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DAWN - Features; June 25, 2005

June 25, 2005

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Small mercies

Come to think of it, its no small mercy some literary and scholarly periodicals manage to show up just when one thought one had seen the last of them. It is a pity though they do it by keeping a low print order, just enough to be able to provide a copy each to their contributors, friends and those few who don’t mind throwing away a red Jinnah or two on the side at the bookshop by the burger outlet.

The quarterly Tarikh, which our renowned historian Dr Mubarak Ali edits, is in its 25th issue. A silver jubilee meet is in the offing to mark the coming of age of a scholarly periodical in a country with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. A highlight of the issue is a translation of the Iqbalnama-i-Jehangiri by Mirza Mohammad alias Motamid Khan. It reports the falling of a meteorite over Jullundhar which burnt up a considerable tract of land and caused general panic. It was dug up while still hot and the king had a sword, a scimitar and a knife made from an alloy of its steely material. Recording the emperor’s last days of illness, Mirza says: “After some days he lost his appetite. He would eat nothing; opium that he relished for over 40 years now disgusted him. All that he cared for now was wine, a few bowls of it. Shamsheer-o-sana awwal, taoos-o-rubab aakhir.

Hardbound and tastefully produced Dunyazad which Asif Farrukhi brings out three times a year from Karachi is in its engaging 14th issue. Published as a book series, like Tareekh and Irtiqa (respected organ of the purist Left) to skirt squeamish declaration hassles, it offers a full literary fare to the finicky and his time’s worth to the discerning reader. Besides dabbling in juicy literary controversies, Dunyazad presents a choice selection of verse, prose and fiction from national and international literature that we can depend on to be our time and money’s worth being Asif Farukhi’s pick who has distinguished himself among the most well read of our young litterateurs and certainly among those countable who read and write for the sheer futile fun of it.

The present issue of this 14th book has both Jillani Bano and Shamim Hanafi discussing their concern about the threat the written word and man’s culture faces from the global changes taking place in the wake of new technologies supplanting human control over the forces of life. Intezar Hussain cautions against using partition literature as a source of history. Iranian poetess Farogh Farrukhzad’s letters to her father reveal the genuine rebel in her and how in real life terms she experienced the predicament of her sex in a callous male society. It is a protest altogether different from the high profile catwalk some of our begumat perform in the name of women’s lib. Fehmida Riaz introduces Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk’s new highly regarded novel Snow which centres on the political and social tussles taking place in his country with the rise of the Islamists challenging the so-called liberal modernists the West would always regard as charlatans. The novel, Fehmida asserts raises this ‘life and death’ question for Pakistani intellectuals to ask if ‘enlightenment’ was entirely a western notion that we were being asked to implant in our present culture or was that ever an integral part of our society also. No! say our purveyors of paradise, challenging, resisting and rejecting enlightenment as a foreign concept.

D.LITT FOR DR SIDDIQUI: The Pride of Performance award is the kind of national honour that is conferred on individuals whose achievement in any field deserves to be recognized. It is a kind of a ‘shabash’ from the state. It would not be proper to give it to a senior person for a lifetime’s scholarly work of abiding value, not just passing fame. So, late and little as it was, when Dr Muhammad Ali Siddiqui — renowned literary critic, eminent columnist and author of a number of influential books — was presented this award, and he, out of modesty and grace, accepted it, to avoid belittling it by his refusal and save himself from appearing to be swaggering and vainglorious, quite a few of his admirers were dismayed by this impropriety on the part of the state. But now recognition of his true stature has come from an august institute of learning. He has become the fifth writer and scholar of this country to receive the prestigious D.Litt degree from the University of Karachi. This rare honour is conferred after scrutiny of a scholar’s work by a body of foreign experts in the field. Dr Siddiqui’s work on Sir Syed and Iqbal and the substantial body of his critical essays were evaluated for the purpose. His work on Croce, Pakistaniat, Quaid-i-Azam and his literary column under the pen name of Ariel as well as his bold exposure of the hollowness of the linguistic reconstructions movement have earned for him a distinguished place among scholars of literature. Now two more books, on Ghalib and Josh, are ready for publication. Dr Siddiqui is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Hamdard University, Karachi.

