By S.Rabbani Khan
After the 1970 elections, President Gen Yahya Khan announced Shaikh MujiburRehman to be the next prime minister of Pakistan. Bhutto did not like the idea and, on his asking, the date for the National Assembly session was changed from March 3, 1971 to March 25, 1971. Shaikh Mujib wanted the National Assembly session to be held at Dhaka, but Bhutto opposed the idea. The postponement and Bhutto’s opposition did not go well with Mujib.
On March 1, 1971, a jalsa was organised by the Awami League at PaltanMaidan, Dhaka, which, according to eyewitnesses, was attended by a massive number of people. In that jalsa, a non-cooperation movement was announced. Throughout East Pakistan, Bengalis refrained from attending their government offices. Non-Bengalis, commonly known as Biharis, were not sufficient in numbers to run the government offices. The province came to a standstill in terms of work.
We lived in Dinajpur, a northern district of East Pakistan. During the second half of March 1971, we witnessed many processions with people carrying weapons like swords, bamboo sticks and daggers, since firearms were not common in those days.
My father was a doctor, employed with the provincial government and posted at the southern district of Patuakhali, a day’s distance of rail and ship from Dinajpur where we siblings lived with our mother. Dinajpur was a Bihari populated city and we owned our own house, while in Patuakhali my father was the only non-Bengali.
When the violence started, we shifted to our khala’s house in Parbatipur, a railway junction almost 50 kilometres away.
Bhutto threatened the National Assembly members from West Pakistan going for the NA session to be held in Dhaka on March 25. He was quoted as saying, “If anybody goes there I will break his legs [Main uskitaangeintorrdoonga]. He should go with a one-way ticket.”
The National Assembly session of March 25 was cancelled and the army took control of East Pakistan. Lt. Gen Tikka Khan became Martial Law Administrator. Shaikh Mujib was arrested for treason and sent to West Pakistan. The fate of the majority was to be decided by a minority. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, tanks and armoured vehicles were seen in civilian areas, marching to victory over its own people. In April, due to his strong anti-Bengali attitude, Lt. Gen Tikka Khan was replaced by Lt. Gen Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi.
Soon after our family moved to Parbatipur, train communication between Dinajpur and Parbatipur broke down because of acion by pro-Awami League militants. Massacres in all minor cities with small Bihari populations started. During the second week of April, almost 15,000 Bihari citizens of Dinajpur were slaughtered by pro-Awami League militants. After the massacre, the army took over the city. The Bengalis fled to nearby villages and the city wore a deserted look.
In June 1971, I visited Dinajpur with a friend. We went to the slaughter ground which was near the river. We counted 326 human skulls and then we could bear it no more. Most of the dead bodies were buried. The river bed was black with the stain of blood.
Then, the war started. Indian bombing began from December 3, 1971, and continued till the day of their success. On December 14, Indian helicopters dropped pamphlets saying India had won the war and the people should not resist, they should co-operate with the Indian Army.
The alarm bells rang and, for two days, total confusion and bewilderment prevailed in the city.
On December 16, the local army formally announced that surrender had taken place. The people panicked in the midst of news of massacres in smaller cities and towns. In the absence of the army, they were afraid of getting killed. The leaders of the city decided to shift to the nearby city of Syedpur, which had a larger Bihari population.
Trains were run from the night of December 16, 1971, through the entire day of December 17 to shift the entire population of Parbatipur to Syedpur. We took shelter in one of our paternal uncle’s house. On the radio, we listened to the news of the fall of Dhaka and the surrender ceremony of Lt. Gen Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi in front of the Indian Army commander of the Eastern Wing, Lt Gen Jagjeet Singh Arora.
In his speech to the nation on the historic day, Gen Yahya declared that the war was never-ending; it would continue. The Justice Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, published by daily Dawn much later in the late 1990s, revealed that Gen Niazi, the commander of half of Pakistan and Chief Martial Law Administrator of the Eastern Wing, was also involved in smuggling paan from East Pakistan to West Pakistan.
My father and elder brother, who was studying in medical college, had joined us in May. After the fall, we had no money; the banks were closed and our bank was not in Syedpur anyway. My father sold two of my mother’s gold bracelets for 250 rupees (gold was around 125 per tola at that time). He gave me and my brother the money to start some kind of small business so that the kitchen expenses could be met. We saw kitchen utensils and crockery coming from India and decided to sell these items.
