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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Yaar Venaa!

thank you kumar gandharva jee for last night.
this still seems so [un?]real —

shükr karo tüm üss ka, saahab,
üss kee dayn thi sab saughaatayñ
itna rona kyooñ hae aakhir
pahlay bhee to khaaee haeñ maatayñ
din kay khaaboñ ko rad karnay
aaee haeñ yeh bojhal raatayñ
mar jaaooñ to phir mümkin haé
yaad na aaeñ üss kee baatayñ
sach poochho to üss naadaañ nay
tüm hee say to seekheeñ ghaatayñ
agar kalyaan na hota to subah na hotee ...

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

T2F 2.0 is back!

Science Ka Adda — Salman Hameed, from Hampshire College, is here to start the days off with a new lecture on "Humans in the Cosmos: How 400 Years Of Telescopes Have Changed The Way We Look at Ourselves!" … Don't forget to see this startling talk (on December 22nd at 6.30 pm) by a brilliant young man.

Not into Science? Hmmm ... take a trip and see what you'd been missing! There's an exhibit of some of Pedro Meyer's beautiful work. And brilliant Coffee and other stuff. Books to buy … and many even to read at the studio upstairs. Music, too: It's soft and does not hurt your years. Urdu (and English) poetry, literature and more stuff to go. Coming to you soon.

Ohhh … if you are an Entrepreneur, there are seats for you, too, on a short/long term basis (just 5, though). A sponsor? A quick event? There's more … you know!

Drop in …

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Friday, May 29, 2009

For Maleeha Azeem

Faiz sahab would have loved it.

Will celebrate when you get here…

Nuzhat & Zaheer

PS: Hope your own "More" makes it up there, too!

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Tale of Two Anthems

Aé sarzameené paak
Zarray teray haéñ aaj sitaaroñ se taabnaak
Roshan haé kehkashaañ se kaheeñ aaj tayree khaak
Aé sarzameené paak

اے سرزمینِ پاك
ذرّے ترے ہیں آج ستاروں سے تابناك
روشن ہے كہكشاں سے كہیں آج تیری خاك
اے سرزمینِ پاك

O' pure land,
your every particle is more luminous than the stars.
Your dust is brighter than the Milky Way.
O' Pure Land

These are the only lines I can recall from Pakistan's FIRST National Anthem. It was written by the then Lahore-based poet, Jagannath Azad, in response to the Quaid's wish that our Anthem be written by a non-Muslim to underscore the vision of a secular Pakistan. The current Anthem (which includes the phrase Saayaé Khüdaaé Züljalaal that, now, apparently bristles some) was adopted just a few years later.

Can anyone help dig up the rest of the original?

While on the subject of the Anthem, people around my age may remember its majestic sound from the days of our youth. The richness of the band due so much, I guess, to the sounds of the instruments of that time - as well as the chorus version - has long disappeared, to be replaced by a relatively uninspiring re-recorded sound that leaves me cold.

Thanks to our finest composer-arranger-musician Arshad Mahmood's direction, and a brilliant recreation by the children of Karachi High School, you can download and hear that majesty again in this recording. 

I'd like to direct you to two of my earlier posts (this and this) that are linked to this topic.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Iqbal Bano: You will be greatly missed!


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Thursday, April 02, 2009

The coming dark age

I received a disgusting and painful video, forwarded by a young acquaintance. It shows the brutal killing - in public - of a young girl. The clip - showing the girl actually mercilessly beaten to death with fists, kicks, and stones - was impossible to watch in its entirety and I certainly could not bear to keep the sound on. More horrifying was the obvious: Someone had the time, the nerve, and a clear viewing spot from which he could film the entire process. Worse, one could spot some among the murderous mob holding cellphones in their hands and filming the scene while kicking and hitting the girl.

Comments on my Facebook, where I posted my immediate reaction to it, indicate that others were as horrified. But FB is no criterion: After all, those who can and do comment on it are more than likely to be birds-of-a-feather (although, admittedly, some of our closest acquaintances are springing surprises on us in this area nowadays).

The girl's crime was not clear - at least from the part of the video that I could bear to see. Conjectures among viewers ranged from charges of adultery to issues like being 'improperly' dressed or even to having ventured out without a mahram, all of which have been used as grounds for perpetrating violence against women.

That the video was made and distributed by the perpetrators of this heinous act, is obvious ... for no one in their right minds (and, thus, opposing such a deed) could have survived that crowd. Any outcry or hint of sympathy and the chap would have met similar treatment. So why would they make such a video? Certainly not for record keeping (although the Nazis did keep detailed records of their atrocities, so one can't completely ignore the possibility). The release of it on the Internet was obviously done to instill fear among the whole society.

I was unable, without sound - and I was NOT going to turn that on after the first scream that pierced my ears - to ascertain where this video was shot. The sender, too, despite having heard all of the soundtrack, could not identify the language or dialect. But it was widely believed by many that this was most likely an act of Islamic Fundamentalists.


Fundamentalism is the new face of all religions. In this case the girl was reportedly on the 'wrong side' for her alleged conversion to Islam for love. Her name, Du'a Khalil - (meaning 'The Prayer of Abraham') - and surname, Aswad, which brings another stone to mind - further underscored life's ironies.

Oh .. so now that we know that it wasn't a Muslim mob, shall we heave a sigh of relief, happy at the fact that 'our kind' is not involved … for once? Does this exonerate the Muslim fanatics in any way? Can we not look at this, and at what is happening at our shrinking border, to extrapolate the danger present in Pakistan so that something can be done before it's too late?

I knew that even discussing such matters can earn the wrath of some elements, but I'd always thought that that would be personal or party anger.

However, soon after seeing the horrible video (it seems to have become hot recently, though the incident is a couple of years old), came RSF's report on Swat which made such discussions almost a sin: Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the founder of TNSM, told Reporters Without Borders that he believed in press freedom. He nonetheless also claimed that the Sharia forbids discussing past events, including the actions of Taliban activists.


I urge you to read the 6-page Swat Report here. (It's a PDF file so you can download it and read at leisure.)

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

A treat for Karachiites & visitors

They have many fans in Pakistan and overseas. They take qavvaali festivals by storm everywhere they go - and, boy, do they go everywhere! (See the embedded video at the end of this post.) Yet, it's surprising how many people in their own country have not yet been exposed to this amazing troupé. The Qavvaali Ka Safar concert on 28th March provides yet another opportunity for the uninitiated to change this state.

All of us qavvaali lovers in Pakistan have, in our collections, loads of Sabri Brothers and tons of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan ... but of the gharana that boasts of being the direct descendants of Saamat bin Ibrahim, the ace shaagird of Amir Khusrau and the head of the Qavvaal Bachchaas that Khusrau trained in this genre, we have precious little. 

