LAHORE: Mukulika Banerjee of the London School of Economics says Khudai Khidmatgars’ history was silenced and suppressed as after the independence in 1947, they as well as their leader Bacha Khan were seen as traitors for being allies of the Congress during the freedom struggle.

The author ofPathan Unarmedwas speaking at the launch of the translation ofBacha Khan: Life and Struggle, the autobiography of the leader of Pashtun non-violent movement, in a session at the LLF on Saturday. Rights activist and politician Afrasiab Khattak was the other panelist in the session moderated by Shandana Huamyun Khan.

Going back in the memories, Ms Banerjee remembered that Bacha Khan’s death was a big news in India in 1988 when she was a master’s student in Delhi. “India had offered him a burial place between the memorials of Gandhi and Nehru but Bacha Khan said he did not want to be buried in India or Pakistan as he wanted to be buried in Jalalabad, his home.”

Ms Banerjee said that in the middle of the Afghan war, there was a ceasefire for 24 hours for the burial of Bacha Khan and thousands of people went to attend it.

She said there were no accounts of Khudai Khidmatgars in history books expect a few only on Bacha Khan.

“When I met them for my research, they could not believe that somebody was asking them about their struggle 50 years after independence. I had a wonderful friend Habibullah who lived near Charsadda and he took me in his car looking for old Khudai Khidmatgars in villages of Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Swat.”

They told Banerjee how they were punished before the independence, and jailed and silenced after it and they had burned their red shirts, papers and all the traces of their fight for independence. These old friends had lost connections after their party was banned and they were having reunions after half a century of separation due to her work.

Afrasiab Khattak, who had the honour of working with Bacha Khan as he came back from his exile in 1972, paid tributes to the late leader for introducing modernity, politics and reforms in the tribal society of Pashtuns to bring them into the mainstream.

“He focused on education and talked about giving up revenge. He raised a voice for the peasants and modernized the Pashtun way of life. He introduced democracy, saying the leader would be elected.”

Khattak bemoaned that Pakistanis did not have good history books and Bacha Khan’s autobiography was very relevant in the contemporary world. He said Bacha Khan was a practicing Muslim but he never wore his religion or practices on his sleeve.

He said Bacha Khan until the end of his life stood for non-violence and peace. “He had opposed the war in Afghanistan and tried his best to end it. He wanted the Soviets to pull out of Afghanistan. He told the people that it was not really their war but of superpowers,” Khattak added.

CHINI KOTHI: Indian novelist Siddiq Alam says his novel, Chini Kothi, is based in an imaginative city and its protagonist is living between wakefulness and dream.

Talking about his novel in a session on the third day of the LLF, Siddiq told the moderator, Nasir Abbas Nayyar, “There is an element of foreshadowing in my novel. The central character’s father tries to attempt suicide and the theme of suicide is there in many characters of the novel. There are cats of the sub-inspector who loses his cat and the boy who had found it kills it instead of giving it back . Then a character tries to kill his mother. One incident is linked with the other in the novel”.

Speaking about the history of novels in the third world, Siddiq said the start of novel writing in the third world started after the end of imperialism. “The countries left behind had a changed life. The colonial rulers left but their things remained in our life.”

Talking about the kinds of novels written in the postcolonial world, he said some novels were written in the background of colonialism like novels of Naipaul and Kipling. Later came the reverse colonialism with Derek Walcott, Marques and others who wrote in an attempt to go back in the time before colonialism.

Replying to a question of Nasir, he said the reader brought his own perspective that could enrich the novel. “The reader’s perspective is even more important than that of the writer.”

ALEPH REVIEW: The team of the English language journal The Aleph Review got together in a session of the LLF on Saturday to talk about their project as well as the fifth edition of the journal having the theme of ‘the tree of life’.

“Sometimes everybody is not willing to write on a particular theme. Afshan came up with the tree of life theme. Some submissions arrived very early. I found myself reflecting on the whole situation and the larger picture a lot. The larger picture kept niggling on my mind. The pandemic unlocked me. We had 100 submissions on the last day,” said Mehvash Amin, the editor of the journal.

Talking about the team, she said, “We have divided it among us. Afshan and Ilona deal with poetry and Hasan and I deal with prose”.

Poet Afshan Shafi while revealing how she finds out new voices in literature said she tries to remain updated through international literary journals and acquires knowledge of the emerging writers.

Ilona Yusuf told the audience what The Aleph Review stood for and looked for. “Any kind of writing that is edgy and of good quality and slightly modern. When we receive submissions we see it has a voice even if it needs some work on it. Sometimes minor edits can make a huge difference”.

Hassan Tahir Latif informed about the website launched by the journal last year to provide a platform to more people.

Ms Amin also remembered her days when she was mentored by Taufiq Rafat and Kaleem Omar, the exponents of Pakistani English poetry.

“We have started a ‘spotlight series’ on the website where longer pieces can also be published,” she said.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2021

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