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DAWN - Features; December 15, 2003

December 15, 2003

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Too close to see properly

Here are three pieces from the chronology, The Statesman (1875-1975).

You will realise as you read along that it is nearly always hazardous to editorialize on history in the making.

The first piece begins: To mince words about the independence resolution of the Congress Committee would be the worst of ill services to India. In no conceivable circumstances will the demand be conceded by Great Britain. Self-government within the Empire —- that is the limit of practical political policy either now or at any future time. So long as there is a party in India that emblazons “Independence” upon its banners, and that works for independence, that party is definitely holding up all prospect of advance in India’s political development. The resolution carried at Delhi simply ignores realities. Within the Empire, India can pass from strength to strength, but it will not be allowed to contract itself out of the Empire so long as Great Britain retain any power to make its will effective in this part of the world. To discuss the claim would be to give it significance. The only course is to answer it by an emphatic negative.

Having said that, we can turn with a certain amusement to the proceedings at Delhi. In these Pandit Moti Lal Nehru is the aggrieved party. Well may be exclaim:

“Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love But —- why did you kick me down stairs?” for kicked downstairs, with all paraphernalia of the All Parties Conference tumbling about him, he has been. The congress pays lip service to his labours, but after Delhi there is no purpose in considering seriously the Nehru Report. Those who should have been its friends treat it as a pious opinion to be dismissed with a kindly word. For the Simon Commission or any other body to give it higher dignity would be to waste valuable time. The report is left to the admiration of those who framed it. Pandit Moti Lal Nehru declared that he stands by it and would go to the length of resigning his position as chairman of the Calcutta Congress if his liberty of action was threatened. Unappalled, the Working Committee proceed to carry its resolution, and we take it that when the congress comes to Calcutta the Pandit will not be found in the Presidential chair. Both the congress and the Pandit would be made ridiculous if he were. The friends of India may regret this fresh evidence of division and dissension, but to refuse to recognize it would be to pursue an ostrich-like policy. The Pandit and the congress have taken different and diverging paths which can never meet.

(November 6, 1928).

* * * * *

LUDHIANA district in the Punjab has produced many doughty fighters, and a boy born at Jagraon in 1865 was destined to be one of them. The heart attack that ended the life of Lala Lajpat Rai has robbed India of a gallant and devoted son, whose qualities neither opponents nor critics failed to appreciate. If as a leader he did not rise to quite the same influence as some of his contemporaries, the something that he lacked may have been only the capacity for easy compromise. He thought his positions out for himself and could not really change them to satisfy others.

The abiding characteristics of his career were his enthusiasm for public service and an inability to accommodate himself to British rule. Yet he could tell a Patna audience in 1925, after many years of deep thinking about it, that he was no believer in Swaraj at any cost. A year before that, he told a London audience that he was nearer to Swarajists than to No-changers. He did not fit easily into accepted parties; some ruggedness in his nature prevented that.

(November 20, 1928).

* * * * *

WHEN President Wilson laid down his fourteen points, he did not imagine that he was giving a new magic number to the world. Diplomatists, statesmen, and political leaders everywhere, now strive to bring their programmes under fourteen heads —- neither one more nor less. The latest to fall back on the formula are the Mahomedans under the leadership of Mr Jinnah. Leaders of other parties and communities in India may say of Mr Jinnah what they please, but the fact remains that so long as this programme stands there is an insurmountable obstacle to the realization of every scheme for the future government of India that has found any large measure of Indian support. The fourteen points are definitely destructive of the Nehro Plan. They make ridiculous the demand of Mr Gandhi and Congress for independence within the year. The communal spectre again takes its place as a dominating factor in the situation, and it is raised not by the Europeans, who are always bad men in the Congress creed, but by the Moslems who were brought into the All Parties’ Conference, to convince the world of the unity of Indian thought. A declaration such as has now been made at Delhi must profoundly influence the findings of the Simon Commission. In a way, it simplifies the task of that body by closing so many avenues of approach to a future constitution.