One possible reason, I am sure, is the lack of audio and video recordings released by this group locally, something that I intend to help rectify over the course of the year (specially through the release of rare private recordings of their father, the incomparable Munshi Raziuddin). I also hope to convince the families of Munshi Ji's illustrious cousins, Manzoor Niazi sahab and Bahauddin sahab to let me include some of their recordings for the planned archives and special releases. Both these cousins' parties, too, being part of the same heritage, shared a fair amount of the repertoire but delivered the individual items with their own distinct flavours and each had a title or two that became associated with them forever: Manzoor Niazi's Naseema Jaanibé Bat'haa and Bahauddin's Kaesa Naach Nachaaya come immediately to mind. Both of these are available on the Citibank-sponsored set that is now a collector's item due, in part, to the wonderful notes that accompanied it. The audios were pirated (naturally!) and are available easily in most seedy CD stores. 

While Fareed Ayaz, his brothers - the amazing Abu Mohammad, among them - and the generation coming up (keep your ears open for Moiz and Hamza!), continue to preserve the tradition of rendering qavvaali in its purest classical form - they are at their best in samaa environments - those who have heard them in concerts know that their range extends way beyond that. Because their musical heritage includes, and is greatly influenced by, the famed ustaad Taan Ras Khan sahab, court musician to Bahadur Shah Zafar, they tackle shudhh classical raags - be it dhrupad ang or the more common khayaal form - with as much ease as they do pieces from today's popular repertoire.
Once in a while they have been known to include qavvaalis popularized by some of their well-known peers, although this happens only when the audience requests it - which is, thankfully, rare. C'mon, concert attendees … you've come to hear what these guys do best, so listen to their specialities. (In any case, how can one listen to a Sabri cover, however well sung, without Ghulam Farid's booming "Alllaaaaaah", or watch it without the silent qavvaali bit that only he could get away with by accompanying it with a twinkle in his eyes and a mischievous smile?)
They delight their fans with the works of Rumi, Hafiz, Khusrau, Bulley Shah, Kabir, and the later poets - such as Jigar Muradabadi (whose Saraapa never fails to entrance the listeners, even non-believers, with the sheer beauty of its words). They glide from Arabi to Farsi, Hindi, Poorbi, Punjabi, Seraiki, and Urdu smoothly. They sing modern foot-tapping qavvaalis and the traditional haal-inducing ones, but also inject the khaanqaahi slow, langurous melodies (such as Har Shab Manam Fataadah) into the performance, some - like Teree Yaad Hae Mann Kaa Chaen, Piyaa - transporting lovers into another time and place. But it is their sazeenaa, bahlaava, payvand-kaari, and the weaving of sargams and taans seamlessly into their performances that I enjoy most of all.

If you have not heard the full range of this troupé's capabilities, come and be converted. Bring others along, too, not just for a very enjoyable evening but one which will enrich your knowledge as Fareed Ayaz, Abu Mohammad, and others - (expect the unexpected!) - trace the development and growth of this all-encompassing genre. If you are already a fan, we'll see you there, anyway, but do bring friends to introduce them to this bunch of wonder-weavers and the genre ... and to financially support T2F in its shift to the new, expanded premises. That's very important, too.

(Thank you, Fareed & Abu, and everyone else in the party, for donating the proceeds and supporting a space that has helped enliven many of our evenings).

Here's a real first!

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Monday, February 23, 2009

We Interrupt This Blog For Some Breaking News ...

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Hey folks. Sorry for the disappearance ...

... assuming you missed me at all.

Ups. Downs. Events. Crises. The usual fortnight: SNAFU! (If you are too young to know what that stands for, go look the abbreviation up. Err ... not if you are too, too young, though. In which case you shouldn't even be on my blog.)

Through all this, several posts have been brewing, too. Some are still in my mind, some on my trusty old MacBook Pro. But there just hasn't been time.

Anyway. Starting with a brief post tonite - just an image (not that it took less time than writing a post would have) - I hope to work on a couple of posts over the weekend to conjoin and share some of the more pleasant experiences I've had. Those interested in Urdu will find them of greater interest, since two of the three events (and the memories they brought back) are centered around that language. And I promise some delicious --- brief but appetite-whetting --- audio clips. Soon.

Meanwhile, here's a sneak-peak at the cover of the sequel to our favorite bad boy's album, Clash Ka Khauf, released earlier this month.

Keep on the lookout for the songs on your usual piracy websites. Two of my fave tracks are: Bum Maaro, Bum and Zabaané Yaaré Mann Tharkee.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yayyyy. It's Darwin Day!

This blog is not to enter into the age-old controversy. It's to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest minds that ever lived.

Happy Birthday, Charles!

One hundred and fifty years after the publication of one of the most important books in human history, the debate rages on.

The criticism or fear of something, without having even tried to understand or know about it, is hardly a POV that needs to be even considered worthy of discussion or debate. But it deserves a mention, only because it turns up often enough.

The best (and most recent) example I have come across of this stubborn and disturbing attitude - disturbing because it was voiced by someone I thought was a sensible person. This is what she said: I really haven't given too much thought to this theory, I just firmly don't believe in it!

Wow! I guess this is the kind of person Oliver Wendell Holmes (Jr.) had in mind when he wrote, "The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract."

Then there's that delightful 'just-a-theory' brigade.
JUST A THEORY? According to the United States National Academy of Sciences...
Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature supported by facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena.
A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than "just a theory." It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.
The other big issue - at least among many of the people around me - is the feeling that, since many of the atheists must believe in Evolution (after all, they have no one else to credit for Life), the whole Evolution enterprise, itself, must be an anti-God, anti-religious ideology and needs to be shunned offhand.

Hmmm. Most atheists I know also believe that the world is round, but I don't see anyone refuting that. Well, almost anyone.


Larson's excellent book, Evolution - The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory, opens with this quote Darwin.m4a and, thus, sets the tone for what follows in this up to date and wonderfully readable work. Listenable, too: an audio-book version is now on sale at T2F. Do buy it. And if it's sold out by the time you make it there, order it from them. It's worth every penny.

But, if you are unfamiliar with the theory (10-to-1, it's not what you've heard it is!), Google Charles Darwin and get to know more about his dangerous idea!

Among those who deny Evolution, there are Creationists, in various flavors. Some believe that Earth was created 6000+ years ago, some who think that humans and dinosaurs lived concurrently and even interacted, and some who believe that fossilized bones were 'created' as is, in order to test us.

None of these clowns, however, convinced me of the flaws in Darwin's ideas as did this part of an email from someone (who, admittedly, reads a lot of Harun Yahya): The question I have is then for all Darwin's greatness and stories why has this evolution stopped all of a sudden? If it was a continuous process then that factor should not have gone away - it should have kept occuring. Then why do we see natural births and not have babies coming to us as apes or from apes ????

Damn! Damn! Damn! Why didn't I think of this? 

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hitting the ground running ...

