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 My eldest sister, then 12 or 13, was withdrawn from school to look after her siblings.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...

History / 16.10.2015

By Anjum Altaf I am reading Christophe Jaffrelot’s new (2015) book The Pakistan Paradox and in Chapter 2 (An Elite in Search of a State – and a Nation (1906-1947)) came across the following table on page 91. Table 2.6: Main party scores within the Muslim electorate in the 1946 elections Party Muslim League Congress Muslim nationalists Unionists Other Total Muslims 74.7 4.6 6.4 4.6 9.7 Urban Muslims 78.7 2.3 5.0 - 14.0 Rural Muslims 74.3 4.8 6.6 6.1 9.2 Muslim Women 51.7 - 27.9 - 20.4 Jaffrelot’s reference to the table is the following: “Despite the League’s relative setback in the NWFP, after the 1946 elections the party eventually managed to appear representative of Indian Muslims (see Table 2.6)." The table has been adapted from The Sole Spokesman by Ayesha Jalal (page 172). I looked up the citation and the table is the same except that Jalal has also mentioned the total number of votes cast and their distribution across the various parties. Jalal’s reference to the table is as follows: “More importantly, the League secured nearly seventy-five percent...

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...

History / 05.05.2012

By Kabir Altaf As the lights come up at the beginning of "A Tryst with Destiny", a screen projects news footage of communal riots in India. We see clips from the 2002 carnage in Gujarat, protests in Indian-administered Kashmir, and an interview with Jaswant Singh in which he lays the major responsibility for the Partition of British India on Nehru and the Indian National Congress.  As these news clips fade out, Gandhi and Nehru step on stage and begin discussing their roles in Partition.  From the outset, the play asks the audience to reflect on the question: Was the Partition of India worth the bloodshed that accompanied it? What price did India have to pay for Independence? "A Tryst with Destiny", performed at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre in Washington DC, was written by Amita Deepak Jha, a locally-based psychiatrist and medical researcher.
History / 09.08.2011

By Anjum Altaf I was asked to review M J Akbar’s new book Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan and have done so; the review appeared in the May 2011 issue of Himal Southasian magazine. Here I wish to attempt something different – to convey to the reader a sense of the book through the images that came to mind as I read it. Tinderbox Tinderbox is a particularly apt metaphor for present-day Pakistan. I reached for the book with a sense of excitement and anticipation at the prospect of learning whether the tinderbox would explode or somehow be defused. The issue had been on many minds and the focus of many talks for some time. A member of the family had put it thus after attending one the talks:
Analysis / 30.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf In Himal Southasian Magazine, May 2011 It is an irony that the most significant enemy of history books is history itself, books being frozen at a moment in time while history continues its relentless march – eventually mocking, more often than not, the certainties of an earlier age. Historical accounts that rely on cultural or psychological constructs for explanations are particularly exposed to this danger, as any number of outdated verdicts can illustrate – the opium-eating Chinese, the Hindu rate of growth, the fatalistic Arabs, to name just a few. The senior journalist M J Akbar thus takes on a large challenge when he sets up his chase to identify the villain of the piece in this new book, billed as ‘historical whodunit to trace the journey of an idea … that divided India.’Akbar repeatedly points to what he calls Pakistan’s ‘DNA’ as the key...

Reflections / 01.04.2011

By Ishtiaq Ahmed I am a long-time resident in Sweden where I have been living since September 1973. When the initial euphoria of living in a new place subsided and life assumed some sort of normality, it began to dawn upon me that I shared the distinction of longing for a very special place on earth which has a global following: Lahore, the city of my birth. It does not matter if the decision to leave was economic or political, voluntary or under duress and threat. For most old residents of this city, sooner or later, Lahore comes back in their lives as the centrepiece of a personal pride. The mystique of Lahore is special and grows on one with every passing year. In Stockholm, a core Lahore connection has served as the basis of a continuous monthly rotating all-evening social get-together since 1991. It began on every Friday at six o’clock in the evening, but has now changed to Sunday afternoons.
Analysis / 02.12.2010

We argued in the preceding post (Analysis: Vision and Management) that a country cannot prosper without a national vision and concluded with the following questions: What is the national vision in Pakistan? And, are our problems getting worse precisely because of the absence of a national vision? It is a coincidence to find an entry that enables us to continue this discussion – a column by Shahid Javed Burki who is among the leading commentators on economic issues in Pakistan. I will quote the introduction to the column before picking up on the issues of interest to us:
Religion / 15.09.2010

From A’daabKhuda HafizAllah Hafiz – How cultural expressions are transformed?

By Ahmed Kamran   In the previous three parts (here, here and here) we examined the long journey of Indian Muslims from the inception of a great common Indo-Persian culture in the 13th century to its political isolation especially by the end of 1930’s. By the time British rulers were fully engaged in World War 2, Muslims, with an acute sense of their separate identity that developed particularly in the backdrop of political events during 1920’s and 1930’s, were about to embark on a collision course with rest of the Indian people. Let’s discuss the key drivers of this great sea change in Indian politics as the British prepared to leave an independent India in the hands of indigenous people.
Identity / 01.09.2010

By Vijay Vikram It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog. And a very good piece by a chap called Ahmed Kamran on The South Asian Idea has pushed me into rectifying that. One of the themes that I love ruminating on is the synthesis of Indic and Persian cultures that emerged after India’s encounter with Islam. What is equally fascinating is how this culture has fractured and is in a state of war after the Partition of India – probably one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated of world-historical events. Intellectuals, both Subcontinental and Western tend to treat Partition as a localised event. A horrific event, worthy of intellectual analysis and monograph upon dry academic monograph but in essence, a tragedy restricted to and contained by the Indian Subcontinent. In actuality, the Partition of India is a world-historical event whose consequences shall be felt on the continuum of...