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DAWN - Features; December 20, 2001

December 20, 2001


Making an ego problem!

TWO departments — the newly-formed district government and the federal department of Pakistan Railways — have been flexing their muscles recently over the issue of shops being built in front of the police lines.

Exercising his powers the other day, the acting district Nazim used a municipal squad to bring down the four walls (roofs not yet constructed) of the entire bunch of some 20 shops.

He claimed that the Pakistan Railways (PR) was constructing these shops without submitting any building plans or without securing permission. Hence the demolition. His claim that illegal constructions by the railways is not acceptable may be technically right but still the matter should have been sorted out amicably. Causing anybody any financial loss — in this case the losers are the traders — without giving the matter a thoughtful consideration is no solution to a problem. There are already problems of similar nature.

Mehran Markaz was built by the corporation itself: there are over 50 illegal shops, cabins, encroachments within its boundaries.

Again, the Barrage Colony — also of the municipality — is another example. Every high-up and influential bungalow owner of this colony has extended his house limits by raising a quarter or a servant quarter in front of the house or at its back; even a big hospital on the main Workshop Road has occupied the front part of the road while its city survey area is just 1,000 square yards. A multi-story building has been built to run the hospital. So is the situation with Humayun Gymkhana, which lies hidden behind commercial shops etc built on its land in violation of the law governing amenity plots.

Demolition is no solution. If things have been wrongly created, a due process should be adopted to undo the wrong. The other side too should be heard to arrive at a less painful conclusion.

According to the railways version, the department, under a general policy framed by the federal railways minister last year, was asked to utilize its vacant lands etc to generate income.

The shops in dispute were auctioned last year, in which the city traders had taken part and made investment. Now the railways had tried to complete and hand over these shops to the successful bidders before Eid.

The department contends that by demolishing the shops the acting district Nazim has hurt the interests of the traders.

There were another set of shops at Station Road, near the Ayub Gate, which the acting district had Nazim intended to demolish but sensing the danger the railways deployed its police and was thus able to save these shops. These are now ready for handing over to the owners.

Moreover, Pakistan Railways has served a fresh notice on encroachers to vacate its lands and buildings in this city or face eviction. About 70 per cent its land and buildings are under illegal occupation. If all are evicted, it will create enormous problems for the city government.

What is needed is to wait for the Nazim to return to work, start talks with the railways and arrive at an amicable solution of the problem instead of making it an ego problem.


TEACHERS’ BOYCOTT: Teachers’ boycott on the issue of denationalization of schools is continuing here. The confrontation between them and the Sindh education secretary, Nazar Hussain Maher, has entered a crucial stage. The teachers are angry about the entry test formula, which makes it conditional to possess BEd and MEd degrees for appointment in schools.

As annual examinations are about to start, both parents and students are much worried as in the absence of teachers no classes are being held.

Is post-modernism our cup of tea?

THE way some of our critics preach post-modernism as a creed shows either they do not understand what they are advocating, or they are holding a brief for our intellectual subjugation under “globalization” or the New World Order Plan.

This is not something to be affirmed that we have not as yet entered the age of industrial society, let alone the ‘modern’ age.

If that be so, then post-modernism is a far cry. Yes, it is being talked about in some parts of the globe — the Western societies — but the very fact that we are living in a hemisphere which is 80 per cent of the world population subsisting on 20 per cent of its resources makes a mockery of any idea of competing with the West. It is one thing to be ‘consumers’ of Western technology but quite another to claim to have the same intellectual and scientific culture which has made West what it is today.

We are busy talking about systems. Our failures are attributed to the lack of system-building and system-sustaining drives. It has assumed the shape of intellectual paradigms. This is all ‘modernism’ if we are going to defend the systematic, rationalistic outlook. It could be a religious or irreligious outlook and both depend on foundationalism, essentialism and teleology. As opposed to this outlook, post-modernism is anti-foundationalism, anti- essentialism and anti-teleology.

It doesn’t believe in any system and shrugs off the possibility of dealing with any central issue. Rather the issues occupying the marginal or peripheral importance in a system — be it Islam or Marxism — is an anathema to it, and one doesn’t understand as to how a believer in religion or in a political ideology could switch over to post-modernism without giving up his belief in a system.

