By Javid Ali Khan
It had never entered my father’s mind that he would have to ‘flee’ India like a criminal. He wanted to go and settle in Pakistan, but in an organised manner, after having made appropriate living and other arrangements there, funded by the sale of his lands and urban property in India – an estate worth over 11 crores (Rs. 110 million) at that time. But no one had foreseen the calamitous effects of the Partition and the psychopathic hysterical bloodbaths that would follow it.
The convoy consisted of our two cars and two truckloads of villagers from Abba’s lands, who were camping in our extensive lawns for protection, all armed with lathis (bamboo poles). In the first car were Abba and his ‘shikari’: an ex-Army servant, a crack shot with shotgun/rifle who used to organise shoots & hunting expeditions (tiger, leopard, bear, crocodile) for him. The shikari was in the front seat with a rifle and two more servants with shotguns behind. That car had a Congress flag in front and Abba had donned a Nehru cap in case we were intercepted. There was only one untoward incident on the journey. A man lying on the road, pretending to be a corpse in a vain attempt to stop the speeding convoy so that his comrades hiding in the bushes on either side could attack and loot the cars, got up and ran for his life when the shikari pointed his gun at him and took aim, announcing he was about to shoot. The convoy speeded past and we reached Delhi early in the morning, driving to my maternal uncle Ibrahim Jan’s house on 15 Mahadeo Road in New Delhi. My mamujan (uncle) was a Government servant who had been kept back to wind up affairs before leaving for Pakistan. Mahadeo Road was a Government Officer’s colony so we were in relative (pun intended) safety. The two truckloads of villagers who had fled with us encamped on the lawns of the house. Over the next few days while the elders discussed what to do next, circumstances again decided for us.
My uncle’s boss sent him a message enquiring what in blazes he was up to, with a hundred “armed” men in his house. He was putting the whole colony in danger because the radical Hindu/Sikh mobs had taken note of this and were planning an attack. The villagers (“armed men”) were at once ordered to vacate the lawns immediately and go to the Indian Government-run refugee camp at the Red Fort. But only a few days after their departure, one morning while we had just sat down to breakfast, a panicky and panting Phool Mohammed (a teenaged servant, an orphan adopted by my mother, and so ‘Phulloo Bhai’ to us children) rushed in, announcing that while he was shopping he saw Sikh mobs heading towards our house.
My older cousins went for their guns, bravely announcing they would die fighting. Abba handed my mother a pistol, saying that if we are overrun, she should shoot us, the children, first – and then herself. But once the panic subsided, better sense prevailed. Once more we were all bundled into cars with the items of most value and the firearms and forming a convoy, we took the opposite direction to where Phulloo Bhai had seen the Sikh mobs coming and taking back-roads, we got out of there fast. Abba decided to take us all to his friend, Nawab Sir Mohammed Yamin Khan’s house. He was one of the nawabs from Meerut, knighted by the British. A very senior and prominent Muslim Leaguer, he had been a member of the defunct Legislative Assembly and close associate of Mr. Jinnah and uncle Liaquat, This was now the 16th of September, so uncle Liaquat was, of course, in Karachi, tackling the much more monumental problems of running the newly created country.
Yamin Khan told us he was vacating his house also, as it was vulnerable. He had already sent his younger brother Yasin Khan and both their families to his friend Abbasi sahib’s haveli. And Abbasi sahib was also a prominent – and rich – Muslim Leaguer. He had a large haveli-type mansion in old Delhi, with two storeys, high stone walls and terraces running round the upper storeys as well as the roof. It resembled a fortress. He and his grown up sons, all shikaris (hunters), were very well armed. He had given refuge so far to about 50 people, mostly from the elite circles. When we reached there with more firearms, the fortress effect was complete. The young men, including my maternal cousins, used to take turns patrolling the terraces with guns on shoulders in a show of strength and to deter any thoughts of attack from the Hindu neighbours.
The next move for our family was again to be decided, not by us, but by lady luck and circumstances. (Most of the account at this house which is to follow was related to me by one of these maternal cousins, Munir Jan, my father’s favourite, his riding and hunting companion and protege and who in later years was to become my role model and mentor.)
As our bad luck would have it, right in front of Abbasi sahib’s haveli at the corner of the road was the office of a radical Hindu organisation (I think Munir bhai said it was the Mahasabha or perhaps Raj Sangh). They complained to the authorities that the Muslims had made a fortress in front of their office and that they not only felt humiliated, as it was a deliberate show of strength, but also threatened. They put pressure on the police and other authorities to vacate this place, failing which they would have to take steps themselves. So some Government and police officials came and tried to convince Abba and Abbasi sahib to move elsewhere. They were told bluntly that there was no safe place in Delhi and here they felt safe and could hold off attacks.
“But until when?” they were asked.
Abba and other elders were of the opinion that this madness would run itself out and people would start to tire of the killing and looting and sanity – and normality would return. They also emphasised that it was the Indian Government’s duty to restore peace and order quickly and return things to normal. After some more visits by Government and police officials, the impasse remained and the situation was turning serious and explosive.
Reports of this stand-off reached Nehru’s ears/desk, especially as the “ring leader” seemed to be Liaquat Ali Khan’s younger brother – my father.
Nehru was naturally alarmed at this and sent a message that he would like to come to tea and discuss our situation. So he came to tea. My cousin, Munir Jan (who was privy to these discussions hiding behind a curtain) told me many years later that the discussions did not go well, as Nehru was blamed for not doing enough to stop the rioting and slaughter. He did not lose his cool and pleaded with Abba to vacate and told all the others that the situation could turn very nasty. He frankly expressed his helplessness and that of the police in controlling the “insane” and hysterical bloodthirsty mobs. To cut it short, a compromise was reached. Nehru told Abba that uncle Liaquat had donated his house, Gul-e-Rana to the Pakistan Government and it was to be its embassy. But just then, it had been turned into a refugee camp. It was chaotic, with no one to administer it.
And so Nehru requested Abba to go there with his family and take over Gul e Rana and run the camp. But Abba was adamant that he would not save his own life and leave the rest of the people there to their fate. So it was decided that Amma and family would go to Gul e Rana and she would take over its running and administration. Abba would remain behind until all the people taking refuge in the haveli had been moved in instalments to safety.
INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI
By Shabbir Aariz
This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,
“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..
OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….
ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY
(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..
burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.
His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….
YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.
His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.
John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.
As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,
“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..
HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.
Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.
John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.
(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])
Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer
By Naveed Hussain
I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.
I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.
“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.
Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.
Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.
But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.
Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.
For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.
I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.
Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”
Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.
Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.
Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”
Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.
Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest
By Asheesh Mamgain
If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.
“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”
“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.
Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.
Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.
“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”
So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.
The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.
“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.
“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”
There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.
“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”
Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.
Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”
More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”
A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.
Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.
Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.
But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”