There is nothing that is new in these fourteen points. They embody what has always been in the Moslem demand —- an unassailable place in the Constitution for those of the Mahomedan faith. Nothing is to be taken on trust, nothing left indefinite. Where the Mahomedans have majority, as in Bengal, there they are to have the power and no territorial redistribution is to be attempted that will deprive them of that majority. Where they have not a majority no Bill injurious to the community is to be permitted to pass without the sanction of three-fourths of the Mahomedan representation. No cabinet anywhere is to be formed in which the Mahomedans have not at least a third of the seats, and full safeguards are to be embodied in the constitution to secure Mahomedans a proportion of offices, of grants in aid, and of an education acceptable to the community. If we take one point alone —- the need for the consent of three-fourths of the Mahomedans representation to any measure affecting the community —- it may be said that over a large part of India it would be a denial of the power of legislation to the Councils, for there is in practice no Bill that could be framed that could not be held to apply to the Mahomedan community. Legislation must be general when it deals with millions of people, and necessarily Moslem interests are touched by every statute that can be devised.

(March 31, 1929).

Hairpin bends on the road to peace

KASHMIRI journalist Iftikhar Gilani was imprisoned for seven nightmarish months by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government over charges that included espionage, all because Mr Gilani had downloaded some pages from the Internet. Since the allegations were patently spurious, he was freed eventually, but without a hint of apology from anyone in authority.

Around the same time, and just as pointlessly, Mr Vajpayee’s government was busy leading India towards a nuclear flashpoint with Pakistan, sending shivers down the spine of the entire world.

Yet, the amazing truth was that the ten-month standoff, which led to the nuclear buildup, was triggered by an attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001, by people who probably belonged to the same ideological breed as those who were to subsequently massacre several French engineers in Karachi. They were reported to have later tried to assassinate Pakistan’s President General Pervez Musharraf.

Yet no one seems to have found it prudent to ask the simple question: How could General Musharraf have ordered or endorsed the attack on India’s parliament by the kind of people who would bay for his own blood. No mainstream Indian newspaper or TV channel, or even an opposition leader, ever asked the question, which essentially was the basis for the military mobilization that triggered the nuclear alert.

But consistency is not a common virtue. So why blame the poor journalists or other assorted analysts for failing to express their bewilderment when our leaders spew venom on a purported enemy one day and just as inexplicably move to embrace him the next?

But even those are familiar with Mr Vajpayee’s amazing foreign policy contortions were taken aback by his call for a unified currency in South Asia at an international conference in New Delhi on Friday. It was a statement that stunned most people, including the diplomats present at the exclusive gathering. Perhaps, the prime minister is convinced that a vibrant new South Asia would be structured around the hydrocarbon reserves of Turkmenistan, Iran and Bangladesh or even beyond, in which all the neighbouring states hold a stake. Perhaps, it is economic commonsense. But if that’s the case, why does he still return periodically to his oft-repeated “terrorism must completely end before talks begin” theme?

It was in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a satire on a regimented state, that one day when all the animals come together to expel their human managers in a revolutionary upheaval, the sheep begin to bleat: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” But it doesn’t take too long for the new leaders of the animals to acquire the mannerisms of humans. As the pigs, the make-believe leaders in the fairy tale, begin to walk on their hind-legs, while holding a walking stick and a cigar in their front trotters, the sheep begin to bleat a different tune. “Two legs good, four legs bad,” they sing in unison.

If we count the number of hairpin bends in India’s foreign policy towards its key neighbours, namely, Pakistan and China, during Mr Vajpayee’s tenure, it would leave the most patient and understanding of New Delhi’s allies exasperated.

China was described as enemy number one in 1998. Today, China is a friendly neighbour though no one knows or is ever told why. India’s roller coaster ride with Pakistan is riddled with similarly serious but unasked questions.

The first of the recent confrontations with Pakistan was verbal, yet menacing, when Mr Vajpayee announced the Pokharan II tests in May 1998. China was named as the main reason but Pakistan was blackguarded as the immediate concern. Indian leaders eerily enough challenged Islamabad to a duel, a nuclear duel. Then came Mr Vajpayee’s “zero summit” in Colombo with then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in July 1998. Both leaders sat tensely before TV cameras.

Suddenly, one day Mr Vajpayee, as though tired of his own stiffness, expressed the desire to go to Lahore by a bus, no less. Presto, it was organized. Now, as it happens, the killing of innocent Hindus in Kashmir has become a major symbol of what New Delhi calls cross-border terrorism. Sixteen Hindus were killed in Kashmir on the eve of Mr Vajpayee’s bus ride, but not a word was uttered on the incident. It simply did not suit anyone to raise the issue. It simply did not suit anyone to ask the question.