Please pass on the url of this post to your friends - Zak

A direct message from Sabeen Mahmud

17th January 2009

Dear PeaceNiche and T2F Community,

612 days ago T2F opened its doors to you. Our vision was lofty, and frankly, a bit mad. Who would walk up to the second floor of an office building on Khayaban-e-Ittehad to listen to a poet rambling on about revolution, or a scientist arguing in favour of evolution, or some kids playing drums? Well, as it turns out, thousands of people ...

In these 612 days minus Mondays, our tiny space has hosted over 150 events featuring thought leaders, artists, poets, musicians, scientists, magicians, writers, philosophers, dancers, actors, lawyers, and activists. Hundreds of you have written in to tell us how much T2F means to you and to the city of Karachi. Every e-mail, snail mail, text message, and Facebook Wall post that you have sent has given us the strength to carry on. Many of you have supported us through your donations and even helped us replace our stolen Mac. We can't thank you enough.

By now you are probably thinking that we're closing down and that this is a goodbye note. No such luck :D But there is some critical news that we need to share with you.

We called our landlord the day-before-yesterday, to ask him when he was going to get the lift fixed. He was non-committal and then said he wanted us to vacate the premises. The initial shock was soon replaced by calm determination and optimism.

At yesterday's literary event, we broke the news. Practically everyone came forward to express solidarity and support. Some of you graciously volunteered your offices, houses, gardens, and basements for us to conduct our events till we find our own space. And one of you, a volunteer/student/journalist, kick-started the donation drive with a contribution of Rs. 5,000. Thank you Batool.

So, here's the plan:

We plan to vacate the current premises by early February 2009. We have already been offered several temporary spaces to conduct our events until such time that we find a permanent venue. We would like to move to a new space - a home we can call our own - as soon as possible. It's going to be tough and we can't do it alone. We simply don't have the funds. As you know, PeaceNiche is a non-profit organization and we have meagre funding. We are reaching out to you to help us in any way that you can. We will be writing to you again with specific requirements, but in the meanwhile, please spread the word about our need for a permanent, rent-free space so that we can get up and running without losing momentum.

Over the next few days, please come to T2F as often as possible - we'll recreate the magic wherever we go but this is where it all started. Thank you Karachi for believing in us.



Sabeen Mahmud

PeaceNiche / The Second Floor
Phone: (92-300) 823-0276 |

About Us

The Second Floor (T2F) is a project of PeaceNiche, a not-for-profit NGO committed to becoming a vibrant centre of Pakistan’s developing civil society. T2F is a community platform for open dialogue and features a coffeehouse, bookshop, and exhibition gallery.

Only around 10 days ago I had spoken with the landlord regarding the elevator that has been out of commission for a while, as a result of vandalism, and during promising to arrangethe repairs soon he had mentioned how much - with our association of several years (he was also the landlord of our office,  b.i.t.s., in the same building for years) - he would like us to stay on in the present space "for 10 years if you like". Now he was suddenly asking us to vacate and, while there was no direct threat that he was making, he certainly wasn't dropping big names, from A to Z, needlessly and without rhyme or reason during his conversation ...

باغباں نے آگ دی جب آشیانے كو مرے
جن پہ تكیہ تھا وہی پتّے ہوا دینے لگے

All my friends had told me not to be hopeful about there ever being any changes in the way this country runs. Being the optimist I am, I chose to not lose hope ... a hope that was bolstered further by one particularly important person in our politics, who had expressed over several mail exchanges that "this time it will be very different". HaaH! 


Sunday Update: Dawn Metropolitan carried this piece today. Thanks a million, Bina.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

India 4: An uncanny tale ... (Part 2 — The Conclusion)

When you have had the benefit of a 25-year stint at sea (1959-1984), there is bound to be much that is narratable and shareable, with some of it even of interest to a few people outside your immediate family. But this post is, primarily, about Gupta Cha (and his family) - so I shall make only brief references to the other parts which will be covered in greater detail in "Ships and Shoes and Sealing Wax" (if that "book+" ever gets completed).

However, as indicated at the end of my previous post, the real conclusion to the tale - which took place last year - will make up the second half of this post. The first will be spent breezing through the intervening years.

Ok, so it's 1947, the last day of September. Abi has finally received permission to extend his leave and proceed with the family to Karachi. We are to set sail on the S.S. DUMRA (of the British India Steam Navigation Co.) and are standing on a pier. There's a mad rush wherever one casts an eye. If I had known of the concept then, I would probably have thought of Maedaané Hashr. The sounds of bawling from families being separated can be heard mingling with the shrill laughter of children running everywhere, excited by the journey.

The 5 of us soon board the ship, bidding goodbye to Gupta Cha and to Badshah Chacha, who has travelled from South India to see us off. Standing with them is a close friend of my father, the amazing Dr. Baliga (one of my 'ideals' when I was a teenager), who was once invited to Pakistan to treat our Governor General, Ghulam Mohammad.

A couple of Sikh hockey players from the Bombay Sea Customs, 'fans' of Abbu Jan, have arrived to say goodbye to their Hockey Hero,
but now seem more interested in Chacha Jania (Talat Mahmood) whom they have cornered. As usual, he is too shy and polite to get away from them, though he wants to join us for parting hugs. The very moment that we start up the gangway, he runs towards us and the Sikhs shout out to all, "Yeh Talat Mahmood bhaaga jaa rahaa hae Pakistan. Roko. Roko." The laughs lighten the sad moment.

We are shown to a cabin which, though meant for 2+1, is spacious enough and the bistarband comes in handy. Soon, the ship's ropes are cast off and we move gently away from the pier. The air is suddenly filled with wave after wave of loud roars of Pakistan Zindabad and Quaid-e-Azam Zindabad. One can feel not just the passion but the freedom in those naaraas, suppressed at the pier where everyone realized that such slogans could incite riots.

Once Bombay harbour begins to fade out of sight, Abi contacts the officer who is doing the rounds to inform him that he is a doctor and available for any emergency help that the ship's team might need. An hour or so later, he is called up by the captain and, with two other doctors and a couple of nurses also travelling as passengers. They are introduced to the Ship's Medical Officer and agree to do frequent rounds and assist with any passengers needing help.

At some late hour we are woken up by Abi to meet - and accommodate, if possible - a couple trying to find a comfortable place to rest. He has found them on his very first round. The bearded husband is none other than poet Bahzaad Lakhnavi. Some of you may be familiar with Begum Akhtar's rendition of his "Deevaana Banaana Hae To ..."

Once a rangeen shaaer, Bahzaad Chacha later turned into a very prolific naat go, and now lies buried in Karachi with signs on the graveyard proclaiming his ishqé rasool. His unique tarannum was extremely popular with müshaerah audiences. The next 3 days of the journey are spent with him and Abi reciting ghazals to each other with a slowly increasing 'fan club' blocking the passageways.

