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DAWN - Features; April 13, 2002

April 13, 2002


As one short story leads to another

LIVING in Britain since 1973, Razia Ismail is a graduate of the Punjab University. She improved her qualifications during her stay in her adopted home, first by getting a diploma from the London Montessori College and then got a masters from Warwick University. Committed to the intellectual development of women, she is running a related organization, Aagahi, in Birmingham, the city where she lives. A writer of merit, she has so far four collections of poetry to her credit as also a book of prose.

Razia Ismail keeps visiting Pakistan and was here last year enjoying the hospitality of Shahnaz Muzzammil. But she did not sit idle. She devoted her time going through the nine poetic collections of Shahnaz Muzzammil, made a selection from her published nazms and ghazals, and has now presented nearly a hundred in a book under the title, Qarz-i-Wafa. Printing and production of the book, published by Nida Publications of Lahore, is impressive.

Incidentally, the ninth collection of Shahnaz Muzzammil’s poetry, Ishq Tamasha, with a lengthy preface by the senior poet, Usman Siddiqui, has also been published by Nida Publications. It has been as exquisitely produced as the other ones.

Shahnaz herself is in Britain these days, probably to return Razia Ismail’s visit. As such, the monthly sitting of her literary organization, Adab Serai, was held this week at Esperanto House, the residence of the moving spirit behind the organization, in fact, its virtual secretary, Shahid Bukhari. Although a brief review of recent publications is routine at such meetings and Shahnaz, a qualified librarian, has been handling this part of the programme, Shahid Bukhari did not allow her absence to be noticed and manfully went on to review about half a dozen books, dealing with them in some detail.

Referring to the book of short stories by Mukhlis Qureshi, he said that the author was basically a poet and had six collections to his credit. The present book, Mukhlis ke Afsanay, is his first attempt at short story writing. However, whatever appears in its pages cannot strictly be regarded as short stories as they read somewhat like essays or monologues.

Dalal, a novel by Azad Mehdi was also reviewed. It is about the women of easy virtue and those who live by them. However, the writer has somehow inserted the self-proclaimed killer of 100 boys as a character and given a chilling account of the disposal of their bodies.

Shahid Bukhari seemed particularly impressed by the 29 short stories of Saleha Khatoon appearing under the title, Aatish-i-Deeda. He said these dealt with serious issues and were written in a most readable style.

Wafaon ka Bharam is the sixth poetic collection of Nasim Akhtar, based in Britain. Her poetry expresses the genuine feelings of an expatriate and has a nostalgic tinge.

The mini-mushaira which followed the book reviews was the same as usual with seniors like Munir Saifi, Karamat Bukhari, Islam Shah and Usman Siddiqui overshadowing the others. However, a touching poem by Nasreen Mikhat Sabzwari about the current happenings in occupied Kashmir was well received. The one notable absentee that evening was Afzal Baqi.

* * * * * * * *

ACTIVE in the literary circles of Karachi, Saba Ekram is the moving spirit behind the Fiction Group of Pakistan. In addition, he has been writing a literary column for an English daily of the city the for last 14 years and now intends to have a selection of these published under the title, Literama. His collection of verses was published in 1981. He has written two books about literary figures.

He was now come up with a book of literary criticism titled, Jadeed Afsana: Chand Sooratein. It is being discussed in Lahore these days, Anis Nagi having already blasted it in his quarterly, magazine Danishwar. Nagi holds the view that the jadeed or modern afsana began to be written after the 1960s. So does Saba Ekram. However, Nagi feels that Saba Ekram has not been able to bring out the structural and linguistic differences between the modern afsana and the short stories of the earlier period. He also objects to the treatment of Indian writers on a par with their Pakistani counterparts. He contends that there is a vast difference between the two for several socio-cultural reasons.

I personally feel that Saba Ekram has given an overall assessment of modern afsana and of those who have a prominent place in that field. He has authenticated his statements with adequate quotations from others. Besides a general survey of all that is being written these days under the name of short story, Saba Ekram has produced an indexed reference book on the modern afsana.

* * * * * * * *

THERE is no dearth of poets in the country which is not bad at all. But what grieves me is that some of them have acquired undeserving reputations while the others are still living nameless lives. It was by sheer chance that I found a recently published collection of verse of an unknown poet. Syeda Tauqir Naqvi titled, Palkon ki Chaon Mein.

Going through it I was astounded at the versatility of the lady who has been a teacher. Her ghazals are of the classical pattern with the same mastery over the language, her nazms are modern by any standard and her geets deserve to be put to music. I understand she is a first cousin of the well known educationist and master of the language, the late Agha Sadiq. She has undoubtedly been greatly influenced by him. It is a pity that no worthwhile publisher was available to her and she has had to publish her collection within her own meagre means.—ASHFAQUE NAQVI

Not Tariq Aziz again, PTV!

