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DAWN - Features; July 10, 2008

July 10, 2008

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Sufism and politics have the same goals — Sabir Zafar

By Naseer Ahmad


Although his fame hinges on his geets, or lyrics, noted poet Sabir Zafar is trying to shake off his image as a lyricist. He has as many as 22 collections of ghazals (lyric poems) to his credit and wants his name to be recognized with that genre. With three collections of geets in his pocket, he has stopped publishing more of his 1,000-plus geets he has written so far.

The fame he has earned through his sung ghazals and geets should, however, be the pride of any ambitious poet. He embarked on this journey with a ghazal sung by Ghulam Ali:

Dareecha bay sada koi nahin hai/Agar chih bolta koi nahin hai followed by Jitni aankhein achhi hongi, meri aankhein hongi…, sung by Mohammad Yousuf.

His geets and ghazals catapulted to fame not only the poet but many singers and groups that sang them. The list of his popular songs – sung by almost all known singers and groups of the day including Junoon, Awaz, Mizmaar, Reshma, Ghulam Ali, Nayyara Noor, Nazia and Zoheb Hasan, Gulshan Ara Syed, Munni Begum, Ajmal Hussain, Sajjad Ali, Shehzad Roy, Faakhir, Najam Shiraz, Ali Azmat, Hadiqa Kiyani, Mohammad Ali Shyhakhi and Afshan Ahmed – is impressive.

Hai jazba junoon tau himmat na har/Justujoo jo karay woh chhooae aasman, sung by Junoon’s Ali Azmat, became an instant hit before the 1996 cricket World Cup and generated a frenzy among cricket lovers. But when the singing and dancing fans were let down by the poor performance of the Pakistan team in the tournament, the song lost its lustre.Sabir Zafar, however, says the people’s frenzy was justified as they anticipated a victory by their compatriots. As if to defend himself in the matter, he says: “The team’s abysmal performance in the tournament had nothing to do with the poet and group’s effort. Our job was to encourage them. It was their job to use proper techniques with the required level of junoon – intense passion – to win the grand event. But one should not be discouraged by a defeat and instead should learn a lesson for future events. Every defeated army or nation has its brave men also.”

Sufism and politics

Asked how he came to be associated with the Sufi music of Junoon, he says: “Sufism and politics have the same goals. Sufism mellows a person and makes him tolerant of others’ views to promote affinity among communities for collective welfare. Politics’ aim is also to serve people. But, unfortunately, politics here doesn’t play such a role. Our politicians promote only their own interests rather than doing public service.”

He says it was he who brought the group to Sufi music. “I asked them to do this type of music and they agreed to it. Playing guitar has nothing to do with Sufism; it is the poetry that makes it Sufi music. It’s, however, teamwork that makes a song click.”

Sabir Zafar was born as Muzaffar Ahmed at Kahuta in Rawalpindi district on September 12, 1949. His father, a schoolteacher, was transferred from place to place and so young Sabir also changed schools before doing his intermediate from Rabwah College. He began writing poetry in 1968, but he was a political activist before he became a poet. He is associated with the press information department of the Sindh government.

Sabir Zafar’s poetry – both the pieces sung by renowned singers and groups and otherwise – has won him high acclaim by serious readers of poetry and those interested in music.

When asked if it was necessary for a poet to live in a world of fantasies as is generally perceived, he says: “There exists no such world. The only world we have is this real world, or the hereafter. People who live in the world of fantasies, in fact live in a fool’s paradise. I am very much in touch with reality and highlight the problems and issues of daily life in my poetry too,” he says, adding: “A genuine poet cannot close his eyes to what is happening around him. Some poets react to these happenings immediately, others take time to record their sentiments. I have been writing for the last 40 years and my poetry has a reflection of the political situations during this period.”

To establish his own credentials, he says his contribution to Urdu ghazal in quantum surpasses any of his contemporaries, except for a couple of names whose poetry is purely for commercial purposes and has little literary worth. “Besides, each of my books has a particular theme. For instance, one of my books is on Sufism, one is on the concept of death. This also sets me apart from my contemporaries.”

