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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A nazm by my grandfather, Ale Ahmad suroor

Kal Aur Aaj

Vo Bhii Kyaa Log The Aasaan Thii Raahen Jin Ki
Band Aankhen Kiye Ik Simt Chale Jaate The
Aql-o-Dil Khvaab-o-Haqiqat Ki Na Uljhan Na Khalish
Mukhtalif Jalve Nigaahon Ko Na Bahlaate The


Ishq Saada Bhi Tha Bekhud Bhi Junuun_Pesha Bhi
Husn Ko Apani Adaaon Pe Hijaab Aata Tha
Phul Khilte The To Phulon Men Nasha Hota Tha
Raat Dhalti Thi To Shishon Pe Shabaab Aata Tha


Chaandani Kaif_Asar Ruuh_Afza Hoti Thi
Abr Aataa Tha To Badmast Bhi Ho Jaate The
Din Men Shorish Bhi Hua Karati Thi Hangame Bhi
Raat Ki Godh Men Muu Dhaanp Ke So Jaate The


Narm Rau Waqt Ke Dhaare Pe Safine The Ravaan
Saahil-o-Bahr Ke Aa_Iin Na Badalte The Kabhi
Nakhudaon Pe Bharosa Tha Muqaddar Pe Yaqin
Chaadar-e-Aab Se Tufaan Na Ubalte The Kabhi


Ham Ke Tufaanon Ke Paale Bhi Sataaye Bhi Hain
Barq-o-Baaraan Me Vo Hi Shamen Jalaayen Kaise
Ye Jo Aatish_Kadaa Duniyaa Me Bhadak Uttha Hai
Aansuon Se Use Har Baar Bujhaayen Kaise


Kar Diyaa Barq-o-Bukhaaraat Ne Mahshar Barpa
Apne Daftar Men Litaafat Ke Siva Kuch Bhi Nahin
Ghir Gaye Waqt Ki Beraham Kashakash Men Magar
Paas Tahazib Ki Daulat Ke Siva Kuch Bhi Nahin


Ye Andhera Ye Talaatum Ye Havaaon Ka Kharosh
Is Men Taaron Ki Subuk Narm Ziyaa Kya Karti
Talkhi-e-Zeest Se Kadva Hua Aashiq Ka Mizaaj
Nigaaah-e-Yaar Ki Maasuum Ada Kya Karti


Safar Aasaan Tha To Manzil Bhi Badi Raushan Thi
Aaj Kis Darjaa Pur Asrar Hain Raahen Apni
Kitani Parchhaiyaan Aati Hain Tajalli Ban Kar
Kitne Jalvon Se Ulajhti Hain Nigahen Apni

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Elegy to a vanished world -- review of a new book on Hyderabad


Huma R. Kidwai. The Hussaini Alam House, Zubaan, 2012, p. 213.

Not since Attia Hosain have we had a chronicler of Muslim life in English. There was Anita Desai’s In Custody and Shama Futehally’s delicately nuanced Tara Lane, but such depictions have been few and far between. In mainstream English literature, the Muslim presence has been a shadowy one, occupying the margins of the English readers’ collective consciousness. Considering the largely ecstatic reviews of most recent books dealing with niche communities – be they Parsis or Syrian Christians or Coorgis -- this absence seems remarkable.

Huma R. Kidwai attempts to fill the gap with her story set in a two century-old house in Hyderabad. Once splendid and opulent, the house has fallen on hard times and its occupants – each a living-breathing example of old-world life and manners – carry on in the face of terrible odds but eventually leave or die. The house, empty and forlorn, remains: a mute symbol of all that has been irrevocably lost.  While comparisons are no doubt odious, I must confess I could not but help compare Kidwai’s The Hussaini Alam House with Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column. Both elegies to a vanished world (Hyderabad in one and Lucknow in the other), they reveal how – in the hands of a truly gifted writer – nostalgia can rise above lament and a requiem to a lost childhood need be neither self-indulgent nor morbidly sentimental. What is more, Hosain’s language that carries within it the sheen of burnished gold and the ripples of unexpected eddies and swirls, lifts her story and makes it soar far above the confines of plot and circumstance. Kidwai’s prose, regrettably, does not do so.

Possibly, Kidwai could have been better served with an alert editor. Her publishers have, shockingly, allowed several pages to be replicated in toto and failed to pick the slack: inconsistencies, factual errors, repetitions, discrepancies, echoes and an unfortunate tendency towards adjectival excess, all of which add to the unnecessary flab in the novel. Possibly, with some stringent pruning The Husaini Alam House might have lived up to the expectation it arouses. For, stripped to its bare bones, it has the makings of a saga:  nine-year old Ayman comes to live in a large ramshackle but charming old house; her father is dead and her mother crazed with grief and despair. She is raised by idiosyncratic but loving relatives: Nanima, her great-grandmother who is as loving as she is eccentric; Amma, her grandmother who is wilful and energetic; Mummy, her mother who has abandoned her yet mesmerises with her intelligence and intensity; Khalajaan the epitome of grace under pressure who loves her like a mother; and Aapa, her elder sister who is as temperamental as she is beautiful. The only two men in this household are Bawajaan, her grandfather who takes her into his jealously-guarded male domain and Khalubawa, the exemplar of refinement and quiet fortitude. And then there is the house and the city, both essential to her story, both a prop and an actor in the tableau that forms scenes from her past life, both poised on the brink of change.

Had Kidwai not adopted a documentary-like approach, she might have redeemed the promise that glimmers amidst the pedantry and polemics. The notorious ‘Police Action’ that heralded the break from an aristocratic past; the Progressive Writers’ Movement that flowered on Deccani soil and bore ample fruit in the revolutionary poetry of Makhdum; the tragic decline of Urdu in a State that had once been its greatest repository – all this and more cannot merely be used as picturesque emblems to stud a narrative; each deserves a more nuanced narration, maybe even a novel in itself. And, yet, Kidwai can also catch you unawares with her sharpness and insight. Of her majestic Khalubawa, immensely dignified despite his straightened circumstances, she writes: ‘This very dignity made him utterly vulnerable to the increasing irreverence and mediocrity of a newly-born nation that prided itself in throwing out every symbol of its past, including its refinement.’

