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Monday, October 31, 2005

mirza yagana changezi- dr. afzal mirza

Of God and Ghalib

Restraint was what Mirza Yaas Yagana Changezi knew little of all his life. Only towards the end, he realised that the price he paid was rather very high

By Dr Afzal Mirza

That Mirza Yaas Yagana Changezi was an able poet whose talent was mostly wasted on aimless pursuits does not need an overemphasis to drive it home. Writing about Yagana in his Takhleeqi Adab, critic and poet Mushfiq Khawaja said: "Undoubtedly Mirza Yagana is one of the important poets of this century. But due to his literary and non-literary polemics his poetic importance has been generally ignored. What to talk of a detailed critique of his poetry, even short critical pieces have not been written about him".

Another well known critic Professor Mumtaz Hussain had this to say: "Yagana Changezi was without a sword but he would use the point of his pen as a sword." According to Mumtaz Yagana had the habit of stinging his friends and foes alike as a "fly sitting on the back of a horse would".

Dr Abul Lais Siddiqui who was at one time head of the Urdu department of Karachi University said about Yagana: "The personality and poetry of Mirza Yaas are contradictory. On one hand there is a new melody, emotion, strength and energy in his poetry and on the other his ego-centricity and self-indulgence that cross all the limits of poetic standards have tremendously damaged both his poetry and personality. That is the reason that his poetry has been marred by his reputation as a Ghalib basher."

The best comment perhaps has come from critic Khaleeq Anjum: "Who can deny the fact that Yagana was unjustly treated in Urdu literature. He couldn't get the status he deserved. But this is also true that it was his own doing. Yagana was an important poet of Urdu. There was individuality in his style and diction. In every artist rather in every human being there is always a little or more ego but in Yagana it had crossed all the limits of moderation. He used to say that in this century there is no other poet but Yagana and such misconceptions had made his life miserable".

Why Yagana turned against Ghalib can be traced in the development of his literary career. Yaas Yagana Changezi whose real name was Mirza Wajid Hussain was born in Azeemabad, Patna (Bihar) in 1883. He was a bright student and always won scholarships but he couldn't go beyond entrance examination that he passed from Calcutta University. At a very young age he shifted to Calcutta where he became the tutor of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah's grandson Mirza Muqeem and his children. But the climate of Matyaburj, Calcutta, where Wajid Ali Shah and his descendents were detained, did not suit him. So he returned to Azeemabad. Then he shifted to Lucknow.

"I so much liked the climate and other cultural activities of this city that I settled there. At times I would go back to Azeemabad and sell some of my property there and would return to Lucknow," he wrote.

It was in Lucknow that his life of polemics started. He was not happy with his Lucknow contemporaries which included Aarzoo, Aziz, Safi and Saquib who according to him were unnecessarily following Ghalib's diction. So he bitterly criticised them. In return, they turned against him. The result was that the whole of Lucknow and Uttar Pradesh province turned against him. Wherever he would go to recite his poetry, the poets of Lucknow would boycott that mushaira. For nearly 20 years, both the parties remained engaged in a bitter battle of words.

Yagana started pointing out flaws in Ghalib's poetry as early as 1915. But it took him two decades to come up with a book on the issue. His Ghalib Shikan was published in 1935.

The book had its origin in an All India Mushaira Conference held in Cawnpur under the chairmanship of Sir Ross Masud (Sir Syed Ahmad Khan's son). In the conference one of the participants raised the issue of Yagana's derogatory language against Ghalib in his book of quartets entitled Tarana. Professor Masud Hasan Rizvi in a letter pointed the incident out to Yagana. Mirza in a lengthy reply justified his criticism of Ghalib. Later this replay developed into Ghalib Shikan which identified 59 verses of Ghalib as being flawed.

The second edition of the book came out as Ghalib Shikan Do Atisha and included some more quartets attacking Ghalib, some of them being on his person rather than his poetry. If Yagana had confined his criticism to the academic level, it would have been a different matter but his attacks on Ghalib's person were not liked by literary circles. In the eyes of some critics, the motive of Yagana in attacking Ghalib was to get publicity. But he got the negative publicity in the end which did not help him in his quest for importance.

It made him bitter and his comments became more scathing. He did not restrict himself to literary themes and started commenting on religious affairs as well. His supporters, however, say that he was not against Ghalib per se and was fond of his poetic skill. But he initiated his polemic as a reaction to the unjustified praise of Ghalib by so-called Ghalib lovers whom he termed as Ghalibchis. They quote this couplet of Yagana to substantiate their argument:

Sulah kar lo Yagana Ghalib


Woh bhi ustaad tum bhi ik


But his drifting away from religion compounded the problems he had with his detractors. His anti-religion sentiments are best expressed in these couplets:

Khudi ka nasha charrha aap

main raha na gaya

Khuda banay thay Yagana

magar bana na gaya


Sub tairay siva kafir aakhir

iss ka matlab kya

Sar phira day insaan ka aisa

khabt-e-mazhab kya

He had to lose one job after the other for commenting on religious topics.

Yagana spent the whole of 1926 in Lahore where he was hired by Maulana Tajwar Najibabadi for his publishing house. After the partition, he visited Pakistan in 1951. Mohsin Ehsan once wrote about a small gathering in Kakul at the residence of Dr Mazhar Ali Khan (brother of Allama Rashid Turabi) where Yagana was the guest poet. According to Mohsin: "After ten minutes Dr Mazhar came and announced that Sarkar was coming and immediately after that a thin, lean and short person entered the room. He was wearing an achkan and a cap and a muffler round his neck. Everyone stood up to receive him. After settling down, Dr Mazhar asked, "Sarkar, what was that matter with Chacha Ghalib." Dr Sahib wanted to tease him a bit but Yagana smilingly replied, "Please don't open the closed chapter."".

About his incursions into the domain of religion, his daughter Buland Iqbal Begum wrote in an article, "His point of view about the religion was that it is between God and the person concerned. Whatever one accepts as his faith that is his religion".

The worst came for Yagana in 1953 when he sent some quartets to Allama Niaz Fatehpuri thinking that he was a liberal person in religious matters. Allama sent these quartets to Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi who was so much annoyed on reading them that he wrote in the editorial of his magazine Sidq-e-Jadeed that Yagana should be restrained. Some zealots immediately responded by subjecting him to severe humiliation.

The incident left Yagana badly shaken. Thereafter he confined himself to his solitude. His nephew Professor Sheikh Ansar Hussain has drawn a pathetic description of his end: "A day before his death he called all the ladies and told them that he was then on the last leg of his journey. 'I am reciting something. Listen to it carefully.' He recited Kalima and said, 'Thank God that the people call me agnostic, atheist and what not but you are witness that I remained steadfast on this Kalima throughout my life.' He died the next day. There were six people in the funeral procession and when we arrived in Toria Ganj square then Professor Masud Hasan Adib also joined and walked a few steps with the funeral procession and then slipped away."

One of Yagana's last couplets was:

Adab kay vastay kitnon kay dil dukha'ay hain

Yagana hud say guzarna na tha magar guzray

five best in urdu poets and fiction and non fiction writers

Revolutionary paths

A listing of the five best Urdu poets in Pakistan

Selection and text by Sarwat Ali

By the turn of the 19th century the debate revolved around the status of ghazal. More than a hundred years later the much talked about literary problem is still how to incorporate contemporaneity in the lyrical mood which is best represented by the ghazal.

The poet who resolved it to a degree is Faiz. He had experimented successfully in the pre partition years and his most mature expression was to emerge in the years after independence. The touch of taghazzul, imperfectly translated as melody, he never loses. Even in poetry of most harsh and inhospitable circumstance he retains it to establish continuity in poetical tradition despite the great changes that had taken place in the sensibilities and outlook.

His metaphors of subjective experiences are not different from an objective understanding of it. He followed the path trodden by poets in Persia and India inspired by the integrative vision of Wahtadul Wajood. If Hali wrote about the decline of the Muslim civilization, Iqbal exhorted that those basic values could be the source of regeneration of the qaum through his declamatory style that sounded almost an extension of some divine command. Faiz on the other hand is very subdued, almost on the other side of declamation, speaking with a voice dipped in honey.

Much has been written about Faiz's earlier work but very few have looked at his later poetry where the expectancy of a radical change does not lie in the order of things. Rather it is the undefeated hope that clings with each generation and becomes a legacy for the next. His later poetry, where hope seems to be deserting him, does not appear to be a radical break with his earlier work. The journey has the overall human dimension of quest which casts its shadows both in hope and hopelessness.

"Garde ayaam ki tahreer ko dhone ke liye,

Tum se goya hoon ghame deed jo mairee palkain,

Tum jo chaho to suno

Jo chaho na sono." (Koyee aashiq kisee mehbooba sey).

Noon Meem Rashid was Faiz's contemporary and they started their journey of experimentation with the formal structure of Urdu poetry together under the influence of Patras Bokhari. Rashid writes about subjects not really attempted before in Urdu poetry and creates a form that is faithful to free verse. He works very hard on his craft and it shows with new metaphor and strikingly novel imagery which is not found in Urdu poetry before him.

The range of Rashid's subjects is large and he creates a form appropriate to it in the process scrupulously avoiding lyricism that is the trademark of our poetical expression. He wrote against the grain of tradition and yet was acceptable to a large number of discerning readers. He is miles away from the spoken idiom and it seems that he is deliberately canceling it out, escaping from the cloyed expression that had come to characterize poetry in our part of the world.

"Jahan zaad niche gali main tere dar ke aage

Ye main sookhata sar Hasan kooza gar hoon,

tujhe subhe bazaar main boorhe attaar Yousaf ki dookan par main ne dekha.

Nasir Kazmi is generally regarded as the one poet who rehabilitated the ghazal. The age in which ghazal came into existence was very different from the time that Nasir Kazmi was writing in and in the meantime a whole phase of colonial rule had passed usually in denunciation of the ghazal. Nasir Kazmi found himself in the adopted country in a replay of the primal human situation of being placed in a totally alien environment.