It could be Kargil or General Musharraf’s coup, Mr Vajpayee’s interpretation of the events were never questioned by the Indian opposition, much less by the media. For example, one day General Musharraf changed into a sherwani and declared himself president. Mr Vajpayee, who had shunned the general was the first to greet him in his new avatar. Then came Agra. An agreement was arrived at. In fact, Pakistani officials were red- faced because they did not bring with them the right official stationery, so they looked around and even asked Indian officials for the special paper used for signing treaties. But the standard green border used by Pakistan was missing and so the paper was sent for and eventually fetched from New Delhi. However, by then, Mr Vajpayee was already toying with another hairpin bend in his Pakistan policy.

Similarly, for one year, the Kathmandu Saarc summit was held hostage because our democratically elected leader did not wish to be seen alongside a military dictator. When the Kathmandu meet did take place, every effort was made to de-recognize, as it were, the famous Musharraf-Vajpayee handshake.

To cut the story short, the so-called April 18 peace initiative in Srinagar would appear to be of a piece with Mr Vajpayee’s roller-coaster approach towards Pakistan. In August he rejected General Musharraf’s offer of a ceasefire on the Line of Control, but embraced the one subsequently made by Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali. A clearly unconvincing explanation was trotted out for choosing one and not the other of the two Pakistani offers.

Given his surprising proposal for a unified currency, someone ought to ask Mr Vajpayee what has changed so dramatically in Pakistan or in Kashmir that he now feels comfortable enough to proffer the peace pipe again. Has terrorism ceased to be a threat to India or is it no longer a viable pretext for warding off peace talks?

It is the same question that Iftikhar Gilani asked after his release: “Thank you for freeing me, but why was I arrested?”

* * * * * *

RUMOURS are flying thick and fast in New Delhi that former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto would be back in the saddle in Islamabad soon.

Ms Bhutto, in Delhi, to attend an international conference on the peace dividend in South Asia, has kept a low profile with the local media. But in her address to an audience that included senior American diplomats, she did obliquely welcome the idea that Mr Vajpayee could meet General Musharraf in Islamabad. She argued that the general was the right man as long as parliament did not have any real powers.

Was there a subtle shift?

Those were the days

The Eastern Film Studio was billed as the most up-to-date film production centre in Karachi when it started out in a Site locality in the mid 1950s. And rightly so, for prior to that there were only a couple of ill-equipped studios in the city. A large number of film enthusiasts hoped that with such a technologically advanced film production centre, Karachi would in time challenge, if not rival, the monopoly Lahore had enjoyed in the field. Furthermore, most financiers were based in Karachi and many popular stars were Karachiites.

In the 1960s, another film production operation, inaccurately titled Modern Film Studios, made its debut. At the same time, and more importantly, the country’s first film processing laboratory, Cine Colour Lab, was set up by Abbas Khaleeli in the city. The laboratory offered such state-of-the-art facilities that film producers sent negatives for processing and printing from Lahore.

Cine Colour Lab started to make inroads into what was previously the domain of the Eastern Film Studio by taking up work from advertising agencies. Its laboratory was run by the late Mr Shirazi, who started his career with Bombay Talkies. Ashok Kumar, he used to claim, was once his assistant. That was naturally prior to Ashok Kumar’s becoming a screen celebrity. But the Eastern Film Studio had only facilities to process and print black-and-white film.

C.A. Rauf, the owner of R Lintas, opened a film studio in the early 1980s. But it was probably a bit too late. By that time the feature film industry had gone into decline.

Filmmaking failed to flourish in Karachi which never had any dearth of talent. Pervez Malik, arguably the most successful film director in Pakistan, was from Karachi. So was Waheed Murad, who was born and brought up in the megacity. “I know Karachi like the back of my hand,” he used to say. Waheed always dreamt of coming back. Among others who left Karachi for greener pastures were Shamim Ara, Zeba and Mohammed Ali. Shabnam, when she decided to move from what was then East Pakistan to the western wing of the country, bought a house on Tariq Road. When a large number of assignments took her to Lahore, she went as a Karachi artist.