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Prof Gopichand Narang -- an interview


A recent recipient of the Moortidevi Award given by the Bharatiya Jnanpith as well as the Sitara-e-Imtiaz given by the Government of Pakistan, Prof Gopichand Narang is no stranger to awards and honours. In a long and illustrious career as a teacher of Urdu, a writer and critic of depth and gravitas, an engaging and eloquent speaker, a tireless organiser of seminars, symposiums and academic interventions, an indefatigable champion of the cause of Urdu, Narang sahab has single-handedly done more for the cause of Urdu in India than many anjumans and associations. His list of publications is formidable, and so is his command over the intricacies of linguistic theory and cultural praxis. What is most heartening, however, is his lifelong belief in the innate ability of Urdu to build bridges, to forge interfaith harmony and emerge as the pre-eminent symbol of composite culture.

 
 
Tell us, how does it feel to receive this honour from the Govt. of Pakistan?
I was surprised.  Of course it was overwhelming.  One does not work for awards but if your work is recognized and especially by another country, it is extremely heartening. I am grateful to the Government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan for the honour.

From your birthplace, Dukki in Balochistan to your present home in Delhi, does it feel like a long journey? Briefly, could you pick out a few important milestones along the way?
Traveling down memory lane is a painful journey; to be uprooted, to go through all that suffering and tragedy which was on both side of the divide, and to get settled in Delhi was not easy.  My father had opted for Baluchistan Revenue Service, my mother with nine young children migrated.  My love for Urdu took me to the historic Delhi College at Ajmeri Gate, where once Maulavi Abdul Haq used to teach.  From there to a temporary teaching position in St. Stephen’s College and then Delhi University and eventually to the University of Wisconsin, each milestone is marked with a deep sense of commitment and struggle.


The Doomsdayers have been predicting the ‘death of Urdu’ for a long time now, in fact for almost a century or more. What is your take on this? Do you believe that Urdu is dead or dying in India?
My sense of historical linguistics led me to believe that Urdu is at the heart of India’s lingua franca, structurally being akin to Hindi and Hindustani, my faith in the composite cultural genius of Urdu never faltered. Unfortunately, Urdu had been the victim of politicization and communalization.  This has created difficulties for Urdu in India, but Urdu being a dynamic language has been coping rather well with the changing reality.  I have never believed with the doomsdayers.  Urdu is a living entity in India but its place in the three-language formula and equal status with other regional languages in the school system especially in the North Indian States still needs to be guaranteed.  Hindi lovers and our policy makers have to realize that even today Urdu is a great source of strength to Hindi, and it is in the interest of Hindi to protect Urdu in plural India, because if Urdu is strengthened Hindi is strengthened. Further, if Urdu is strengthened our democratic-secular structure is also strengthened.

Has music, especially light classical such as the ghazal, helped?
Undoubtedly the Gazal-Gayeki has helped. The fact is that Bollywood movies, satellite TV serials etc. have played a historical role in sustaining the currency of Urdu.  But it is a dialectical process; Urdu being at the heart of the lingua franca in South Asia, plays its role in reaching out to the people, and in the process Urdu itself has benefited too. Urdu’s greatest strength is its power to connect; its appeal lies in its closeness to the medium of aam aadmi. The electronic entertainment industry has made liberal use of Hindustani, which is close to Urdu. But lately the ground is shifting; regional dialectal idiom is coming in more and more for innovative purposes and to meet the demands of ethnicity and grass roots identity.


Tell us, as a critic, theorist and literary historian, what, in your opinion, is the single most important quality for a language to not merely flourish but evolve? By that yardstick, would you say Urdu is an evolving language or a static one in India?
Had Urdu being a static language, it would have died long ago.  It is a dynamic language; it has been changing right from the times of Khusro and Kabir. Anis and Dabir’s Urdu is not the same as that of Ghalib. Similarly, it has travelled a long distance from Premchand and Firaq and Josh to Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ahmad Faraz. Today Javed Akhtar's Urdu is different from Gulzar's and Nida Fazli's. It is an evolving language flowing like a river, changing its banks at times to meet the social demands. The present situation in both India and Pakistan is complex and the challenges are of different nature.

How do you think Urdu has coped in India and Pakistan in the post-1947 period?
In Pakistan Urdu is not the language of the soil. The natural speeches are Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto and Bulochi. Urdu is a cultural-political necessity, and the link role it can play no other language can play. Both in India and Pakistan Urdu’s greatest asset is its highly cultivated idiom which is akin to the genius of common man’s speech.  Its (a) power of communication, (b) poetical idiom, (c) adaptability, and (d) aesthetic charm are its main characteristics and the main reason for its survival.

Would you agree that an enforced, almost cosmetic, Persianisation has done it harm rather than good? Has accessibility not become a casualty as language, especially of literary discourse, has become dense and opaque?
Persianisation of Urdu has always co-existed with the process of indigenization the nation. Technically, for different disciplines any language has to have a particular register. But if it has to serve the needs of the grass roots it has to be simple and close to the everyday speech of the people. The present problem is not only Persianisation but enforced Arabicisation for political reasons. Language is a social entity; whenever vested political interests try to interfere, things get distorted.  It is not a service but disservice to language.


Your work on structuralism and post-structuralism (sakhtiyat and pas-sakhtiyat) is considered your seminal contribution to Urdu criticism. In simple words, is meaning subservient to the act of creativity? Is there an inevitable and unbridgeable chasm between the intended and perceived meaning of any creative work?
The greatest contribution of the theory is the awareness that meaning is in flux. There is nothing given in meaning, essentially it is a socio-cultural ‘construct’. The meaning of every given word is another word and so on and so forth. It is the product of the differential value which is as much present, as much as it is absent, i.e. the meaning is not only produced by ‘difference’ but it is also ‘deferred’. There is no chasm between the intended and perceived meaning, but meaning by itself is differential. The creativity which is basically innovation plays on this difference. But actually it is the reader that causes the meaning to exist. Since the socio-historical context is infinite there can never be a finite or a fixed meaning. The author creates; the reader makes it exist. The beauty of poetry or art is that the play of the intended and perceived meaning goes on. If literature means the same thing to all readers at all times, then it is no literature.


What are you working on at the moment?
There are a couple of things which always go on. Presently, I am finishing a book on Ghalib, the greatest of Mughal Indian minds; I am trying to present a fresh, close reading, maybe raising questions about preconceived notions.