Correction: It may kindly be noted that Dr Noman whose ideas on Science and Scientism I discussed in my earlier article entitled ‘Science needs cultural space’ has since left the Rutgers University. He is in Pakistan these days as Scholar- in-Residence and Project Director with the American Institute of Pakistan Studies and is Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ill-equipped fire brigade

SINCE the summer season has set in and the heatwave started, the fire incidents are on the rise. About two dozen industries and commercial units caught fire and reduced to ashes during the last month as the local fire brigade failed to reach in time and put out the fire due to shortage of firefighters and vehicles.

Three fire brigade stations are functioning on Sialkot Road, the municipal corporation’s premises on the GT Road and at Nian Chowk. But they have no premises of their own. The number of vehicles is eight, and 60 employees are working against the strength of 86. It is stated that about 30 vacancies of employees, including drivers and firefighters, have been lying vacant for long.

The fire brigade’s director confirmed this, and pointed out that the fire brigade’s premises of Sialkot Road had been included in Jinnah station. The district government and the city tehsil council allotted the site of an old bus stand of the government transport service on the GT Road near Gondlanwala Chowk, but the fire brigade could not be shifted there, he said.

He suggested that two more fire stations should be established at Saghir Park on Naushera Road and at the Alam Chowk Bypass, which would cover the interior city and adjacent areas, respectively. He said the fire brigade staff was facing a lot of problems due to slow-moving traffic and speed-breakers in bazaars and streets and crowded areas. He suggested that an awareness about fire-fighting and its problems should be created, besides resolving the problems of fire stations.

* * * * *

THE district government will complete the construction work of roads in all tehsils besides widening the GT Road and expanding the Upper Chenab canal bridge at a cost of Rs325.58 million during the next financial year.

This was stated at a meeting presided over by District Coordination Officer Khalid Masood here the other day.

The meeting was told that Rs117 million had been allocated for the construction of Gujranwala-Kali Soba Road via Ferozewala Bhoper Road, Rs53.168 million for Ahmad Nagar Road from the GT Road to Wazirabad, Rs39.896 million from Ladhewala to Theri Sansi Road, Rs19.879 for Maraliwala village water supply, Rs22.34 million for the construction of eight highway patrol posts and Rs9.282 million for the construction of the Ghakkhar police station on the GT Road.

He said Rs99.986 would be spent on the upgradation of the DHQ Hospital and Rs30 million on residential schemes in police lines.

* * * * *

THE range of Rescue-15 will be expanded up to tehsil level owing to its good performance and for providing relief to people promptly, while a new vehicle will be given to each district for patrolling in the remote areas.

This was stated by range police DIG Zafar Abbas while speaking at a ceremony held to give away cash prizes and certificates to senior police officers and other staff here the other day.

He said the chief minister wanted to secure the life and property of the people after launching the Mahfooz Punjab Programme. He said new vehicles were being given to each district which would be used by a DSP for patrolling. He appreciated the Gujrat and Gujranwala police for killing and arresting dacoits and robbers and recovering a huge quantity of illegal arms and looted goods from their possession.

Sartre’s centenary

IT WAS the 100th birth anniversary of Jean-Paul Sartre as well as the 25th anniversary of his death the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) decided to commemorate it in its local office. With Dr Anis Nagi in the presidential chair, those paying tribute to his memory were the professors of philosophy Dr Attiya Sayed and Muhammad Jawad. Gulnar Kausar of the National College of the Arts read out a popular story of the philosopher which reflected his ideas.

Sartre (1905-1980) was not only a philosopher but also a novelist and a dramatist. However, he is renowned as a leading figure of the existentialist movement. As it is, existentialism is a philosophical theory emphasising that man is responsible for his own actions and free to choose his development and destiny. Existentialism has also been compared with anarchism and Marxism but Sartre thinks differently. His theory is that existence precedes essence; man first is and then he is this or that.