The day before arrival in Karachi is my 7th birthday. Bahzaad Chacha gives me a shayr as gift. The original, in his hand, has long been lost ... but I still remember the words:
Tüm ko tohfay mayñ aur kyaa dayñ ham?
Lo nayaa mülk ... Iss mayñ phoolo phalo!
Abbu Jan gets a small temporary house somewhere near Jackson Bazaar in Keamari and, later, moves into the large Customs Flats nearby. We live with them for a few weeks while Abi - almost penniless - does the rounds in Karachi in the hope of finding a suitable job in some hospital. He does not wish to re-join the Army and has applied for release.

One day, quite by chance, Abi bumps into Swami Ji (as we always addressed him). He recognizes Abi as one of his fellow students at medical college. Abi learns that Swami Ji and two other colleagues run a charitable hospital - with free treatment for Hindus - under the Ramakrishna Mission.

They are on the verge of leaving for India, after handing over the place to GoP (as evacuee property, I guess). The stock of medicines, good for about a year, is to be thrown out since transferring them to other hospitals is considered a major task of logistics and accounting.

Abi is apalled. He says he would like to continue running the hospital, without charging the Mission, until all the medicines run out. He promises to keep it free for Hindus if the Mission agrees that the free treatment could also be extended to Muslim refugees who cannot afford to pay. They agree, but there is the Government to convince. Abi's old Aligarian friend, Mr A. T. Naqvi, now the Commissioner of Karachi, arranges for this to be formalized and, suddenly, Abi has a job which, though it carries no salary, comes - to our delightful surprise - with a small 2 room apartment on Nazareth Road (half-way between Guru Mandir and Soldier's Bazaar). We live next to the larger apartment occupied by Swami Ji and his colleagues. I am in and out of their house all day, devouring all the Idlees and Dossas and Rasm they can feed me - which explains my desire to dart off to the South Indian Sagar restaurant the moment I get to Dilli. (If you ever go there, be sure to try their almost-3-foot-long Paper Dossa.)

Diversion The Nazareth Road house is purchased the following year by a Nawab Hasan Yar Jang (nephew of the colourful Nizam of Hyderabad) and Swami Ji manages to have it written into the agreement that as long as Abi is alive he can continue to stay in that apartment, paying rent - of course. The Swamis leave in a few months. Nawab Sahab - always very civil when we encounter him in the building - shifts in with his 'lingerers on'. He gives me my favourite mithai - genuine Baadaam Ki Lauz - whenever he receives a package of it from Hyderabad. I even get to go with him and (What a treat!) sit in the Royal Stall to attend the Platinum Jubilee of Aga Khan III (grandfather of the present one), a ceremony Nawab Sahab is attending on behalf of the Nizam.

But Nawab Sahab is a stickler for words. The contract says that my father can occupy the house as long as he lives. On 18th September 1963 my ship happens to arrive in Karachi. On the 19th my father dies. (Abbu Jan and Ammi Jan are getting a house built in Iqbal Town and are temporarily staying with us, which offers Ummi and me a bit of solace, since we have all been very close, always.) The Nawab attends the funeral, comes into the house to condole with my mother, and informs me on his way out that we have to vacate the house in 48 hours! Which is what I try to do, but it takes a bit longer and needs the good offices of neighbour, ex-Mayor Khan Bahadur Gabol Sahab, to convince the Nawab. I sail away two days after our hurried shifting. This trip to Karachi has been a life-changing experience for someone only 23 years old. But let me get back on track.

Gupta Cha is in touch by mail and we receive a picture of him and Chachi soon after their wedding in 1949 or 1950. This exchange continues, off and on. When Abi dies, Ummi receives a very warm letter from them, asking "Bhabiji" to stay with them in Dilli for a while. But the trip never materializes. We couldn't afford it. Then, for some reason - possibly mail going astray after the 1965 war - we all lose touch.

For years I search for him ... but can recall neither his rank nor anything else. Whenever my ship is at an Indian port, I try to think up ways to find Gupta Cha. Trying to find a 'Gupta' in the Indian army, I am told, is just short of tracing the right 'Khan' in Afghanistan.

Zoom ahead to 1983: I am in command of a ship operated by the Gokals out of Hong Kong. The officers and crew of these ships are multinational and on my ship the Chief Engineer, Vipin Kaura, is from India. Vipin's father - a retired Army officer - comes from Dilli to visit our ship and stays there for a few days.
Soon after 'Uncle Kaura' arrives, I decide to go wish him. I plan to remember to say Aadaab in the old tradition but my Pakistani Radio Officer - a Lahori - tells me that that was not as common a greeting in Punjab as in Delhi and the U.P., so maybe I should say Namsté to be polite. I walk in and say that, a bit awkwardly, failing badly at the hand coordination for the accompanying gesture. Uncle Kaura - originally from Rawalpindi - says. "Aray ... hum to soach rahay thay keh bohat din baad Salaam Alaeküm sünnay ko milay ga ..." and soon the talk turns to his homesickness and losing touch with old friends. He regrets forgetting to write Urdu well.
During the stay I recount 'our' partition story and he asks me if there is anything I can recall about Gupta Cha that could help trace him. Apart from his first name, Birjesh, I usually can't recall anything. But from some hidden corner of my mind, that day, I bring forth two facts that I'd never consciously recalled earlier. Someone in Gupta Cha's family - possibly his father? - was a Judge. And they lived in a house called Bürj Mahal in Meerut. Before he leaves the ship and heads home, Uncle Kaura says he will ask some old colleagues about Gupta Cha but doubts if anything will come of it.

Five days later, I am standing at the Shipping Agency office when I am handed an envelope posted from Delhi, addressed to me. I open it and discover a letter in Urdu in a shaky hand. It starts "Pyaaray Baytay ...". "How sweet of Uncle Kaura," I think to myself, "to try and write in Urdu after all these years." But the next para that I read (writing this I am still feeling the same sensation as I did then) is something I cannot believe. I jump ahead and look at the bottom of the next page. YESSSSS! It says "Tümhaara Gupta Cha". It takes me an interminable amount of time to absorb this. A clerk comes up and asks if I am OK. I have tears streaming down my cheeks and can barely speak as I read about Gupta Cha thinking each year of me on my birthday, admittedly not difficult to remember in India (It's Gandhi Ji's, too!). I read and re-read the letter. He wants me to fly out to Delhi. Of course I cannot (not just because of the visa but because we sail out in 2 days).
It turns out that Uncle Kaura, immediately on his return to Delhi, took a bus to Meerut and spent the day searching for Bürj Mahal. Unsuccesful at his attempt, he stopped at a shop in a multistory building to have a cold drink before taking the bus back. The shopkeeper and he got into a conversation and he mentioned his search for Bürj Mahal. "This very building is where it used to be," said the shopkeeper, "and the old owners live right on top, I think." So up climbed Uncle Kaura and met Gupta Cha's sister-in-law and told her the tale. She recalled our family and informed Uncle Kaura that Gupta Cha lived in Delhi! Defence Colony!! One lane behind Uncle Kaura's house!!! (Yes, Woody Allen. Life does imitate bad television!). So it is to Uncle Kaura that I owe more than I had realized.
After I regain control of my senses (and I am not dramatizing this ... it did take a while, as 36 years and all that's happened in that period ran through my mind) I immediately decide to phone him. And Ummi. Getting connected to Karachi, oddly, happens very quickly but I just manage to tell her that I've found Gupta Cha when, even more quickly, the line drops and we cannot get through again. Getting through to Delhi is a 'trunk call' - as calls between cities were then known - and requires a 'booking'. "It's about a 3-4 hour wait," says the operator. The manager of the agency, who, like everyone else in that room, has heard bits of my story by then, takes the phone from me and says something in Marathi, and then translates it for me. "Maeñ saalay ko bola 'Yeh jaldi type ka call hae! Death and Illness Emergency'. Abhee das minat mayñ mil jaae ga."

