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DAWN - Features; May 24, 2003

May 24, 2003

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Back to square one

KHABARNAMA has gradually come back to square one. Over the past few years, at least four governments pledged to make the daily news bulletin more news-oriented and credible. We had Ms Bhutto’s government which in the middle of its tenure realized that people were no longer buying the hogwash that was being fed to them.

The information minister, if memory serves me right, Khalid Kharal, said a new look and more believable news bulletin would be presented to a potential audience of many millions. Nothing happened.

Then we had the Sharif brothers and their information minister Mushahid Husain also promised a lot of change. And then we had Gen Musharraf and his first information minister, Javed Jabbar. It has to be said that there was some change because we saw at least professional journalists being used in the main news bulletin instead of the dullards that we have now (who ask the occasional minister/ex-ambassador/ex-general — invited as an ‘expert’ — pointless questions like ‘so tell us your views on why India refuses to implement the UN resolutions on Kashmir). For a brief spell, PTV had credible discussion programmes and a news bulletin that had some news which was mildly newsworthy.

They said, the arrival of a full-fledged political government has really put the proverbial nail in Khabarnama’s coffin. All the major news bulletins, especially the nine o’clock one which comes on the terrestrial network (and hence beamed to the whole country) have news — in descending order — about the president, the prime minister, the governors, the four chief ministers, the federal and provincial ministers, the provincial advisers and special assistants, proceedings of parliamentary committees and so on.

On May 21 while having dinner I had a violent convulsion when I heard the newscaster say that the federal minister for water and power had proceeded to Kabul to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He then went on to say that the minister had gone with a paigham of nek khwahishat for the Afghan president and that matters relating to bahmee taluqat (bilateral relations) were discussed. Frankly speaking, who cares if the minister for water and power went to Afghan capital with a paigham of nek khwahishat?

I would like to ask PTV’s news producers what kind of news value could this story possibly possess, especially in its current anodyne form? Now, it is very possibly that the minister went with a message from the Pakistan government relating to Mr Karzai’s request made when he visited Pakistan recently and asked help in catching and handing over alleged fugitives of the former Taliban government.

The Khabarnama story didn’t mention this possible development and only talked of the nek khwahishat and the talks that were held on matters relating to bahmee taluqat. I wish someone in PTV or the information ministry would explain just how the average Pakistani would be affected by, or even by mildly interested, in hearing of this exchange between the minister for water and power and the Afghan president.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every night at nine the sensibilities of millions of Pakistanis are subjected to the worst kinds of assaults. There is no end in sight to the drivel that they have to bear with day in day out in the guise of ‘news’. PTV’s airwaves are the property of the people of Pakistan (let no bureaucrat deny that because the organization is funded by taxpayers’ money) but regrettable, they have no say whatsoever in the kind of news programming that they end up watching. — OMAR R. QURAISHI

(email: omarq@cyber.net.pk)

A word about Iftikhar Arif

IFTIKHAR Arif was born in Lukhnow in 1943 and lived there till his migration to Pakistan. During this period he received his education at the Lukhnow university where one of his teachers was the renowned professor, Ehtisham Husain. As one of his biographers tells me, his early life was spent in poverty. He could not afford a bicycle to go to university and read at home by the light of a kerosene lamp till it flamed out. He then sat memorising in the dark what he had just read which helped his memory. All the same, he succeeded in obtaining a master’s from the Lukhnow university.

Coming to Pakistan and settling in Karachi, Iftikhar Arif started his career as a Radio Pakistan newscaster. It was through the good offices of Altaf Gauhar, then federal information secretary, that he was selected and appointed head of scripts in the Karachi television centre. There he teamed up with Obaidullah Baig and won renown for the quiz programme, Kasauti. Later, he spent 13 years in England working for the BCCI-sponsored Urdu Markaz. Coming back to Pakistan, he got some lucrative jobs, first as head of the National Language Authority (Muqtadara), and then as chairman of the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL).

Besides his other qualities, Iftikhar Arif is an outstanding poet of Urdu. Two of his collections, Mehr-i-Doneem and Harf-i-Baryab have run into many editions. In the introduction to the first book, Faiz Ahmed Faiz says that he has not only found traces of Meer and Ghalib in Iftikhar’s poetry but also of Firaq and Rashed. Tributes have also been paid to him by such eminent persons as Anne-Marrie Schimel, Mumtaz Mufti, Meerza Adeeb, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi, Upinder Nath Ashk and many others. Prof Mujtaba Husain in particular feels that “Iftikhar Arif’s poetry has the dash and pomp of Aatish and Yagana but he is without their aggression.”

I have seen both his collections. To me, his first reflects youthful exuberance and a spirit of romance while his second, Harf-i-Baryab is rich in style and mature in diction. Moreover, in his second collection, he emerges as a strong critic of materialism and a protagonist of a spirit of defiance against the forces of oppression. It becomes obvious that he derives inspiration from the tragedy of Karbala.

The Oxford University Press has recently made a careful selection of Iftikhar Arif’s poetry and had it translated into English by a number of reputed literary figures. The collection has been published under the title, Written in the Season of Fear. The introduction to the book has been written by Harris Khalique, the poet-ibn-i-poet, who is trilingual. He writes poetry in English, Urdu and Punjabi, and has produced five collections so far. He also has some published books of prose.

I have consistently maintained that it is impossible to translate literature from one language into another, especially poetry. Every language has its own ‘cultural essence’ which cannot be transmitted into a language with an alien culture. That is why all my translations of short stories of different Pakistani languages carry the connotation, ‘rendered into English.’ Harris Khalique, however, calls this ‘contestable’.

The book has been very well produced by the Oxford University Press with the Urdu version of Iftikhar Arif’s poem printed neatly on the page opposite the translation. The translators are renowned people but I feel Ralph Russel could have done a better job had he not tried to make a ghazal a ghazal in English.

This 75-page book also appears overpriced. Besides, some typographical errors in it are irking. The last two lines of the translation on page 31 become ridiculous because of the printing error. There is also a glaring mistake in the note at the end of the translation on page 65.

I may also point out the inconsistency in the spellings of the name Abu Zar Ghaffari. A title on page 30 reads: A poem for Abu Dhar Ghifari but in the translation the name appears as Abu Zar. These may be small faults but should have been rectified.

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I HAD been trying to locate Kamal Ahmed Rizvi, better known as Allan, for a long time. I knew he had sold his house in Gulberg and moved permanently to Karachi. My efforts proved successful only after I contacted the resident director of the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) at Karachi and spoke to Agha Nur Muhammad Pathan in Sindhi. He proved over helpful and in no time I heard the familiar, and naughty, voice of Allan through the telephone. It was indeed great of Agha Sahib to have traced a person in that over-populated city. But then, Kamal is no nonentity.

It was nice talking to Kamal after a long time. We have spent many happy years in Lahore. His heart is still in Lahore as I could gather from his talk. How fondly he spoke of Munir Niazi and enquired about his doings.

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AND now a flash. The short story writer and novelist, Azra Asghar, is moving permanently to Lahore. She was deciding upon it for the last two years but now everything has been finalized. That reminds me of a line I heard long years ago in Junagadh: Kisi ka kooch kisi ka qayam hota heh. Kamal Ahmed Rizvi has left

Lahore after staying here for several years and Azra Asghar is coming back to stay where she has spent many, many, years. — ASHFAQUE NAQVI