.
Tony Dec 19, 2012 08:49pm
MF Hussain was very popular among Indians till late in his life. Only when he crossed the line of decency, he became controversial and thus a target of Hindu militants. There was no need for MF Husssain to draw paintings of Hindu Goddesses in nude which resulted in controversies, resulting him to flee out of India. If he had not crossed the line of decency, he would have lived a life full of respect and popularity in India.
Akoi Dec 20, 2012 09:06am
Tell them not to over populate when there is nothing to eat. This is the reason why many poor muslims are a way behind. Thanks
Akoi Dec 20, 2012 09:08am
wah..kya bata kahi hai..awesum
Ray Dec 20, 2012 09:10am
You have. No idea. Check Kerala State. They are more prosperous than Hindus and Christiians
SecularIndian Dec 20, 2012 09:24am
Absolutely right. So many educated indian muslims are doing very well all over the country.
Suren Singh Sahni Dec 20, 2012 10:47am
Muslims have enriched and energised Indian culture art science and education beyond calculation. Without their contribution India would be very poor and barren. But above all they are Indians and human beings.
Hamood Dec 20, 2012 04:56pm
Flawed article. The author lists almost all the Pakistanis who left the country and excelled elsewhere but does not mention the thousands who stayed behind and contributed in their respective fields. Are the handful of people he actually mentions the only ones who have done anything substantial?
Sulaiman Dec 21, 2012 08:11am
"The author left architecture for painting but ended up as a cartoonist and now writes Hijjo" he is a .....
Rahul Dec 21, 2012 01:33pm
Please allow me to explain the painting which i have seen. Its a LINE Skech of a nude women with veena. Although it says it doesnt mean anything. Than MF Hussain realises that his painting is not self explanatory so he writes "SARASWATI" under it. He crossed his artistic line here. I am sure no one would have been offended had he not been so EXPLICIT and require the help of words to explain his art !!
Cyrus Howell Dec 21, 2012 05:27am
As always.
Komal S Dec 21, 2012 05:49pm
Not sure i agree, while Nehru did give some stability, India has lots of leaders who were part of the Congress Party fighting for independence. Lots of people in India feel Sardar Patel would have done a equally good job if not better.
jamil Dec 22, 2012 05:33am
So he only picked Pakistanis who left Pakistan and only those Indian Muslims who excelled.
george Dec 23, 2012 04:26pm
Sikhs are the second richest community in UK after the Jews.
george Dec 23, 2012 04:21pm
you always bring muslim and Islam into everything. For your information, every western jails including India,muslims also have a far higher share of prisoners. Muslims are more crime prone than any other immigrant communities in the west.Google it.
Feroze Khan Dec 22, 2012 06:10pm
And don't forget, Muslims gave you inimitable,Mirza Asad Ullah Khan Ghalib.