 
Finally, tell us what you make of the movement in India to make Urdu texts available in Devnagri? Can we splice a language from its script and expect it to live? Or, on the other hand, kya yeh waqt ka taqaza hai? In order to reach out to younger, fresher audiences, must Urdu agree to be written in Devnagri?
As you know, Urdu books are in great demand in Devanagri. This testifies to the plurality and the charm of Urdu fiction and poetry.  We certainly cannot splice a language from its script. At the same time, the phenomenal popularity of Urdu texts in Hindi is driven by the market; evidently, it is a matter of demand and supply. The commercial value is the driving force. We the Urduwallas must read and teach Urdu in the Urdu script. Our own script is self-sufficient and inevitable for us. Our school and college education is run in the Urdu script. We are not changing it, nor should we want to change it. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that this goes to establish that the structures of both these languages are the same and Urdu can be read in Devanagri and vice-versa. You can’t read Bengali or Tamil in Devanagri.


If the readership of Urdu is enlarging and if the younger, fresher audiences are hungry for Urdu books available in Devanagri, then for reasons purely lingual, can we stop the march of times, or the force of the market dynamics? The moot question is to take it as a plus point or a minus point? What we Urduwallas must do is further consolidate and modernize our Urdu education in the schools, colleges and universities in the Urdu script and take pride in our own heritage as this script links us not only with our immediate neighbour Pakistan but culturally links us with the whole of the Middle East. Our scripts are the signature of our plurality. The South Asian cultural situation has always been for multi-lingualism and diversity. Further, Urdu script, especially the Nastaliq and Naskh form are developed over centuries and are so beautiful to look at. Our calligraphies are part of the beautiful Mughal and Rajput miniature painting traditions.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis -- a review


Dum Maro Dum: The True Confessions of a Bombaiyya Opium Addict

Set in pre-liberalisation India (or to be more precise the Bombay of the 1970s before it became Mumbai and Maximum City), Narcopolis takes us into a world of dark opium dens redolent with the sickly sweet scent of dissipation and dissolution. Newly sent away from the Upper East Side, where he was caught stoned on downers and buying dope, our young man (a Syrian Christian from the southern state of Kerala like the author himself), finds himself on Shukla ji Street ‘new to the street and the city, separated by [my] lack of knowingness’. He finds himself at Rashid’s den where the transvestite Dimple initiates him to the etiquette of the pipe: of how to hold the pipe in relation to one’s body in a ‘lunar ebb and pull of smoke that filled first the lungs and then the veins.’ Discovering the big O boat, ‘sailing on its treacle tide’, he takes a long pull, settles down on a pallet and prepares to tell his ‘lovely stories’.

Appropriately enough, the very first chapter opens thus:

‘Before Dimple came to be called Zeenat, she worked part-time for Rashid and disappeared every evening to the hijra’s brothel. I smoked at her station even if other pipes were free, and we talked the way smokers talk, horizontally, with long pauses, our words so soft they sounded like the incomprehensible phrases spoken by small children. I asked the usual foolish questions. Is it better to be a man or a woman? Dimple said: For conversation, better to be a woman, for everything else, for sex, better to be a man. Then I asked if she was a man or a woman and she nodded as if it was the first time she’d been asked…’

What follows is a pastiche of images and ideas, people dead and living and a narrative that teeters between morphine-induced hallucinations and the gritty reality of life in the bylanes of Old Bombay. A somewhat inexplicable interlude in the China of Mao Tse Tung with references to workers’ centres and people’s revolution makes a small bump in the otherwise smooth ride on the highway to nowhere. Back in the backstreets of Bombay, Narcopolis resumes its heedless mindless journey from one drug-induced fantasy to another, from one erotic (mis)adventure to the next.

Twenty years later, the narrator – having introduced us to an eclectic cast of characters comprising madams, whores, pimps, pushers, poets, eunuchs and the flotsam and jetsam of the western world that ends up washed ashore in Bombay – settles down, with lit pipe, to tell the story of a ‘great and broken city’. The telling is important for it is only in the telling of this story that the past – a strange landscape that is ‘not fiction or dead history but a place you lived in once and cannot return to’ -- comes alive once again. A lot has changed in these years; from sailing the opiate sea of a chandu khana, the action has moved to harder drugs and harsher people.

Thayil is described by his publicists as a musician and a performance-poet; I must confess I am stumped by the latter moniker for I have grown up to believe poets to be second only to visionaries. This is Thayil’s first foray into long fiction and, again I must confess, for a first novel it is a clever book, cleverly written, for clever people. It left me feeling unmoved and, singularly, un-clever.


Also read:

1.     Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta (Random House, 2004), Part-memoir, part-travelogue, an intensely personal look at the city and its people

2.     Baumgartner’s Bombay by Anita Desai (Alfred Knopff, 1988):  A German Jew flees Europe to find a safe haven in Bombay where he lives in the company of stray cats

3.     Shantaram by Gregory Davis Roberts (Abacus, 2005), An escaped Australian bank robber and drug addict  finds a new life in the maw of Mumbai
This review was first published in The Herald, September 2012.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Urdu vs Hindi


‘Willingness to communicate through the same language is quite a different thing from the mere ability to communicate.’ -- Paul Brass

Broadly speaking, the Hindiwallahs know what the Urduwallas mean, and vice versa. That mere ability does not translate into willingness is demonstrated by the frequent clashes over the use of words that, while perfectly intelligible to the ‘other’, are nevertheless not acceptable. The recent debate over the Hindi translation of Patrick French’s Liberty or Death as Azadi ya Maut is a case in point. Why ‘Azadi’? Why not ‘Swatantra’, or ‘Swadheenta’? Why ‘Maut’? Why not ‘Mrityu’? If someone were to add their two-paisa worth to the debate that is currently raging in cyber space, one might well ask: Why even ‘ya’? Why not ‘athwa’? Other isntances of tricky translations have been Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter aur Rehasyamai Tahkhana, with ‘Tahkhana’ being an Urdu word in sharp contrast to the Hindi ‘Rahasyamai’), or Zeg Zeglar’s See You at the Top (Shikhar par Milenge).