The jeweller who had bought the bracelets allowed us to sit in the veranda in front of his shop. After a few days, a gentleman came to us saying that he wanted to sell his used crockery. Not sure whether we would be able to sell them or not, we nevertheless took the risk and bought his crockery. After the fall, the Bengalis who had fled from the cities in fear of the Pakistan Army started to return and they needed utensils and crockery. We were able to sell them profitably. A new chapter opened for us.
One day, a gentleman told us that he would go door to door to see if any used crockery sets were available for sale. In return he would take 15 percent commission from us. We agreed. On an average, we visited at least one home on a daily basis to buy their crockery. Our little efforts helped our four families living together to subsist.
When news of our homelessness reached our maternal uncle in India, he sent an agent to take us to India. The agent was totally unaware of the gravity of the situation. My family and my khalas ventured to go with him. We tried to cross the border at Chilahati but were caught by the Bengalis. They took all my mother’s ornaments (more than 300 tolas). They got so much that they didn’t disturb my khala at all; all her jewellery (more than 200 tolas) remained safe. They finally released us. Across the Indian border, we were caught by Indian Army on the night of March 28, 1972, who took us to the cantonment. They offered us food: chawal, daal and aalukabhorta. They kept us overnight and released us in the early hours of the morning.
The locals, seeing us with bag and baggage, suspected us to be from Bangladesh. One of them took us to his house, probably expecting some money for shelter and protection. But we had nothing left. The only valuable thing with us was my father’s wristwatch, which he sold for 50 rupees. We used the money for our two days’ stay there. Left with 20 rupees, which we were sure was enough for the bus fare, we went to the bus stop and took a bus.
By this time my younger brother and sister had chicken pox. In India, chicken pox is called ‘chotimata’ and small pox ‘barimata’, and was not uncommon in those days. They don’t disturb any person having mataas. So no one disturbed us.
We got down in Jalpaiguri, the last town of West Bengal. From there, we hired a taxi for 300 rupees to reach Kishangaj, where my maternal uncle was to receive us. The fare was paid by my uncle. This was the first city of Bihar. My uncle told my father to shave his beard so that he would not be recognised.
The next morning, April 1, 1972, we took the train to Bhagalpur, our native land and the second biggest city of Bihar. Soon after, we started planning on moving to Pakistan. My elder brother came to Pakistan in November 1972and got his admission transferred to Nishtar Medical College in Multan, from where he graduated later. I landed in Karachi on August 31, 1973. The rest of the family followed in 1976.
And so a young boy in his teens, full of aspirations and ambition, came to find his fortune to Pakistan, penniless, shelterless and with no one to hold his hand or offer any support.
Agha Shahid Ali, the timeless poet
By Aga Syed Amin Musvi
The Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali (1948-2001) published a new poetry collection “Rooms are never finished” in the same year he passed away. This poignant and remarkable work was shortlisted for the America’s coveted 2001 National Council Book award.
The work revels at the highest of the poet’s powers dedicated to his late mother. It is framed by her death from brain cancer in 1997 and the poet’s own battle against the same illness shortly afterwards.
The poem revolves around the nucleus – theme of life and death in exile.
Shahid employed gigantic metaphors and alluring imaginations.
The songs of the poem are dominated by elegiac tone and each serves as the sequence of poems.
The first from Amherst to Kashmir about the poet’s mother and Karbala are contrasted and binds the time into a narrative beyond time.
The second eleven stars over Andalusia of work exceptionally laced with beauty in an adaptation of MehmoodDarvaish’s “Palestine Poet” original about the expulsion of the Moors from 15th century Spain.
‘Rooms are never finished’ is divided into four parts, but in a brief note the author explains that the conflict in war-torn Kashmir forms the backdrop to his collection and was focusing to his previous volume, ‘A country without post office’.
He and his family took his mother to the devastated land for burial as she had longed for her home during her illness.
In America, she had come to Amherst for treatment and died there. His moving poem Lennox Hill plays on the word mother and describes her last days, overlaid with dream like sequence of Kashmir. He writes.
‘As you sit here by me, you’re just like my mother,’
She tells me. I imagine her: a bride in Kashmir,
She’s watching, at the Regal, her first film with Father.
If only I could gather you in my arms, Mother,
I’d save you—now my daughter—from God.