Of course I can't recall the conversation with Gupta Cha. Too full of both of us trying to fill the other in about everyone and everything. Sobs. Laughter. He tells me he has two children. The son, nicknamed 'T2' is in the army. His daughter, Nanu, is married to Sunil who is in the Navy and is posted in Bombay. I am excited. "Can I see her?" Gupta Cha gives me the address of her house in the Naval Colony and, still reeling from all this, I am put on a rickshaw by the friendly clerk who first tells the driver my story and then instructs him to wait wherever I am going and bring me back later and collect the money from the office as part of the celebrations for my joy. Awwwww.

So off I go. Kinda stupidly quick response, if I'd just thought a bit. I can't even get into the Naval Colony in my own city without some identity papers. And, as a Ship Captain from Pakistan, I should not even be near an Indian Navy area. But who was thinking? In retrospect, I often shudder. Had I been arrested and charged with a Pak spy masquerading as an Indian, I'd still be in jail there, if alive. But I was not pretending about anything. I was excited and that's all that must have shown on my face. No nervousness at all. Just a stupid pasted smile of the kind that airline staff bear. The clothes, too, helped. I was in a white khaddar kurta pyjama - my usual dress code for the evenings - a common sight in Bombay, anyway. The chatty rickshaw vaala, who informed me that he was a Muslim and had relatives in Karachi, spoke to the guard when he asked where we were headed. "Aray chho∂o yaar ... 30 saal baad behen say milnay jaa rahaa hae sahab!" And we were in.
Later, I have laughed often at the thought that the Indian Naval Security services are at the same level as ours - recalling that in the 60s, when we docked in Karachi with ammunition that our ship had brought in from Iran, the whole port area was under security and passes were required to board the craft. Not even our own officers could step onto the quay and board the ship again without passes. Sitting in my room, I nearly leapt out of my chair as I saw an old friend from India walk in. "How the eff did you get on board? It's bloody tight security!" ... Bhagwan Das winked and said, "Full Paanch rupyah diya gate vaalay ko, yaar!"
The meeting with Sunil and Nanu was great. It was like being at home with people I'd always known. No takallüf. They already knew of me. Their elder daughter, Ayeshah, (named by Gupta Cha) fell asleep soon but I did get to carry around the new addition, 4-month old Amrita, after eating a lovely home-cooked meal, so that Nanu could eat in peace. I wish the ship would have stayed longer so I'd have got to spend more time with them.

For a year or so Nanu and I managed to stay in occasional contact, but Sunil was then posted to Vishikhapatnam, I think, and none my letters ever reached them, so we lost touch. Gupta Cha and I wrote to each other often and I phoned him from several ports - Hong Kong, Singapore, from wherever I could dial direct. He and Ummi, too, exchanged a few letters (in Urdu!). He was insistent that I hop across the border and stay with him for a few days. "I have a room reserved for you", he'd always tell me. But visas were an impossibility for me then.

I returned to Karachi in late March 1986 and Ummi told me that Gupta Cha had passed away just a couple of days earlier. Fate's cruel joke... to have found him after years and never met him! I spoke to Chachi on the phone. There was less to say except in silence.

Some time later, I received a call from "T2", whom I had not been in any kind of contact with. His addressing me as "Bhaisaahab" seemed so strange.

He told me they were letting go of the house and he was taking Chachi along to wherever he was posted then. Chachi came on the line - and in one of the most touching moments for me in this strange saga - asked me if it would be possible, before they left the house, to come and stay a day or two in the room that Gupta Cha had earmarked for me. I tried but I could not get the NOC needed for a visa. (Although I had left the sea - swallowing the anchor soon after Ragni's birth and Ummi's accident that confined her to a wheelchair - and started a company of my own, my passport still showed Merchant Seaman as my profession, so our Ministry had to issue NOCs.)

I never managed to contact T2 and Nanu again. Uncle Kaura, too, passed away before I could find out the address from where, maybe, I could get a forwarding address they'd left behind. On my next trip to Delhi I told Vipin about trying to find T2 and, together, we called up several Guptas, none of whom could help. I discussed with Tarun (of Tehelka) the possibility of an ad in his paper looking for these people but we never got around to it.

Fast Forward: It's late 2007. I am sitting at T2F in Karachi and get a call from a Pakistani Merchant Ship Captain, some years junior to me. We don't really know each other. He is writing a book about our Merchant Navy and wants any photos that I may have which could be used. Then he says, "I was in Bombay last week at a meeting and there was someone who wanted to get in touch with you. I promised to trace your numbers and send them to him." I imagine it's one of my many Indian fellow seafarers from the NOL (Singapore) or GESL (Hong Kong) days. But it turns out that it's someone from the Indian Navy.

"SUNIL?" I almost shout the question. "Yes." It's just too crazy! I get Sunil's number and call him up. Later, I speak with Nanu. I learn that Chachi is no more. None of us ever got to meet her :-( Then I get a Delhi number and call T2, whom I'd searched for as a Major? Colonel? Something Gupta. In all the years I was in contact with the Gupta family, no one had ever mentioned T2's full name! Turns out he is Pradeep Kumar. Chalo. And he's been living in Delhi for a few years (during many of which I've been visiting the place often, even for long periods).

Much as I wanted to, I could not attend T2's son (and my fellow Merchant Navy Officer) Abhimanyu's wedding in Jaipur, where Ashmita's family live. Just a few days earlier that city had suffered from bomb blasts (obviously, the blame was laid at our doorstep, as is customary) so getting a visa to that city was out of the question.

Things are getting better. T2 met Ragni in Dhaka during a business trip. I met him and his wife, Ruby, when I stopped over in Delhi en route to Kolkota for a meeting. Sunil flew over from Mumbai and we had dinner together. Nanu, I hope, will be able to come to Delhi the next time I am there (hopefully in the last week of the next month). And I am dying to see the kids all grown up.

If ever there could be a suitable postscript to all this, it's this email I received just a while ago.


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Sunday, October 12, 2008

India 3: An uncanny tale ... (Part 1 — The Rather Long Preamble)

Rewind to late-1944 to 1945 (give or take 6 months ... for I am just guessing). The Second World War is in full swing. My father, a doctor, has had to enroll in the Army. The three of us - Abi, Ummi, and I - are constantly on the move from camp to camp.

