Reflections / 02.09.2017

By Harbans Mukhia I was born in 1937 or 38, in a tiny village in the Gujrat district of what is now Pakistan. No one, even in Pakistan, seems to have heard of the village Allaha, though it is on my passport to this day. Our home was a nondescript one – a one-and-a-half room structure on one side of a dusty street; on the other side was a tall, white mansion-like habitat with a weather cock on top, which fascinated us kids for hours. We moved to Delhi before the Partition – perhaps sometime around 1941. My father responded to the Quit India call and was put in a Multan prison for six months. My mother passed away perhaps in 1943 or 44, leaving behind five young children. My eldest sister, then 12 or 13, was withdrawn from school to look after her siblings. She never...

Reflections / 07.08.2017

By Kabir Altaf In March 2017, a public prosecutor in Lahore, Pakistan, offered to acquit 42 Christian prisoners accused of murder if they converted to Islam. This prodded a re-reading of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which also features a forced conversion—that of the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, to Christianity.  Written between 1596 and 1599, The Merchant of Venice centers around Antonio (the titular character) and his financial dealings with Shylock. Antonio’s friend Bassanio needs money in order to woo Portia, a wealthy noblewoman. In order to raise this amount, Antonio asks Shylock for a loan of 3000 ducats. The moneylender agrees on the condition that if Antonio defaults on the loan, Shylock will be entitled to a pound of his flesh. Antonio accepts these terms, since he has several ships coming in to port soon. However, Antonio’s ships are wrecked and he is forced to default. Shylock...

Reflections / 03.06.2017

Kabir Altaf Ever since The God of Small Things was published to great acclaim in 1997, Arundhati Roy’s fans have been eagerly awaiting her next novel. It was a long wait—two decades—as Roy transitioned from being a novelist to being an activist and a non-fiction writer. Now, the wait has finally ended with the publication of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The novel focuses on several characters, most of whom are outcasts from the new rising India. They include a hijra named Anjum, a Kashmiri separatist (or freedom fighter) named Musa and Tilottama, the Malayali woman who loves him. Over the course of the novel, these disparate characters encounter one another and their stories intersect, sometimes in surprising ways. Much of the novel is set in the Kashmir Valley during the 1990s—at the height of the insurgency against the Indian state—viewed by many Kashmiris...

Reflections / 04.05.2017

By Anjum Altaf I am intrigued by the thought that for an ambitious youngster, passionate about the arts and with a compelling belief in himself or herself, there may be no place in Pakistan to run away to. The thought occurred to me on reading the biography of Naushad, one of our great music directors. Born in Lucknow, he became fascinated with music early in life. Told by his father to choose between home and music Naushad ran away to Bombay at the age of 18. The rest, as they say, is history. The Bombay of those times was the place to run away to for the passionate young. Naushad was not the only one. There were literally hundreds of others from cities as far away as Peshawar and Madras and towns and villages scattered across the subcontinent. It was a magnet not only for those interested in...

Reflections / 24.02.2017

By Anjum Altaf For Sheema Kermani - because she went Go(After Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Aaj Bazaar meiN Pa ba JaullaN Chalo) Unwept tears, inner tormentsEnoughHidden desires, silent accusationsEnough GoFlaunt your fetters in the streetArms aloft, enraptured, intoxicatedDisheveled, blood stainedGoLovers are yearning for your loveGo Tyrant and crowdAwaitSlings and stonesAwaitSorrows and failuresAwait Who else is left to loveBut youWho else is left to fightBut youWho else is left to dieBut you Arise and goFor love’s honorGo   Note Sehwan is home to the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a major sufi saint in Sindh, where a suicide bombing killed 88 devotees on February 16, 2017. Sheema Kermani is a symbol of defiance in Pakistan as a dancer who has continued to perform in public all through the rise of fundamentalism and suppression. She went to the shrine to join the devotees on February 20. The news story is here. This poem appeared first on 3 Quarks Daily  on February 23,...