When Sartre died some 50,000 people turned out for his funeral. Six years later, his life-long companion, Simone de Beauvoir, joined him in the cemetery. The stream of people coming to pay tribute to him has not dried up and visitors keep turning up at his grave. It has been a long time since any thinker left so large a mark on an age as he did.

* * * * *

AZRA Asghar started her literary career in Lahore way back in 1970 when she came up with a novel, Dil ke Rishtey. Then, after a gap of some years, she produced a collection of short stories under the title, Pat Jhar Ka Aakhri Patta. After that there was no stopping her and she produced one collection of short stories after another. These included Bargad Ka Tanha Dukh, Beesveen Sadi Ki Ladki, Zindagi Aur Safar and Gadley Samandar. Two of these have already gone into the second edition. She has also produced another novel, Shajar-i-Beysaya.

During her stay in Lahore, Azra also tried her hand at journalism and started editing the literary monthly, Takhleeq.

Consequent upon the transfer of her husband to Islamabad, Azra had to leave the city in 1985. However, she remained active in her literary pursuits even at her new location. Not only did she arrange literary sittings at her residence but in 1987 she launched a literary monthly under the title Tajdeed-i-Nau. She also kept visiting Lahore regularly where her talented daughter and co-editor of Tajdeed-i-Nau, Sheba Taraz, is located.

While writing, Azra maintains her own style. Read a few lines and one can recognize the author. Her stories are simple narratives with an undercurrent of pathos running through some of them. She cannot be blamed for nostalgia, a charge often faced by Intezar Husain, but she does linger in the past without letting it cloud her mind. All the same, her stories do find mention of divided families and broken homes.

Azra was well settled in Islamabad and had even purchased a house there with the intention of staying there permanently but it seems the urge of returning to Lahore kept torturing her mind. The result was that she suddenly decided to sell off her property in Islamabad and head for Lahore.

It was in 2003 that she finally shifted to Lahore and was close to her daughter. Unfortunately, her short stay in Lahore has not been a happy one for reasons which are too painful to recall here. It is, well that she has decided to bid farewell to the city of her choice and is now moving over to Karachi. One can only wish her well in the selection of her new abode. Since she has a lot of well-wishers in the city, she is busy attending farewell parties. One hosted by the editor of the monthly Al-Hamra, Shahid Ali Khan, was held in the Lahore Gymkhana. Another that I know of was held at the residence of Dr Agha Suhail in Johar Town. It was well attended with all the literary luminaries present. It was nice to see Amir Marshal Zafar Chaudhry among them. He seems to have made it a point to be present wherever some literary activity is on.

* * * * *

THE Navadir is a quarterly journal which has been maintaining its standard. Devoted to research articles, it has justified its existence at a time when everyone is out to gain cheap popularity. The latest issue with Dr Gohar Naushahi shown as the chief editor is creditable although I feel the entire spade work is done by Begum Shaheen Zaidi who is designated as the madeera or ‘editoress’. The editorial written by her is enough to prove my contention. — Ashfaque Naqvi

The 30-year rule of the ‘three hakeems’

THERE is a 30-year period, before Maharaja Ranjit Singh came to power in 1799, which is known as the reign of the three hakeems. Who were these three hakeems and what role do they have in Lahore’s history?

The three hakeems were basically three Sikh chieftains who lived and ruled Lahore in a curious triumvirate whose antics have become part of Lahori folklore. My investigation started almost three weeks ago when, while walking through a hot, dusty street on the outskirts of Lahore, I heard a vegetable vendor shouting to sell his ware: “Na Lehna Singh, na Dehna Singh, tammatar (tomatoes) asli Gujjar Singh”. That stopped me in my track. What an amazing sentence to be used in the year 2005. I asked the old man where he had heard this ‘marketing message’. He informed me that he was from an old Arain family of Shalamar that had sold vegetables for the last five generations, before which they were vegetable growers, and this was a common sentence used by the family. “But what does it mean?” I asked. “I have no idea,” he said.

The words and sentences we inherit need to be investigated, for in it resides our history. Let us go back to the period when Ahmad Shah Abdali (1738-1767) in his 30-year reign invaded and captured Lahore a total of nine times, each time ransacking and looting, not to speak of the rape and murder that went with every invasion.