THE date has bee set. Yet another military strongman is going to follow in the footsteps of his erstwhile predecessors. Gen Pervez Musharraf is already well on his way to becoming a politician, a breed he does not particularly fancy.

A rally has been held at Lahore followed by one in Bannu. More such rallies are planned with district Nazims of various towns and cities in Sindh, Balochistan and the Punjab declaring public holidays on the scheduled dates. So much for productivity.

Many newspapers have been quick to praise the referendum move. And so have many liberals and progressive types. The usual argument is: “Oh, well, isn’t he much better than Benazir and Nawaz? Are you crazy to want either of them to come back? Come on yaar, at least this guy isn’t a fundo” and so on and on.

The question that the qaum will be asked on April 30 has been decided. As pointed out already by some it’s framed in such a manner that hardly anyone — barring the blind or the very seditious — would vote ‘no.’ According to the Constitution, a referendum must ask a question to which there is a fair possibility of answering either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. However, the question has appended to it qualifications that ask voters whether they are for or against the realization of the dream and ideals the Quaid-i-Azam had for Pakistan and whether they want a president who will guard the security and sanctity of the nation. Now, this really isn’t a question to which anyone would say ‘no.’

Interestingly, a letter published in this newspaper said it well when the correspondent, a schoolteacher from Muzaffarabad, wrote that perhaps there should first be a referendum which asks people whether the president should be elected constitutionally or through the back-door. And, if there is a‘yes’ vote for the latter choice then have this referendum. The other unpleasant aspect of this whole matter — and this seemed to come through the televised broadcast of Gen Musharraf’s speech at Minar-i-Pakistan — is the redemption of Tariq Aziz, who many would remember to be one of Nawaz Sharif’s most ardent fans. Mr Aziz, who tormented many innocent Pakistanis for a whole generation with Neelam Ghar, was among those involved in the storming of the Supreme Court in 1997. Along with several other members of the PML, Mr Aziz stood trial for contempt and was later let off only after he submitted an unconditional apology to the court. In fact, several other people who at that time were accused and convicted of storming the court, have recently been coming on PTV and were also present on the day of the rally.

One wonders which of the president’s advisers came up with this idea, but it was left to Tariq Aziz to work the crowd. As expected, he spoke of the present government, and the people leading it, in glowing words, much the same way he spoke of the Sharif brothers when they were in power. To make matters worse, Tariq Aziz went on and on, ad nauseum, till probably, as was reported in some of the papers, many of the people wanted to leave. This is quite understandable. The last thing they wanted to see would have been an encore performance of Neelam Ghar.

The president and the people in charge of this government have made merit the rallying cry of their referendum campaign. They want the people to consider the possibility that if the discredited politicians come back into power, then its policies might be rolled back. They also want the people to remember that this government stands for hiring people and doing things on merit, something political governments have not been doing.

So, may we ask, where is the place for people like Mr Aziz and his cohorts in all this? At the very least, television viewers should not be subjected to another of his stage show. —- OMAR R. QURAISHI

Referendum engenders excitement, agitation

By Habib Khan Ghori

KARACHI: Like elsewhere in the country, the metropolis too is in the grip of discussions about referendum. From coffee and tea houses to drawing rooms whenever two acquaintances meet they become engrossed in discussion on merits and demerits of holding the referendum.

Since Gen Pervez Musharraf kicked off his referendum campaign on April 9 from the Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore families seem to be divided on whether or not the decision of the President to hold a referendum to seek validation for a full five-year term for him as President is in accordance with the spirit of the constitution?

As a matter of fact, discussion on referendum has taken precedence over pressing issues of rising unemployment, lawlessness, soaring prices and unmanageable high bills of utility services on the home front, and the US-led allied operation in Afghanistan and the ongoing Israeli attacks on the unarmed civilian population in Palestine on the external front.

However, people agree on one point, that is, the team of Gen Pervez Musharraf is bent upon to win the referendum hands down, despite the fact that no major political party in the country has so far announced its support to his bid to legitimize a political role for himself and the military as an institution.

No doubt, more than half-a-dozen parties, which have yet to prove that they have grassroots support, have announced their support for Gen Musharraf’s referendum.

They include the PML (Quaid-i-Azam) of Mian Azhar, National Awami Party of Ajmal Khattak, Tehreek-i-Insaf of Imran Khan, Millat Party of Sardar Farooq Leghari, Sindh Democratic Alliance of Shaikh Imtiaz Ahmad, Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Dr (Prof) Tahirul Qadiri and Tehrik-i-Istiqlal of Rehmat Wardag. However, as far as electoral politics is concerned, most of these parties are not of much relevance.

Other parties which are likely to announce their support for the referendum are the National People’s Party, PML (Functional) and the JUP.