Frankly, the word ‘debate’ too is not suitable for use in the case of Patrick French’s controversy which is currently raging among the twitterati; I would prefer the word ‘divide’ for any controversy that involves Hindi and Urdu. The baggage of history is so oppressing and the two sides so inimical and vehemently opposed to the merest suggestion of finding common ground that debate or discussion seems futile. Some literary historians trace the roots of this discord to an artificial divide, along the lines of the colonial divide-and-rule policy that first linked the script to religion, thus making Urdu written in farsi rasmul khat, the language of Muslims, and Hindi, written in Nagri, the language of Hindus. The seeds of discontent can be traced to Lord Ripon and the introduction of so-called reforms during his tenure as the Viceroy of India from 1880-84. The decision to replace Persian with Urdu as the official language of the colonial administrative machinery added fuel to the fire of the language chauvinists who believed Hindi, written in Nagri, should have got that status as it was identified with the Hindu majority of Upper India. Lord Curzon’s educational reforms, initiated from 1901 onwards, crystallised the two language groups into opposing camps; soon, Banaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University emerged as clamourous citadels of protest for their ‘respective’ languages.

By the turn of turn of the last century, two groups had emerged: one led by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya at the vanguard of the movement for Hindi, and the other by Viqar-ul Mulk heading the demand to allow Urdu to remain the official language. In the face of mounting outrage from both sides, the colonial government caved in and declared both languages as having equal status. Ironically, this seemingly pacifist decision stoked the fire instead of quelling it from spreading. From 1900 onwards, a bitter battle raged for supremacy. Deploring the growing divide, Gandhi ji urged the rabble-rousers to seek a common space: Hindustani. However, such was the madness of the times that this voice of sanity was lost in the clamour of regional politics.

In 1950, the government of free India bought peace by officially declaring Hindi as the national language; Urdu fell by the wayside and shrank in importance. But it is not dead; far from it, in fact, recent years have seen it rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of its dead past. While it is no longer linked to employment and therefore its commercial capital has no doubt declined, its cultural capital has increased. One hears of more and more young people – and I am happy to report non-Muslims – learning Urdu either through correspondence courses or home tutors; they do so not to garner jobs but simply out of the love for the language and to better understand the mellifluous Urdu poetry. The Hindi film industry, popular ghazal singers, cultural organisation that propagate Hindustani programmes – each have done much to negate the bitterness of the language debate and allow people to enjoy the richness of their linguistic legacy.

While it would be simplistic to view the story of Urdu and Hindi as the story of one language with two names and two different scripts, perhaps a more realistic way would be to view Urdu and Hindi as two sister languages that grew from common stock. Having borrowed its grammar and syntax substantially from khari boli, Urdu (commonly understood to be a ‘camp language’, one that travelled with the troops till it found its way to the courts and became the language of literary expression and came to be called Urdu-e-Moalla, or the exalted language by the late eighteenth century.

In the present context, it might be useful to view Urdu and Hindi as two intersecting circles with a substantial common space instead of the taking the bipolar view commonly adopted by the hardliners who prefer to see ‘their’ respective literatures as inviolate sacrosanct territories. For far too long, votaries, defenders, critics, polemicists and publicists of both languages have stressed the differences rather than the similarities, advocated exclusion rather than inclusion, quibbled over what belongs to whom. Instead, had they tended the common space they would have allowed an incredibly lush, organic garden to sprout, one that could have given shade and fruit for generations to come. It is still not too late, provided of course we steer clear of jingoistic machinations.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Ah Ambursar!

Once there were wells of fresh sweet water. The scent of wildflowers wafted from the fields and meadows that ringed the city. Plentiful fish were found in its crystal clear streams and rivulets. Its air was like no other, nor its water, nor its people. Its men were more handsome, its women more beautiful than anywhere else. Those who left it lived to regret it, their mind circling round and round – like bees around nectar – its evocatively-named chowks , mohallas and bazars. For this was no ordinary city. It is of Amritsar that I speak, or Ambursar as its people have always called it, people such as A. Hameed and the Amritsar School of writers and intellectuals who crossed the bare 30 km from Amritsar to find a new home in Lahore but lived to rue all that was forever lost.

On a recent visit to this historic city, the spiritual centre of Sikhism and one of the largest cities in the Punjab, I had occasion to take stock and reflect. Invited to speak at a seminar on ‘History, Literature and Punjabi Society’ organised by the Guru Nanak Dev University, I found myself thinking of A Hameed’s words: ‘For me Amritsar is my lost Jerusalem and I am its wailing wall. I do not remember anything about Amritsar; for, he remembers who forgets. Amritsar circulates in my blood. I go to sleep after looking at Amritsar and it is the first thing I see it after waking up in the morning.’ Sadly, the Amritsar of A. Hameed’s imagination is long gone along with the Company Gardens and the wide tree-lined streets. The fabled wells of fresh sweet water have vanished along with the wildflowers and bubbling streams.  The tall, good looking people remain but then – to my untutored eye -- they appear to be no more or no less than tall, good looking people anywhere in the Punjab.

While it is inevitable that the forces of urban renewal have changed the cityscape of most historic cities across the sub-continent, what is worrying is the erasure and obliteration that has occurred in our mental landscapes. When buildings are pulled down, renovated, refashioned, must all traces of their past be lost? Is forgetfulness a necessary prerequisite for building afresh? When compulsions of modern living force city-planners to introduce changes, must we do away with the past with such methodical thoroughness? Is brutal disregard for the stories and memories associated with places and things essential for moving on? Try as I might I could find no trace of the Ambursar of A. Hameed’s memoirs or Manto’s stories. I went looking for the landmarks that I had encountered in the literature of the Ambursar School of writers: Secretary Gardens, Town Hall, Fareed Chowki, Karma Deorhi; I was met with a walls of blank faces. With some assistance, we found the M. A. O. College where Faiz taught, where Mahmuduzzafar served as Vice-principal and M. D. Taseer as Principal. Owned by Kashmiri merchants, the college moved during partition; only its building remained which was sold in auction to the DAV College in 1955. We met its present administrators who seemed blithely disinterested and unmoved by our narration of the people who once taught there.