The poetry of grief

He further says: “All great poetry is poetry of grief. You may also see me painting grief in my poetry. That grief may be of my person inflicted by society. Or that of the suppressed voices of the people, exploited by successive governments that promise a lot but do nothing for their welfare. These people are also the victims of injustices, maltreatment of landlords and industrialists and how the pathetic life they live should be a matter of concern for everyone who cares.”

He, however, insists that “poetry should remain poetry and should not become sloganeering.”

He says he is the only poet who can be called a ‘Pakistani poet’. “In my poetry words of all major languages of the country are used and the culture of every region is depicted. Besides, my book Lahu Tarang is a collection of folktales of all the four provinces rendered in Urdu.”

He does not bemoan the non-payment of royalty on his books. “One could complain if there was such a system in place here. A few publishers do pay the poet a paltry amount in the beginning. Then they say ‘your books are not selling any longer’, and you have no reason to suspect their intention.”

‘Indians being kept in the dark on nuclear deal’

By Shamim-ur-Rahman


Naresh Nadeem, a CPI(M) member and editor of the New Delhi-based monthly Shab Tab, who was here recently, said he was not happy with what he termed corporate hijack of the media and accused it of not focusing on bread and butter issues of the poor segment of society.

He was also critical of the Manmohan Singh government’s nuclear deal with the United States and said the people of India were being kept in the dark.

Mr Nadeem had presented his paper in the two-day international conference on the role of the media in the freedom struggle of 1857.

Talking to Dawn, he also spoke on bilateral relations between Pakistan and India and called for a more liberal visa regime, and if possible, doing away with it in due course to promote mutual amity and cooperation at all levels. He said the continuing conflict was not in the interest of the two nations and that when Egypt and Israel could come closer, why couldn’t India and Pakistan.

He said the media was not so aggressively pushing on the bilateral trade and visa regime issue. He said bilateral trade could help either side break the cartels and keep in check the soaring prices of essential commodities, by supplementing each other’s shortfalls.

The CPI(M) member from Utar Paradesh claimed that the present generation had given up ideological approach to the issues affecting the common man and had fallen prey to the ‘corporatisation’ of the media, which was having a telling effect on professional journalism. He said the corporate agenda of the media had obliterated the common man’s issues and there seemed to be a structural shutout on those issues.

He noted that as a result of ‘corporatisation’ of the media, the share of entertainment on the electronic news channels and in newspapers had gone up manifold. As compared entertainment reporting, reporting on agricultural issues, education health and environment had gone down. In fact, he said, despite being an agricultural economy, most TV channels and newspapers did not have reporters assigned to agricultural beats.

But he noted that some of the regional media were focusing on the common man’s issues. “People go for them because they identify this segment of the media with themselves.” In this context, he referred to the Hindi and Marathi press.

Naresh Nadeem was critical of the electronic media for not giving enough space and consideration to the issues concerning the peasants and working class. This was accentuating the sense of alienation. He said there was no representation of the Dalits on the Indian media. On the other hand, the BJP was getting its likeminded media men in different organisations. For this purpose, he said the party had set up a cell.

He also termed the Indian Premier League as a rude demonstration of corporate influence in every walk of life. He noted that some newspapers had resorted to having private client treaties with any company. By this method, these newspapers acquired stake into a certain company and marketing of its products was sold as news. This he said was a very dangerous and unethical trend.

The soft-spoken Naresh Nadeem was also critical of the Indian government’s nuclear deal with the US, (over which the CPI (M) has left the ruling coalition and has asked Manmohan Singh to prove his majority in the Lok Sabha) and said the deal was not in the interest of India.

He also accused the Congress of not respecting the views of coalition partners. Reiterating the party line on the issue, Naresh Nadeem claimed that it would not only lead to nuclear proliferation in the region but would also be a burden on the exchequer, as for the cost of one nuke plant, there can be at least three thermal power stations.

