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‘Being Pakistani’ — Clearing The Narrow Lanes Of Chauvinism

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The central idea of Raza Rumi’s riveting book Being Pakistani: Society, Culture and the Arts is embroidered with the pluralist nature of Pakistan’s identity shared by the South Asians at large and which goes beyond a singular shade of culture, religion and nation. This book follows the author’s prominent works such as (i) Delhi by Heart; Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller, (ii) The Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition and Identity and Faith and Conflict.

Flicking through the first few pages of the book, one is enlightened by the inspiring rendition of the poetic genius of Bulleh Shah, “Ik Nuktay Wich Gal Mukdee Aay” (On one point the matter ends). In these first few pages of the book, the author is trying to make an imaginative sense of the indecipherable little dot that has all the answers we spend our lifetime attaining. Raza Rumi does not shy away from exploring the sensibilities of irreverence in the poetic condemnation of Bulleh Shah in one of his poems where he likens dogs to the ideal Sufi.

They do not stop barking

And ultimately sleep on a dirty pile of waste

They are superior to you

Raza Rumi undertakes a cogent analysis of the contemporary form of people-to-people cultural contact among the people of two strategic rival states and reminds them of the indigenous Bhakti movement of fifteenth-century India. This was a movement of understanding and amity. The essay, Unholy Trinity of Love: Kabir, Bulleh and Lalon articulates a powerful vision of tolerance and co-existence which holds relevant even today.

The book also takes the reader on a tour of the shrines of Sufi saints situated along the riverside in Sindh. Sindh continues to revere water as saints like Shaikh Tahir (Uderolal), Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Khawaja Khizir are know as Zindapir or living saint and “Pani Ka Badshah” or saints of water. Uderolal near Sukkur, Lakhi Shah bear Sehwan, Mol Sharif near Thano Bula Khan and saintly journeys to Lahoot Lamakan provide the sacred arena for water reverence. These are the places where devotees assemble to purify their bodies and souls by bathing in the natural springs of water which are supposed to be cold in summer & hot in winter. Some evidence of such reverence has been discovered in the ruins of Moenjo Daro too. Raza Rumi states that these meta-religious inclinations, Sufism and syncretism in Sindh can also be understood by reflecting over the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

Every wave is filled with rubies, water perfumed with musk,

From the river waft airs of ambergris (Shah Latif)

Raza Rumi shudders at the rapidly transforming traditional livelihoods and cultural practices which have a direct bearing on ecology, population, environment and diversity of Sindh. He also persuades us that this culturally diverse life and shared heritage of Indus has been a source of literature, mystical beliefs, and a composite way of life is threatened to its core.

I dipped into the narrative of Being Pakistani since it offers an imaginative clarity of an officially sanctioned frame of reference from both sides of the divide. The book inspires its readers to steer clear of the dark and narrow lanes of chauvinism by unleashing the power of our common humanity, hope and aspiration.

Examining the literary trends, Raza Rumi attributes cultural, aesthetic and intellectual legacies of Qurratulain Hyder, Manto, Intizar Hussain, Fahmida Riaz and many other poets and writers on the creative landscape of both Pakistan and India highlighting the significance of arts and literature as the common ground for the people in the face of antagonist political imperatives.

“Silhouetted Silences: Contemporary Pakistani literature in the, ‘Age of Terror’, is another compelling essay of the book in which he tackles an important strategic aspect of the Afghan war, intellectual fallacies of the clash of civilizations and the so-called war on terror and its impact on society and literature. The author also briefly mentions the music industry and its modern dimensions in his another interesting chapter titling, “Pioneers of Pakistani Pop-Alamgir and Runa Laila,”.

For a little perspective, its important to understand that classical poetry cannot be fossilised. Shah Latif’s poetry is primarily the product of oral traditions ( Sadri Shairi). The form was conceived with deeply internalised visions. When we read the Forty Rules of Love by a female Turkish writer,  we realise that the dialogue between Shams Tabraiz and Rumi is actually an imagined dialogue, which never took place in its apparent form except for its deeper layers of meaning. The Nobel Prize winner Belarusian female writer Svetlana Alexievich who was known for her “polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”, wrote a masterpiece that can not be called a novel by any definition of it. But she so effectively depicted the atrocious history of the fascist world.