Yes, there is the Golden Temple, as serene as ever in its pool of clear water, its ravaged buildings (destroyed in the infamous Operation Blue Star of June 1984) once again restored to its former glory. Always a delight to visitors regardless of faith and practice, I find peace and tranquillity and certain timelessness in its immaculately clean premises. The Jallianwala Bagh nearby, in contrast, fails to evoke the hair-raising horror it ought to possibly because it has been transformed into a manicured landscaped park. Had the City Elders allowed it to retain its shabby, unkempt look, it might have better served as a testimonial to the bloodiest chapter in the history of the Indian national movement. The bullet marks in a wall of Lahori bricks, the well in which countless people jumped in a futile attempt to save their lives, the exact point at which General Dyers’s forces gathered and began shooting, first in the air and then under the General’s express orders to ‘Fire low!’ straight into the crowds where it was thickest – all this is there. My only regret is that the park has been so ‘touched up’ as to be almost cosmetic in its attention to detail.

However, the one place in the entire city where I could find no fault was in its food, especially in the old city famous for its tiny shacks each specialising in lassi, kulcha-chana, aloo-puri, kadhi-chawal, as well as some selling only dozens of different kinds of bari and papad. Kesar da dhaba, deep in the heart of the old city, often has a waiting time of hours as customers hover impatiently to occupy the wooden benches and savour its famous thali brought by bearers who have perfected the art of balancing a pile of trays on their hands. Bhravan da Dhaba, located at the mouth of the road leading to the Golden Temple and therefore more accessible, offered us a memorable repast: lachchedar paranthas slathered in butter, spicy chanas cooked with cubes of paneer, raita made from the most incredible creamy yoghurt and the famous kaali daal that had been simmered over a slow fire to produce its thick, sauce-like consistency. Rounded off with phirni served in kullars, this is soul food at its best. Our host, the young research scholar Dr Jasbir who was kindly taking us around, told us about the many eateries in the city, about the Amritsaris love for eating out, the abundance of milk and milk products be it in the form of butter, desi ghee, curd, butter milk in the cuisine as well as how incredibly inexpensive it still is to eat large, wholesome, freshly prepared meals at the many big and small dhabas that dot the city. His wife added how Amritsaris often prefer to eat out or take home rather than cook from scratch, especially the much-loved kulchas that come in a mind-boggling variety of stuffings.

Coming back, as I mull over this over-riding interest in food in the face of a glaring erasure of history, I wonder if this is the Ambursaris way of coping with memories of a past that is still too painful to recall in its entirety. Possibly, this talk of food, food and more food is one way of keeping at bay other, more insidious, memories.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Hajira Masroor -- A Tribute




A long time ago, there was a Muslim middle class in India. With one or both parents educated and the father employed in government service, the daughters of such homes were encouraged to read and write and the family took pride in literary accomplishments. One such family was that of the Bronte sisters of Urdu fiction, Ayesha, Khadija and Hajira. Of the three, Ayesha died in comparative anonymity while Khadija and Hajira lived on to enjoy great name and fame as master storytellers and created a niche for themselves in the world of Urdu afsananigari.

Hajira, who died recently at the age of 82, exemplified that world of Muslim middle class with the ease of one who had lived in it. Unlike Rashid Jahan (her predecessor) and Ismat Chughtai (a near contemporary), she chose to tell her stories in a simple and straightforward manner with no overt attempt at being bold or provocative. The progressives, who encouraged the participation of women in all walks of life, had a fair sprinkling of women writers amidst their ranks. While the stories of Rashid Jahan and Ismat reflect the currents of contemporary thought and the testimony of strong-willed, outspoken, independent-minded women who were often at odds with the men in their lives, the generation that followed them wanted to wanted to present a ‘slice of life’ without necessarily finding the need to shock or startle their readers.  Razia Sajjad Zaheer, Hajira Masroor, Khadija Mastoor, Siddiqa Begum Seoharvi, Shakila Akhtar, and Sarla Devi each did this in their way but Hajira and Khadija scored over their contemporaries for greater command over their craft.

Born on 17 January 1930 in Lucknow in a home that was lit by the lamp of new learning (the nai taleem movement spearheaded by men like Sir Syed Khan) she grew up, surrounded by books and literary journals. Her father, a doctor in the British army, died very young leaving his family in a state of genteel poverty. The royalties earned by the two sisters, though frugal, sustained the family first in their years in India and later when they moved to Pakistan. As the sisters’ fame grew, so did the royalties and soon both Khadija and Hajira were not merely established names but earning reasonably well from the fruits of their literary labours. Hajira, in fact, became the first editor of a literary journal when she took to editing Nuqoosh as co-editor with Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi, creating a record of sorts.

While Hajira no doubt drew upon her experiences as a middle-class Muslim woman, unlike Ismat Chughtai with whom she was often compared in the early years, the constant overwhelming presence of the writer’s larger-than-life persona is missing. Hajira is never haavi over her subject. Her strength lay in creating character and evoking ambience; the early stories were especially liked for the whiff of qasbati life they carried and the picture of forgotten corners of the Awadh region they painted with such authenticity. A story like Hai Allah, which drew her early acclaim from critics and readers like, established her reputation. Undoubtedly written from a women’s perspective, stories such as Chori Chhupe, Bhag Bhari, evoke a world view that could only have emerged from a woman’s pen. While it is true that her interest was primarily in women, it is also true that she saw women in the larger social context; the story about a mad woman on the last railway station in the story called Pagli (later made into a film called Aakhri Station) being one such example.  Possibly, under the early influence of the progressives, she and her sister Khadija chose to write socially-engaged, purposive fiction rather than the romantic, domesticated fiction that had been popularized by writer such as Hijab Imtiaz Ali and others. However, the ideological fervor and socially-committed zeal as well as the topicality that earned some progressives the tag of propagandists never a found a place in Hajira’s measured, controlled, defined world.

In later years, in an interview for Radio Pakistan that can be accessed on YouTube, Hajira reacts strongly to the interviewer’s suggestion that she wrote women’s stories. Making a distinction between zanana adab (writing for women) and khwateein afsana nigar (women writers), she makes amply evident her displeasure for labels and compartmentalization. Pointing out, quite rightly, that literary critics ought to be concerned with literary merit (or its absence) rather than the gender of the writer. At the same time, she conceded that while both she and Manto witnessed the partition, but its depiction would vary vastly not merely due to their difference of gender but also of perspective and circumstance. In the words of a critic, Hajira knew how to lance the festering wound of a sick society, but she also knew how to apply a soothing balm.
 