There is a haunting quality, a pervasive sadness in his poetry that tells more than the sorrow of the moment and there is a spontaneity which all poets aspire to attain. He chose simple words and a simple metrical pattern and his poetry has that deceptive simplicity which only betrays the toil involved in burning the midnight oil.

"Main jab tere ghar pohncha tha,

To kahin bahar gaya huwa tha,

Tera ghar ke darwaze par,

Sooraj nange paoon khara tha."

Majeed Amjad enlarged the scope of Urdu poetry by writing about experiences which were considered inconsequential. The poetic persona is of the common man where the every day activities give him both pleasure and pain. This character was not considered to be appropriate to represent human experience but gradually Majeed Amjad made him come into the fold.

And then he crafted an appropriate expression for it. The lyricism is all gone and it is the weary rhythm of the footsteps of a clerk returning home or a lonely man taking a tonga ride. The nazm with new imagery and rhythmic patterns that fitted the mood and sensibility were strewed across the poetical landscape. His is poetry on matters once considered non poetical.

"Jin lafzon main hamare dilon ki bay'ateen hain,

Kya sirf woh lafz hamare kuch bhi na karne ka kaffara bun sakte hain

Kya kuch cheekhte ma'annon wali sattrain sahara bun sakti hain

Un ka, jin ki aankkoon main is des ki had in weeraan sehnon tak hai."

Munir Niazi is a poet who has a great deal of spontaneity in his expression. He writes basically about the ephemeral nature of experience, the experiences that have great worth and value but disappear soon, only to leave a memory behind. The central experience is that of love, but it is surrounded by attended fears and apprehension which are generated by a society antagonistic to this free flowering of passion and love. The conflict between the potential to love and the society enmity is the patent theme of his poetry.

Without overt ideological biases he captures the soul of an existence that has not seen the full realization of its potential. The imagery revolves round creepers that do not spread as they should and of a city which has dark houses huddled together rather than those full of laughter and life.

"Phehli baat he aakhari thi,

Uss say aage barhi nahin,

Daree hue ik bail thi jaisay

Pure ghar per charhi nahin."

The short listing of five poets is not a satisfying process of selecting the right few rather a painful one of having to leave out so many of the deserving. Great poetry has been written in India and it is almost criminal not to take any notice of that. Firaq Gorakhpuri and Majaz Lakhnavi have contributed so much to the development of the Urdu poetic idiom that it influenced the direction and many in Pakistan have drunk deep from it. Sahir Ludheanvi whose inverted use of the popular images and the spoken idiom captured the dreams of the common man.

In Pakistan Josh Malihabadi, too, greatly inspired generations of poets by his passionate personality and astonishing hyperbolic use of language. Ahmed Faraz made much of serious poetry available to a large number of readers. His simple progression from ghame janan to ghame dauraan appeals to younger people seeking answers in clear and straight terms.

Meera Ji died soon after independence and left an indelible mark of the subjective expression in free verse that was to become an accepted strand of Urdu poetry.

A tradition kept alive

The five best non-fiction books

Selection and text

by Kazy Javed

For some 20 long years, I remained under the spell of bibliomania and collected hundreds of books until my place turned into a bibliotheca making it impossible for me to take care of my haphazard collection. Eventually I was made to change my way -- from book collector I became a book presenter. In the circle of my acquaintances, I am now known as the one who is always willing to gift books to others. However, there are still many books I cannot bear to part with. Here I would like to mention only five of them. Written on non-fiction subjects, I admire them as important volumes on their respective subjects.


Our literary critics seldom write books. They usually write articles. So we have few books in Urdu on this subject while collections of articles proliferate. This is not without reason. The basic reason is that we don't have any notable tradition of critical studies in the arts or sciences. It all began in our corner of the globe in the 19th century under the European influence.

Dr. Wazir Agha is one of our very few writers who are recognised outside the country for their literary accomplishments. He writes poetry, light essays and criticism. Out of 40 odd books that he has to his credit, 14 are on criticism.

Urdu Shaiery Ka Mezaj is commonly taken as his piece de resistance. Published in the early years of the second half of the past century, it carries an in-depth analytical study of Urdu poetry in the backdrop of our region's civilisation spread over 5000 years.

However, it is Tanqeed aur Ehtasab which I like more among Dr. Wazir Agha's volumes on criticism. It is a collection of 24 articles and was first published in 1968 by Jadeed Nashreen of Lahore. Many of these articles have not lost their significance with the passage of time. They deal with theoretical as well as applied aspects of literature. Articles on the nature of ghazal, symbolism in poetry, culture and Urdu literature and recent social trends are fine pieces of theoretical criticism.


Autobiographies were not in vogue in Urdu till 1960s. In fact very few of them were published till then. It was believed that only those who had great and exemplary achievements in life should give an account of their life. Then Josh Malehabadi's Yadoon ki Barat appeared and became an instant hit. It was widely read and appreciated despite the fact that most of what was written militated against orthodox moral values and the author's life could hardly be accepted as an example for others under these values.

Yaadon ki Barat turned out to be a trend setter. It motivated many to write on their past. As a result, the number of autobiographies proliferated. A number of retired bureaucrats, generals, politicians, poets, writers and even showbiz people have by now published accounts of their lives during the last three decades or so. Many of these books make interesting reading but not many of them are reliable as literal truth.

Dr. Akhtar Hussain Raipuri's fascinating and vivid autobiographical narration titled Gird-e-Raah stands out prominently for a number of reasons. It is beautifully written and is reliable -- written like a novel, it remains factual.

Dr. Akhtar Hussain Raipuri's association with the progressive writers movement began in 1940s and he remained committed to the progressive, secular and socialist ideas till the very end. His literary fame depends on his critical essays. He also wrote fiction and translated Pearl S Buck's famous novel 'The Good Earth' into Urdu.

History of literature

A number of books have been written on the history of Urdu literature. Dr. Anwar Sadeed's Urdu Adab ki Mukhtasar Tarikh, published by the National Language Authority in 1991 and Dr. Salim Akhtar's Urdu Adab ki Mukhtsartareen Tarikh, the latest edition of which was recently issued by the Sang-e-Meel Publications of Lahore, are beyond doubt the two most popular books on this subject and have been reprinted many times. Both the books are primarily meant for students and general readers.

Dr. Tabasum Kashmeri's recently published history on Urdu literature titled Urdu Adab Ki Tarikh -- ibtada se 1857 tak -- is, on the other hand, academic but not pedantic. I prefer it to many other books on the same subject. It has been written in the backdrop of the evolutionary process of history. The author has made an effort to highlight the development of Urdu literature in the context of political, economic and social history of the South Asian subcontinent.

Another important feature of the book is that the author has kept in mind the distinction between the function of a historian of literature and that of a literary researcher. A historian, he writes in his preface to the book, is primarily supposed to evaluate the literary works of past generations whereas a researcher's job is to discover the works of bygone days and judge the facts, events and biographical details of the work. He also removes misunderstandings, misconceptions and ambiguities regarding past writers and their work. A historian of literature, on the other hand, has to be armed with a critical insight without which he cannot play his role properly.

Having taught at the University Oriental College of Lahore for some 15 years, Dr. Kashmeri now teaches Urdu language and literature at Japan's Osaka University of Foreign Studies. His 872-page book under discussion was published by the Sang-e-Meel Publications of Lahore in 2003. The second volume of the book is to be published next year.


Shakh-e-Zareen, in my opinion, is the best Urdu translation of any non-fiction work. It is a book on social anthropology written by Sir James George Frazer who was born in Glasgow in 1854. He graduated at Cambridge at the age of 24 and became a fellow of the famous Trinity College. His maiden book 'Totemism' was published in 1887 in one volume but later the author rewrote it adding many new chapters and issues. Finally it appeared in four volumes under the title 'Totemism and Exogamy' in 1910.

Shakh-e-Zareen is the title of the Urdu translation of Frazer's second famous book entitled 'The Golden Bough'. The book was first published in 1890 in two volumes. After a few years the author began to expand it. Its enlarged edition was brought out in 1911-14 in 12 volumes. In 1922 he published the abridged edition in two volumes. At that time, Frazer was professor of Social Anthropology at Liverpool.

It could be expected that only some of the professional anthropologists would have gone through the entire 12 volumes. But my friend Mustansar Hussain Tarar says that he has read the complete book while Younas Javed says that he has all the volumes. Anyway, the abridged edition became very popular all over the world and has been translated into some 20 languages. It was translated into Urdu by Syed Zakir Ijaz who has done a fine job at it. Syed Zakir Ijaz has put in a lot of effort to make it readable and easy to understand. It can be read as an interesting story. The Urdu translation was published in two big volumes by the Majlis-e-Taraqi-e-Adab, Lahore in 1960s. It was never reprinted and as far as I know, Syed Zakir Ijaz never translated any other book.


I am a great admirer of Intizar Hussain and have read all his books including his translation work. He is a prolific writer and during his writing career of over half a century, he has published four novels, seven collections of short stories, two travelogues, two collections of critical essays as well as one volume of his memoirs. He has translated three novels and a book on philosophy.

Dili tha Jis ka Naam is Intizar Hussain's latest work which was published by Sang-e-Meel Publications a few months ago. It is an excellent book on Delhi, the city that has been the melting pot of Indo-Muslim culture and the author has narrated the socio-cultural history of the city. In fact, rather than a lesson in history, the book is a tale of the city written in the author's typical style.

He begins with a short account of Indraprastha, the first name of Delhi that was founded by a son of Ramachandra, the seventh incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu and hero of the Ramayana, (Legend has it that his two other sons founded the cities of Lahore and Kasur). The 200-plus page book ends with the partition of India in 1947.

According to the book there have been eight cities of Delhi that were sometimes built one upon the other and sometimes one besides the other. However, the author is more interested in detailing various aspects of a Indo-Muslim culture that developed as a result of the interaction between the two great Hindu and Muslim civilizations.

I like the book not only because it is the latest specimen of the wonderful 'Intizarian' style of writing, but also because it provides us with glimpses of an exceptional culture that Hindu and Muslim fundamentalist forces are bent upon devastating.