Just read Aag ka Darya by Quratul Ain Hyder, critics used to say about her that Urdu Adab Main Aik Virginia Woolf Peda Huwi Thee, Jis ko Nostalgia Ka Bhariya Uthaa Kar Chala Gaya.

Read Dashte Soos, and you will find the anomalies in the characters of Junaid Baghdadi and Hussain Bin Mansoor Hallaj. The history depicted by Orhan Pamuk in his book Istanbul is the oral history of Turkish people which has no semblance with the officially documented history. So the creative expression needs to be liberated as Jean-Paul Sartre refused to take Nobel prize in 1964 since he didn’t like to be fossilised in prize tags.

Raza Rumi talks about various temples across Pakistan such as three main temples in Sindh i.e Kalka at Arore, the temple of Kali at Ganjo Takar and the one situated in Lakhi near Sehwan. In addition, he talks about another temple at Arore which is only nine kilometers from Sukkur town. The place where Muhammad Bin Qasim built the famous mosque in 726 AD. He even talks about a Kali Mata temple in Larkana. He mentions a Nani Mandar near Hinglaj on the bank of Hingol River in District Lasbella, Balochistan.

Rumi briefly writes about the Kali Temple of Thokar Niaz Beg, Lahore and comments about the dilapidated structure of the temple, the edifice of which was built after Ranjit Singh’s capture of Lahore in 1799, when one of the rulers of the area, Subha Singh fled to Niaz Beg.

He mentions quite a temples of Rawalpindi, particularly, the one located in Kali Bari and the other in Landa Bazar. These temples were not only used for worship & rituals but also for theatre performances by Bengali Hindus. He explores the Lakshmi and Kali Temples in Saidpur, Islamabad which are nestled within the Margalla Hills.

Raza Rumi has a penchant for narrating old tales with the same eloquence in English as they are narrated in their respective vernacular traditions. For example, his narration of Mokhi and her Mataras as beautifully written as a local versifier describes it in the following lines:

“Eight Mataras frequented Mokhi’s bae,

Two each from the Samma, Soomra, Channa and Chaitan clans”

In the book, the author narrates the folktales of the legend of Kasu Ma Sati from District Mithi in Sind. The memorial at the shrine depict Kasu Ma holding her dead song in her arms. The shrine is packed with crowds singing devotional song & reciting folk poetry.

Mai Bahktawar is treated as a folk legend of women’s resistance in Sindh. Her story inspired a massive Hari movement led by Haider Bux Jatoi. Raza Rumi sets forth both the folk Marvi and the contemporary one. The one who resisted Umer as well as the one who fought Zia.

From his most erudite chapter on Qurratulain Hyder to a painfully haunting chapter on Mustafa Zaidi, Raza Rumi seems to revere eccentric characters. He quotes Mustafa Zaidi saying, “aesthetics is a fire not aware of its inflammability”.

Finally, Rumi documents the creative journey of contemporary Pakistani writers and artists and their social setting in which they unleash their creativity, giving us a fascinating glimpse into cultural productions in Pakistan today. Being Pakistani is a riveting account of artistic traditions in present-day Pakistan, offering an alternative view of the country, beyond the usual headlines that focus on turbulent turmoil and terrorism in Pakistan.

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3 Comments

  1. RMH July 26, 2020

    Few typo errors are regretted as this was written in one sitting & sent to Naya Daur in excitement.

    Reply
  2. Ahmed July 26, 2020

    A liberal being a sufi.

    Oxymoron. It cannot happen.

    Reply
  3. RMH July 27, 2020

    “Eight Mataras frequented Mokhi’s bar,

    Two each from the Samma, Soomra, Channa and Chauhan clans”

    Reply

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