Inexplicably, the pen that had written so effectively and prolifically for so long, stilled itself for the last thirty years of her life. Becoming the Greta Garbo of the world of Urdu letters, Hajira not only became a recluse but chose to refrain from literary activity in any form whatsoever. By all accounts, the bonds of domesticity and housekeeping over-rode other bonds – those she had forged with the literary community over a span of nearly 40 years. If this is so – and frankly not having met her I cannot say what dictated her decision to not write – it does make one wonder if, somewhere somehow,  tradition wins over modernity when it comes to successful woman? That a writer who has been consistently hailed as a feminist writer should choose to bask in the shade of an eminent and successful husband foregoing her own hard-won name and fame? Would a man – any man – forsake a career, a lucrative and successful one, as a writer over domesticity? What compels a woman – no matter how willingly – to abandon something that lies at the heart of her being? Does a woman set such impossibly high standards for herself that she chooses to abstain rather than miss the mark of her own raised bar?
 
In an interview to veteran journalist, Asif  Noorani in 2002, Hajira had declared her intention of one day writing her memoir. Unfortunately, she chose to end her self-imposed exile by walking into the endless night without having done so. Possibly it is left to the successive generation of women writers to walk the fine line between tradition and modernity, domesticity and worldly success, individuality and multiple role-playing to reach a space where the twain can meet.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Manto's Daughter's -- In Today's Crest, Times of India

‘He loved cleanliness and order,’ said Nighat Patel, the eldest of Saadat Hasan Manto’s three daughters on a recent visit to India. Disarming in her simplicity and complete lack of pretensions, literary of otherwise, Nikhat inadvertently offered us a clue to what made her father write – with a relentlessness that few writers can possess – of the horrors and brutality that scarred an entire generation. A witness to history, Manto has been accused of being a voyeur and a pervert for his ceaseless exploration of the dark underbelly of society. When Nikhat spoke of his great love for cleanliness, of sweeping the floor of their one-bedroom flat in Bombay, of putting a few drops of Dettol when he shaved, of wearing clean white clothes at home, she has at long last opened a small window, one that allows us to understand why and how the times he lived in outraged his sensibilities, affronted his sense of the way things should be and violated his sensitivity towards disorder and filth.


Dressed in simple salwar suits, Manto’s three daughters – Nikhat Patel, Nuzhat Arshad and Nusrat Jalal -- spoke in halting, simple sentences in a mixture of convent-school English and Punjabi-inflected Urdu. While Nuzhat has recently retired as a teacher and Nusrat volunteers with a hospice near Lahore’s Mayo Hospital, the eldest admitted, quite cheerfully, to doing ‘nothing’! Looking like upper-middle class ‘Aunties’ from any South Delhi neighbourhood, they were a far cry from the Sultanas and Sugandhis of Manto’s ouvre. Yet they did tell us of how their father would make their mother, Safiya, read all his stories, even the most explicit ones and ask her what she thought of them. Safiya, the daughters say, was  a remarkably simple, even innocent person; she would read the stories with a perfectly blank expression causing Manto to ask her (in Punjabi) if she had understood and, knowing she hadn’t,  proceed to explain what he had meant to say through his latest shocking take on the life around him, as he understood it.

On an ‘emotional journey’ to India, to visit Papraudi, near Samrala, the three confess to being overwhelmed. Though unconnected to the world of letters, they know that their father is now widely translated into many languages and is recognised as a ‘global writer, they are nevertheless astounded by the love and affection that they have been continually receiving virtually since the minute they crossed the border at Wagah and stepped, quite literally, on a red carpet. A host of organisations have come together to make this visit a memorable one: the Aalami Urdu Trust, the Samrala Lekhak Manch and the Manto Foundation, the last being an Amritsar-based organisation of energetic Manto-lovers who plan to hold Manto-related events all through this year that marks Manto’s centenary. In Amritsar, Delhi and Samrala, local organisations have gone out of their way to host the three sisters and extract memories of a man who is more loved and more read in India than the country that became his home in the last years of his life.

Nikhat, the eldest and also the slightly more talkative of the three, talks of the crowds that lined the roads, showering flower petals at them as they travelled to lay the foundation stone of a gateway in their father’s memory. However, as Nusrat pointed out, more than Samrala – where Manto’s father was posted as sub-judge at the time of his birth – it is Amritsar that can lay claim to its lost son. For, the Manto family had lived in the Kucha Vakilan neighbourhood of this historic city and it was Amritsar that shaped the young Manto’s literary and political sensibilities. It was in Amritsar, too, that Manto heard of the October Revolution from mentors such Bari sahib and learnt to write ‘Russia-inspired’ stories.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Pico Iyer's The Man Within My Head

Some writers have the spirit of a voyeur. Perhaps none exemplified it better than Graham Greene, the British novelist, playwright and critic, who delighted in his lifelong role of the outsider looking in. His characters, like him, are forever wrenched from their moorings, forever on the move in search of new places, themes and people. But everywhere they go, they remain strangers. In a curious case of life imitating art, we have some one like Pico Iyer, a writer and inveterate traveller, finally writing about the man who has lived inside his head, a man who has influenced Iyer’s ouvre in more ways than he can enumerate, a writer with whom he has had a relationship that is almost obsessive-compulsive. From the day Iyer first read Greene as a schoolboy in a tony British boarding school, the theme that dominated Greene’s writings – that of a the perpetual outsider – became, in a sense, his own, too; it has coloured almpst everything Iyer has written.

A regular contributor to the Time magazine as well as author of seven works of non-fiction and two novels, Iyer has travelled extensively across the world. The son of Indian academics Raghavan N. Iyer, an Oxford philosopher and Theosophist and Nandini Nanak Mehta, a religious scholar who taught at California, Iyer grew up shuttling between America and Britain. Now, married to a Japanese woman, he lives in Kyoto. Straddling cultures and civilisations, grappling with notions of self and identity, home and the world, Iyer grew up to become a global citizen. Like values and friendships, ‘home’ for him is both invisible and portable, something he carries with him like an overnight bag, as he has said in an interview. Whether consciously or unconsciously, his life resembles that of the writer who has most influenced him – Graham Greene who was as peripatetic as Iyer has been all his life.

The Man Within My Head is an extended search for similarities. Iyer goes to places that Greene went to, revisits bars, talks to barmen and bargirls, meets people who knew Greene,  in short takes a long walk down the road that Greene walked almost a half century ago. What is more, he reimagines situations, observes scenes straight out of a Greene story, even writes stories Greene might have written! Why would an established and much-feted writer such as Iyer do that? With a lesser literary talent, it might be seen as literary impersonation but not with someone as prodigiously talented and erudite as Iyer.