I have not included any book on philosophy in my list, simply because there is hardly any worthwhile book on the subject in Urdu. The following two books, useful for beginners, can be referred to:

1. Falsafa-e-Jadeed kay Khudokhal, edited by Prof. Khawaja Ghulam Sadiq and published by the Department of Philosophy, University of the Punjab, Lahore; and

2. CEM Jood's 'An Introduction of Philosophy', translated into Urdu and published by the Majlis Taraqi-e-Urdu, Lahore.

On history of Urdu literature, Dr. Jamil Talbi's Tareekh-e-Urdu Adab, published by the Majlis Taraqi-e-Adab, is very important. Ehtsham Hussain's Urdu Adab ki Tanqeedi Tareekh and Tareekh-e-Adabyat-e-Muslmanan-e-Pak-o-Hind published in five volumes by Punjab University are notable books on the subject.

If more space had been available, I would have written a few words about three other autobiographies, including Dr. Mubarak Ali's Dur Dur Thokar Khay published by Fiction House Lahore, Khudo Khal by Agha Nasir, published by Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore and Ghubar-e-Khatir by Hasan Nawaz Gerdezi published by New Line, Lahore.

Two remarkably exciting autobiographies are being serialised in magazines. Ashfaq Naqvi is writing an absorbingly interesting story of his life in the monthly Alhamra while Dr. Agha Sohail is contributing the account of his life to Taqazay.

The story so far

The five best short stories

Selection by Sarwat Ali and Kazy Javed

Beginning with the master craftsman, Saadat Hasan Manto. He was not only a rebel with the ordinary tales to tell, but also someone who wrote perhaps the most powerful stories on the momentous event of partition. Manto's Toba Tek Singh would certainly rank with the best short stories written in Urdu, as will many of his other works.

Urdu short story initially was all about sometimes steady and sometimes abrupt approach to a powerful ending, the conclusion, the result of a few minutes' reading, which more often than not was accompanied by a moral lesson for the vulnerable human lot.

Next came stories where the writer would drop the more discerning reader the vital hints on the way to sustain his interest, at the same time keeping the overall account simple for the uninitiated reader. It was a most difficult task, since the thrust, as with all proceedings in their initial phase, was to first create an audience, before any experimentation could be carried out with form and content.

This objective of enlisting the readers had in its background a culture where directness was shunned in favour of more subtle references, giving the Urdu short story its mizaaj or its ethos. Prem Chand's Kafan is an example where the writer gradually nurses the reader towards an ever haunting ending to a short story. Bereft of any embellishment, it is a simple story in a very positive sense of the term. And it is brief.

Afsana may connote an account from the heart spread over time. But the word 'short' aptly describes a majority of Urdu stories written on either side of partition. Perhaps whenever the writer thought that it was getting longer than the standard length, he would opt for the novel format.

Toba Tek Singh would appear to many to have the material to last a novel. But Manto had so much to say and so short a time to tell it. Already enjoying the reputation of a shocker, he could perhaps hardly resist the temptation to quickly exploit the idea partition had thrown up in its wake. What he delivered was a stunner -- his caustic wit finding a strong and extremely effective -- for Manto always strived to be effective -- expression the person of a mad man who is caught between the states of India and Pakistan.

Partition provided the basis of some other stories by Manto, among them Thanda Gosht, which again has brevity as its soul, and also the slickly related but perhaps less famous Mootri. And it inspired another skilled story-teller with greater patience and time than Manto to come up with his masterpiece, Gadarya.

Ashfaq Ahmad is one of the most prolific writers of Urdu. But Gadarya is actually the entry point into the large awe-creating empire that he has built over the years. Not without its subtleties, it caters to a wider readership than has been the case with the latter work by Ashfaq Ahmad, where the writer appears to be willing to sacrifice the number of readers for a deeper plunge in the sea of stories.

Gadarya is longer than the usual length people used to reading Manto, Prem Chand or even Rajinder Singh Bedi would look for. The writer shows no intention of rushing to the conclusion, and is able to prove that the Urdu short story had matured enough to permit a slightly longer tale to be told, and the readers were ready for details that may have been previously left out in the thrust for climax.

In time, everyone realised the futility of writing the formula story. As the desire to invent and innovate grew stronger, more and more story-tellers were able to break rules imposed on them by the supposed need to cater to a wider readership.

Intizar Hussain may be more famous for his novels, but the acclaim his Aakhri Aadmi received signified that you can never underestimate the people's capacity to absorb new experiments in addition to the evergreen variety -- so long as there is something in it to stir the readers imagination. Intizar's description of the man has been included in many of best of the pack ratings. It is no small feat, considering that the most insightful of critics struggle to come out of the spell cast on readers by the short stories before partition, and those written just after partition.

Compared to the Urdu novel which doesn't boast too many entries, there is a treasure-trove of short stories available for any kind of selection that is attempted. Reducing it to the minimum of five stories is well neigh impossible and bound to generate controversy.

The short stories written before partition, and stories written in India may form a significant part of a collection listing all time greats. Krishan Chandar, Ismat Chughtai, Ghulam Abbas, Qurat-ul-Ain Haider, Qudratullah Shahab, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Abdullah Hussain, Khalida Hussain, Bano Qudsia, Mumtaz Mufti, Mansha Yaad and Mazharul Islam are but a few names that can easily walk into any such company.

Apart from Manto's stories. Ashfaq Ahmad's Gadarya and Intizar Hussain's Aaakhri Aaadmi, two of the regulars featuring the various selections of stories made so far are Ghulam Abbas and Mumtaz Mufti with his Aapa.

Aapa, has a simmering quality about it, somehow reminiscent of Rajinder Singh Bedi's Apne Dukh Mujhe De Do. It is a story everyone will readily associate with. It most probably owes its popularity to this factor, and also to the fact that the writer has opted for symbols that a common reader can easily relate to, in an apparent effort to communicate to a wider section of people. The same symbols have been applied by other writers before and after Mufti, but few characters have been able to carry the story forward with as much poise and grace, and few have commanded as much respect as his Aapa has done.

Respect from the people around him is all the 'well-dressed' man in Ghulam Abbas's Overcoat is looking for. He had to settle for immortality. Overcoat is not rated as the best story told by Ghulam Abbas by many, who select Anandi as his most representative work. But while the choice may differ from person to person, it doesn't matter so much where you begin reading and re-reading Ghulam Abbas, so long as you read him, nice and thorough. Overcoat, in the final comparison, is a good a specimen of brilliant characterization as any in the realm of Urdu short story -- in layers down to the bones.

In the long run

The five best Urdu novels

Selection and text by Sarwat Ali

The Urdu novel has a relatively short history compared to other genres of literature. Its antecedents though are quite impressive and go back into the medieval age to the dastaans and romances in Persian and Sanskrit along with numerous dialects that filled the artistic landscape of the region.

In the post independence era the Urdu novel that really shook the literary world is Qurat-ul-Ain Haider's Aag Ka Darya. Its sweep is very broad as it travels through significant phases of the North Indian civilisation. It also goes back into prehistory to trace the source of the river of historical consciousness from the perennial reservoir of mythology. The same characters make an appearance but under different names and in different phases of civilisation emphasising the symbiotic relationship of change and continuity.

The most impressive part of the novel is the ancient period where Gotham Neelumbur and Champak explore the various facets of their relationship in the perspective of the intellectual ethos of the times. The characters in the novel are from the upper crust of the society educated and involved in a world bigger than are 'dreamt of in Horatio's philosophy'. The female characters belong to the mainstream social order and are not courtesans as had been the trend till then. The novel for once does not have a didactic intent and this too was a departure from the tendency to package the novel in a moral wrapping.

The novel instantly became controversial because it was being seen in the context of the divide that had taken place in the subcontinent. Many in Pakistan were of the opinion that it goes against the ideological basis on which the division of South Asia had taken place.

Udaas Naslain, too, follows the format of Aag ka Darya only that its sweep is not that broad, nor does it go back to explore the mysteries of ancient times. It spans nearly one hundred years of our history beginning in earnest from the occupation of India by the British and its formal colonization. The novel is primarily about the new relationships that emerged in the social set up due to that domination, as colonization of India saw a revolution in the political and social make up of the country. Other than the sub plots and parallel situations based on minor characters, the relationship and marriage of Naeem and Azra, he as a small farmer who wins laurels in the army during the First World War, and she as the daughter of the newly created class of feudals, captures the dynamism of the social relationships.

If Aag ka Darya is about the collective consciousness that has moulded our character Udaas Naslain is the build up to the various types of characters that the forces of our recent history have thrown up.

Intizar Hussain has been the leading short story writer in Urdu. Some of his earlier stories carried so much of his childhood and the formative years that many started to accuse him of looking backwards and glorifying the past. But Intizar Hussain is more than what nostalgia can spin and some of his writings; particularly his novels, have been more overt about the present rather than the past.

Basti, his famous novel written at the time when Pakistan was being dismembered, is about the homeland which came into being in 1947 and it revolves round a symbolic settlement where the residents are not sure as to why they are there. Intizar Hussain has made full use of the myths and legends that formed part of our romances and dastaans and takes the narrative beyond the obvious meanings of realism. His present always has imminence of the past.

The Urdu that he employs is idiomatic, reminiscent of the language spoken in the place that he was born in and stands apart from the cacophony of dialects and accents that were struggling to find acceptance in Pakistan. The difference in complexion between the language that he wrote and the language generally written in Pakistan established the two poles within which the development of language took place.

Shaukat Siddiqui has taken realism in its most stark form. The subject of his novel Khuda Ki Basti is the wretched of the earth eking out an existence. The locale too is that of a kachi abadi where the characters have precious little other than love and compassion for each other. It is a mixture of the animal instincts for survival coated by compassion.

The kachi abadi itself assumes a symbolic status and the survival of the characters is very tough, where wit and gut often come to the rescue. It is like a jungle where the mightiest survive and totally eliminate the poor and the weak but then the flashes of love and sympathy provide some light no matter how dim.

Shaukat Siddiqui follows the school of realism which was best expressed in our short story. Some of the best works of realism, stark, dark and naked is found in the afsanas and when stretched it becomes Khudi Ki Basti, a rare achievement, for he loses no intensity while writing the longer version.