Abi's short postings take us into cantonments from Jhansi to Campbellpur - places now in two different countries but made famous by their queens - and several others towns I can only vaguely recall. For some details, however, my memory is almost photographic: I can recall every face at our table - even the orange floral pattern on the sari Ummi was wearing - when the cook, Salamat, came running in to warn us that Sultana Daku was about to attack. Of course, like most things associated with Salamat, it turned out to be a figment of his opium-inspired imagination. I guess why I haven't forgotten the incident is because I have been forever chided for asking "Will he sign my autograph book?"

I am 4+ years old and always the only child at all of these places, as far as I can recall. (Wish I had asked my parents why that was so ... for it does seem odd to me now.) This lack of peers makes me spend most of my time around the same things that the grown-ups around me enjoy: books, magazines, music, poetry ... and sitting with them, trying to make sense of their discussions.

Travelling with us everywhere, among Abi's uniforms, Ummi's saris & ghararaas, my favourite embroidered chikan kurtaas (and my own uniform) is my box of Meccanos #0/#1 and a small crate of Abi-Ummi's books. Apart from Ummi's stack of Ismat issues and Kohé Qaaf Kay Peechhay - a book of children's stories from which she read to me - I can recall 4 of them even 60+ years later: There is a Deevaané Ghalib, for which my mother has made a slipcase in papier-maché and decorated with dried leaves. On one large leaf is her attempt at a pen-sketch of Ghalib that she is very proud of, until one of Abi's colleagues assumes the sketch to be Jesus. (He thinks the book is an Urdu translation of the Bible and is being kept, like Qurãns, in a jüzdaan). The other books are Palgrave's Golden Treasury, Feroze-ul-Lughaat (Farsi), and a Platts' Dictionary that was gifted to Abi by someone at one of the camps. The latter 2 are still with me :-)

My lifelong habit of travelling heavy is obviously inherited from my parents, for there is also another 'essential' and much cared-for set of items that weigh a ton and go everywhere with us: A black trunk that contains an HMV wind-up gramophone and a small music 'collection' (78 RPM records), neatly stored in 2 metal boxes, painted dark green. Inscribed on them in white paint: WEST; EAST. The first holds some records by Caruso, Gigli, Chaliapain, McCormack, and Debussy's Claire De Lune by someone. Imagine how often I must have heard all these names to be familiar with them at that age! The second, a bigger box, is populated by our own classical music's demi-gods: Fayyaz Khan, Karim Khan, Bai Kesarbai, Omkarnath Thakur, Enayat Khan. It also has a thin balsa wood partition that keeps these giants segregated from mere mortals who sing "light pieces": K. L. Saigal*, Akhtari Bai, Kamla Jharia. There's even a Talat Mahmood (his very first: Sab Din Ayk Samaan Naheeñ Tha) - included, I suspect, more because of Abi's almost-paternal love for his younger cousin than for the song. (Ummi enjoyed the song, but it just wasn't on my father's musical hot-list ... although he got all teary-eyed and mushy whenever we played it!)

At one or two camps, where we stayed relatively longer, Abi made friends with a few people equally interested in English literature, Urdu shaaeri, and music. The well-known humourist, Dr. Shafiq-ur-Rahman, was my father's junior at one camp and was always a barrel of fun when he came over, with my mother and others teasing him about some new nurse or the other he would fall for on a fortnightly basis. (This, I narrate not as much from memory as from tales retold.) Shafiq chacha and my father had everyone rolling with laughter as they used crazy words, such as Posheedah Ghünchee for Chhipkalee). There were humourous verses, too, a few of which, including a ghazal with a funny qaafiah ("ch, ch" = "tsk, tsk" - by Abi) appear in Shafiq Chacha's book, Lahrayñ. This scanned image of three of its couplets is from Abi's bayaaz.

Three other people who stayed in touch over the years were Khan Chacha, Badshah Chacha, & Gupta Chacha. The first two came to Pakistan and our family ties continued beyond their deaths and those of my father and mother. Sadly, Badshah Chacha (whose eldest son laughingly claims to have been conceived at our house) died very early. Khan Chacha was around for quite a while and continued visiting Ummi and me regularly after my father passed away in 1963. Despite the fact that these two chachaas were part of my life as I grew up in Karachi - and were extremely affectionate and caring - it was "Gupta Cha", left behind in India, whom I inexplicably missed most.

Fast Forward: It's January 1946. The war has been over for months. We are in Delhi, where Abi has rented a space and set up a small clinic, which he hopes to expand. He has asked for a release from the Army and is waiting for it to arrive. Ummi is busy all day, putting together crockery and stationery, even embroidering a floral K on new bed-sheets and pillow-covers for the 2-bed 'overnight hospital' they hope to build in the small space behind the clinic some day.

Our flat above the clinic is small but frequently filled with poets and writers, because Abi is the Joint Secretary of Anjumané Taraqqiyé Urdu. (The other 'joint' being a young Jamiluddin Aali). I have vague memories of Ustaads like Jigar and Seemaab on one or two occasions and a clearer one - from what may have been the last week in that house - of a very young Habib Jalib, whom I remember because of his beautiful voice, long hair, and the super-shiny :-) white sharkskin shervaani.

We are just beginning to settle down but Abi is suddenly asked to report for another year and is shunted off to medical camps in Baghdad, Cairo, and Jerusalem. Keen on Biblical History - it is from him, again, that I get my passion for it - these postings thrill him as he visits hundreds of legendary sites. Take a look at a picture of Jesus's traditionally claimed birthplace from Abi's album.

Abi even visits Karachi during his to-ing and fro-ing and is impressed by what was then a lovely, friendly and exremely clean city. Here's a view that I also found in his album of Elphinstone Street (now Zebunnisaa Street, named - oddly, methinks - after the daughter that King Aurangzeb kept imprisoned for years***). Times change! The city has changed in every conceivable and inconceivable way, but I still love it, madly!

The air in our Dilli house is beginning to fill with the talk of Pakistan. My mother's cousin, Ziauddin Kirmani (ZDK) is constantly heard arguing for the Muslim League, while my father and a few of his politically active Congress-supporting friends argue for a united India.
Interesting factoid: ZDK edited and published, from Lucknow, a paper called Pakistan ... well before the name was coined for this country. Later, he also authored a biography of the Prophet, The Last Messenger with a Lasting Message - An Unconventional Study (recently re-published by his son, Tariq, and available at T2F). I'd strongly recommend it to those looking for a fresh approach, interesting references related to early Islamic history, and succinct biographical sketches of the Prophet's contemporaries ... but I must warn readers that certain sects have been upset about a couple of portrayals. The book is intriguingly dedicated "to those who seek the truth and are prepared to face it".
Soon, my father leaves for his new posting, packing Ummi and me off to to my maternal aunt in Calcutta, where her husband works for the Sea Customs. Also in Calcutta (now Kolkota) lives my paternal grandfather (of whom everyone I know is scared to death) ... more about him in some other post ... so it is a treat for all of us that my uncle is soon posted to Budge-Budge (now Baj-Baj), an oil pier 2o miles up the Hooghly. The distance from central Calcutta, though short, is mercifully not entirely conducive to my grandpa dropping in too frequently.