Possibly, the answer lies deep inside Iyer’s psyche. Greene’s stories of exploration and escape, romance and chivalry at unexpected places and with unexpected people, stories of innocence and pragmatism, faith and doubt, stories of sinners and saints find an echo in Iyer due to the peculiarities of his own upbringing and education. For both Greene and Iyer travel is a way ‘to see more clearly the questions and shadows it is easy to look past at home’.  For both, the human predicament is of abiding interest, as is the ‘possibility of kindness and honesty even in the midst of our confusions and our sins’. Both have a deep-seated, instinctive compassion for ‘wounded, lonely, seared’ mortals. In writing this book (which I must, confess, reminded me in parts of an extended ‘tutorial’, those wordy, prosy long-winded essays we aspired to write back in my days at Miranda House as  a student of literature), Iyer is on a personal odyssey. He could have written a biography if all he wanted was to write about Greene; instead, he has written, what he calls, a ‘counterbiography’. ‘I’m interested in the things that lived inside him,’ Iyer writes. ‘His terrors and obsessions. Not the life, as it were, but what it touched off in the rest of us.’ What emerges from this rambling, reflexive narrative is a realisation: ‘We run and run from who we are – this was Greene’s theme from the beginning – only to discover, of course, that that is precisely what we can never put behind us.’
(This review first appeared in The Herald, Karachi, September 2012)

Also Read:

1.      The Quiet American by Graham Greene (London, Heinemann, 1955), a British and American journalist vie for the attention of a young Vietnamese woman in war-torn Saigon.

2.      Tropical Classical: Essays From Several Directions by Pico Iyer (New York Knopf, 1997),  book reviews and essays on people and places.

3.      The Gentleman in the Parlour by Somerset Maugham (London, Random House, 1930), the master story teller who influenced both Greene and Iyer, at his best while travelling through Ceylon, Rangoon, Mandalay, Bangkok, Cambodia, Saigon, Hongkok and across the pacific.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Bikat Kahani --- A Study of Afzal Jhinjhanvi's Baramasa

The barahmasa are songs of separation -- both mystic and secular – expressing love and longing for the beloved. Literally meaning ‘twelve months’, they are so called so because they contain one song for each month of the Indian lunar calendar.  While the state of separation remains a constant, the singer’s mood changes with the seasons thus allowing the poet to dwell at length on the anguish and yearning for union but also bring in local, seasonal and natural elements that vary in a country and climate as diverse as ours. Drawing upon its ancient roots in Prakrit, Sanskrit, Hindi and regional dialects, the barahmasa is almost entirely rural. It still survives in the form of lok geet or folk songs. Or, looked at another way, one can say that the barahmasa drew upon lok geet and the existing oral tradition and gave it a more seasonal colour.

The past and the present fuse in the barahmasa as the poet draws upon the popular Hindavi tradition of virah or separation and creates a landscape in which there is no reality save the pain-filled longing of the virahini, or a woman who lives in a state of perpetual separation from her beloved. It is this anguish that gets recorded month after month in plaintive, plentiful detail. One might well ask: Why should a woman’s longing for her absent lover hold any especial interest? What merit is to be found in these works – all on the same theme, all using the same stock of images, metaphors and conceits, almost all being little other than variations on a theme? Especially, since many are by lesser-known poets and some by virtually unknown composers? However, despite its limitations and singular lack of refinements, I do believe the barahmasa deserves to be studied for several reasons that I shall enumerate in this paper. I shall focus on a particular barahmasa, the Bikat Kahani by Afzal Jhinjhanvi which, in later centuries, became a template of sorts for generations of composers of barahmasa.

Sometime in the early 17th century, Afzal Jhinjhanvi compiled the first barahmasa in Urdu, and called it Bikat Kahani (bikat meaning ‘immense’ or ‘terrible’). The frontispiece of the version I have used for this paper describes it as ‘Shumali Hind mein Urdu shairi ka pahla mustanad namoona’), and attributes the date as AH 1035 or AD 1625. Its editors, Noorul Hasan Hashmi and Masood Husain Khan, draw our attention to the description of Bikat Kahani in the tazkiras of the eighteenth century where Afzal is put at par with poets such as Shaikh Saadi, Amir Khusro and Ahmad Gujrati. The verses quoted by Shaikh Muhammad Qayamuddin Qayam in his tazkira Makhzan Nikaat (1755) and Mir Hasan in his Nikaat-as Shuara (1752) are, oddly enough, two similar verses, both from Bayaan Mah Chait, or the description of the month of chait:

                     Padi hai mere gal mein paim phansi

         Maran apna hain aur logon ko hansi

And
                     Musafir se jinon ne dil lagaya

                     Unhonon ne sab janam rote ganwaya

Hashmi and Khan draw the conclusion that while the barahmasa was fairly well known and many people, especially the bards had consigned it to memory, its written version was possibly read by few in its entirety, including the learned men who wrote these tazkiras.

Here’s a sampler of what Afzal’s Bikat Kahani contains:

                     Ari jab kook koel ne sunayi

                     Tamami tan badan mein aag lahi

                     Andher rain, jugnu jagmagata

                     Oo ka jalti upar tais ka jalata?

                     Ah, when the cuckoo sounds her cooing

                     It sets my body aflame

                     The glow worm glows in the darkness of the night

                     Why does it burn one already on fire?


And, elsewhere:

                     Gayi barsaat rut nikhara falak sab

                     Nami danam ke sajan ghar phire kab

                     Piya bin aikal kaise rahoo ri

                     Sitam upar sitam kaise sahoon ri

                     The rains are gone, the skies are clear

                     But I don’t know when my beloved will return

                     How will I live alone without my beloved?

                     How will I bear affliction upon affliction?

Close to Surdas’s Braj-bhasha and Kabir’s Sudakhahni, Afzal’s Khari-boli had crossed the Jamuna and entered the Doaba region to drink deeply from both Braj-bhasha and Khari-boli. In fact, linguists such as Masood Husain Khan have studied the barahmasas as a barometer of the advance of Braj and Khari-boli into Urdu, the changing tone and tenor of rekhta and the extent of this intermingling over a period of roughly 350 years. In literary terms, too, Afzal’s Bikat Kahani is important because he introduced three basic elements that would remain the hallmark of the barahmasa: a gharelu lehja (domestic tone), dramai tarz (dramatic tone), and khud-kalami (use of first person).
 
