DAWN - Features; November 27, 2008

Published November 27, 2008

Pakistan will survive crises — Sirajuddin Siraj

By Naseer Ahmad

SIRAJUDDIN Siraj is one of the few blessed poets whose life-long wish to visit Hijaz has been answered as he is leaving for Haj today (Thursday), already chanting Lubbaik, Allahuma Labbaik ....

A deeply religious person since his early age, he has been trying to go on the pilgrimage since 1980. For one reason or another, he could not go to the holy land earlier. The longing for a visit to the sacred places has found profuse references in his poetry. In a couplet written decades ago, he says:

Adabgah-i-Tamanna hay nazar mein/ Madina dill mein kaaba hay nazar mein

Chiragh-i-Mustafvi is a collection of his beautiful naats, the second of his three books published so far. The title is derived from a famous couplet of Iqbal’s: Sateeza kar raha hai azal say ta imroz/ Chiragh-i-Mustafvi say sharar-i-Bulahabi

Chiragh, or lamp, is synonymous with Siraj, his penname, and he has used this word in his various verses very imaginatively. The latest collection of his ghazals, poems and quatrains is also called Lafzon kay Chiragh.

Dr Farman Fatehpuri, in his introductory piece to the book, says he was thrilled when he came across this couplet in his naat collection:

Nisbat mujhay Chiragh-i-Risalat say hay Siraj/ Dekhoon ga mein bhi hosla kitna hawa ka hai

Aina-i-Hunar was his first collection of ghazals, which critics hailed as a happy fusion of traditional and modern poetry:

In say nazar milana bhi dushwar ho gia/ Her shakhs meri rah mein deewar ho gia

On his return from the pilgrimage, he plans to publish a collection of Hamds, or hymns, a difficult genre most critics would agree. He has completed preparations for the book, to be named Hamd-o-Sana ki goonj. He showed me its beautiful title with a bunch of papers containing the divine poetry clipped together.

Answering a question on the various crises plaguing the country, he says he believes it will be all right before long as if by a miracle. “The situation is really distressing. But I’m not disappointed. A country that came into being in the name of Islam will not be forsaken by God. It was achieved with great sacrifices. I was told by my elders that a whole train-load of migrants from India was massacred at the border. Only a suckling was found crying under a seat in a pool of congealed blood when it steamed into the Lahore railway station in 1947,” he says and breaks into tears during an interview with Dawn at his residence on Rashid Minhas Road. “I pray no further harm is done to Pakistan.”

His patriotism is apparent in his poems such as Qiadat ka Aaftab, Qarardad-i-Pakistan, Nishan-i-Aazadi, Bosnia and Allama Iqbal.

He has been to the United States thrice, the third time to settle there permanently. “I disposed of everything here, took my family to the States, obtained a driving licence there and planned to buy a petrol station or super store.

But during visits to friends and relatives, I observed that their young children would come in and proudly announce that ‘Daddy, this is my new girlfriend. …. Daddy, this is my new boyfriend.’ I was appalled. Such a behaviour was not tolerable from my own children, I thought. And decided to return to Pakistan immediately.”

Although he agrees that the so-called private schools are imparting little in terms of knowledge and are run only for commercial purposes, he believes they are doing a great service by at least making literate a large percentage of the country’s population. “It is a matter of intention. If we really want to serve the nation, it is a great profession. I never charged fee from orphans and poor students. Rather I provided them with books and stationery,” he says and narrates an incident: “A couple had 11 children, all admitted to our school. They did not pay anything for the ‘eleven stars’, as they had come to be known, for seven months.

One day the administrator surprised me with a lot of currency notes. She said the Eleven Stars’ father had paid the amount. I asked her if she gave him a discount for two children, she said she offered but the man refused to accept any discount, saying that we could help other children with that amount.” Siraj says he considers setting up schools for spreading literacy is an act of piety as “teaching is the profession of the prophets”.

He has been to India more than a dozen times to attend mushairas, or poetry recitals. There he had the chance to meet well-known poets of Urdu.

He has two sons and a daughter, all married and well settled.

Born in Karachi on November 5, 1952, Syed Sirajuddin belongs to a family that first migrated from Sahsaram in Bihar to East Pakistan and then to West Pakistan in the late forties. His story is that of a struggle for survival. He passed his secondary school examination from a Bihar Colony, Lyari, school. As a private student he did his intermediate, BA and BEd while working at a customs clearing agency. In 1984, he opened a school with the mission to contribute to literacy of the country as well as earning a living for himself. His link with education has snapped for a while, which he plans to resume on return from Haj.

