COLUMN: A nomadic intellectual: Anwer Pirzado

Published February 27, 2014
Amar Sindhu is a Sindhi-
language poet and teaches philosophy at Sindh University, Jamshoro.
Amar Sindhu is a Sindhi- language poet and teaches philosophy at Sindh University, Jamshoro.

A nomad in spirit, a thinker possessing the heart of a lover, Anwer Pirzado, journalist, poet and writer, carried a very heavy load of dreams and fantasies in his writings. Born in Balharji, once called little Moscow, on January 25, 1945, Pirzado characterised himself as a man from the generation of the ’70s. By that Pirzado meant the generation in Sindh that followed the age represented by Sheikh Ayaz, Shamsher-ul-Hyderi and Imdad Hussaini. The generation of the ’70s in Sindhi literature in particular, and Sindhi society in general, is referred to as the one which witnessed the bloodshed against the Bengalis and the military operation against the Baloch during democratic governments. Consequently, the themes of resistance, romance and revolution remained the three main dominant features of this generation in Sindhi literature.

However, it was the book Kaak Kaporyia Kapri by Sheikh Ayaz that transformed Pirzado into a new man whose heart was filled with passion and whose eyes with dreams of rebellion. His restless soul brought him close to the leading member of the communist party of the time, Comrade Sobho Giyanchandani, “the Man from Moenjodaro” as Tagore called him. Pirzado was convinced by the socialist ideology of the emancipation of the working classes and promoted it both in his writings and political life. The phrase, “son of the soil,” is perfect to describe Pirzado. Sindh, Moenjodaro and Bhittai remained central to all his work, poetic as well as journalistic. Being a true lover of Sindh, he loved each and every bit of Sindhi culture, its art, artisans, literature, architecture and heritage.

Pirzado had a chance to work with George Franklin Dales, a well-known American archeologist and an expert on the Indus Valley, when he was working on Moenjodaro. This acquaintance led Pirzado to become interested in the archeological appraisal of Sindh, not as an academic but as a journalist researcher. Thus Moenjodaro, Runni Kot, Makli Matiari, the Dumlotti wells of British days, Chowkandi, Khairthar, Gorakh Hills, the fort of Bakhar, Sadh Belo and many other historical and archeological sites also come under his observation. Furthermore, Pirzado also documented the great river ports of the past, such as Debal Bander, Lari Bander, Keti Bander and Shah Bander.

“Flashing, whitely gleaming in her mightiness,

She moves along her ample volumes through the realms,

Most active of the active, Sindhu unrestrained,

Like a dappled mare, beautiful, fair to see,

Rich in good steeds is Sindhu, rich in cars and robes

Rich is nobly fashioned gold, rich in ample wealth,

Rich in lush grass,

Rich in lovely wool,

Rich in sweet syrup.”

Pirzado often glorified the River Indus (Sindhu) by quoting the above hymn from Rig Veda. He believed that it was only the River Indus which blessed Sindh with both its history and geography. Thus he enthusiastically became a part of a 22-day expedition on the Indus, aimed to document both the river and the people living on its banks. Pirzado produced many articles related to water issues, which has remained a subject of dispute between the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. He touched every stone and dust particle of the land that he loved, like the face of the beloved.

Pirzado started his career as a school teacher and then joined the University of Sindh as a lecturer in the English department but it did not prove to be his final destination. Soon after, he qualified as a pilot in the Pakistan Air Force. But after the completion of one year of training, Pirzado was jailed for writing a letter to his friend in which he opposed and criticised the army operation in what was then East Pakistan and praised Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman as the hero of the Bengalis. The letter became known to PAF authorities and Pirzado was consequently court martialed and sentenced to seven years in prison. Although he was released after one year, he could never get a government job as part of his punishment. Thus the final terminus of Pirzado was journalism.

Pirzado was associated with Dawn and The Star newspapers as well as many Sindhi dailies. From among all his identities — poet, a story writer, archeologist, intellectual, and researcher — Pirzado liked to be known as a journalist because he felt that being a journalist includes and absorbs all the other identities. For him, a true journalist is a writer, and because of the sensitivity of his nature, a poet as well.

The stories Pirzado filed for newspapers were like literature, since all the aspects of a story, characterisation of people, political and theoretical debate and background research, would be present. Pirzado argued that “a true journalist is a historian. By reporting or commenting on an event or a situation with causes and results, a journalist actually provides the source material to history. Thus, a journalist is the writer of contemporary history.”

In 1983, during the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, Pirzado was arrested again, this time because of his audacious reporting. This time around, jail transformed Pirzado into a new man — a poet passionate for both romance and revolution. He was inspired by Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader of Vietnam who also composed poetry when in jail. Pirzado was surprised to find love the dominant theme of Ho Chi Minh’s poetry.

Imdad Hussaini was the first to encourage Pirzado to write poetry but he himself admitted that his poetry has the colour of all the great poets: he has taken rhythm from Ayaz, strength of thought from Hussaini and the art of blank verse from Shamsheer. Pirzado’s compilation of poetry appeared under the title, Aye Chand Bhittai khe Chaijan (O moon, say to Bhittai).

