It is probably for the first time that literary buffs have thought of giving Saadat Hasan Manto his due. A number of programmes were arranged to mark the 50th death anniversary of the person who was undoubtedly the most prominent short story writer of the 20th century. Infact, the noted literary critic, Muhammad Hasan Askari, rates him as the greatest short story writer of Urdu. Even the Pakistan Post Office has woken up and issued a postage stamp on the occasion and the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) has dedicated the centenary programme of short stories to Manto.
Popular as ever in neighbouring India, not only has 2005 been declared the year of Manto but plays based on his stories have been staged there. These revolve around the exploitation of women.
In Lahore, the PAL's local office arranged a special function to commemorate his death anniversary. Presided over by Abid Hasan Manto, those speaking on the occasion were Dr Yunus Javed, Mirza Hamid Baig, Mustansar Husain Tarar, and Amjad Tufail. In his opening remarks, the resident director of PAL, Kazy Javed, said that it was Manto who took the Urdu short story to international level and helped expand the mental capabilities of local writers. The talk also centred around the influence of Russian and French authors on Manto as he had entered the field of writing through translations of Western masters.
Mention was also made of Manto's long association with the film world in Bombay where he wrote many scripts for movies which became popular. During his stay in that vast city, he closely observed the prevailing social conditions and was appalled by the plight of the downtrodden. Light was also thrown on the number of plays, pen-sketches and stories which he wrote in his short span of life. It appears fantastic indeed that although Manto died at the young age of 42, he managed to leave behind 22 collections of stories, seven collections of radio plays, three collections of essays and also a novel.
Mustansar Husain Tarar spoke in detail about the personal charm of that great writer. Dr Mirza Hamid Baig dispelled the impression that Manto had been a student of Faiz Ahmed Faiz at the MAO College at Amritsar. He said Faiz joined the college in 1935 when Manto was already a recognised writer. Dr Yunas Javed recounted memories of the days Manto lived in Lahore and said that he always found him to be a man in a hurry. His writing speed, he added, was fantastic so much so that he could write two short stories in one sitting.
Mention was also made of Manto's obsession with sexual themes. At times, he was also blamed for pornographic writings but was ultimately cleared of all blame. In this connection, I may add that Manto only reflected the social conditions of his time. Instead of blaming him for immoral or obscene writings one must consider him a moralist because he depicted the prevailing immorality.
In his presidential remarks, Abid Hasan Minto said that although Manto was not regularly associated with the Progressive Writers Movement, he did participate in its functions. He gave credit to Manto for not keeping his eyes closed to the political and social conditions of his time and openly wrote what he thought of them. His sympathy with the oppressed, neglected and downtrodden segments of society is evident in his stories and he has highlighted the problems faced by them at the hands of the privileged. His fiction has an uncompromising honesty about it and he considers deception and cruelty to be unforgivable crimes.
The function was largely attended.
Harris Khalique is a bright young man who writes poetry not only in Urdu but also in English. He is reputed to have written some verses in Punjabi as well. Son of the famous writer, Khalique Ibrahim Khalique, he happens to be an engineer by profession and is currently heading an NGO at Islamabad. Five of his poetic collections have already appeared in print. The first was in Urdu and appeared in 1991 under the title Ab Jab Hui Barish.
Coming up in 1997 and 2001 were two more in Urdu, titled, Saray Kaam Zaroori Thay and Purani Numaish. In the meantime, his collections of poems, If Wishes Were Horses (1996) and Divan (1998) won him recognition as a poet of the English language. He has now come up with another collection in the same language and given it the title, Between You and Your Love.
The curse of the 'Choti Memsahibs'
In our youth, we five brothers roamed the entire area of Bhati Gate, the Data Darbar-Mohni Road tract right up to the river. On the eastern side we touched the Anarkali Bazaar-Government College area. After dark the District Courts was our playing field. We roamed fearlessly, but never once did we dare cross the path where exists the 'Curse of the Choti Memsahibs'.
Last week, I decided to revisit the place at the edge of Mohni Road, just next to the akharra of the famous Gama Pehalwan, where sometimes we sneaked and posted ourselves near the eating area. It was always a rewarding experience. They respected us because of our father, for in those days people did respect the off-springs of the old families of Lahore. Just at the edge of the Old Christian graveyard on Circular Road-Mohni Road, is a dilapidated old dwelling whose roof has been broken ever since I remember.
No one dares, even today, enter the room, where once someone tried to build a shop and the very next day was found with his throat slit. His son, so the story goes, tried to complete the shop and the very next day his throat was also slit. Since then no one has dared to enter the place. Even the drug addicts who frequent the graveyard stay away.