Quest for the unchained mind

Returning from an absence of more than a half century is like emerging from a universe on the other side of a black hole. Back in the fifties Farmanullah Khan taught us English and Philosophy at the Gordon College, Rawalpindi. Turned out smartly in well stitched suits, a shock of hair fashioned to be unruly on the forehead, he exuded a confident charm. He didn’t look so much pleased as amused at something and he regarded you unquestioningly. He went straight to the heart of the lesson and had us so engrossed in the lecture the bell seemed to end his period many minutes earlier. His stay at the college also seemed to end before an academic year. He was not forgotten. Prof Khwaja Masud remembers him as a bright young lecturer.

From that romantic haze of the youthful fifties an octogenarian Farmanullah Khan glides back into the turbulent mayhem of 21st century Pakistan. Such chaos would reverse any saintly mission, but our teacher from the last century like all good men who refuse to abandon the human race has not come empty handed. He has brought us the alchemy of what he calls the AIU — all inclusive understanding.

Titled ‘the quest for the unchained mind’ the manual or guide to ‘all inclusive understanding’ was published in Canada by Trafford in 2004. ‘AIU’ is not a grand unifying theory but promotes the idea of accommodating all the different views and ideas with friendly understanding. Prof Farman says it is not a unifier, a combiner or a synthesiser of diverse views of life. Neither it is an arena of duels of intellect or faith. It is an attempt to look at the various human ways and views, as they are, and try to understand them in a positive way. This brings harmony and softens feelings of hostility. As a mirror, which is external to your body, enables you to look at your body from outside, AIU, by asking you to look at the world from a viewpoint different from yours, enables you to look at your mind from outside. Opposites derive their existence from each other. Reasons for and against cancel out and out of this mutual cancellation emerges a better understanding of the issue. This is what you may call an AIU understanding. Contradictions, dilemmas, doubts are distilled into a state of awareness when approached in the AIU way. In AIU there is equilibrium of views, but not synthesis of two or more views into a new one; there is no replacement of one view with another. They sit together but in separate compartments like the seeds of a pomegranate. Simply put Prof Farman’s AIU is a scheme of mutual tolerance and peaceful coexistence: let a hundred flowers bloom and a thousand ideas contend? Is that it?

After this explanation of what he means by AIU, my professor moves on to more personal views that he thinks come from looking at things from the all inclusive angle. What follows is a potpourri of his observations on all things under the sun categorised as ‘another look, another world’, ‘spiritism unveiled’, and ‘the woman-man spectacle’. Here are some from the first section: The laws of physics did not apply to the early universe. Nor do they apply to the dream world. Was the early universe a dream-world? The functioning of the human mind is unreliable. How can reason, a function of this unreliable mind, be reliable? Dogma is darkness, doubt is light. When you reject one dogma, see you don’t slip into another. We have no answers; all that we have is questions. ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’ Existence is a process, not a finished product. Philosophy is questions. Until it is on fire, life is a pile of rubbish stagnating. Check if you are wasting time; you are not immortal. To die a totally delicious death, die totally exhausted. Birth is day one of death; could death be day one of life. Conscience should be life friendly; ignore its voice if it is not. Be a problem, if you exist; and don’t get solved; you’ll become history. Nothing is more ‘you’ than your language.

And some more from the last sections:

The most manifest face of mindlessness is blind faith. Most of the so-called holy places are run by rogues. Rejoice at the birth of a baby girl; take a deep breath and hope for the best when a boy is born. Man is the woman’s worse half and the failings of mankind are indeed the failings of mankind. All the human qualities the word humanity stands for are the various facets of womanhood; the word has hardly any relevance to man. Women are born civilized; some men become. In man sex is a mindless drive; in women the attribute is infused with a purpose. The husband who forces purdah on his wife is neither trustful of her integrity nor sure of his manhood.

An incorrigible feminist, Prof Farman can go on like this. Also because he is a poet and favours the classical form. He has published two books of his ghazals and a book of verse in English which won admiring reviews in England. Had he not spent the greater part of his life abroad his work would have been better known here. But to be known, it is not just enough to be a good writer or a good poet. In an aiu mind fame too has its proper corner.