There was a time when modernism denoted a break with traditional approaches, and when Shamsur Rahman Faruqi came riding on the juggernaut of Modernism, it appeared to be an alien brief held close to his chest. It appeared that it was not central to his religious belief which had a different prescription for salvation.

Some critics thought it to be an escapist tendency to steer clear of democratic and socialistic avowals of the Indian constitution. This approach harmed the interests of Indian Muslims because their intellectual cream lost the opportunity of joining the intellectual mainstream of the country, and the Urdu writers were openly scolded for espousing intellectual causes which were marginalizing them in a society they belonged to.

The battle against modernism went on and on until it died on its own. After all, a movement couldn’t live on indefinitely on borrowed ideas and ‘living conditions.’ It was a time when even Miraji was declared a conservative, disregarding his great efforts to accord literature a befitting place in our scheme of things. Even the advocates of Lissani Tashkilat — such as Iftikhar Jalib and Anis Nagi — rejected Miraji, considering him not a real modern because he had not disputed the conventional language.

The advocates of Lissani Tashkilat, called the ‘New,’ disparaged the progressives such as Faiz Ahmad Faiz. They didn’t spare Noon Neem Rashid as well. It was a total sweep and the entire Urdu literature, and for that matter, all literatures in the subcontinent had to be thrown into the rivers of their own proximity and choosing because they were written in languages which could hardly approximate the feelings of their ‘writers.’

Actually, the conventional language was rendered suspect. It was in the early ‘60s — and this scribe has been an active participant in the anti- Lissani Tashkilat movement. Of course, I was on the side of conventional language and our indigenous cultural moorings, and I believed that the conventional languages were not for ‘burning’ — to borrow a phrase from Roger Fry’s The Lady is not for Burning.

I believed and so did others that the debate was over and we have recovered our cool and balance. Far from that. We saw a spate of structuralism, post- structuralism and deconstruction debates, and as was expected, when all these debates exhausted themselves of their ‘munitions,’ a new debate took over. It was post-modernism and Dr Gopi Chand Narang, undoubtedly a prominent critic who relishes the introduction of new movements — not as a critic but as an advocate — organized a seminar and produced a book on the subject. One comes across a number of critics explaining their views about the movement. So far so good.

Now, when the movement has had its complete run, an interesting proposal has been ventilated by some critics — mainly from Patna and Gaya, that post- modernism should be given a decent burial because it is diverting our attention from the real issues facing the Indian and subcontinental society. They contend that in modern philosophy there is a unified world order and a philosophical confidence in our ability to know the world as it really is.

In post-modern philosophy, unity and totality are shattered; in other words, there is a radical negation of totalitarian thinking. Man is left without any serious concern for our central issue. Rationality, freedom, scientific knowledge, morality, a political ideology or religion couldn’t hope to remain central subjects.

Post-modernism cannot be our cup of tea because this is a system having no sub-systems. Habib Haq, a writer from Gaya, while criticizing post-modernism in monthly Shair, Bombay, has come out with a strange proposal. He says: “It is about time that we cast aside the debate on post-modernism and subscribe to the viewpoint of Miraji. He has not elucidated what that viewpoint is, but building his argument on this formulation — that Miraji needs rehabilitation — he goes on to say that the only way to fight post-modernism is to return to Miraji.

Haq believes that the classical tradition won’t be able to serve us while the post-modernist thinking robs us of any system. So, the golden rule of the middle path goes in favour of Miraji.

The forgotten Sangni Fort

By Hamid Asghar

The Sangni Fort, built at the junction of two small rivers near Suin Chemian village, north of Gujar Khan, is a remnant of the Mughal and Sikh period.

According to historical references available, a small fort was constructed by a Mughal ruler and was called ‘Sangi’. Later, during the reign of Ranjeet Singh, this fort was reconstructed to strengthen the defences of the area and renamed, ‘Sangni’. It also served as a jail during the rule of several Sikh rulers.