Following the same tradition is Chakiwara Main Wisaal. This novel also is located in an abadi, Chakiwara, and has the same types of characters as in other realistic works. Only the writer, Muhammed Khalid Akhter, is much more concise and draws his characters and situations with precision as done in a short story.

His characters are from the lower strata of the society, yet not at the base level of the wretched of the earth. They live by their dreams; these dreams are their safety valves, their escape from their mundane existence. The novelist very skillfully has weaved these into the aspirations of the characters and it fills their ordinary existence with longing and hope.

Qurat-ul-Ain Haider's Akhar Shab Ke Hamsafar unlike Aag Ka Darya has a smaller canvas and traces the lives of the characters associated with the freedom struggle. Despite their sincere efforts, not much comes of it, and the end is a defeatist compromise with the forces that they had once opposed.

Mustansar Hussain Tarar is a prolific writer who has written travelogues but some of his better work is in fiction. The novels are loosely constructed with the narrative often losing their way but in Bahao he is more precise and builds his plot with great care. The locale, too, is not urban but rural. The problem in such cases is always of language as the native dialects cannot be used with authenticity by someone writing in Urdu. Mustansar Hussain Tarar has been able to incorporate the regional rural idiom into Urdu to create that authenticity of locale and characters.

Ali Pur Ka Aeli by Mumtaz Mufti is written in the picaresque tradition. It exposes a whole lot of society through the eyes and experiences of the main character. Mumtaz Mufti has not made his character harmless and neutral, but full of libidinal charge exposing the shades of hypocrisies and human foibles in the process.

ekbal ahmed - pervez hoodbhoy - kofi annan


Eqbal Ahmed - As I Knew Him

by Pervez Hoodbhoy


Unable to fathom my grief when they finally wheeled him out of the intensive care unit, the nurse asked if he was my father. No, I said, he was the head of our clan. But there was little point in explaining this was no usual clan, has
no blood linkages, and knows no country, religion, or race. Its many thousand members are spread across the continents from Vietnam to the West Bank and Morocco, from India and Pakistan to Europe and North America. Their only bond is a shared belief in human dignity, justice, liberty, and all that is rich and precious in the human experience. Today they mourn Eqbal Ahmad, the man who brought them all together, and who they loved so much.

I had not heard of Eqbal Ahmad until I heard him speak in 1971 at an anti-war demonstration at MIT. As a student there, I had come to the US as a normal, apolitical, and indifferent product of Karachi Grammar School. But the cultural shock of immersion in the new society was that of being doused with a bucket of ice water. My eyes to the world had suddenly opened to fearful reality. The Americans were diligently carpet-bombing Vietnam with their B-52's back into the stone age, and the West Pakistanis were busy cleansing East Pakistan with a vigour that today would have done the Serbs proud. No Pakistani in Cambridge that I knew, student or immigrant, cared a hoot about Vietnam. And most
applauded the Pakistan Army's actions, rejected the harrowing tales of suffering and destruction, and argued that the photographs and TV footage were mere Zionist concoctions.

Eqbal's lecture left me thunderstruck. Never before had I seen such a devastating combination of knowledge, eloquence, and passion used with unerring precision to shatter the myths and lies that surrounded America's imperial adventure. The audience, almost exclusively American, hung on to his
every word as he alternately charmed, entertained, challenged, and educated them. When a crowd of admirers mobbed him subsequently, I too joined them. In the decades that followed, my relationship with him metamorphosed from
deep admiration into deep friendship, and then into a conviction that here was a man of the rarest quality with whom every moment spent would be a privilege.

In time to come people will write books on Eqbal. They shall doubtlessly tell how he was drawn into the Algerian war of independence from France, eventually representing Algeria at the Paris peace talks. They will recount the epic Harrisburg trial, where Eqbal and six others were falsely accused by a nervous US government of trying to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up the heating system of the Pentagon. They shall have to detail how leaders of revolutions in Iran and Palestine, Cuba and Chile, sought his advice, never doubting
the integrity and commitment of an internationalist for whom every country was his country. And, above all, his chroniclers shall tell us how hard he tried -- and failed -- to slow the moral degeneration and social deterioration of the country whose passport he held till his death, to stop the genocide being committed by its armed forces in Bengal, and later, to steer it away from the looming nuclear confrontation with its neighbour to the east.

Edward Said describes Eqbal as "the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of the post-war world". True, but with that also came incorruptible ideals, and a willingness to pay the price of integrity. Once a close associate of Ben Bella, Eqbal started distancing himself as Algerian revolutionary ideals soured. The elegant Havana cigars that I once used to see in his New York apartment, a gift from Fidel Castro, stopped coming when Eqbal differed with Castro on his repression of domestic opponents. Relations with Yasser Arafat, who for years had eagerly sought Eqbal's advice and wanted to give him a seat in the Palestine National Council, plummeted sharply after Eqbal
became convinced that the US-sponsored Oslo accord would be a disaster for the Palestinians.

Ostracized by most of the American academic community for his passionate advocacy of Palestinian rights, Eqbal had remained an itinerant professor at several US universities for much of his life. He recalled that his colleagues at
Cornell chose to stand elsewhere rather than sit with him at the same cafetaria table. Finally, in 1982 Hampshire College in Massachussetts awarded him a full tenured professorship. Students, even those who disagreed with him politically,
flocked to his lectures and courses. A young Pakistani student recalls Eqbal's visit to the nearby Dartmouth College in 1992 to speak on Palestine. Her roommate, who was Jewish by birth and Zionist by conviction, started crying
during Eqbal's lecture because she thought he was biased. But he then gently spoke with her in Hebrew and swung her around to seeing different dimensions of the situation.

Brilliant speakers are rare, brilliant listeners still rarer. With Eqbal you could be sure that he not only understood what you had said, but also why you said it. This was why revolutionary leaders, kings and princes, presidents
and prime ministers, generals and admirals, all sought to talk to him. But such meetings did not leave him awed or intimidated. He was equally at ease with working people, children loved the attention he gave them, and even distant
relatives felt close to him.

In 1997 Eqbal retired from Hampshire College. He asked me to come to his festschrift, organized by the College and his many friends. Hundreds flocked to the event from the New England area, others from places as far as California,
Canada, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, and Pakistan. Noam Chomsky was to start it off on Friday evening with "The Prospects For The Third World And Abroad". But the numbers kept swelling until initial plans had to be abandoned and the
venue was switched to the college gymnasium which too was soon packed to capacity. My guess is that there were 2000 people there. It was Woodstock once again, I thought to myself.

The second day brought together some of the finest, best known, wittiest,
and committed intellectuals of the left. People like Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Daniel Ellsberg (of the Pentagon Papers fame), Cora and Peter Weiss, Stuart Schaar, Richard Barnet, and others (like Mohammed Guessous of Morocco and Masao Miyoshi, a Japanese) who I had not known but found to be immensely engaging. Zinn was in terrific form as he related the days of the Daniel Berrigan's
hide-and-seek with the FBI and then Eqbal's famous Harrisburg trial. Cora Weiss was hilarious with "What If Eqbal Ran The UN", and I didn't know that Ellsberg could be so serious and funny as he was that day.

Yes, it was the Eqbal Ahmad clan which had come together at this occasion, and it left me slightly breathless. I knew that Eqbal had helped many people and engaged their affection and loyalty. What I simply did not know was they
were so many -- so different from each other and from so many different parts of the world and that they loved him so much. It wasn't just his students whose voice cracked from emotion, but also Edward Said, his closest friend and the
leading intellectual light of Palestine. I suppose what gave this celebration special meaning was that, in part, it was reliving the 60's and 70's of the Vietnam days and Eqbal's contribution in mobilizing the American resistance to the war. Certainly it was for me. For in truth, I may have been a very different person had I not encountered the Greats --Chomsky, Eqbal, and Zinn -- in my formative years at MIT. Therefore it was not easy to speak when Eqbal insisted that I do so. But he had introduced me in a way that left no choice but to comply.

The Hampshire celebration was the last high-point of Eqbal's life and marked his determination to spend almost all his time in Pakistan. Hitherto he had been splitting his time between teaching in the US, writing his newspaper columns, and working on setting up a university of arts and sciences in Islamabad, Khaldunia. This was a project which Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif ensured would not ultimately fly. How could you expect otherwise, people asked him, when you refuse to tone down your pen? He had no good answer, but
remained optimistic.

And then Death, that cunning hunter of Life, began pursuing her quarry in earnest. From the time she first cast her pale shadow, to the time she enveloped him in her bosom, was but a scant six days. Death is not only inevitable, it is also the defining moment of truth. I think that if you want to
know what a person was to the very core, you must know not only how he lived but also how he died. And so I want to tell you, the reader, how Eqbal Ahmad died.

When we took him to the hospital he was in an awful state, vomiting violently and feeling sharp pains in his chest. But there were quiet phases when he asked about the world outside. He shook his head in silent disgust as I told him
of the preparations to celebrate Pakistan's anniversary of the nuclear tests. "When you get well I'd like you to look at an article I've just written against the celebrations", I said. No, he replied, give it to me now. He carefully adjusted the intravenous drip to take hold of his pen, asked me to raise his hospital bed to a semi-sitting position, and then went through the article adding his editorial comments here and there. That's what he's done all his life, I thought to myself, helping others, concerning himself with their problems, worrying about where the world is going.

The next day medical tests revealed a large growth in the colon. It was a tense moment when the doctor came into the room. "Is it cancerous", Eqbal asked? I watched his face intently as the doctor silently nodded. There was neither
fear nor resignation, just brief reflection. Moments later he was fully engaged in discussing strategies for surgery.

Yes, it was painful, bloody painful as he lay in the ICU after the 3 hour long extraction of the cancer. As painful as you can imagine, and beyond that too. The morphine would knock him out for a while, but you could see the pain would
still be there. But he remained the quintessential Eqbal to the very end. His mind remained incisive, critical, analytical. He wanted to know about every medicine -- the dosage, the effects and after-effects. His wit survived the
pain. "Mrs Diamond" (his mother-in-law, now over 90 years old), he remarked to his niece, "is for all practical purposes indestructible". After one of his quips I remarked that his sense of humour too was indestructible. "It's a
useful thing to have sometimes", he said, "so I like to carry it along with me".

