Thursday, December 10, 2009

No more crusades?

Some time ago, Mauj Collective organized an event where dancers from Lyari (a neighborhood in Karachi) were going to offer Pakistani folk dance on Western tunes being broadcast live from North America through the Internet. I was quite amused to notice that actually such a thing had been envisaged by the Urdu fiction writer Ibne Safi (1928-1980) in the early 1970s. In Bamboo Castle, Ali Imran danced a Pakistani folk dance on Western pop music in an Italian disco.

As I revisited that novel, I was struck by another detail whose symbolism had escaped me earlier. Imran's host in Italy is his friend from the Oxford days, an Italian count who is now a police commissioner threatened by a local drug overlord. As part of a plan to help his friend, Imran borrows the sword with which the friend's ancestor had fought against Saladin during the Crusades. "By the will of God, I shall slay your enemy with this same sword," says Imran to his Italian friend.

I interpret this symbolism at two levels. Firstly, the work of Imran itself is symbolically about a world which is moving on from hostilities of the past, and joining hands on fighting common enemies, such as crime and drugs in this instance. As a foriegner, Imran has no business fighting Italian mafia in their homeland, and hence his using the sword of an Italian crusader becomes an act of courtesy to the host country, giving him legitimacy in a deeper sense.

Secondly, just as Imran is helping his Italian friend to get rid of local mafia, so Ibne Safi can lend a helping hand to foreigner readers in warding off those yarns of literature which glorify crime. Very interestingly, his novel came out just when Mario Puzo's Godfather had started a new cult.


  1. Thank you for so often and so clearly pointing our where story can be metaphorical yet also have direct bearing on our own current history in-the-making. Which of Ibne Safi novels should I try to translate with the help of my Urdu-speaking friend?

    Yes, so interesting on all these levels with food for thought for our "fights" today all around the spectrum and our long-standing and sometimes changing allegiences. Or perhaps more often these are "widening" loyalties when several principles are mixed. I.e.- the helping in warding off present local evil facing a friend in another locale or culture -with the purest and most beautiful value I'm sure seldom nearly as developed as among Pakistanis: courtesy.

    Meantime, the title of this post with this perfect story you've chosen - leads to important inner reflections and to great conversations. I am askng a lot these days: how is who we are becoming as nations and as individuals influenced by who we are with, what we do, read, study and whom we are willing to help and even HOW we do THAT? I look forward to more comments, maybe even from a friend from my home town?

  2. Ibne Safi was a visionary and a seer. Like all great artists he had the vision and imagination to see tomorrow, posterity and the world to come. Khurram Sahib as always” breaking codes”and deciphering metaphors.

    The world to come is going to be an exciting one, no need to feel jittery, as all shall be well. The Creator has taken all necessary precautions to see the world go into the direction of perfection that it has to go. The winds are conducive and all our sails are in right direction. Always the few will disagree, jostle and create hurdles, but the majority although being disillusioned, will always wait for the miracle that happens and will continue to happen, though few understand its real implications.

  3. Akhtar Sahib, what an encouraging, poetically-spoken addition to this post which is also the same!

    Since, as you say, "Ibne Safi was a visionary and a seer. Like all great artists he had the vision and imagination to see tomorrow, posterity and the world to come." and as you add,"Khurram Sahib as always 'breaking codes'and deciphering metaphors." ...

    Then you must know something about how the seer and poet (and other great artists) sees?

    Just HOW do they do this? Or is this something better left to the Creator, to History and/or behind the veil?

  4. hmmmm...I smiled at your comment Connie....

    "Then you must know something about how the seer and poet (and other great artists) sees?

    Just HOW do they do this? Or is this something better left to the Creator, to History and/or behind the veil?"

    hmm...trying to veil out the mystery of someone else's inspiration????

    Well one way or other we all did it and thats how we started composing our own inspirations.

    Why not you start by yourself?

    You are a good writer you tell us about how you see and what make or give you inspiration?

    Does your inspiration helps you seeing things differently or does your inspiration helps you to break down the metaphore of that one incident which inspired you?

    hmm...quite a list of questions...huh????

  5. Shafique Sahib....

    As a normal being living in three dimension life we cant see the things lie ahead of our eyes or hidden in a kind of metaphore (as you say)...hmmmm

    But there are people who can go beyond this three dimension life and thats how they make statements in their writings..they gave their reader a new horizons of life and also instruct way to it.

    May be their ability to see things beyond or to make statement about history which can be true afterward or foresee things are ALLAH gifted.

    And I believe Ibn-e-Safi Sahib was one of them. And as they saw future only future will accompany or revive their legacy.

    I am now in full confidence that this is the time when we are about to turn back to those who seems ridiculous or mostly mis understood by their contemporary time.

  6. Thanks Connie, and this is tough one! Creator no doubt is the moving force behind all this, but there is something more to this also. Each and every individual is God’s miracle and life is a great symphony but the movements and the orchestra of this symphony needs harmony and focus. Those individuals who inculcate the strong and focused desire of achieving this harmony, becomes the chosen one. Some may say, because they are chosen one hence they achieve this harmony!

  7. Connie, Akhtar and Thinking, thanks. One insight which I gained from Ibne Safi is, "Every human being knows at least one thing which I don’t know. By this estimate, I know very little."

    This is different from the famous Socratic dictum, "All I know is that I don't know anything." That leaves the room for implying that others don't know anything either.

    Here, we are talking about certainty that every human being KNOWS at least one thing which I don't know.

  8. How glad I am to come here my morning and see such substantial encouragement! What I take from each one of you who've responded is huge to me: strong confirmation of our mutual faith in both the Creator and the Divine availability and capacity within each and all of us together as One.

    Then, not only have you offered reinforcement here and earlier for my own faith yet very workable new tools and insights to continue to strengthen the same. One of the best is this certainty "that every human being KNOWS at LEAST one thing which I don't know". A reminder through the tough small and large incidents that bring out negative passions...

    Again all this is confirmation that there are so many treasures here among Pakistani writers and seers including each of you (and your traditions and perspectives) which the world so sorely needs in these tough times.