Since 1985 when non-party based elections were held in the country by Gen Zia-ul-Haque, the urban centres in Sindh, particularly Karachi, Hyderabad and Mirpur Khas, have been swept away by the Mohajir Qaumi Movement of Altaf Husain, the party now renamed the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. Its supreme leader, Altaf Husain, has not given any official line of the party to his supporters as he has allowed them to take their own decision on the issue. If one goes past experience, the Muttahida votes are likely to go en bloc in favour of the referendum, due to the party’s supporters bitter experience in the past with the two major political parties, the PPP and the PML. The Muttahida, which was the third largest party in the National Assembly before it was dissolved, despite being a coalition partner with the PML-led government, remained at the receiving end, including the army operation.

Besides the Muttahida, the two other parties which have been returning to the assemblies from some of the pockets in Karachi in every elections since 1970 are the PPP and the PML.

Other parties having some grassroots support in some pockets of Karachi are the Jamaat-i-Islami, Awami National Party and Jamiat-Ulema-i-Islam, but seldom has this support translated into election victory for their candidates, except when they contested elections from a joint platform.

However, as far as the referendum is concerned, not only both the major parties but all parties of the three main political alliances in the country — the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy led by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal led by Allama Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani and Pakistan Oppressed Nationalities Movement led by Mehmood Khan Achakzai all are vocal in opposing the referendum.

The parties supporting Gen Pervez Musharraf consider “the referendum a harbinger of democracy and a step towards ending uncertainty,” and term it their war against corruption. On the other hand, those opposed to the referendum in Karachi describe the move a threat not only to parliamentary democracy but also say it would not auger well for the future of the country.

In the words of Prof Ghafoor Ahmad, deputy chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami, who used to be the spokesman for the Pakistan National Alliance in the late 1970s. “The way the government machinery, including the army, administration, media and all other resources at the command of the regime are being misused to drum up support for Gen Musharraf in the referendum has surpassed all past such practices.”

In support of his contention Prof Ghafoor referred to the participation of corps commanders in public meetings and full utilization of government functionaries for the referendum rallies.

“This could create a gulf between the army and people as it is the first time that the army is being openly involved in political manoeuvring, which is against their oath that they would not get themselves involved in politics,” he feared.

The Sindh Democratic Alliance, despite differences with the regime over issues facing Sindh, has announced its support to the referendum.

The Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) termed the referendum an extra-constitutional step which the country could ill afford. Under the constitution, referendum could be held on issues, not for electing the president, Syed Qaim Ali Shah of the PPP and Mamnoon Husain of the PML (N) recalled, saying they were not opposed to his election to the presidency provided Gen Musharraf followed the procedure as laid down in the constitution by resigning from the office of COAS and waiting two years before aspiring to the public office.

All-out war needed against Karo-kari practitioners

By M.B. Kalhoro

THE order Sir Charles Napier issued in 1843 speaks of the intensity of murders reported under the pretext of ‘Karo-kari’ in Sindh. He called it barbaric, inhuman and a blot on humanity and ordered that henceforth he should not hear about such killings.

The hand would be chopped if raised to kill a woman under the tag of this brutal custom, said the order. Perhaps the mounting frequency of killing under this infamous custom or tradition had forced the ruler to come out with these concrete orders.

Ghulam Nabi Memon, the district police officer (DPO), who took lead in registering FIRs of such murders under section 302 PPC where the state would be the complainant instead of any of the family members, said perhaps Sohni, a character of Sindh’s history, was the first woman that fell prey to this cruel practice. She drowned when her jar was substituted with that of clay and the strong current did not permit her to swim across the river and to meet Mehar.

Yes: history stands witness to this barbaric step but one must understand at least what is that driving force which could not hold back even a sane person from overstepping and committing this crime. Normally people say it is ghairat (self-respect) that works and the outcome is nothing but a murder. How unfortunate it is that the incidents keep on multiplying and in certain instances the murder under the ploy is reportedly seen as a sign of courage and bravery. Is it a custom, tradition or the leftover sign of a cave life and Stone Age? Or merely a ‘trend’ that took roots with every passing moment?

“In most of the cases the killers opt to kill an old lady of its family just to avenge, and give it the colour of Karo-kari,” says Sardar Zaffar Hussain Sangi who has been giving verdicts in such cases for a long time. Supporting this notion, the DPO says socio-economic factors, coupled with poor legislation, are the contributing factors in increasing the number of Karo-kari cases.

“Islam doesn’t permit (anybody) to kill a woman on the mere charge of having illicit relations with anyone; material evidence is required and even if proved, no law allows to kill her under the subterfuge of Karo-kari,” says Dr Khalid Mehmood Soomro, general secretary, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam.

Ghulam Nabi Memon, the DPO, says Baloch tribes take pride in killing Karo-kari couples. He says about 63 per cent victims are women according to the record of the last 10 years.