He knew he was dying but made no useless supplications, asked for nothing, expected nothing. His intellectual integrity and dignity remained intact till the very end. Let others apply soothing balm for themselves in whatever form,
indulge in whatever religious claptrap they believe in. He would have none of that for himself, but if others felt better he didn't discourage them.

The doctors were awed by him and the nurses fell in love. Eqbal must have been the weirdest patient at the ICU they have experienced in their lives. Strapped in a maze of tubes and wires, and hovering at the very edge, he still engaged
them, insisted on knowing everything, scolded one monumentally incompetent nurse who had stabbed him 5 times in search of a vein, praised the two good ones, but charmed even the one he had scolded.

It was 5:25 am, the morning of 11 May 1999, when he asked me to raise him into a sitting position. Moments later his ECG went flat. I saw tears trickling from one nurse's eyes when they finally covered him up.


Eqbal Ahmed Lecture by Kofi Annan
by Kofi Annan


The First Annual Eqbal Ahmed Lecture at Hampshire College, delivered in Amherst, 16 September, 1998


President Prince,

Professor Ahmad,

Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for that generous introduction. It is a very special
pleasure for me to deliver the first Eqbal Ahmad lecture here at
Hampshire College. Professor Ahmad is known to you in the five
colleges as a distinguished teacher whose intellect and example have
enriched your lives.

I know him as a public intellectual who crossed many boundaries to
engage in struggles for liberation and human rights; a fearless thinker whose analysis of world events has helped me to understand some of the issues with which the United Nations must grapple every day.

Among those issues, as this audience will know, is the threat of the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Last June, the world
witnessed with deep apprehension the decisions of India and Pakistan
to conduct nuclear tests. A new and dangerous source of instability
was introduced to an environment in which sentiments of rivalry,
suspicion, and mistrust were dominating all discourse. To the
outside world, it appeared that within those two nations, nuclear
nationalism had won the day. Voices of dissent were few and far
between. But Eqbal Ahmad's voice was heard by all who wished to
listen: warning Pakistan of the perils of following India down the nuclear path; urging leaders and citizens alike to choose reason over rage, moderation over might, the future over the past. It is that commitment to putting knowledge to the service of human kind, that example of learning infused with a moral conscience, that we honour today.

As students, you have been told, no doubt, by parents and teachers
that education is a great privilege; that you should be grateful for
the chance to improve your minds; that you should seize this
opportunity to expand your horizons. I do not fault you for sometimes
thinking that this is just a way of getting you to study. Sometimes
it is. But there is a deeper, more lasting truth to what they are
saying. Throughout history there has existed an essential linkage
between knowledge and the growth of civilizations. The relationship
between knowledge, its communication, and progress -- be it economic,
political or social -- has been permanent and organic. The educational
process as formalized through schools and colleges is at the heart of

Moreover, throughout history knowledge has been universal. Only with
the age of nationalism and imperialism was knowledge invested with
hard boundaries. In fact, knowledge has never recognized boundaries,
but rather defied all notions, past and present, of civilizations

The roots of Greek civilization lay deep in Africa. And we know how
the Arabs learned from Greece, India, and China, making their own
advances in science, mathematics, aesthetics, and philosophy; how the
European renaissance was assisted by the intellectual achievements of
the Islamic civilization; and how modern western art has been
influenced by the African and Japanese impressions.

History is witness to the fact that ambitions, interests and,
sometimes, ideologies clash. Civilizations rarely do. In fact, they
are based on the exchange of knowledge and artistic influence and, in
turn, nurtured by that exchange.

Today, therefore, I wish to draw your attention to the crisis of
knowledge in the Third World; to how that crisis feeds the view that
civilisations inevitably must clash; and to why restoring a global
culture of knowledge must and will be a priority for the United
Nations system of the next century.

The crisis in education in the Third World is, above all, a crisis of
priorities facing states with increasing responsibilities in an era of
decreasing resources. This is partly a problem of history. Third
world plans of education were drawn up, by and large, by colonial
powers whose outlook and needs were different from those of sovereign
states in the last years of the 20th century.

Yet, in the post-colonial period, expenditures on arms have far
surpassed those on books and teachers. Practically no attention has
been paid to reformulating educational objectives appropriate to the
requirements of these societies. What little attention has been given
to the educational enterprise has gone into the physical output of new
campuses and school houses. The need for renewal and reform is
greater than ever.

Our age -- the age of Globalization -- offers a unique opportunity to
reverse course. Globalization, as you all know, is a subject of much
discussion and research today. But there is a tendency still to view
the matter largely in economic terms. Globalization is affecting all
aspects of our lives, from the political to the social to the
cultural. Only knowledge, it would seem, is not being globalized. In
an age where the acquisition and advancement of knowledge is a more powerful
weapon in a nations arsenal than any missile or mine, the knowledge
gap between the North and South is widening. Alas, education often seems
the last priority, leading too many third world students to leave for
the West to acquire knowledge and education.

That is the tragedy of far too many Third World countries striving to
escape poverty and establish democratic rule. Too many regimes and
too many rulers govern by the gun. They allow only those investments
that will prolong their rule rather than provide for their peoples
progress. Indeed, education is often seen as the enemy of tyranny,
for it is the means of dissent and a tool of resistance.
We are all consumers of the products of modern science and
technology. However, a large part of the world has had no part in the
process of their discovery, invention and production. Unless we
embark urgently on a program of globalizing the generation of and access to knowledge, the unequal development of the world will only continue.

In recent decades, international agencies have accorded some
importance to encouraging primary and secondary level schooling. This
has some effect in shifting local priorities in favour of basic
education. Unfortunately, higher education continues to suffer from
neglect. Lack of resources have so drained third world universities
of good faculties that all of its Nobel Laureates in science have won
their prizes for research accomplished in the West.
That is why the United Nations will make universal access to
knowledge central to all our development activities. Next month,
UNESCO will host a World Conference on Higher Education attended by
more than 100 ministers = of education. Their mission will be to join 2,000
teachers, students and education experts in an effort to renew higher
education world-wide.

They will seek innovative ways to stop the growing disparity between
North and South in access to knowledge through higher education. They
will strive to improve national educational systems as a way of
preserving our global diversity while opening new channels of
communication between peoples.

By complementing those efforts in our development and post-conflict
peace building work, we will help ensure that former combatants will
become future students; that for them, the first day of peace will be a day
for school; and that in those schools, they will learn to resolve
differences peacefully.

Although I have spoken so far in the context of post-colonial
societies, in important respects the challenge is universal. We live
in an age in which material imperatives tend to overwhelm the moral
and spiritual ones. This affects the learning environment in ways
that are harmful to societies no less than individuals. What can get
lost in such an environment is the essence of education -- its social
and moral imperatives. Not that one expression of knowledge is to be
implanted everywhere. Nor that one tradition of learning is to
dominate all others. Rather, I believe that every society must
restore a culture of knowledge that encourages the pursuit of ideas
and their application in fostering a universal understanding of the
meaning of civilization.

Civilizations have always been enriched, and not weakened, by the
exchange of knowledge and arts, the freer and more peaceable the
better. In the relations between nations, it is rather the lack of
education, and the dearth of knowledge which is a chief source of
dispute and conflict.

Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda, and in
most modern conflicts, the men of war prey on the ignorance of the
populace to instill fears and arouse hatreds. That was the case in
Bosnia and in Rwanda where genocidal ideologies took root in the
absence of truthful information and honest education. If only half the effort
had gone into teaching those peoples what unites them, and not what
divides them, unspeakable crimes could have been prevented.

This is not to say that ideas and interests do not clash. They do,
and always will. But those clashes can and must be resolved
peacefully and politically. That is why the culture of knowledge which
we seek will advance not only development, but also mutual
appreciation between cultures. Perhaps there is no greater need for
such appreciation today than between the Islamic peoples and those of
the West. Too often, this question is discussed only through crude,
invidious generalizations about the beliefs of one group or the
behaviour of the other. Too often, the rhetoric of resistance from
one group or other is deemed representative of the views of millions.

What is ignored is the historic and ever-growing interaction between
peoples; the ways in which individual states -- regardless of
religious affiliation -- define, defend, and pursue their interests;
and the propensity of states as well as individuals to form alliances
and allegiances on other grounds than ethnic belonging or religious

What this history should and must teach us is that, alongside a
global diversity of cultures, there does exist one, world-wide
civilization of knowledge within which ideas and philosophies meet
and develop peacefully and productively. It is a civilization
defined by its tolerance of dissent, its celebration of cultural diversity, its
insistence on fundamental, universal human rights, and its belief in
the right of people everywhere to have a say in how they are governed.

This is the civilisation for which the United Nations labours and for
whose attainment a global culture of knowledge is necessary.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Socrates taught us that there is only one good, knowledge, and only
one evil, ignorance In that spirit, Eqbal Ahmad has pursued a life
of moral and intellectual engagement as teacher and writer. Not
satisfied however, to rest on his laurels, he has now dedicated
himself to narrowing as best he can the knowledge gap between North
and South.

He is working at establishing a center for higher learning in
Pakistan, to be named Khaldunia University, an institution that will
seek to build character no less than enlivening a tradition of
scholarship and critical thought. Many of you will know the symbolism
of naming a university for Ibn Khaldun.

This last great Arab historian of the Middle Ages was a globalist
long before the age of globalization. Born in Northern Africa, he
grew up in Spain and crossed many boundaries in search of knowledge
and service. He defined the aims of education in a timeless fashion,
insisting that knowledge knows no boundary, that its essence is man in
relation to his environment, that a people's well-being is defined by
its level of knowledge and its ability to utilize it in the real

He argued that civilisations decline when they lose their capacity to comprehend and absorb change, and that the "greatest of scholars err
when they ignore the environment in which history unfolds."

I can think of no higher ideal for scholarship, and no better model
on which to base the pursuit of knowledge. Indeed, these are the
values that underlie all that we seek at the United Nations. It is this
unity of ideals, this common pursuit of peace through knowledge that
has brought me here today.