On talking to a few old inhabitants of the area. I learnt that they had heard from their elders that the two 'choti memsahibs' were buried here even before the British took over Lahore in 1849, and that they were murdered by a Sikh chief, who had slit the throats of one of the girls in a fit of rage on hearing the news that the Sikh rulers had signed away the sovereign rights of the State of the Punjab. The other child had died in an accident, though one person claimed that even she was murdered, but a month or two later. One version claimed that they were the children of illegitimate parents. The stories seem endless. So an investigation was needed.
I contacted the person who looks after the graveyard, and he thought I wanted to buy a marble statue or an old tombstone. When he heard of the curse of the 'choti memsahibs' he went pale in the face and refused to co-operate. I managed to calm him down and he took me to his room and showed me two broken tombstones. The first one read:" Edith Mary Welsford Carter, died 26 April, 1849, Lahore." The second one read: "Louisa Adams Carter, died 29 May, 1849, Lahore." So these were the two 'choti memsahibs' of Lahore. Just who were they and how did they end up in a lahore graveyard even before the British officially took over Lahore.
It must be remembered that though the British took over in 1849, they had a small garrison inside the Lahore Fort much before the take-over. So British soldiers did live in Lahore, though they seldom ventured out lest they were murdered by Khalsa Sikhs. So the presence of the girls should not come as a surprise. But who was their father. This is where the colourful bit starts, and there is some substance to the rumours of the girls being murdered and the claim that the parents had some 'illegitimate' connection.
The father of the two girls was Lt.John Chilton Lambton Carter III. He was born in Cornwall in 1817 and joined the East India Company. He belonged to the 53rd Regiment of Foot and had fought in India before being sent to Lahore. His family was from Cornwall and had always served in the various armies of and from Britain. One of the girls died of a sever fever, so claims one record, and one was murdered by a Khalsa Sikh priest who cursed the family. Scared of the consequence, John Carter III fled Lahore and took his entire family to far away New Zealand, where even today his ancestors live.
The father of John Carter III was John Chilton Lambton Carter II. He was a Lt. Colonel in the 44th Regiment and was killed fighting against Tipu Sultan. He lies buried in a military graveyard near the famous battlefield at Sriangapatum. The father of Lt. Col. John Carter II was John Chilton Lambton Carter I. He was an officer in the 32 Duke of Cornwall Regiment of Foot, and Lt.Carter died in the West Indies. One account says he was killed in battle, the other says he died in a shipwreck. This brings us to the point where we trace the original Carter.
The Chilton-Lambton family is even today a leading aristocratic family of Cornwall. In October 1750 was born a beautiful daughter to the head of this family, and she was named Harraton Chilton-Lambton. She was by all accounts a beautiful woman and just when her marriage was being arranged, she eloped with her servant, John Carter, the footman of the family 'post chaise'. The Duke then, one account says, arranged for the local priest to set a curse on them, that whenever a girl is born in Harraton family, she meets a dreadful end.
That end was to take place almost a hundred years later. But then the fact is that John Carter was murdered a week after marrying Harraton in a London church. She promptly married a friend of her legally-wedded husband by the name of Robert Young. It was this 'illegitimate' man who acquired the name of John Carter, who with the Cornish aristocratic connections of Harraton, managed to get a commission in the Company army, and to leave England and Cornwall to safe faraway lands.
But the murder of the original John Carter in London also had to resurface. It so happened that the 'Carter' family did not have any girls till they came to Lahore, and it was here that Edith and Louisa were born, and it was here that they met their death. But just how does one end a curse, if there is such a thing in the first place.
Our research led us to New Zealand where John Chilton-Lambton Carter III had fled from the 'Curse of the Choti Memsahibs' of Lahore. He died in 1872. His grandson lost his small daughter in 1923 in what seemed like an accident. But then a Maori 'medicine man' approached the family and informed them that there was a curse on them.
They allowed him to drive the "evil spirits" away as one account informs us. Since then the family has managed well. But in Lahore the "Choti Memsahibs" lie. I have no idea whether the curse still holds. But the fact remains that the people living near their graves on Mohni Road still maintain a healthy respect for the little girls. May they rest in peace.
Of gentle rain, soft-spoken people
For all the political heat that has come with the New Year, there is a cold wave that is sweeping through the country, presumably even when these lines are read. Rain and snow have also come with the cold which means good news for agricultural growers.
But while I am conscious of the point that there are people who enjoy this wintry feeling, this icy biting weather, the other side is the harsh reality that the poor of the country suffer when it is winter time. The culture of poverty is unsuited to the changes of the seasons. In fact, that is one of the reasons why Karachi is often called the city of poor people, in the sense that this is where they can survive best because the seasons here are mild and moderate at most times of the year.