With each invasion, the hold of Abdali began to loosen as strife inside his own capital began to threaten his very base. He decided to give Lahore to a Bhangi sardar called Lehna Singh. But Lehna was no fool. He teamed up with another two Sikh chieftains to secure the environs around Lahore. So it was that the triumvirate of Lehna Singh, Suba Singh and Gujjar Singh came to occupy power in and around Lahore. For 30 long years they ruled supreme and kept paying the Afghan invader and his offspring an annual sum to keep them at bay.

The Lahore Fort and the Walled City and its gates went to Lehna Singh. He was, for formal purposes, the governor of Lahore, and was so recongized. The area between Amritsar and Lahore, or more correctly between the Shalamar Gardens and Lahore, went to Gujjar Singh, who built himself a small fort called Qila Gujjar Singh. Today, a few walls of that old fort can be seen in a street between today’s Nicholson Road and Empress Road, which is still called Qila Gujjar Singh. To Suba Singh went the area to the south of the Walled City, and he resided in the garden of Zubeida Begum in Nawankot, where he built a small fort for himself. Thus the three Sikh chieftains ruled Lahore in peace for 30 long years, years in which their antics became the butt of many a Sikh joke that we still recall today. But why were they called the ‘three hakeems’? The three chieftains cooperated very closely with one another, and often they would have orgies in which dancing women, or ‘nautch girls’ as the British liked to call them, entertained them. In these sessions, opium smoking was the norm. When asked why they used this drug, they laughed it off as a medicine recommended by hakeems. Thus they began to be called the three hakeems, a name that stuck to them.

The three chieftains imposed heavy taxes on the people, all in the name of paying the Afghans a heavy protection duty. In the process, they became one of the richest Sikh chieftains of all Khalsa Misls in Punjab. Their armies soon became known for the excesses they committed on the people, and very soon other Sikhs began to plan and plot their overthrow. But more than other Sikhs, the wealth of Lahore began to attract the Afghans themselves, who demanded a heavier protection fee. This the three refused on grounds of poverty. It was excuse enough for them to return in force.

In 1797, Shah Zaman, the grandson of Ahmad Shah, mustered a huge army to take Lahore, but he failed to do so, losing some heavy guns in the process in the River Jhelum. It was at this stage that Ranjit Singh, son of Maha Singh, and chief of the Sukherchakria Misl of Gujranwala, came to the assistance of the Afghans. The young crafty chieftain, against the advice of his elders, but on the urging of his mother-in-law, used his forces to retrieve eight of the 20 lost cannons of the Afghans from the Jhelum River and returned them in prime condition to Kabul. This pleased the Kabul Court which immediately gave permission to Ranjit Singh to become governor of Lahore. At that time, Lahore was under Chet Singh, son of Lehna Singh, and given the triumvirate around Lahore and their excellent spy network, it was no easy task.

Ranjit Singh realized that the Afghans were a spent force. So he set about infiltrating spies inside the Walled City. It took him two long years to plan this move, years in which he trained and developed his cavalry to move with immense speed, while also building enough firepower to blast his way into a heavily defend Lahore. In 1799, he moved his forces to a base camp about a mile from the southern Lahori Gate. His camp was on the grounds of the Baradari of Wazir Khan, where today is built the Lahore Museum. The baradari still stands and houses the Punjab Public Library.

The spies managed to buy over most of the guards of the gates, while also spreading rumours that the attack was coming from Delhi Gate. Mock attacks at night were attempted to test each gate, which spread fear among the trapped inhabitants. Finally, when the attack did take place, it was a walkover as the spies had managed to buy over almost all guards. Those loyal to Chet Singh were killed. The three hakeems fled and Lahore welcomed Rajit Singh, chief of the Sukherchakria Misl. The foundations of the Lahore Darbar were laid and a strong Punjab was to emerge from the crafty tactics of the young man from Gujranwala. The rule of the three hakeems saw Lahore prosper as a trading city, and with it the business community thrived, even though they were forced to pay more and more in taxes in the guise of protection money. The style of governance made the three famous for uttering the strangest of things, all of which gave the Sikhs an image from which they have still not recovered. The early morning opium parties reached their peak by the afternoon, which soon began to be called ‘peak hour intoxication’. But these orgies aside, the triumvirate did, in reality, strengthen Lahore to the extent whereby the Afghan predatory yoke was removed forever, and Ranjit Singh managed to build a huge empire on those foundations. History still remains, unfairly, harsh on the three hakeems, even though even today their names are used by street vendors. — Majid Sheikh