Thank you.

dr. riffat hasan

My struggle to help Muslim women regain their God-given rights

Dr Riffat Hasan

To understand the strong impetus to "Islamize" Muslim societies, especially with regard to women-related norms and values, it is necessary to know that of all the challenges confronting the Muslim world, perhaps the greatest is that of modernity. In this exclusive two-part essay, renowned Islamic theologian Dr Riffat Hasan presents a critical analysis of three contemporary women in Islam: herself, Dr Farhat Hashmi of Al-Huda and human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.

While my work and writings are known to many persons in many countries this statement may be read by some who are not aware of my background and what I have focused on as a student, as a researcher, as a teacher, as a philosopher as a writer, or as an activist. I consider it important therefore to begin by mentioning some facts of my personal and professional history that might be helpful to the reader in understanding my ideas and the larger framework within which they have developed. Like many other contemporary women thinkers l see a profound linkage between what is intellectual and what is existential and experiential. Consequently this statement reflects the jihad (struggle) l have engaged in both as a theologian and as a Pakistani Muslim woman.

I come from an old Saiyyad family from Muslim Town, Lahore. Faiz Road, on which my ancestral home is situated, is named after my grandfather Saiyyad Faizul Hassan whose progenitors "founded" Muslim Town. My maternal grandfather Hakim Ahmad Shuja came from Bazaar-e-Hakiman which was named after his family, in the old city of Lahore. The Hakims (and their cousins the Faqirs) were known for their patronage of art and literature and nurtured many gifted artists, thinkers and writers including the young Iqbal when he first came from Sialkot to study at the Government College, Lahore. Hakim Sahib was not only a well-know, poet and playwright but also a Qur'anic scholar who collaborated with Iqbal in some of his early works.

Upholding the "horror" of his Saiyyad heritage and being "nobel" Muslims was very important to my father. Being educated, creative, and independent was what mattered greatly to my mother. My parents differed greatly in their life-perspectives and had strongly conflicting views regarding how girls were to be brought up. Growing up in the midst of so much discord, trying to figure out with the mind of a young child who I was and what was the purpose of my life, was a very difficult thing. What sustained me during the troubled years of my childhood were two things: my faith in God who was to me the source of light, of justice and compassion, and my love of reading and writing which enabled me to create an inner universe in which my mind and spirit could grow.

I left home at 17 to study in England and returned seven years later with a BA Honours degree in English Literature and Philosophy, and a PhD for my thesis on the philosophy of Allama Iqbal. There is no question that the single most important intellectual influence on my mental development has been that of Iqbal. From him I learnt more than I can say - his philosophy of Khudi (selfhood) became the foundation of my evolving philosophical vision, and his insistence on going back to the Qur'an and going forward with ijtihad (independent reasoning which he called "the principle of movement in Islam") was something that became pivotal in my own study of Islam.

I have been involved in the teaching of Islam since 1973 and have been engaged in research on issues relating to women in Islam since the fall of 1974. Recalling how I embarked on the most important journey of any life, I wrote in one of my articles, "I do not know exactly at what time my 'academic' study of women in Islam became a passionate quest for truth and justice on behalf of Muslim women - perhaps it was when I realized the impact on my own life of the so-called Islamic ideas and attitudes regarding women. What began as a scholarly exercise became simultaneously an Odyssean venture in self-understanding. But 'enlightenment' does not always lead to 'endless bliss' (as the Buddhists say). The more I saw the justice and compassion of God reflected in the Qur'anic teachings regarding women, the more anguished and angry I became, seeing the injustice and inhumanity to which Muslim women, in general, are subjected to in actual life. I began to feel strongly that it was my duty - as a part of the microscopic minority of educated Muslim women - to do as much consciousness-raising regarding the situation of Muslim women as I could.

Very early in my study I realized that Islam, like the other major religions of the world (namely, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism) had developed in patriarchal culture in which its mayor sources, i.e., the Qur'an, the Sunnah, the Hadith literature, and Fiqh, had been interpreted almost exclusively by men who had assigned to themselves the right to define the ontological, theological, sociological, and eschatological status of Muslim women. I spent the first decade of my research on women in Islam (1974-1984) in reinterpreting the Qur'anic texts relating to women from a non-patriarchal perspective and came to the conclusion that the Qur'an does not discriminate against women in any way. In fact if one can see the Qur'anic text without the lens of patriarchal biases one discovers how strongly it affirms the rights of women - and of other socially disadvantaged groups.

Since the 1970s the process of "Islamization" which was initiated in some Muslim countries including Pakistan, led to the promulgation of laws whose primary objective was to put women "in their place". Women were also a major target of the so-called Islamic punishments that were instituted by General Ziaul Haq in Pakistan who enacted the Hudood Ordinance (1979), the Qanun-e-Shahadat (1984), and the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance (1990). These laws which aimed at reducing the value and status of women systematically and virtually mathematically, to less than that of men, are manifestly unjust and un-Islamic as pointed out repeatedly by advocates of women's rights in Pakistan. No government, however, has had the moral or political will to amend or repeal these laws which have caused great suffering to a large number of girls and women in Pakistan.

To understand the strong impetus to "Islamize" Muslim societies, especially with regard to women-related norms and values, it is necessary to know that of all the challenges confronting the Muslim world, perhaps the greatest is that of modernity. Unable to come to grips with modernity as a whole, many Muslim societies make a sharp distinction between two aspects of it. The first -generally referred to as "modernization" and largely approved - is identified with science, technology and a better standard of life. The second -generally referred to as "Westernization" and largely disapproved - is identified with emblems of "mass" Western culture such, as promiscuity, break-up of family and community, latch-key kids, and drug and alcohol abuse.

What is of importance to note, here, is that an emancipated Muslim woman is seen by many Muslims as a symbol not of "modernization" but of "Westernization". (These days Muslim girls, as well as boys, go to Western institutions for higher education. However, often when a young man returns from the West he is considered "modernized", but when a young woman returns she is considered "Westemized".) This is so because she appears to be in violation of what traditional societies consider to be a necessary barrier between "private space" (i.e. the home) where women belong and "public space" (i.e. the rest of the world) which belongs to men. This invisible barrier between these two unequal spaces is called hijab (literally meaning "curtain"). Traditionally, Muslims have developed the belief that it is best to keep men and women segregated, i.e., in their separate, designated spaces, because the intrusion of women into men's space is seen as leading to the disruption, if not the destruction, of the fundamental order of things. According to a popular hadith, whenever a man and woman are alone, "ash-Shaitan" (the Satan) is bound to be there.

The self-styled caretakers of Muslim traditions are aware of the fact that viability in the modern technological age requires the adoption of the scientific or rational outlook that inevitably brings about major changes in modes of thinking and behaviour. Women, both educated and uneducated, who are participating In the national work force and contributing towards national development, think and behave differently from women who have no sense of their individual identity or autonomy as active agents in a history-making process and regard themselves merely as instruments designed to minister to and reinforce a patriarch system that they believe to be divinely instituted.

Though I emigrated to the US in 1972, I have always maintained strong ties with Pakistan and spent every summer in Lahore. I, therefore, knew from close quarters what was happening in the country. In 1983-84, I was able to spend two years in Pakistan since I had a year's sabbatical leave and a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship for a one-year research project. This was the time when the victimization of women by the new laws (particularly the Zina ordinance which was part of the Hudood ordinance) had started. Though most of the victims were poor and illiterate, many affluent and educated women in Pakistan began to realize that the discriminatory laws were threatening to erode the fundamental rights not only of disadvantaged females but of all females.

In addition to the increase in violence being perpetrated upon women through legislation, there was a deluge of anti-women literature produced by religious extremists which flooded the popular market. The purpose of the multi-faceted onslaught unleashed against women by the "Islamization" process was to push women out of "public space" into the chadur and chardewari where they would perform the traditional roles of wives and mothers as defined by a patriarchal society that regards the inferiority and subservience of women to men as part of God's eternal system. These roles are promoted as bringing not respect but respectability to the women in the name of Islam.

As I reflected upon the scene I witnessed, and asked myself how it was possible for laws that were archaic if not absurd to be implemented in a society that professed a passionate commitment to modernity, the importance of something that I had always known dawned on me with stunning clarity.

Pakistani society (or any other Muslim society for that matter) could enact or accept laws that specified that women were less than men in fundamental ways because Muslims, in general, consider it a self-evident truth that women are not equal to men.

Anyone who states that in the present day world it is accepted in many religious as well as secular communities that men and women are equal, or that evidence can be found in the Qur'an and the islamic tradition for affirming man-woman equality, is likely to be confronted, immediately and with force, by a mass of what is described as "irrefutable evidence" taken from the Qur'an, Hadith, and Sunnah to "prove" that men are "above" women.

Among the arguments used to overwhelm any proponent of man-woman equality, the following are perhaps the most popular: that according to the Qur'an, men are qawwamun (generally translated as hakim or "rulers") in relation to women; that according to the Qur'an, a man's share in inheritance is twice that of a woman; that according to the Qur'an, the witness of one man is equal to that of two women; that according to the Prophet (p.b.u.h.), women are deficient both in prayer (due to menstruation) and in intellect (due to their witness counting for less than a man's). In my theological work I have presented compelling evidence to show that a correct reading of the Qur'an or the Prophetic tradition does not support such arguments and that the normative teachings of Islam strongly uphold the equality of men and women both in relation to God and to each other.

Since I was (in all probability) the only Muslim woman in the country who was attempting to interpret the Qur'an systematically from a non-patriarchal perspective, I was approached numerous times by women leaders (including the members of the Pakistan Commission on the Status of Women, before whom I gave my testimony in May 1984) to state what my findings were and if they could be used to improve the situation of women in Pakistani society.

I was urged by those spirited women who were mobilizing and leading women's protests in the streets to help them by developing an ideology or strategy that they could use to counter the avalanche of negative laws, literature, and actions with which they were being confronted. Some of them wanted to use the work I had already done and use my interpretations of Qur'anic texts to refute the arguments that were being used to make them less than fully human on a case-by-case or point-by-point basis. I must admit that I was tempted to join the foray in support of my beleaguered sisters (amongst whom was Asma Jahangir) who were being deprived of their human rights in the name of Islam.