1947 arrives with bloodshed and riots in Calcutta, turning the Hooghly occasionally pink. My only playmate - Sattar, a family servant's child brought up by my aunt and just a bit older than I - spot a body or two floating up-river with the tide. We even have a rather gruesome encounter with a severed head, once.

My uncle, Asad Ali, and his close friend and neighbour, Shaukat Chacha, are employed in the Sea Customs because of their hockey prowess. They talk each day about how close "we" are to attaining Pakistan. My uncle and aunt are extremely fond of me. They have no child of their own and are like my second-set of parents. I even call them Ammi Jaan and Abbu Jaan, titles generally used to address one's own parents. In contrast to my parents, they are such fanatical Muslim Leaguers, they even alter my name. Not legally, of course, thank goodness. But in my books and notepads I am made to write Mohammad Zaheer Alam Kidvai Jinnahi! One of these books I still own: It is Vol. 2 of Hafeez Jallandhari's Shaahnaamaé Islam, which I used to once recite full throatedly to anyone who'd listen, thrilled at the descriptions of the bloody battles and the 'heroic' deeds of the early Muslims. Until I grew up ...

It's August 1947, now. Pakistan is a reality. Where we are is relatively safe but from conversations and the BBC news over the radio we hear that things are bad everywhere. Our family has to move out and head to Bombay from where we are to travel to Karachi, since Abbu Jan has 'opted' for West Pakistan. I suspect that the decision to not move to East Pakistan - so much closer to Calcutta and an obviously easier/safer move - was taken partly because my grandpa was migrating to Dhaka ;-) (Did I forget to tell you that my daada was also Abbu Jan's elder brother? Not too confusing a relationship, actually. Just a case of an uncle and a nephew, only 6 years apart, marrying 2 sisters!) 

Abi is to meet us in Bombay and take us 'home', to Delhi, while the others sail away to Karachi. I can hardly wait to get 'home'.

The long journey takes us through three train changes and a circuitous route which, for the life of me, I cannot recall. On the last leg of the journey we are told that, now, there are riots everywhere and trains are being stopped and attacked. People are being killed by one or the other party, depending upon your religion and theirs, casting aside the veneers of pretense about professed humaneness and love that followers on both sides boast incessantly about in less challenging times. I guess in order to not scare me and 2 other slightly older kids in the compartments the elders don't talk about any of this much. Or about anything. Their silence - specially that of Ummi and Ammi Jan, generally non-stop talkers :-) seems eveb scarier to Sattar and me.

At one station we have a surprise in store: A uniformed, beaming-as-always Gupta Cha bounds into the carriage and travels with us all the way to Bombay. At one point - when the train is stopped by a Hindu mob - he leans out of the window and announces that he and his large family travelling with him are Hindus and the only occupants of that compartment. Uniforms didn't get questioned, even then!
Allow me to digress, but this reminds me of a joke that became popular at the time of Ayub Khan's 1958 Martial Law. A man standing at the Indo-Pak border sees a horde of rabbits scurrying across to the Indian side from ours. He manages to stop and grab an old hobbling rabbit and asks him what they are running away from. Desperately trying to wiggle out of the man's grasp, the old rabbit says that the Pakistan Army has ordered the capture of all horses for its use. "But you're a rabbit", says the man. "Yeah. But ...", says the squirming rabbit, "have you ever tried to argue with a soldier?"
The other family in the compartment, obviously Muslim (one of the women has been reading a small Qurãn which is hidden away each time the train stops) looks worried. Gupta Cha walks up to the old man among them and says something, then summons a railway guard and takes a brass T-shaped key from him and locks the door from inside. Silent glances are exchanged. One of the women starts to weep. Ummi walks over and sits with her for the rest of the overnight journey.

We reach Bombay, safely. Or, at least half the train does. The second half has been de-linked in some ambush somewhere. I piece this together from hushed conversations. A lot of the luggage, too, is gone. Abbu Jan informs us that many compartments are chalk-marked 'MT'. I wonder for hours what 'MT' could mean, before realizing that he said 'empty'. My uncle and aunt lose nothing, though. All their stuff arrives safely, including their gramaphone and large record collection.

Ummi has just a small trunk of clothes that's been in the carriage with us. I tow an empty army-issue bistarband ("because it's Abi's!") and a small but heavy trunk with a couple of toys, a plate that I cherish to this day (it's segmentation seemed almost satirical years later in the wake of the 3-way partition, so it got dubbed among us cousins, who often fought to eat in it, the Partition Plate), a few small books, and the latest Khilona magazine. There are also 3 records (wrapped safely in a towel): a children's song by someone about a Dahi ba∂ay vaali, Omkarnath Ji's Kedam kee chhaya, and Caruso's La donna è mobile (all of which I loved listening to, every opportunity I got, to the bemusement of my elders).

Ummi and I are expecting to see all our stuff in Delhi, soon. I can't wait to get to our asli gramaphone, the one in our drawing room, with the huge golden horn ... and the strangely intriguing machine that Abi has inherited from his mother, one that plays music off amberol cylinders, of which we only have 4 (they are never touched, except when I plead really hard for listening to one of them). I am mesmerized as I hear and watch those cylinders that seem somehow more magical than the black records.

We meet Abi and find out that the house in Karolbagh has been looted and burnt. "My toys and the cylinders, too?", I ask, worried. But Ummi is now sobbing uncontrollably and no one is in the mood to answer my silly question. Soon, I cry, too, as Abi tells us more about the house. Although I am sure I did not really understand much, I do glean that our landlord, Rauf sahab, has been kidnapped and presumed killed. His wife - who was visiting someone else at that time - is missing.
Jump briefly to a scene ahead: 4 years later, we discover Mrs. Rauf in Karachi. Abi finds and recognizes her at a Police Station near Guru Mandir, where he is called "to sedate a mad woman". She had travelled across with other relations, we learn later from the people who come to 'claim' her back, and has gone raving mad over the years.)
Abi tells us he has spoken with senior persons in the congress party, specially Dr. Syed Mahmud (Nuzhat's maternal grandfather), a close friend and associate of Pandit Nehru.
Naana Jaan (as we called him) was much loved an admired by Abi, who had dedicated his book of essays and stories - Naee Paud - a few years earlier to him in remembrance of the student days at Aligarh when Nana Jan was a greatly admired activist.