What an inscrutability it is that when a woman is declared Kari and she escapes the murder attempt she is kept at the Kot (fort) of the landlord. This adds to the value of that girl or woman because people feel pride in buying her at competitive prices to marry her. Sardar Zaffar Hussain Sangi attests to the truth of this.

Under the shadow of feudalism, the crime of Karo-kari is also perpetuated through a system of mismatched marriages. Girls as young as 13 or 20 are married to men over 50 years of age. Such married women frequently fall victim of readymade accusation of infidelity. As a result of the existing system, they are made scapegoat and condemned to be kari and suffer its consequences.

The DPO quoted a horrible incident that had taken place in Kambar town, Larkana district. A girl, about 13, was killed while serving tea to a marriage party when somebody passed damaging remarks against her. Her cousins did not bother to find out the truth and killed the girl at once, in front of the guests. The irony is that no one came forward to depose against them. The cousins then manoeuvred to make the brother of the victim accept the guilt in a judicial confession. Here the influence of the feudal lord worked and the actual killers went scot-free.

According to the district and sessions judge, Hussain Bakhsh Khoso, murders committed in the name of Karo-kari are in fact pre-planned by the interested parties and are not carried out in a hurry. More often the concerned parties strike deals outside the court and file application of ‘compromise’ in such cases, while witnesses detract from their statements made earlier.

The first case on behalf of the state regarding Karo-kari was registered at the taluka police station, Larkana, on Nov 12, 2001, against the father and the uncle of the victim, teenaged Shahzadi. So far eight such cases have been registered at different police stations in the district. Ten accused have been arrested and are facing charges while the trial court has denied bail to all of them on the basis of police investigations.

The need of the hour is to opt for a permanent legislation to curb the crime. The AIGP should ensure implementation of the newly-adopted policy in the Sukkur range, otherwise the whole exercise may go down the drain. Political parties, NGOs and others too should play their part while the government must go beyond giving lip-service to bring an end to the Karo-kari system.

Seminar on Mir Anis held

KARACHI: A bicentennial seminar on the great elegiac poetry of Mir Baber Ali Anis was held on Thursday at the Pakistan Arts Council.

All those who spoke on the merits of the poetry by the famous elegiast included Prof Saher Ansari, Dr Aliya Imam, Syed Zamir Akhtar Naqvi and Syed Javed Hasan.

Gen (rtd) Dr Azher Ahmad, vice-chancellor Baqai University, presided over the deliberations.

Qasim Jalali and Talat Hussain both known for their dramatic delivery of literary pieces— prose and poetry both— recited selected elegiac stanzas from Anis. A ‘salaam’ from Syed Hashim Raza was also recited.

Dr Azher Ahmad, while defining the merits of poetry and Adab- i-Alya (great literature), contented that poetry which mellows the heart and refines a man’s personally, was also the first lesson in the teaching of medical science.

Recalling the glorious sacrifices of Hazrat Imam Hussain, and also the contribution of Mir Anis in spreading the great Imam’s message to the people, he advised that stanzas from the ‘marsias’ should be included in school-books to let children know the values of sacrifice, godliness, humility tolerance and civilized manners.

He said that terrorism, the menace of modern times, was due to social degeneration and the society’s deviation from verses, specially from those by Anis. That poetry could also be most effective in reforming the criminals in the jail, he added.

But a long speech came from Zamir Akhtar Naqvi, author of several volumes on Anis.

Anis stood unparalleled and his elegies encompassing the variety of subjects were far above the epic verses written by Firdausi, Homer and many others, Naqvi said.

“No other poet in Urdu has used as many words as used by Anis. You name a word, any word, and you will find it in the verses of Anis,” Naqvi said and added that the beauty of the eye and its various gestures had been described by Anis.

Javed Hasan said that Anis’ poetry had influenced on all Urdu poets who came after him. Hali, chakbast, Iqbal and other ‘nazam’ writers.

Prof Saher Ansari, dealt with the innovations of Anis, who laid the foundation of epic poetry in Urdu. Reciting some stanzas from the famous ‘marsia— Ya Rab Chaman-i-Nazm Ko Gulzar-i-Iram Ker, — he thought Anis had introduced a new style of Munajaat (prayer).

Dr Alya Imam in her paper described the importance of a well-knit family unit in the healthy development of a society and said that such a model was found in the life of Imam Hussain and his family members— women, young people, children of different ages and elders.

Every character in Karbala played a different role and presented the example of the highest virtues, sacrifice and commitment. Each person’s behaviour according to his or her relationship with the other was based on supreme dignity, she said.

Dr Alya said that more such events to remember Anis should be held in the coming months— the present year being the bicentenary year of Anis.

At the outset the secretary Pak Arab literary Society, Zaigham Zaidi, spoke about the importance of the seminar. The co- host of the seminar was the Historical Events Committee of the Arts Council.—HASAN ABIDI