But I knew through my long and continuing struggle with the forces of Muslim traditionalism (which were now being gravely threatened by what they described as "the assault of Westernization under the guise of modernization") that the arguments that were being broadcast to "keep women in their place" of subordination and submissiveness were only the front line of attack. Behind these arguments were others, and no sooner would one line of attack be eliminated than another one would be set up in its place. What had to be done, first and foremost, in my opinion, was to examine the theological ground in which all the anti-women arguments were rooted to see if, indeed, a case could be made for asserting that from the point of view of normative Islam, men and women were essentially equal, despite biological and other differences.

As a result of my study and deliberation I came to perceive that not only in the Islamic, but also in the Jewish and Christian traditions, there are three theological assumptions on which the superstructure of men's alleged superiority to women (which implies the inequality of women and man) has been erected. These three assumptions are:

(1) that God's primary creation is man, not woman, since woman is believed to have been created from man's rib, hence is derivative and secondary ontologically.

(2) That woman, not man, was the primary agent of what is customarily described as the "Fall," or man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, hence all "daughters of Eve" are to be regarded with hatred, suspicion, and contempt.

(3) That woman was created not only from man but also for man, which makes her existence merely instrumental and not of fundamental importance.

The three theological questions to which the above assumptions may appropriately be regarded as answers, are: How was woman created? Was woman responsible for the "Fall" of man? Why was woman created?

I have spent many years working on these questions and have shown in my writings that none of the above mentioned assumptions is warranted by a correct reading of the Qur'an which states categorically (in 30 passages) that God created all humanity at the same time, of the same substance, in the same manner; that both man and woman disobeyed God by going near the forbidden tree but that they acknowledged their wrongdoing and were forgiven by God (hence there is no "Fall" in Islam); that God created both men and women "for a just purpose" and that the relationship between them is one of equality, mutuality and cordiality.

It has been the major mission of my life especially since I became involved in 1984 in helping women activists in Pakistan, to educate Muslim/Pakistani girls and women about the rights given to them by God in the Qur'an. These rights may be denied or dishonoured - as they have been through much of our history - but rights given by God cannot be abrogated by any human being or agency.

In pursuit of my passionate quest for justice on behalf of Muslim women I have travelled from one end of the Muslim world to the other conducting workshops, participating in conferences, meeting leaders and policy makers. I have had the privilege of being one of the main spokespersons for Islam at several United Nations Conferences, including those held at Cairo (1994), Copenhagen (1995), Beijing (1995) and Istanbul (1996). I have also been a featured speaker at several hundred conferences in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The message I have delivered in each of my presentations is that Islam is a justice-and-compassion-centered religion which values the life of each person and holds before all human beings - women as well as men - the lofty vision embodied in the Qur'anic proclamation, "Towards God is your limit." (Surah 53: An-Najm: 42, translation by Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Lahore, 1971, p. 57).

In February 1999, ABC showed the BBC documentary entitled Murder in Purdah - a very graphic and powerful film about "honour" crimes in Pakistan - in their show Nightline, and I was one of the two commentators (the other one being Asma Jahangir) in this programme.

Following the airing of this programme, I was inundated with letters, faxes and e-mail from women and men around the United States. Most expressed a sense of outrage that vulnerable girls and women were being subjected to so much brutality and violence in Pakistan, and a keen desire to do something about it. Out of these initial contacts grew a loose network of concerned individuals which I formalized into The International Network for the Rights of Female Victims of Violence in Pakistan (INRFVVP) in February, 1999. The membership of the INRFVVP grew rapidly not only in the US and Pakistan, but throughout the world, and it soon became incorporated as a non-profit, non-governmental organization. In the three-and a-half-years since its inception, the INRFVVP has gone beyond being a mere organization. I see it as a movement for change which is committed to identifying those negative factors - whether religious, cultural or any other - which promote or permit violence against girls and women and any other socially marginalized group in Pakistan. Once these factors have been identified through field research, strategies and programmes will be developed to eliminate them and to create a culture in which the rights of all human beings are recognized, safeguarded and implemented.

sadequain - 3 articles

#1420 sadequain
on July 2, 2003 8:32pm PT

Rediscovering Sadequain in the West
Farhana Rizvi, Rosemead, CA

Effective communication is the hallmark of a high level of human civilization and culture. Language, words, signs, gestures, sounds, and colors are the tools used to convey the message. As spoken written words such as prose or poetry are classified as literature, fine arts is collectively composed of signs, sounds, colors, and gestures such as dance, music, sculpture, and painting. The levels of achievement in the field of literature and arts are regarded as the indicators of the level of social and cultural advancement of any society. Those who create literature and arts are respected and treated as national assets in a civilize society, and their creations vis-à-vis literature, artworks, and artifacts are regarded as the most valuable assets of a nation. They are preserved and treasured in the society for the education and the inspiration for future generations.

After my successful attempt to introduce Pakistan’s art legend-Sadequain to my undergraduate art class in an assignment here, I was so encouraged that I decided to pursue my master’s thesis in Arts Education by introducing Sadequain and his artworks in the field of Western Arts Education. The reason for this endeavor is that world renowned Sadequain has not been introduced in the Western Arts Education so far.

I want to assess Sadequain’s contribution towards the art world from a historical perspective and his enormous thematic artwork that is extensively spread over the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent, Middle East, and Europe.

Sadequain was a multi-dimensional artist, who painted superbly in a variety of forms, media and textures. I felt that his works contain a vision of realism, depicting a world surrounded by suffering and crying for justice and a better life. Those who consider fine arts only as a means of providing relaxation and sensual pleasure may not find Sadequain’s art much to their liking since it is largely conceptual and thematic, dealing with material which attempts to motivate people for improving social conditions and achieving human excellence.

Most of his works decorate the walls and roofs of famous educational institutions, public museums, and other public places in addition to private collections. His selection of educational institutions and public places for displaying his art explains Sadequain’s motto that art should not be confined to the homes of the rich because he thinks that it is a media to educate the people, motivating them for creating a more constructive and humane society. As an artist, a student of art, and art education, I have acquired great respect for Sadequain.

I decided to go to Pakistan earlier this year in pursuit of my thesis, to personally view his numerous artworks, and to get acquainted with his peers to better understand the enormous status of Sadequain in the world of art.

When in Pakistan, I was excited and believed that within weeks I’ll know every thing but I got shocked again that the artist who overwhelmed the people with sheer volume of his work has no catalog in the art gallery named after him, nor in the Karachi Art Council, Lahore Museum, or in Karachi’s Frere Hall.

I tried so hard to document his artwork and even hired professional photographers in Lahore and in Karachi for the job. They charged so much money and did the worst job that I could have never imagined, and am very much disappointed that I do not have a reasonably good documentation. The video and still pictures that I managed to get of his paintings on the ceiling of Lahore Museum, the mural of Mangla Dam, and the ceiling of Frere Hall are in fragments and pieces, which do not make much sense. One can feel my disappointment and frustration realizing that it had taken me days to get the permission from the authorities, travel hassle, plus good sum of money spent on this documentation.

I had some additional frustrations in store for me. I saw Sadequain’s one mural in the Liaquat Hall, Rawalpindi in the worst possible condition; the mural is kept in the garage and the diesel van belonging to the theater was parked in there. I was surprised that instead of the theater the mural is in the garage. In the State Bank, Karachi one mural was kept disassembled in the bank’s museum while the ground floor murals needed repairs. I think with a little amount of money these murals can be fixed, and if the bank has no place for some murals they should be donated to any museum or art gallery. In Karachi’s Frere Hall, the calligraphy on marble slabs are being kept in poor condition, covered with dust with their color fading. One mural in the new campus of Lahore University library was fully covered with black cloth. No one could explain to me as to why it was so. I am frustrated because we are so careless in preserving our cultural treasures.

There were no dimensions mentioned any where in any city on Sadequain’s artworks, it was not the job of the artist to place the caption on every peace. This is the job of the gallery to do. As a visitor I was neither equipped nor had the facility to measure these huge and monumental art works. There was no curator or gallery facilitator in the museums and galleries except the directors or other high officials, not easily accessible to answer questions because of their busy schedules. Still I am trying so hard to do my job as efficiently as possible but if any one can help me in this matter I would really appreciate it.

It will be unfair if I fail to mention that most of the officers, authorities in museums, art galleries and places where Sadequain’s artwork was on display, helped me as much as they could. Most of the authorities and officers in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, and Mangla were very cooperative and helpful to me and without their help my visit would have been a failure. I am thankful to them all. I am especially thankful to the family and friends of Sadequain who briefed me a lot on him and his art, and in mitigating my frustrations and disappointments by explaining the limitations. I will acknowledge the help of all the people in my thesis so please forgive me this time I have no intentions to forget anyone. There were many private art collectors I wanted to get in touch with but could not.

I emailed my appeal to Dawn newspaper but it was not published for reasons that I am not aware of. Through Pakistan Link I am requesting all those people in Pakistan, the United States, or anywhere else to please let me know if they have any photo, artwork, essay or brochure on Sadequain to enrich my thesis and make it worthy of the greatest artist. I will be greatly thankful to anyone who can help me in anyway possible to introduce this rare Pakistani treasure to Western Art Education, which could help our Pakistani-American young generation to be proud of their rich art heritage. You can reach me at the following email addresses:,, or write me at this address: POBOX 1875 ROSEMEAD, CA, 91770.

#1417 sadequain
on July 2, 2003 8:32pm PT
Caligrapher-Artist: Sadequain (1930-1987)
Researched by Rashda Faridi

One of Pakistan’s outstanding artists of distinctive vision developed his own abstract art form in the desert environment of Sindh. Sadequain was a rebel whose paintings are tortuous in their imagery, reflecting his personal psychosis in a thoroughly modern idiom. His paintings give an overpowering effect and his first murals were exhibited at the Karachi airport, Jinnah hospital and the State Bank of Pakistan. His last unfinished work was the mural intended to cover the ceiling of Frere Hall, which is now named as Sadequain’s Gallery.

