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,...

Music / 10.01.2017

By Anjum Altaf Ustad Fateh Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana died on January 4. Classical music in Pakistan died earlier. Nothing epitomizes that more than the headline in a leading newspaper: “Renowned Qawwal Ustad Fateh Ali Khan passes away.” It is just as well one can’t read one’s own obituary - that would have been the unkindest cut of all for the doyen of the khayal tradition of North Indian classical music. Another leading newspaper had referred to Roshan Ara Begum as Gulshan Ara Begum a while back. Mercifully the Malika-e Mausiqi was no longer alive to realize how quickly she had been forgotten. These kinds of gross oversights in leading newspapers are indicative of the fact that many now have no familiarity with the tradition or the achievements of its leading exponents. One can say that classical music is dead in Pakistan because the art...

Reflections / 01.08.2014

By Ibn-e Eusuf Father was like that. Eager to have us learn everything, oblivious to details. Busy, busy. Shunting trains by day, learning French by night. Mother never said much, went along mostly. Handed over to a music teacher or somesuch. Eight or thereabouts. No Sa Re Ga. Right away on to aye maalik tere bandey ham tuu ne zarrey se keeRaa banaya or somesuch. Closet evolutionist. Wept. Mother gently requested change of tune. Merey maalik bulaa le madeenay mujhe. About death and dying. Final requests, etc. Nothing doing. End of music hall career. Still, thanks and all. Never forgot bulaa le madeenay bit. Coming in handy now. Understand all about politics. Aatey umrah jaatey umrah. Mountain of rye. Mice. Roared. Wind ke jhonkoN se. Pudeenay ke bagh. No offence. miaN khush raho ham dua kar chalay. Farsighted bastard. Somepeople know it all. Should have stayed with him....

South Asia / 09.05.2012

By Hasan Altaf Excerpts from an essay published in a special issue (A Country of Our Own – A Symposium on Re-Imagining South Asia) of Seminar, India, April 2012. * A nation cannot grow in entirely barren ground, however, and so in Pakistan we have attempted to replace “South Asia” with “Islam”: to substitute for culture, religion, in theory a straight one-to-one transfer. There is no space for chaos here, either, though; the Islam we choose to imagine is monolithic, straight-from-the-sands, brooking-no-argument; it ignores the vast diversity even among our Islams, let alone all our religions and cultures, and says that in the interests of simplicity, order, there will only be one, there has always been only one right way to go about this business. Once again, it was the Met that put things in context.Recently the museum reopened its collection of what is in shorthand referred to...

Music / 25.07.2011

By Anjum Altaf The seeming disconnect between the aural and visual dimensions of popular Indian culture has left me in shock and struggling for an explanation. There are many things I don’t fathom but most of the time I can advance plausible hypotheses to work towards an understanding. Not so in this particular case. I have come upon this puzzle late and in a peculiar manner. Being aurally-oriented to an extreme, I have had very limited exposure to the visual medium. I have watched some classical dance live, attended the occasional play, and consumed some sports on TV. But as far as visual expressions of popular art forms are concerned, I am largely ignorant. Movies, in particular, I haven’t watched for decades. This changed recently when I found myself responsible for managing senior citizens whose daily routine included a number of hours before the television. Hoping to wean...

Music / 14.07.2011

By Anjum Altaf In a discussion of the arts, it was mentioned that middle-class families in India encouraged children to learn classical music because it was a mark of high culture; it made one special in one’s esteem and in that of others. It was then asked why classical music was not healthy in Pakistan given that much the same considerations should be applicable across the border. It is my sense that the question was less an expression of belief and more an opening for a discussion and I am going to exploit that to speculate on some topics of interest. The one-word, and not altogether flippant, answer to the question is God. Hindu deities (Krishna and Saraswati, to mention just two) not only approve of but delight in music. Whether Allah approves or disapproves is still in doubt with no resolution in sight while the camp...

Language/Meaning / 20.06.2011

By Anjum Altaf I am an Urdu speaker from Pakistan who wrote an account (From Urdu to Hindi, Farsi and Beyond) of an immensely rewarding experience of learning the Devanagari script very quickly. As a result, I have been asked to guide those wishing to cross the divide from the other side. Nothing could be more gratifying and I have decided to devote a separate post to the effort in order to have enough room to indulge myself. For those who know Hindi, the news is all good. You already know Urdu so there is really nothing to learn. Hindi and Urdu share the same Khari Boli grammar and therefore are the same language from a linguistic perspective. The branches of this common trunk have been pruned and grafted such that we think we are looking at two different species of trees. But that is an illusion;...

Language/Meaning / 06.03.2011

By Anjum Altaf In response to a question asking why Faiz Ahmad Faiz was so much more popular then other, clearly ‘better,’ poets, I had argued (here and here) that we should enjoy poets on their own terms and not bother overmuch with ranking them. Comparisons being difficult, I used a metaphor from music to suggest some of the ways in which poets differ – while Faiz could be considered a poet of the vilambit, Ghalib was one of the drut, and it makes as little sense to compare Faiz and Ghalib as it does to compare a vilambit to a drut. I am aware that the argument can be pushed: Can we not compare poets of the vilambit or of the drut to elucidate what might be involved in such comparisons? I am faced with that challenge from a reader: I would find it more interesting if...

Reflections / 09.02.2011

By Sakuntala Narasimhan “So how was your trip to Karachi? How was the conference?” my friends back home in India asked, when I returned to Bangalore after a week in Pakistan. Good? Bad? In trying to choose a short answer I find myself stumped. The second question is easier to answer – the three day conference was a fruitful, enriching, and enjoyable experience, as we interacted with artistes, activists from the arts, writers and academics from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Germany, UK and USA discussing the interfaces between politics, performing arts and gender. We exchanged ideas and experiences on the use of music, theatre and dance, as well as films and television, as vehicles for creating social awareness (with an overarching emphasis on gender because the NGO, Tehrik-e-Niswan, which had organised the event, worked for the promotion of gender equity). The conference was good. The process of getting there, and...

Language/Meaning / 07.02.2011

By Anjum Altaf In a recent article (The Music of Poetry), I argued that it didn’t make sense to ask if one poet was greater than another. The musical metaphor I attempted proved to be the undoing of the piece; perhaps I should have tried a different metaphor – it would be silly, for example, to ask if Tendulkar is “greater” than Muralitharan, though both are cricketers. The reason is obvious, the one being a batsman and the other a bowler. My conclusion was simply that we should place less emphasis on “greatness,” however defined, and focus instead on the pleasure that comes from a given work. The use of a cricketing metaphor, however, adds another point to the argument. In cricket, statistics are available for comparison in a way impossible for poetry or music, but even then the matter is not as simple as it seems.Comparisons...