Composers Sohail Rana, Deboo Bhattacharya and Khalil Ahmad were also from Karachi. Deboo went to Bangladesh in 1971. So did Runa Laila, who spent her formative years in Karachi and used to go to Lahore only to record songs. She made her debut in the Eastern Film Studio and the man who composed her first song was Nashad (not to be confused with Naushad). Nashad and Nisar Bazmi set up homes in Karachi when they migrated from Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Incidentally, Nashad was quite a well-known composer in India but Bazmi had done nothing spectacular there. Both of them later went to Lahore. Nashad died and Bazmi became a spent force and returned to Karachi.

Another Karachiite who returned to the city is the thrush-throated Mehnaz. Her kind of music — soft and soothing — is no longer in vogue. She does stage shows and is out of the country most of the time. Among the other Karachi-based singers who did quite well were Ahmed Rushdi and Mehdi Hasan — one is dead and the other has been rendered inactive by a massive stroke.

Easy authorship

Becoming an author is no longer difficult. All you need to do is purchase a couple of books written by well-known poets or fiction writers, tear out your favourite pieces, hand over the sheaf of papers to a printer and ask him to publish a collection. Be sure to put your old but youthful picture on the cover with your name in bold type. If your conscience perturbs you a lot, you may allow the printer to put “compiled by ...” in a smaller typeface.

Mind you, the collection does not have to follow any criterion or guiding principle. It may contain pieces on similar themes or on entirely disparate ideas. If you are really pressed for time, you may authorize the printer to publish them in whatever order suits his fancy.

Many booksellers in the city have no qualms about selling such dubious compilations. Volumes containing pasandeeda ghazlain, piyari nazmain and uthtay afsanay adorn the shelves of not only roadside bookstalls but also of well-established bookshops.

A colleague burst into peals of uncontrollable laughter when the other day he chanced upon such a book by a woman compiler who had dedicated the “masterpiece” to her mother, saying: “To my mother, without whose prayers and guidance I would not have achieved this honour.”

Protection against pollution

With the level of pollution so high in the city, one wonders why someone hasn’t come up with the idea of using masks made of cloth to prevent fumes from getting into one’s system.

The word mask may sound very military — like the one needed in war to protect oneself against gas and chemical attacks. Those masks are costly, look hideous and cannot be carried easily. They are as big as motorcycle helmets. Masks made of cloth are a different thing.

The Chinese make extensive use of these “cloth masks” during autumn when the weather is changing and there is a rise in flu cases. These masks cover the mouth and face and have strings which can be tied at the back of one’s head.

During the Hajj also, pilgrims use them to avoid getting respiratory infections. They are available at drug stores in Saudi cities and are very effective.

In Karachi the level of air pollution from vehicles is very high. During traffic jams one keeps inhaling toxic fumes as long as the snarl-up lasts. Even if the jam is not there, one is exposed to a high level toxicity whenever one is on the road.

Some time back Karachi policemen used to put on funny-looking masks. One does not know whether it served any purpose. But masks made of cloth can be quite effective and cheap. The question is which authority — if there is indeed one in Karachi — will take up this issue.

If the Sindh government does not, nor does the Nazim, will the Pakistan Medical Association please pay attention to this question and ask pharmaceutical companies to produce these cheap masks?

In view of the dangerously high level of pollution in Karachi’s atmosphere, such masks have become essential, especially for children and the elderly.

Skewed priorities

It is quite a study in contrast. Parts of the city are plunged into darkness as soon as dusk falls while others remain brightly lit not only through the night but well into the morning — and without any help from the sun. A friend living in Defence gave an example of this wastage of electricity. His house is on one of the roads leading off from Khayaban-i-Hafiz. At night, the road looks like a runway, thanks to the bright and imposing set of lights that enable, almost encourage motorists, to drive at breakneck speed, especially because there are no potholes and speed-breakers to make reckless drivers slow down. If there is an accident on this road, no one can lay the blame on faulty lighting.

On the other hand, driving to the airport one night proved how risky a venture this was. The lighting was so bad that one could not afford to dip one’s headlights for the convenience of motorists coming from the opposite direction. Despite their blinking headlights, buses and trucks appeared like giant silhouettes. Also, not every pedestrian uses the overhead bridge to cross the road. Some venture across the road, hoping that drivers would spot them and let them go first. But careless driving is a common sight towards the latter part of Sharea Faisal because the airport is situated close by and many people are afraid of missing their flight.

What is amazing in all this is the skewed priorities of the electricity authorities. Why should a relatively little used road be so well illuminated while the major ones remain in darkness?

— By Karachian

email: karachi_notebook@hotmail.com