Reflections / 05.01.2016

Last week I attended a memorial service and was impressed by the event. It was in stark contrast to our ceremonial mourning which, in a footnote in the Arabian Nights, Sir Richard Burton characterizes as “the visits of condolence and so forth which are long and terribly wearisome in the Moslem east.” Instead, the event was intended as a celebration of the full life of the deceased. Everyone in the audience who wished to offer a reflection was allowed time to do so and while none of them were truly inspiring, the purpose of sharing remembrances was fully served. There was, however, one recurring mention that finally began to strike me as incongruous – that the deceased had lived all his life in rented quarters, did not own a house, and had not accumulated any riches. I too had known the individual and was a member of...

Reflections / 04.07.2015

By Zulfikar Ghose The Sikh from Ambala in East Punjab, India, formerly in the British Empire, the Muslim from Sialkot in West Punjab, Pakistan, formerly British India, the Sikh boy and the Muslim boy are two of twenty such Sikhs and Muslims from East Punjab and West Punjab, which formerly were the Punjab, standing together in assembly, fearfully miming the words of a Christian hymn. Later, their firework voices explode in Punjabi until Mr Iqbal – which can be a Sikh name or a Muslim name, Mohammed Iqbal or Iqbal Singh – who comes from Jullundur in East Punjab but near enough to the border to be almost West Punjab, who is an expert in the archaic intonations of the Raj, until the three-piece suited Mr Iqbal gives a stiff-collared voice to his Punjabi command to shut their thick wet lips on the scattering sparks of their white Secondary Modern teeth. Mr Iqbal has come to London to teach English to Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims and has pinned up in his...

Reflections / 31.01.2015

By Anjum Altaf in Economic and Political Weekly If grief were cumulative we would have been crushed under its weight by now. Not that one wishes it so. I would go as far as to say that grief should not become a permanent burden. Therefore I have mixed feelings when I hear the young at vigils vowing never to forget. How much can they remember and what will come of all this remembering? I feel fortunate we can regroup because only then do we have the strength to act – that is, if we wish to and know how. Grief has power because it binds us together, gives collective voice to our outrage, and infuses in us the desire to fight back. But the outrage should avoid being channeled into feelings of anger or vengeance. Grief born of violence begetting yet more violence traps us in an endless cycle....

Reflections / 06.11.2014

By Hasan Altaf in Economic and Political Weekly Excerpts - The complete article is here. A Pakistani winning a Nobel Prize: This year, Malala Yousafzai has entered a very select club. There’s only one other member. Amid all the celebration of this achievement, his story should be remembered now, for the warning it offers to the Nobel committee, the optimistic international community, the hard-working activists, the Twitter-happy politicians, and all those hopeful schoolgirls cutting cakes in Mingora. It might, on the other hand, provide some comfort to those who are unhappy with the decision. *** In the meantime, though: Yousafzai still cannot return safely to the country rushing to bask in her aura. Her book remains banned by many institutions. The Government of Pakistan spends less than almost any other in the world on the education of its children. Its legal, political, cultural and social systems continue to denigrate,...

Reflections / 07.08.2014

By Anjum Altaf -- Does God love everybody? -- Yes. -- Are you sure? -- Of course. -- Then why do YOU hate so many? Are you bigger that God (NB)? Has God (NB) created some just so you can indulge your passion for hating? Has God (NB) told you there are some you can hate even though He loves them? Is your God (NB) the head of a political party? I haven’t come up with this. It’s how I read Mr. Bloom in the chapter identified as Cyclops in Ulysses. Look at it yourself (lines 1480-1520 here) if you don’t believe me: “God loves everybody” and aren’t we told to “love your neighbours”? And if I listened to God and loved my neighbour and my neighbour loved his/her neighbour wouldn’t we end with “universal love” which is “the opposite of hatred,” of “insult and hatred” which is “not life for men and...