The Sangni Fort also houses the remains of a great Muslim saint, Sahibzada Abdul Hakim. It was his desire to be buried at the fort where he used to meditate and pray. The locals visit his shrine built within the precincts of the fort, covering an area of 36 square yards.

Despite its historical significance, the authorities concerned remain oblivion of the fort’s existence. They have failed to maintain this monument, which can serve as a tourist attraction and generate revenue for the government.

The fort, located at a secluded, but, serene location, is a silent chronicler which speaks of the bygone era of the Mughals and the Sikhs.

The woman behind the veil

A few weeks ago ... I switched on the telly to find a veiled lady on the BBC programme — speaking from Islamabad... “.... And America is behaving like a Bully”, she was saying. The next thing I heard her saying was: “We can understand your anger why cannot you understand ours.”

I forgot all about my fatigue and got glued to the TV. I wondered if the BBC was in its right senses. As the programme progressed, an increasingly angered Nisha Pillai kept asking, “why is it that the people of Pakistan are so hostile towards the US?” And this would begin the onslaught of words from both sides of the Atlantic. I guess everyone (like myself) got intrigued by this gutsy young veiled lady who minced no words when expressing her views.

I felt as if she was very familiar. I remembered, I had spoken to her two years ago in Islamabad. On my request, she had come to our school to deliver a lecture on Islam and character-building. (All the staff felt this was very much needed). Unfortunately, I could not attend the actual lecture, but the entire school was totally enamoured with her. They loved her, and wanted more lectures by her.

Yesterday I met her - actually for the first time (previously we had spoken on the phone only). We spent an hour together and it was just wonderful. She is young and lovely to look at. She is full of a fresh outlook on everything.

Her impeccable English was justified by her explanation that she was born and brought up in Kuwait, where she studied in the British and American schools till the age of 17. She stayed there till the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. While she was in the British and American schools, she felt the prejudiced outlook against her colour which was not as white as that of the Westerners. She felt the difference in the behaviour of the teachers towards her, as opposed to their much warmer attitude toward those of their own backgrounds. She tried to merge with them as much as possible, but nothing really seemed to work. There was always a feeling of belonging to a ‘different’ world.

It was only when she came to Pakistan in 1990 after the Iraqi invasion, that she enjoyed the deep friendships and happiness of college life in Kinnaird College. She thoroughly enjoyed Lahore’s hostel life and received her bachelors’ degree there.

Afterwards, as her family was now settled in Islamabad, she came here to join a private university for her MBA degree. After that she became interested in Islam and joined Al-Huda. She realized that there are very few women Muslim scholars, and so joined the International Islamic University to become a scholar in her favourite subject — Islam.

During all this, you’d think she had no time for anything else. You are quite wrong. She managed to marry and divorce twice! Both were arranged marriages and to men of totally different cultures. She realized this too late that it is very important to investigate the prospective persons in more detail in such circumstances. Both were separations with mutual consent and each realizing that it was no good for them to continue. However, being the person that she is, she is not embittered against marriage. She is open to the idea even now.

Realising the fact that next time she will need to be more careful. She has no ill feeling towards her ex-husbands. It was just not meant to be.

Back in her parents’ home, she has a busy schedule juggling her academic commitments with her voluntary and part-time job commitments. She is busy delivering lectures on Islam to ‘O’ level students at a private school, teaching Islam to little children, and teaching marketing to MBA students as well among other commitments.

So, coming back to the BBC programme. The producer Jonathan Brunert got a brainwave. He was deeply affected by a phrase used by Amina: “Let us put ourselves in each other’s shoes and try to understand each other...” And he selected the two most outspoken members from both sides, Amina Sajjad and Lisa Pinto, to literally step into each other’s shoes.

They have asked the two to go over and live with each other for a week. In this way, both will get a better view of each other’s lives and points of view. These days they are busy chalking out the actual programme they will follow.

Lisa Pinto, who is a housewife, but actually a lawyer by profession, will come over here and stay with Amina in her house. She will follow her where ever she goes, and live her life with the host for a week. Then she will return to New York, and after a week, Amina will go to her home and stay with her for a week. During that time she will keep us in touch with all that she sees, feels and understands about American life. — Shireen Gheba Najib