Sometimes taking the colour of a lok geet, sometimes adopting the tone of a qissa-kahani, the barahmasa drew inspiration from a variety of sources: the Jain narrative poems describing Neminath’s desertion of his wife Rajmati on their wedding day; a swathe of devotional poetry that dwelt on Radha’s longing for Krishna; the description of the seasons in Kalidas’s epic poem Ritu Samhar (literally meaning ‘a compilation of seasons’, in this case six season) that, in turn, spawned a tradition of rituvarnan (poetic description of the seasons); elements of singhar rasa (the rasa or ‘flavour’ of erotica, one of the nine rasas) that have influenced the depiction of the nayika (the ‘heroine’ or female protagonist) both in verse and painting; an accumulated stock of similes and metaphors that had gained currency largely through word of mouth. Drawing upon these diverse sources, appropriating easily-understood stock images, speaking in a woman’s voice, the barahmasa allowed the fullest possible exploration of the link between memory and desire. It used the set format of the seasons -- and the fairs, festivals, rites, customs, flora and fauna associated with the 12 months of the year that are constant and therefore predictable – to reinforce the near-universal experience of love and its conjoined twin, separation.
 
A product of qasbahs and suburbs, the barahmasas were remarkably free of the courtly influences that characterized the rest of Urdu poetry, most notably the ghazal. Moreover, the barahmasa poets made a conscious effort to move away from the crippling influence of Persian that held sway over the court poets and displayed a remarkable readiness to experiment with other forms of poetic expression. Evidently, they reveled in the liberating air of dialects such as Braj-bhasha, Khari-boli, Awadhi, Rajasthani, and the occasional smattering of Dakhani just as much as they did in re-inventing or re-appropriating a literary space that had existed in the shade of the high form, be it the riti poetry in Hindi (traditionally written by court poets) or the ghazal and masnavi in Urdu. The barahmasas then appears before us as a valuable testament of multiculturalism, multilingualism and multifariousness. They tell us that voices other than the male voice existed, genres other than the classical were popular and the Urdu poet showed a willingness to accommodate different poetic traditions. More importantly, the barahmasa points to a time when Urdu had not established itself as a hegemonic force -- in a literary and linguistic sense -- nor acquired the purely urban consciousness it now displays.

While Afzal’s Bikat Kahani is mentioned in the tazkira by Mir Hasan, most other barahmasas have been kept beyond the pale. Little scholarly work has been done even in Urdu on the barahmasa tradition save for compilation of 12 barahmasas by Tanveer Alvi. Had the thrust of literary criticism and research been on exploring the oral tradition in Urdu rather than discrediting its presence by casting doubts on its verifiable antecedents, our literary canon would have been that much richer. Had the literary historian not created this artificial distinction between high and low literature, a great deal of folk-related literature whose roots go back to an orally-transmitted cultural legacy would not have been marginalized. However, it is still not too late. Even now, if we abandon the parameters of ‘high’ culture and ‘high’ literature and begin to study the small and the simple and the natural we can avert some of the dangers of separatism

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Kuldip Nayar's Beyond the Lines -- a review

Kuldip Nayar is the grand old man of Indian journalism. His is the classical post-1947 Indian Success Story. He arrived in India, having travelled from his home in Sialkot across the blood-stained plains of Punjab, to build a new life from scratch in a new country. Like countless other sharanarthis (shelter-seekers as they were called in the early days), through dint of sheer hard work and good ol’fashioned salt-of-the-earth ‘Punjabiyat’, call it what you will, he has built a reputation whose cornerstone is honesty and commitment to secularism and peace.

Nayar’s tryst with destiny began at roughly the same time as his new country’s: at the stroke of the midnight hour when the world slept but India awakened to her destiny. His recently released autobiography, Beyond the Lines (Roli, 2012), reveals the highs and lows, the best and the worst, the price and privilege of that historic tryst. Like Nehru, whom he admires, Nayar put his faith in the idea of a secular, socialist republic and a functioning democracy. Over the years, that faith has been shaken, stirred but never shattered. The Emergency declared by Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, tested his belief in the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution. Jailed for his ant-Indira writings, he recalls with dismay both the excesses of the government and the frailties of politicians and media alike:

 ‘It was shocking to observe the ease with which Indira Gandhi and Sanjay were able to assume control over the entire administrative machinery and the willingness with which officials and other government employees accepted this….It was disappointing…the way the media and more specifically the journalists reacted to the new situation. Nearly all of them caved in, stricken by an epidemic of fear.’

Elsewhere, too, he keeps his sternest words for the media, which is the greatest bugbear of democracy, and also its greatest strength. Stressing the need for every major newspaper to have an ombudsman, he speaks of the need to have internal checks and balances and to constitute a regulatory body such as a Press Commission. Good journalism, he writes, ‘is all about exposing injustice and highlighting heroes regardless of the consequences.’ A popular figure at public sit-ins, marches and demonstrations, Nayar has repeatedly found common cause with those who have suffered victimisation and marginalisation. ‘Injustice still hurts me,’ he notes, ‘just the same way as it did over sixty years ago, and among my very few friends are those who similarly care for the violation of basic values.’

However, the book has courted enough controversy. The Sikhs are up in arms over allegations that Sikh Students’ Union President Bhai Amrik Singh, who died during Operation Blue Star in June 1984, was an 'IB agent (Falcon was his pseudonym)'. The chapter on Punjab has raised a hornet’s nest due to Nayar’s depiction of the role of Dal Khalsa while writing about the genesis of the Punjab problem as well as the charge that Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was a creation of the then Congress and a genie that escaped from the Congress’s bottle. Similarly, the late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s son is issuing vehement denials; Nayar has accused Rao of ‘conniving’ and locking himself up in his room and, apparently, praying when the mosque was being pulled down at Ayodhya in a classic case of Nero playing while Rome burnt.

Coming from the pen of a man whose personal odyssey in the field of Indian journalism has coincided with the nation-building project, this book is a valuable addition to national historiography.
 
(Reviewed for The Herald, Karachi, August 2012)