Most of his poetry is in the form of blank verses. The military operations in Bangladesh and Balochistan and Ziaul Haq’a dictatorship were the major themes of his poetry. It not only reflected political commitment but was also enriched with new diction, form and metaphors. Believing in internationalism and the unity of the working classes, Pirzado enthusiastically engaged with the ideology of progressive politics. Thus the central point of his literary work focused on the desire for change, the dreams of emancipation and prosperity.

The poem, ‘Midnight: A Knock on My Neighbour’s Door’, was written about Bangladesh:

Why is there a knock?

Yesterday too

There was such a knock

Then there was a torrent of blood

Reaching my doorstep

And drying up in my earth.

The same knock on the door today

The midnight sky full of stars

A numb silence

Pierced and broken

The earth heavy with sleep

Rudely awakened

By this knocking.

This is not a knock on the door

It is the sound

Of an approaching river of blood.

I debate with myself:

This knock is not at my door

It is nothing for me

Should I go on sleeping?

But these furious waves

May drown me while I sleep.

Lost in thoughts

I get up

In the darkness, I search for a gun

But my hands reach out to a pen

I use all my force to lift it

But I cannot do so

It is heavier than a rock

I cannot lift my pen…!!

Pirzado has also beautifully painted the colours of romance in his poetic expressions:

When your nose was newly pierced

When you had learnt to flutter your eyes

And look coyly,

It was then

Hand in hand in a moonlit night

We had joined our hearts

With this thread of love.

Today, under this blazing afternoon sun

Faced with teargas,

Marching along with me

And looking straight in my eyes

You close your eyes for a moment

And I feel

The bonds of our love

Become stronger

Joining the two hearts

Into one.

Using the classical characters of his beloved poet Bhittai, Umar and Marvi, as metaphors for modern tyrants and those who put up a fight, Pirzado calls to wage a new struggle:

A single hair of yours

Coming under the long boots

Will become a dynamite.

A single sentence uttered

From your lips slit and sewn together

Will turn into forbidden material.

The hem of your dupatta

With which you shield

Your face from the blazing sun

Stained with blood

Will turn into a red flag

Jumping over these four walls

To reach out.

You will be today’s Marvi

And today’s Umar

Will be destroyed.

‘My Sindh’ The flowery cheek

Of an infant

Worthy of planting

Kisses of worship

Over it

Has been torn apart

By bullets of lead

Is it so

That the time has come

Even for small children

To become martyrs

And lo

The stinking corpse

Of authority

Is being eaten away

By the parasites and maggots

Of time

Pirzado was possessed with love for Bhittai, the legendary poet of Sindh. He sometimes called himself the lover of Bhittai. For Pirzado, Bhittai was the cultural identity and the symbol of the unity of Sindh and for this unification he employed the mystical term, Wahadattul Wajood — the social, political and cultural unity.

He was also an encyclopedia on Bhittai. Bhittai is the name of an approach and Pirzado wanted to explore all the places where Shah Bhittai travelled. He believed that much of the work is yet to be done. He discovered 18 sites associated with Bhittai, where he dreamed that monuments to Bhittai would be built to promote his message.

Those include: Bhittai’s mausoleum, Karar lake (in which he had thrown his Risalo), a well in Bhit Shah (from which Bhittai used to draw water), the Hala Haveli, his birthplace, the sand dune where he was buried alive, Verhi Jhapp in Thar where Bhittai went in search of Paroo Faqir known as Parbrum saint, Kha’aroriyo, a temple in Karoonjhar mountain where Paroo Faqir and Bhittai were parted, Bhanjhoo, a hill near Gorakh, Kotri Kabir, where Bhittai used to go frequently to meet his Sufi friend, and his belongings that are preserved at Bhit Shah: a big wooden plate and a wooden pot in which he, along with his Sufi companions, used to eat rice with milk. Besides Sindh, Pirzado firmly believed that the monuments of Shah Bhittai are also to be found in the present-day territory of India, Iran, Sri Lanka and so on.

To write about the commune of Jhoke was another of Pirzado’s dreams which never materialised. He wanted to study the martyrdom of Shah Inyat Sufi, who was killed under the charge of blasphemy. Pirzado intended to write the analysis of the peasant commune of Jhoke that was established long before the Paris Commune. Unlike the Paris Commune, which was established when the ideas of democracy and freedom had started to take root in Europe, Sindh was passing through feudalism when the commune of Jhoke was established under the slogan of “land for the tiller.” Pirzado argued that the philosophical content and the context of both the movements were the same. In contrast to the Paris Commune, though, the Jhoke movement of Shah Inyat Shaheed continued for six months untill the martyrdom of Shah Inayat. Sorrowful indeed it is that this dream of a nomad intellectual, the author of 18 books, never materialised due to his sudden death on January 7, 2007.

The poems have been translated by Asif Farrukhi and Shah Mohammad Pirzado.

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