‘Rooms are never finished’
The book goes on to part one 1, from Amherst to Kashmir a sequence which opens with an exquisite prose poem Karbala: A saga – house of sorrows.
He writes and recollects Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS) on the tenth of Muharram (Ashura) is the rite of Shia’s Islam so central at the funerals those events are woven into elegies every death.
Using Karbala as a leitmotif he takes the reader back to AH 61. In elegant sparse and powerful prose, he reconstructs the story and symbolism of Imam Hussain’s (as) sacrifice as well as sufferings of saviours particularly HazratZainab.
Death had turned every day in Kashmir into some family’s Karbala. We observe the Ashura in the afternoon because of night curfew. That evening at home my mother was sudden in tears. I was puzzled then very moved. Since she was girl and felt Zanib’s grief her own. This was indeed the translation of Kashmiri elegy recited at her mother’s funeral Zainab’s lament In Damascus. This finds the profound contrast with Faiz ‘s translation the Rebel Silhouette.
He goes on to give brief glimpse of Begum Akhter when she sings the meditative poem of MirzaGalib in soppy tunes, then he moves to Muharram and the mourning. The revolving themes of mother, Muharram and Kashmir continue to develop subsequent poems. Interjected with frenzy nostalgia, the whole interposed with a medley of cross cultural references. The poet’s personal anguish becomes an expression of deeper universal emotions and mysteries. Furthermore, these poems written in wide range of poetic style and form, which includes a translation of Faiz’s memory which begins”.
Desolation’s desert. I’m here with shadows
of your voice, your lips as mirage, now trembling.
Grass and dust of distance have let this desert bloom with your roses.
Later he translates the famous Galib’sghazals which Begum Akhter sang
Not all only a few
Distinguished as tulips as rose.
What possibilities has the earth forever
Covered what face?
In this collection the mess of exile separation and loss are layered with several levels of meaning both literal and metaphorical and include poet’s eminent farewell to this earth.
The second section of Rooms are never finished consists of poems which look at the world as a place of limbo, in which the poet is but a passenger, passer-by or guest. In the little poem Rooms are never finished about reality and illusions a voice guides the poet somewhere in space and time and goes on saying:
Come to the window: panes plot the earth apart. In the moon’s crush. The cobalt stars Shed light blue-on Russia the Republic’s porcelain,
The Ural’s mezzotint, why are you weeping
Dear friend!? Hush rare guest.
Agha Shahid Ali has explored many different poetic forms, including canzones, sonnets tetra Zima and he has introduced aspects of Marisa Elegy or elements of shikwaDrIqbal’s (RA) poem . There are several of his ghazals in English too, written in remarkable skill, in which the second line of every couplet repeating a phrase employing the new meaning, culminating with the poet’s name often with a lightness of touch a quite mocking and wit.
Part 111 consists of ‘Eleven Stars Overs Andalusia, a breath-taking adaptation of an Arabic poem, by Palestinian writer Muhammad Darwish. In an end note, Agha Shahid Ali explains that he was sent “a very literal version” and asked to “convert it into poetry”. He finally found a way of tackling it, after reading Lorca (Federico García Lorca Spanish poet 1898–1936).
He adds that the Title of Eleven Stars comes from the Quran and is a reference of Joseph’s dream.
About the dream he say 11 stars and the sun and moon prostrate before him. Joseph was told by his father, “Say nothing of this dream to your brothers lest they plot evil against you.”
But Grenada is made of gold,
Of silken words woven with almonds of silver tears.
In the string of a lute
‘Eleven Stars over Andalusia not only depicts the exile and expulsion of the Moors from Spain and their farewell to their enchanted land but cleverly provides an analogy with the homelands of the author and translator Palestine and Kashmir. These poems also convey the poet’s personal lament for the world that he too will leave behind soon. In the fourth Poem ‘’ I’m one of the Kings of the end
He writes ‘’ I’ve passed over this land, there is no land in this land. Since time broke around me, shard by Shard
I was not a lover believing that water is a mirror
As I told my old friend and no love can redeem me,
For I’ve accepted ‘’ the peace accord ‘’ and there is no longer a present left
To let me pass, tomorrow close to yesterday.
The Eleventh and Final poem, Violins begins and ends with the couplet
Violins weep with gypsies going to Andalusia..
Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia. The fourth and last section of this volume consists of a single poem, ‘I Dream I’m at the Ghat of the only world’ a wonderful meditation work with memories of all that is dear to him_ particularly people such as his mother, poet James Merrill, Eqbal Ahmad, Begum Akhter, all of whom have travelled to the other shore ‘’ the central image holding the poem together is Ghulam Muhammad, the waiting boatman who will ferry the poet across the water.
In this exceptional collection, Agha Shahid Ali has brought English language poetry in the sub- Continent to new heights. He has also conveyed the essence, depth and rage of indo-Muslims culture as no other English writer has, in fact South English poetry has probably never seen anything quite like it.
The Poems of Ghani Kashmiri:
By Tahir Ghani
This is probably the first proper collection of English translations of verse by MullaTahirGhani, or Ghani Kashmiri (d. 1669), a Persian poet from Kashmir who lived during Aurangzeb’s time and whose language was respected even in Iran. A poet whose creations, whose idioms, influenced Indian writers even as later as Mir and Ghalib.
The collection comes with a insightful introductory essay by Mufti MudasirFarooqi on Ghani Kashmiri and Persian language in Kashmir.
The book offers translations of Ghazals, Quatrains (Rubaiyat) and a Masnavi.
As one reads through Ghani’s work, one gets to step into Ghani’s world, his joyous exclamations, his saddening doubts, his dejection of the way world works and his playful jokes at the world.
The compilation comes with English transliteration, so you actually get to read the original work as well the translation (a practice that should always be followed for such work. But somehow is seldom followed). The translations try best to retain the meaning of the original, the only problem is for a reader not already familiar with the way Persian poetry works, particularly in case of some Ghazals where the reader can easily forget the central theme of a composition in an attempt at catching the meaning of translation of an idiom.
One of the most interesting work translated in this book is MasnaviShita’iyahoe Winter’s Tale, a graphic and poetic description of Kashmiri winter by Ghani Kashmir that ends with lines:
Hinduyedidamki mast az ‘ishq bud
Dar javaban gift an zunnardar
nistdardastam ‘inan-e ikhtiyar
I saw a Hindu drunk with devotion
‘Such striving to what end?’ I asked.
In reply said that wearer of the sacred thread:
‘The reins of will are not in my hand.
“The Friend has yoked my neck with HIs thread
And pulled me by it wherever He wills.”
There is an interesting famous story given in the book. It is said that when Ghani Kashmiri was invited by Emperor Aurangzeb to his court, the poet snubbed him and refused.
The poet said to Mughal governor Saif Khan, ‘Tell the King that Ghani is insane.’ Saif Khan asked, ‘How can I call a sane man insane?’ At this Ghani tore his shirt and went away like a frenzied man. After three days he died.
What is not given in the book is a probable reason for Ghani’s hesitation at joining the royal court. The explanation for this behaviour may be sought in the story of his master ShaikhMuhsinFani.
“Fani was a court poet of Shahjahan and was greatly honoured by the Emperor. But when Sultan MuradBakhsh [youngest son of Shahjahan] conquered Balkh [in Afghanistan] a copy of Muhsin’sdiwan was found in the library of Nadhr Muhammad Khan [Uzbek, happened in around 1646] the fugitive sovereign of the kingdom which contained panegyrics on him. This detection of duplicity very much enraged Shahjahan who removed him from the court. However the Emperor allowed him a pension. Fani returned to Kashmir and spent his days in instructing and educating youngmen.”*
- From ‘A Descriptive Catalogue of the Hindustani Manuscripts in the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras’ (1909)
Also, another thing not mentioned in the book is that his old takhallusTahir is Chronograph for the year when Ghani (his later takhallus) started his poetic career.