Everyone has advised that we head out to Pakistan and return 'once the dust has settled'. (Vazira Zamindar's excellent book, The Long Partition, indicates that not only did many feel this way but some, in fact, did return to their old homelands**). I am stumped today, as I think back, at the naivete of all the Congress and Muslim League leaders, none of whom seemed to have had any inkling of the level of tragedy that this act of separation - still debated within our own country (and criticized, without even an attempt at understanding the reasons, in India) - would assume.

(To be continued ...)

* If you want a link from where you can download a wonderful audio file of Naushad's recollections of Saigal (well worth hearing), email me.

**POSTSCRIPT: Added 19th October 8:00 AM

I just came across some comments by a Mr. Ali Dada (Ref: Oct 18, 6.04PM) on the ATP site where this post has been included by its editors. While I have responded to his other bits at that site, I do wish to clarify one thing here because - judging by his conclusion - I did not, obviously, come across clearly enough on this one point: My reference to 'going back' was not only about people who crossed this way going back to India but something that took place in both countries after partition. (Mr. Dada obviously did not notice that I had said "return to their old homelands".) In fact the process was also ‘officially supported’ for a while on both sides of the border. Newspaper ads and other evidence, including some stats, for this are offered in Ms Zamindar’s book.

*** Another update (October 22nd) as a result of a comment by Gopi on ATP - and also pointed out in two emails.

First, Gopi: ... Such an interesting piece. Incidenally, the Zaibunnissa Street in Karachi is named after Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah, the firebrand editor of the Mirror who gave such a hard time to Ayub Khan in the last years of his presidentship. She was an Anglo-Indian (Bengali father and British mother) but married into a Punjabi family. Check out [this].

My response on AT: @Gopi - Thanks for the Zaibunnisa 'correction'. I know that was what was proposed and has been recorded by many. However, when some people raised an objection to naming it after her and said that her friends and family had 'pulled strings' to have this done, the authorities responded by pulling Priness Zaibunnisa out of their hat :-) ... but I guess your version, since it is now supported by Wikipedia, stands.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And now hear this ...

A couple of years ago a visiting friend (who has asked to remain anonymous) played me a 'boot-leg' copy of a speech. As far as I could make out - the recording was an excerpt that was missing the beginning an the ending - the theme was was Liberal Education . It was a delightful lecture and I always wished we could have heard the whole thing. Unfortunately, we knew not where the speech was given nor, even more of a plight, who the speaker was ... such is the tragedy of poorly pirated material ;-) I even took a sentence or two from the speech, at random, and tried to Google it ... but nothing was found at that time.

Last week I was gifted "The Philosophy of Religion", a course recorded by Professor John Hall for The Teaching Company (TTC). Impressed by the simple lucidity and tone of the very first of the 36 lectures), I searched for him on the internet and was delighted to be led to his homepage, which, in turn, led me to the Convocation Address delivered by him at The University of Richmond in 2005. And that's the one we'd heard!

While I suggest that you download and read the entire lecture (it's only 3 pages long), along with the Collegian piece, I would like to quote one of its sections here with permission from Professor Hall.
Liberal Education and Impracticality

One of the hallmarks of liberal education is that it is does not have immediate applications, results, or investment returns. This is what people mean when they say that it is impractical. But is liberal education really impractical?

If the desired outcome of schooling is job-skill, then Strayer would be the model school. My wrestling with the ambiguities of Ionesco, studying the complexities of natural selection, trying to figure out what the American Civil War was really about, and exploring the mathematics of musical key transposition, are not likely to increase the GNP or lower the CPI overnight, if at all. On the other hand, my learning to keyboard data into a computer, take accurate telephone messages, keep a double-entry ledger, and figure profit margins, might. Indeed, I could measurably increase my disposable income simply by addressing envelopes at home in my spare time. (Many matchbook covers tell me so, and I believe them.) But who will write the programs for me to keyboard? Who will leave a message worth my taking down? Who will create the business that needs me to keep its books? Who will invent a product that will generate profits for me to calculate? Indeed, who will create something worthwhile to put in the envelopes I address?

For individuals and their communities to thrive, people need to know more than the answers to familiar questions. They need to know what questions to ask, and that means that they need to be inventive enough to come up with new ones. They need to be able to make judgments without bright-line criteria, and that means that they must be able to wrestle with ambiguity without having a panic attack. They need to be able to make informed political decisions, and that means that they need to understand historical connections and the difference between appearance and reality. And they need to be able to function in a complex society that divides its labor, which means that they need to have some understanding of what everyone else is doing, even if they don’t have to do everything everyone else does themselves.

And this is where a liberal education is most liberating. By freeing us from the expectation of an immediate payoff for each thing we learn or do, it opens us up to learn and do things that, while they may lack an immediate payoff, may have long-term potentials that we cannot even imagine in advance. This is why a highly placed corporate officer once told me “when we want worker bees, send us trained technicians; but when we want leadership send us people who have studied history and literature and science. We can train new hires to run the machinery if we need to; but we are not equipped to teach them how to use their minds.” So the “impracticality” of liberal education is not necessarily impractical at all. By allowing students to go beyond job training, it encourages them to stretch themselves to the absolute limit of their potentials and, unhampered by external or artificial constraints, to be flexible and to grow.

[I am not sure if the good professor will be willing to talk to a T2F audience in far away Pakistan via Skype - but I'd love for him to spend a few minutes with us during a Science Ka Adda evening on another topic he enjoys: Pseudoscience and the Paranormal.]

I had, very recently, finished listening on my iPod - overflowing with several audiobooks and brilliant podcasts - to Professor Esposito delivering his balanced and very informative TTC lectures on Islam (as a part of The World's Great Religions series). The Philosophy of Religion course promises to be an even more enjoyable learning experience.

The range of subjects that TTC courses cover is extremely vast. I wish Dr Atta ur Rahman (HEC) or Dr Naveed Malik (VU) would strike a deal with those guys and make several of these courses available locally at subsidized rates. I'd be willing to enroll, even at my age (and with the way I feel about educational institutions), in a college to take advantage of such a deal, if it was required.

Postscript: Lest some of you worry, no, I am not about to be 'born again'. Religion has always been a subject of great interest to me and the current revival (in its worst forms, I might add) and its political impact, globally, has just re-kindled that. But next on my course list - if I can raise the money (HEC/VU are unlikely to even consider this one) - is Professor Greenberg's How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. 48 lectures of 45 minutes each. I can't stop drooling.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

A treat for Karachiites on August 23rd

If you are a Qavvaali lover, or looking for an introduction to the genre, call Abu Muhammad at 0300-210-5393 and ask for a FREE invitation to what will be a fabulous event at the Pearl Continental.

(Invitation Cards will need to be presented at the entrance).

This is the 5th in a series of memorial farshi nashists, held annually in honour of the great Ustad Munshi Raziuddin sahab. These tribute sessions have become one of the most awaited in the city because they offer one opportunity, outside of the homes where a Mahfilé Sama' still means what it once implied, at which the audience is treated to glimpses of the purist qavvaali tradition.

See you there ...

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