As a child Sadequain was known in his neighborhood for sketching on sun backed clay and white washed walls of the houses he passed on his way to school. He made pictures in the soil, and rubbed them out to begin anew. In 1947, he came to Pakistan from Amroha, a town 15 miles from Bachhraon in India. He settled in Karachi and made friends with the Bengali painter Sultan. The two artists were often seen sitting in teashops, sketching the passers-by. In the late 1950’s, in need of rest and solitude, Sadequain headed for Gadani where a friend had offered him a simple hut. Here the cactus bushes bathed in moonlight fascinated him. His kitchen wall became a convenient canvas, transformed by the artist’s fingers into a mural. In Gadani, Sadequain synthesized his fascination for calligraphy, his penchant for harsh landscapes and his conviction that life is a struggle.

Calligraphy has been the essence of Sadequain’s work. He often stated that it was in his blood. The spiky length of cactus took on the attire of Kufic script. His entire aesthetic life was directed by the Gadani visit. Speaking of cactus he once said, "I only painted cactus in black, dark red and grey. I painted them without any intention of painting them. And at last in the anatomy of these gigantic plants, I found the essence of calligraphy. Everything I have painted since then... has been based on calligraphy, which in itself issues from the structure of cactus".

The National Art Gallery at Islamabad has been holding an exhibition of Sadequain’s paintings since 1980. Sotheby’s of London sold his paintings at Samuel Baker’s 258-year-old auction house for 6,000 pounds. And another painting ‘Europa and the Bull’ was sold for 1,800 pounds. Sotheby’s believes that Pakistani art is now ready for exposure to the West.

#1418 sadequain
on July 2, 2003 8:32pm PT

Sadequain for all

By Quddus Mirza

The immense popularity of Sadequain and the acceptance of his art was due to him evolving a form of expression that the majority of population can associate and relate with

To charge a hundred rupees for entrance to an exhibition seems incredible in a country where even the doctors are pestered to reduce their rates -- and life-saving drugs are sought on a discount price (if not free). But the public -- contrary to all assumptions -- paid the ticket and is still paying to go and see the work of Sadequain at the Mohatta Palace in Karachi.

Why is Sadequain so popular? Compared to other artists of the country, Sadequain enjoys a special place. His work is seen and appreciated by all sections of people in Pakistan.

The reason for this probably is connected to the structure of language. Here, like many other post-colonial nations, there is a divide between the national language and the one imported by the colonial rule. It would be needless to go into the details about its effect in the society, and how this separation has evolved into a system of privileges as anyone reading this article (printed in an English newspaper of Pakistan!) must be aware of this situation.

The linguistic condition, which exists in the society, mostly in its educational institutes, repeats in the realm of art as well. In this arena, the clash of languages operates in a decisive, yet not so obvious manner. Though it is believed that art has a universal vocabulary, Pakistani art in fact mainly revolves around English. Its teaching, discourse, documentation and its criticism are all done in English -- which a very limited number of literate population (again not a large figure either) can comprehend.

The artists of the country are strangely placed in this situation. Most of them have the background of training in Urdu, but once they achieve a level of success in the domain of visual art, they transform themselves. They adopt English for their expressions on art since the gallery owners, academics, patrons, buyers and critics all converse in this tongue. Any utterance in this medium is regarded synonymous to quality, and to be well-versed in English shows that the artist is aesthetically in tune with the international world.

Due to the limitation of the language in our society, many artists find themselves alienated from the general public. However, Sadequain appeared distinct from this crowd. Maybe because (not an abhorring feature as believed by many idealist painters and sculptors around us) he was an outsider to the group of established artists of country. And it is not astonishing, that during his lifetime, he was perceived to be merely a showman by the artists and art teachers. He was blamed for enjoying patronage of the government and after his calligraphic period, was accused of being a subservient of the Zia regime. Although his presence could not be avoided, he was not really acknowledged or welcomed in the art institutions at the time.

By adhering to the tradition via language, Sadequain made himself the most accessible and approachable painter. It is due to the usage of poetic themes from Urdu language and the manner of employing the narrative elements in his paintings that his work is widely understood and appreciated here. It is, therefore, not unusual that an ordinary viewer feels closer to Sadequain than any other artist (not even Chughtai or Allah Bux, who with all their comprehensible art were still exclusive painters).

Sadequain's art has a close link with the language, perhaps the closest of all. Beginning with the earlier imagery that was constructed as Kufic script to his figurative works and calligraphy, all reveal the linkage to the language of people. Most of his figurative work can be classified as narrative art.

There is another streak of narrative art in fashion these days which subscribes to the western influences of naive art or Indian examples of promoting primitive imagery. Instead of this superficial 'sublime' and contrived narrative art, Sadequain offered the obvious meanings through his canvases, to the ordinary spectators. Several of his paintings were even conceived on specific verses by Ghalib and Iqbal. For example, the hands carrying decapitated heads, men walking near gallows, a man facing the blazing sun, figure of an artist painted as the fasting Buddha and all the other such visuals from the popular Urdu poetry depicted the illustrative mood. In many ways, those paintings became visual equivalent to verses.

In addition to that, the constant poetic themes such as man being in an eternally miserable state and exposed to all kinds of inner and external tyrannies were recurring motifs on his murals as well as in his oil paintings. One factor about Sadequain making a connection between poetry and visual art is the fact that he himself was a practicing poet, acquiring Sadaq as takhallus or nom de plume for his earlier writings. Many collections of quartets by him were published later in his life.

This fascination with the language manifested in another form in his art, as calligraphy. The early interest of Sadequain in the art of scribing, his fondness for writing poetry, and perhaps the support and patronage from rulers, may have all contributed in his shift in the last years of his creative life.

But it can have another explanation: that is related to the artist and his audience. The art in our surrounding produced through training at art schools has always survived as an exclusive activity, limited to a minority. Sadequain was an artist neither educated at the art schools nor attached to the art circle (which is a closed circle in its literal sense), and through out remained an aloof personality. So in an attempt to bridge his solitude, he sought the kind of art with maximum popular appeal -- calligraphy was chosen as a right genre to achieve this goal. (As it is not a secret that religion is often used in our environment for getting the public support. The term like Islamic Socialism is one of those examples from the political history of our country).

The immense popularity of Sadequain and the acceptance of his art was all due to his evolving a form of expression that the majority of Pakistani population can associate and relate with. Thus it does not come as a surprise that only the work of Sadequain, especially his calligraphic pieces, are reproduced on facades of humble houses and in small shops situated far from the art world.

#1419 sadequain
on July 2, 2003 8:32pm PT
Our holy sinner

The painting exhibition of Sadequain, which opened in March at Mohatta Palace is one of the most comprehensive shows of its kind to have been curated in Pakistan

By Muna Siddiqui

Walking through the impressive hallways of Mohatta Palace, one cannot help but feel a sense of time lost. The palace's painted ceilings that tower high and its magnificently tiled floors belong to a time left far behind, a snapshot of the splendours of the past. And at this sublime venue, the paintings of the most treasured artist of Pakistan, Sadequain, have been brought together.

The exhibition, which opened in March and will continue till the end of July, is one of the most comprehensive shows of its kind to have been curated in Pakistan.

I arrived at the Mohatta Palace almost at closing time but the caretakers graciously unlocked the doors to let me view the exhibition. A solitary passage through the hallways lined with the large paintings of Sadequain is an awe-inspiring experience for any individual. The exhibition walks you through the creative life of Sadequain, which is astoundingly prolific. Sadequain's presence emerges as a spindly giant with knobby hands whose thirst for creation and knowledge was unquenchable. From the first gallery which displays the artist's early works which are experimental in technique and style to his absolute burst of creativity in the late '60s the exhibition presents a sensitive, creative and thinking man.

Much has been written about Sadequain and his genius. His paintings are not only testament to his creative prowess but they are also a window to the artist's soul. The exhibition reflects the ambition of the artist, his constant quest to know more and then to incorporate his being into his paintings. Sadequain's art is entirely a reflection of himself and comes through with honesty and purity so much so that there is no need to make comparisons of his style with any other artist either in this country or abroad. The artist may have been influenced by the cubist style or may have drawn inspiration from Indian mythological icons but he emerged with a style that was uniquely Sadequain. The strength and consistency of his personal brushstroke or line is present in every single painting or sketch in the exhibition.

Born in 1930, in Amroha India, Sadequain was the son of a scribe of the Quran. In his youth he worked as a copyist for All India Radio. Before his move to Pakistan after the partition he painted anti-British and pro-Pakistan slogans on walls and earned a part-time living drawing maps and illustrating textbooks. Apparently he could draw the map of any part of the world blindfolded. From this experience of the written word and his command of the drawn line emerged Sadequain's linear drawings. These later included the cactus motifs that added the linear dimension to much of his work.

Sadequain's acute sense of design allowed him to deftly use the line to fill space. In some cases he scratched out linear patterns to build the texture of his work. Apart from a few paintings he seemed to fill space more with line than colour. His love of the line is apparent in many sketches he produced and led him to become one of the first artists in Pakistan to experiment with calligraphy as an art form.

We all know Sadequain for the magnificent murals he created. Each one more ambitious than the next; the murals are present in public places like the Punjab Public Library in Lahore and the ceiling of Frere Hall in Karachi, which was a work in progress when his life tragically ended. The exhibition includes some of the artist's murals including one commissioned by the State Bank of Pakistan titled 'The Treasures of Time' which celebrates the intellectual achievements of man and highlights 46 major figures from history. The painting includes himself among the likes of Iqbal, Einstein, Tagore and Descartes.

An exhibition to remember, titled 'The Holy Sinner', is one of the most impressive exhibitions chronicling the life of an artist that I have seen in Pakistan. It is coupled with a pamphlet that walks you through the exhibition and each of the artist's works. The paintings are titled, dated and measured. The exhibition halls have been prepared and lit according to the works. Hameed Haroon and Salima Hashmi should be congratulated for putting together an exhibition that truly celebrates the life and the work of a genius called Sadequain.