The Captured Gazelle: The Poems of Ghani Kashmiri
Translated by Mufti MudasirFarooqi and NusratBazaz
Four poets on exile and being refugees
By MananKapoor, Sahapedia
“I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a single word: Home,” wrote the exiled Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in “I Belong There”. Exile has long been a recurring metaphor in poetry and, much like love, has resonated across the boundaries of language and time. From the first-century poet Ovid who was banished by the Roman emperor Augustus, to the 19th-century poet-emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar who was exiled to Rangoon (now Myanmar) by the British, poets have often used their verses to talk about their displacement, respond to migration caused by war and politics, and question man-made boundaries.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw the expansion of nation states and the birth of what the Irish political scientist, Benedict Anderson, called “imagined communities”. Numerous mass migrations took place around the world; families were separated and people were left longing for their homelands. The Indian subcontinent witnessed the horrors of the Partition, the migration of Tibetan refugees, the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War and the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits. Naturally, many poets from the subcontinent reacted to these tragedies. These poets – some in exile, some in translation and others who witnessed calamity befall their loved ones – shed light on the plight of losing a home and the experience
The 1947 Partition caused the largest human migration in recorded history. Around 15 million people were uprooted, and the Punjab region – a part of which was incorporated into Pakistan – was one the worst-affected areas in the subcontinent. Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam, born in Gujranwala in modern-day Pakistan, became a refugee as a result of the catastrophe. Like millions of others, she moved to New Delhi and, at the age of twenty-eight, penned her iconic poem “AjAkhanWaris Shah Nu” (Today, I Call UponWaris Shah) on a scrap of paper. She wrote:
A million daughters weep today and look at you for solace
Rise o beloved of the aggrieved, just look at your Punjab
Today corpses haunt the woods, Chenab overflows with blood
Someone has blended poison in the five rivers of Punjab
This water now runs through the verdant fields and glades
This fertile land has sprouted poisonous weeds far and near
Seeds of hatred have grown high, bloodshed is everywhere
Translated from the Punjabi by NirupamaDutt
AjjLakhaanDhiyanRondiyan, TenuWaris Shah NuuKain
UthhDard-MandaanDiyaDardiya, UtthTakApna Punjab
Ajj Bailey LashaanBichiyaanTeyLahoo Di Bhari Chenab
Kisey Ne PanjaanPaaniyanWichDitiZaharRala,
IssZarkhaizZameenDey Loon LoonPhuttiyaZahar
Another poet whose voice is considered synonymous with the Partition is Sampooran Singh Kalra, or Gulzar as he’s popularly known. Like Pritam, Gulzar too was born in Pakistan and migrated to India after 1947. The horrors of the event resurface in his writings, be it his heart-wrenching short story “Ravipaar” (“Across the Ravi”) or poems such as “AankhonkoNahiLagta Visa” (“Eyes Don’t Need a Visa”), an ode to Pakistani poet Mehdi Hassan:
Eyes don’t need visas,
dreams have no borders;
With closed eyes
I cross the border, every day,
to meet Mehdi Hasan.
Aankhonko visa nahinlagta
Band aankhon se roz main
Milne Mehdi Hassan se!
But the embers of the fire that started in 1947 burst into flame again in 1971. The Bangladesh Liberation War, which witnessed the dissolution of East Pakistan, left millions homeless and forced thousands of people into exile. The historical event was not only recorded by writers from the Indian subcontinent, but also caught the attention of Western poets such as Allen Ginsberg, who was in India right after the war. In “September on Jessore Road”, he wrote:
Millions of souls nineteen seventy-one
homeless on Jessore Road under grey sun
A million are dead, the million who can
Walk toward Calcutta from East Pakistan
… On Jessore road Mother wept at my knees
Bengali tongue cried mister Please
Identity card torn up on the floor
Husband still waits at the camp office door
Another part of the subcontinent, the Vale of Kashmir, has witnessed a continuous exodus since the late 1980s. Since then, over one lakh Kashmiri Pandits have been forced into exile, becoming refugees in their own country, straining the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. In “I See Kashmir From New Delhi at Midnight”, the Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali wrote about the homelessness of the Kashmiri Pandits:
One must wear jewelled ice in plains
To will the distant mountains to glass
In “Farewell”, lamenting the loss of the ‘other’, he wrote:
I’m everything you lost. You won’t forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
Not too far away from Kashmir, another community was being subjected to life in exile. In 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama, along with millions of Tibetans, fled to India after their homeland was annexed by China. They found temporary shelter in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, hoping to find a way home in the future. But even today, almost 60 years later, “home” is only a memory for most Tibetans. For others like poet Tenzin Tsundue, who was born in exile, home is a distant dream. In “I am Tired”, he sheds light on what it is like to fight for a home that one has never known:
I am tired,
I am tired selling sweaters on the roadside,
40 years of sitting, waiting in dust and spit.
I am tired,
I am tired fighting for the country
I have never seen.
Admittedly, these poems don’t have the power to alter boundaries or change the course of history. But, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, they are what make people sing in dark times.