Therefore, when Karachi gets a cold wave, and winter rain, and which is attributed to Quetta in most instances, the poor of this city get a raw deal. They are exposed to the drop in temperature in a very harsh and uncomfortable way, to say the least. Their housing is inadequate for winter, even if it is mild, so is their wardrobe. So is their economics, home economics at that. They cannot afford the luxuries of winter, explains a Karachiite who insists that life is a matter of economics, particularly when it comes to enjoying the weather. Even second hand woollies are unaffordable.
This time the cold weather has hit the country in the midst of Eidul Azha. Or rather even before the occasion came, the weather had turned biting cold, and we in Karachi can only imagine the kind of Eidul Azha it must have been for people in the northern areas of Pakistan. Or even in Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad, when it comes to cities. There is no point in naming places, the point is well taken. Imagine winter in Skardu.
Winter severity around Eidul Azha occasion means staying indoors, mainly, and watching television. It means more time at home, and that means more time with the family.
Karachi is lucky in a way, as the winter rain was not only mild, as was the temperature, but the wet weather came after Eidul Azha was neatly and completely over. In a way Karachiites enjoyed their Eidul Azha, indoors and outdoors, and felt relieved that the Quetta-related rain came after the festival.
Karachi's winter culture, if one may call it that, enables the Sindh capital to present, despite the odds and the challenges, despite the failures and the frustrations, despite the despair that is evident in summer for example, a soft image of the urban city.
Having said this, one would like to suggest that in summer, and when the heat of the season and the humidity of the day make it suffocating for the majority, it is in winter that we see a softer side of Karachi. Indeed there is a soft side to Karachi as, indeed, there is a soft side to everything.
For example, people are inclined to be in better moods and dispositions from mid-November through mid-March, generally speaking. If that is accepted as being realistic, then we are in a kind of prime time good weather-wise. I know I am making it sound very good, but, perhaps, at times, this cheer and this sunshine is tenable.
As many Karachiites argue, there is a bright positive side to our lives, and to this city, and to all that is happening daily. After all, the fact remains that children go to school, people go to work, and women manage the kitchen, the bazaars function, at least a minimum level of acceptability is visible. Life moves!
On Eid, buying of sacrificial animals was also a much better-managed proposition, and the fact that the cattle market is now set up outside the main city, is something that appears to have proved successful. That it is away from the city, and it takes an awfully frustrating length of time to get there, is something that has been realised, and optimistic citizens hope that solutions will be found for this aspect also.
I am tempted to talk of the attitudinal changes that are being gradually perceived and experienced with regard to the distribution of sacrificial meat, which reflect the way we live, but how it is changing; how distance, for example, makes us change priorities in relationships, and meat distribution, observed one housewife who failed to convince her son to distribute meat on Eid days, instead of spending time with his friends.
But this we will leave for another day. I want to underline that it is in these days when the climate is inclined to severity that the Met office is taken very seriously. Suddenly I have noticed that noting temperature is important, and even ordinary people are trying to understand the figures. That distrust of the Met office is not really that strong, and particularly after the December 26 tsunami tragedy, not just in that part of the world, but even in Pakistan, especially, Karachi, thoughts do go out to the weather factor. And the weather forecast at that.
This time the weather forecast for winter has indicated that the winter, we currently experiencing, is likely to stay until April this year. A report in this newspaper said yesterday that the current shift of the weather pattern in Northern Areas, Kashmir, Balochistan and upper parts of Frontier province, because of a moderate El Nino that developed in the Pacific Ocean is likely to persist till April or early May. It is said that there is likely to be more rain and snow, keep in mind that snow and rain so far is above normal.
By implication, Karachi's mild winter is also likely to be extended, one says this because Balochistan is also included in the above forecast which, one would so believe, will mean occasional light rain, gentle light rain, the sound of which is so welcome in a city where noise pollution is growing, maddening, irritating.
Gentle rain, one has noticed, is almost soundless. If that is so, it is like a silent person. The pitter patters of gentle light, cold rain, akin to gentle people, mild persons, soft-spoken, and perhaps inaudible. That is what I was thinking about this time when it rained last week.
I also thought about my friends who enjoy the chicken soup sold on pushcarts at various places in town, relished for the spice, and the 'desi' egg, put together to make it nourishing to fight the chill in bones. "For that spiderman's feeling,'' says Tayyab, aged 3.