The Etisalat stake in PTCL

JUDGING by the size of the bid, the UAE’s telecommunications provider, Etisalat, was determined to take a stake in PTCL, whatever the cost.

Etisalat’s offer of nearly $2.6 billion for a 26 per cent share of PTCL - as well as management control - was around 100 per cent higher than the market price and more than 80 per cent more than that offered by the other two bidders from China and Singapore.

It could easily be argued that Etisalat wildly overbid, but here in the Emirates nobody has suggested as such, at least not publicly. Indeed, the stock market put a positive spin on the acquisition with Etisalat’s shares jumping more than 16 per cent during the week.

What is being suggested is that the Chinese and the Singaporeans were apprehensive about the Pakistani market – meaning politics, security and international image - which was reflected in their bids.

On the other hand, the Emiratis ‘understand’ Pakistan. There is certainly some merit in that theory; after all, around half a million Pakistanis constitute more than 12 per cent of the UAE population. The ties go back a long way and there is currently considerable investment in each direction.

Naturally Etisalat will be looking at all those NRPs regularly phoning home as solid business from which it can profit at both ends.

It will also be looking at the massive potential for growth in the Pakistani telecom market where mobile penetration is still less than five per cent of the 150 million population. By contrast, it was announced this week, 95 per cent of the UAE’s 4.2 million population own a mobile _ one of the highest penetration rates in the world.

The potential of the Pakistani market would, of course, have been considered and analyzed by the other PTCL bidders but obviously the results and conclusions were worked out differently.

In any case, the sum Etisalat has paid for its stake is in no way going to stretch its financial resources. The company currently has an annual profit of about $1 billion, around 30 per cent of its revenue, and is squatting on a cash mountain which it is spending on investments around Africa and Asia.

For me, the more fascinating aspect of the deal is how Etisalat will handle the PTCL management. Unions are not allowed in the UAE, strikes are not tolerated and troublesome workers soon find themselves with a ticket home. The International Labour Organization is trying to change all that and suitable murmurings suggesting that workers might be given more rights are being heard, although it is not likely to happen overnight.

The net result is that Etisalat, a monopoly with a compliant workforce, does not have any experience of managing in a situation where employees believe they have some say in their treatment. The company may have paid top dollar for its PTCL share - now it has to make it pay dividends.

* * * *

The Etisalat-PTCL deal is a big one, but is in fact only the latest of an increasing number of two-way investments between the UAE and Pakistan.

Earlier this month Al Ghurair-Giga Pakistan announced the start of construction of residential high-rise towers at the Defence Housing Authority project in Islamabad.

Dubai’s Al Ghurair family enterprises cover everything from shopping malls to banks, trading, printing, shipping, gold refining and textiles and they operate in 32 countries. As one of the big trading families of Dubai, they know Pakistan very well and further investments are bound to follow.

Meanwhile, in the opposite direction, a Pakistani property company has said it is building a $44 million residential block at the new Dubai Sports City, one of three developments in which they will be involved. They were reported this week as being one of many Pakistani developers entering Dubai’s real estate market and more names are likely to be revealed shortly.

Dubai Sports City is another of the mega projects underway here. A motor racing track has already been built and under construction are a huge number of facilities including a golf course, cricket stadium, rugby, football and athletics tracks, and a hockey stadium. There will be shopping malls, hotels and all the other facilities of a mini township. It is widely seen as setting the scene for a future Dubai bid for the Asian Games, if not the Olympics.

Much of the finance for the Sports City will come from residential Developments, with Pakistani developers taking part. Obviously they have as much faith in Dubai as Etisalat has in Pakistan.