His poetry deals with real issues rather than focusing on the traditional ingredients of rose, nightingale, women and cup and wine. For instance, in a couplet in his Lafzon kay chiragh, the latest collection of ghazals, poems and quatrains, he says:

Siraj kia dil-i-arbab-i-ikhtiar mein hay/ Bajuz hamaray kisi ka na ehtisab kia

Paving new paths to romanise Urdu script

The colonial campaign to Romanise Urdu which partition and creation of Pakistan had disrupted got a new life when, according to Prof Fateh Mohammad Malik, CIA planted General Ayub Khan at the helm, who soon after taking control directed that Urdu be modernised by changing its script to Roman alphabet. Docile and pliable in other matters writers and poets rose as a man against the edict of a British army recruit who might himself have learned his letters in Roman. They contested the decision on grounds of the spiritual, cultural and intellectual dimensions of Urdu script. These writings of the time form part of an important volume, Urdu Zaban aur Urdu Rasmul Khat -- lassani taabir aur ruhani tafseer, which the good professor has compiled from writings of such eminent scholars of Urdu as Shamsur Rahman Farooqui, Dr Maulvi Abdul Haque, Allama Niaz Fatehpuri, Munshi Prem Chand, Dr Athar Farooqui, Ghulam Ahmad Pervez, Syed Sajjad Zaheer, Sir Sheikh Abdul Qadir, Professor Farman Fatehpuri, Dr Rauf Parekh, Dr Syed Abdullah, Mohammad Hassan Askari, Prof Rashid Ahmad Siddiqui, Syed Ehtesham Hussain, Intezar Hussain, Dr Jamil Jalbi and a score others, to oppose and set into proper context the case for this utterly atrocious and uncalled for transition and, probably, as his parting gift for the Muqtadera Qaumi Zaban, which he ably and most productively headed for several years.

Apart from rebutting some recent attempts in India to undermine the undying respect and influence that Urdu continues to enjoy among the cultured elite, like Professor Gayan Chand Jain’s volt face against a language in whose service he earned his fame as a man of letters, the relevance of this book has assumed a certain urgency in the context of what Professor Malik calls a very subtle and silent conspiracy in which our electronic media is involved knowingly or unknowingly in trying to replace Urdu script with Roman characters. Multinational companies are leading this fresh raid to undermine Urdu script by popularizing Roman alphabet in their prime time Urdu advertisements. While this unnecessary conversion of Urdu slogans into Roman script is going on aggressively in both electronic and print media publicity campaigns, Karachi’s monthly journal Nifaz-i-Urdu of May 2008 has reported the publication of a daily Urdu newspaper in Roman script. It would certainly end up in the sorry way pamphlets and booklets in Roman Urdu have in the past. But Prof Malik thinks this latest assault proves that the forces which have been trying to eliminate the unique linguistic and civilizational identity of our national language are still active. Perhaps it is because some see in it possibilities of further weakening the national will on a more cerebral plane.

Yet a more insidious and deep acting corrosion that is creeping into personal communication is through messaging on mobile telephones in Roman Urdu. Since cell phones have no Urdu keyboard and messaging is cheaper than talking, Urdu messages in Roman letters are widely being exchanged between friends, relatives, acquaintances and strangers. Apart from information of a breaking-news nature, jokes and Urdu verses are thus being exchanged. People who regularly make use of cell phones for message communication, known as SMS or text in the new technology parlance, soon become adept in using Roman script for transcribing Urdu words. Although how the Urdu words are spelled is a matter of random choice since users have no phonetic formulae or rules governing Roman Urdu that the British linguists had formulated for use of the ‘gora paltan’. They generally form the Urdu words in a kind of Roman shorthand; also for it is tedious typing on the tiny keyboard of the mobile phones in which every third letter of the Roman alphabet has to be pressed thrice and S and Z four times to type the intended word: to type Fraz for instance the four keys have to be pressed 11 times. But text users are picking up speed and sending ghazals and political jokes in Roman Urdu to each other. This is paving the ground for Urdu in Roman script on a larger scale, say for periodicals, newspapers and even books of prose and poetry which the Baba Black Sheep generation may prefer as they have not been taught Urdu script with any heart or seriousness by parents who consider it to be a low brow ability if their child can read Urdu script.

Roman Urdu looks all right in SMS lingo; to know how Diwan-i-Ghalib would read and what it would look like, from left to right in unequal lines, would have to wait till we totally forget what Urdu looked like in its old script.



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