Bangladeshis deplore govt's failure to curb violence
Thursday's grenade attack on an Awami League rally in Sylhet, which resulted in the eath of five people, including a former finance minister and lawmaker Shah A. M. S. Kibria, has visibly generated a lot of public and media resentment over the government's failure to bring the perpetrators of ghastly crimes to justice.
Only a few months ago, on August 21, 2004, a serial of blasts at a League rally in Dhaka left at least 21 people dead, including Ms Ivy Rahman, a senior leader of the party. Sheikh Hasina, former prime minister and president of Awami League, narrowly escaped death.
This time, thousands of people from various walks of life came down to the streets in Dhaka and elsewhere to protest against the brutal killing of Kibria. All of whom who took to the street do not necessarily belong to the Awami League, rather many of them have political sympathy for the ruling BNP. But they were visibly angry at the fact that the authorities have routinely been failing o ensure the security of lives - a fundamental responsibility of any elected government.
Incidents of such gory nature began taking place in Bangladesh on 6th March 1999, with a bomb attack on a cultural programme in Jessore which resulted in the death of 10 people. Since then, as many as 148 people have been killed in 18 such incidents.
Of the victims, 67 people were killed in six incidents between March 1999 and June 2001 when Awami League was in power, 15 were killed in three explosion at public places in September 2001 when the non-party caretaker government of Justice Latifur Rahman was in charge of the affairs of the state and 66 people were killed in nine such incidents between December 6, 2002 and January 27, 2005 with the BNP-led four party alliance in the steering wheel of the state.
There were cases registered and probe bodies formed after every dreadful incident in question. But no criminal involved in the incident has so far been identified.
The peoples resentment over the governments failure to nab the villains of the public violence was expressed clearly in the fact that they responded positively, almost spontaneously, to the opposition for a 60-hour non-stop shutdown across the country that began on January 29 morning.
Usually, people are disgusted with shut downs, or the hartals as the political class call it, particularly due to the overuse of the opposition weapon to register political protests against the incumbents.
Public protests in the streets apart, the sentiments against the administrative failure to nab the criminals behind the killer violence got adequate expression in the mainstream Bangladeshi media.
The editor of the Daily Star, Mr. Mahfuz Anam, in a front-page commentary, styled as one by one Opposition leaders are being killed, said : "We are outraged, shocked and deeply saddened by the brutal murder of SAMS Kibria.
"We condemn the killings and express our disgust at the fact that our government has done practically nothing so far to unearth the criminals who have, with near impunity, carried one brutal political murders one after another."
Unlike the opposition, we will not be quick to blame the ruling coalition for this political murder. But we feel forced to question the government's sincerity in unearthing the crimes and identifying the criminals in the murders that took place before.
The New Age editor, Enaeytullah Khan, in a front-page commentary said: Bereavement and shock are too inadequate to describe the kind of violent death imposed on Kibria . We are not shocked and benumbed. We are simply angry, with all our senses alight at the recurrence of the gory events.
The routine regularity and the pattern of killer violence, in which the AL partisans and leaders have been eliminated or maimed either by design or randomly during this brief span of time, do not brook excuses of external handiwork and some conditioned governmental responses bordering on dismissive ness, Khan said before making a really horrible, but very objective, observation. The spate of unchecked criminality, political in such cases, appears to send a message to one and all: the right to the security of life and limb exists only in the breach; and that the government of the day is neither obliged nor responsible to grant or uphold the same.
The Financial Express said: That the murder of Kibria is ghastly, stunning and appalling. The incident is a grim reminder of the menacing tentacles and the ever-spreading wings of terrorists the unknown assailants, Hossain said.
The long arms of the law are too short to trace or nab them. Thus the perpetrators of such heinous crimes enjoy an uncanny freedom to carry out their operations in an uninterrupted sequence with impunity.
Most of the Bangla-language dailies expressed same sentiments.
Ittefaq, one of the most influential Bangla dailies, in its editorial said: Understandably, the entire nation is puzzled and perplexed by the fact that the criminals behind the gory bomb attacks on the public places have not yet been identified beyond doubts. But, how long would the situation continue?
RULING PARTYS ADMISSION: The secretary general of the ruling BNP, Mr.Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, who is also an influential member of Begum Khaleda Zias cabinet, has admitted that the authorities have failed to solve the blast mysteries.
It is true that we could not dig out the mystery of the incidents for various reasons, Bhuiyan said at a news briefing, referring to unresolved similar incidents of the past, on Friday afternoon.
Efforts are still on to investigate the incidents and the culprits will not be spared.
But people, and the media, frequently have doubts about the genuineness of the efforts made by the government of Khaleda Zia. The same was the case with the credibility of efforts made by the previous government of Sheikh Hasina.