Saturday, April 21, 2012

Iqbal's Obituary in the Times of London, 1938

Iqbal's wall-clock
preserved at Iqbal Museum, Lahore
Photo: Iqbal Academy Pakistan

The Times, London, Friday 22 April 1938

Sir Muhammad Iqbal, of Lahore, whose death at the age of 62 is announced by a Reuter message from Lahore, was the greatest Urdu and Persian poet of his day, and his reputation in the West might have been comparable to that of his great Indian contemporary Tagore had translations of his work into English been more frequent. He exercised an enormous influence on Islamic thought, and was an eloquent supporter of the rights and interests of his fellow Indian Muslims. 

Iqbal was greatly influenced as a student at Lahore University by that ripe Islamic scholar Sir Thomas Arnold, and for seven years he was Professor of Philosophy at the Government College Lahore. 

He went to Cambridge in 1905 and read Western philosophy at Trinity College, under the direction of the late Dr. McTaggart, for the Philosophical Tripos, in which he obtained his degree by research work. In J908 he was called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn and did some practice in Lahore. The Munich University conferred on him the Ph.D. for a dissertation on the development of metaphysics in Persia. He developed a philosophy of his own, which owed much to Nietzsche and Bergson, while his poetry often reminded the reader of Shelley. The Asrar-i-Khudi ("Secrets of the Self"), published in Lahore in 1915, while giving no systematic account of his philosophy, put his ideas in a popular and attractive form. Professor R. A. Nicholson, of Cambridge, was so impressed by it that he obtained the leave of the poet to translate it into English, and the rendering was published in 1920.

Western readers found him to be an apostle. if not to his own age, then to posterity, and after the Persian fashion he invoked the Saki to fill his cup with wine and pour moonbeams into the dark night of his thought. He was an Islamic enthusiast, inspired by the vision of a New Mecca, a world-wide, theocratic, Utopian State in which all Muslims, no longer divided by the barriers of race and country, should he one. His ideal was a free and independent Moslem fraternity, having the Ka’aba as its centre and knit together by love of Allah and devotion to the Prophet. In his Rumuz-e-Bekhudi ("The Mysteries of Selflessness ") (1916) he dealt with the Iife of the Islamic community on those lines, and he allied the cry "Back to the Koran" with the revolutionary force of Western philosophy, which he hoped and believed would vitalize the movement and ensure its triumph. He, felt that Hindu intellectualism and Islamic pantheism had destroyed the capacity for action based on scientific observation and interpretation of phenomena which distinguished the Western peoples and "especially the English". But he was severely critical of Western life and thought on the ground of its materialism. Holding that the full development of the individual presupposes a society, he found the ideal society in what he considered to be the Prophet's conception of Islam. In 1923 he published Piyam-i-Mashriq ("The Message of the East") and addressed the modern world at large in reply to Goethe's homage to the genius of the East. Two years later came Bang-i-Dira ("The Call to March"), a collection of his Urdu poems written during the first 20 years of the century. This was followed by a new Persian volume of which the title stood for "Songs of a Modern David." 

A poet with his gifts and his theme could not fail to influence thought in an India so politically minded as that of our day. He took some part in provincial politics being a member of the Punjab Legislature in 1925-28. He was on the British Indian delegation to the second session of the Round Table Conference in London in 1931. His authority was cited, not without some justification, for a theory of Islamic political solidarity in Northern India which might conceivably be extended to adjacent Moslem States. In 1930 he publicly advocated the formation of a North-West Indian Moslem State by the merging of the Moslem Provinces within the proposed All-India Federation. But his real interests were religious rather than political. A notable work published in 1934 reproduced a series of lectures by the poet on “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam." Therein he sought to reconcile the carrying out of modern reforms, as in Turkey, with the claims of the Shari’at. The lectures went to show "that soundness and exactitude of historical judgment were not his special endowment. The fact was that in maturity as in youth he sought to reconcile the most recent of Western philosophical systems, into which he gathered the latest scientific conclusions, with the teaching of the Koran. Like his earlier work the book was marked by penetrating and noble thought, though the connexion of his argument was somewhat obscure. 

He was knighted in 1923, and the Punjab University made him an honorary D.Litt. in 1933. He was elected Rhodes Memorial Lecturer at Oxford University for 1935. For a long time he had been in indifferent health, and he became increasingly dreamy and mystical.

Source of text: Pakistan Defence

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pervez Malik, my teacher

This framed verse from the Quran was used
as signature at the beginning of most of the films
directed by Pervez Malik: "Indeed, God is with those
who are patient."

I carried out the following interview with Pervez Malik at a time when I was temporarily led to believe (through some opinions of Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi) that the value of art is determined by the degree of pain it inflicts on the audience. Pervez Malik happened to be one of my role models but he was firmly opposed to this dark theory of art.

The anonymous "critic" mentioned in the interview is none other than myself. I am glad to say that now I find myself to be completely on the side of Pervze Malik against my former self. For that too, I am thankful to him. After this interview, he was kind enough to meet me again more than once. He avidly read my biography of Quaid-i-Azam and praised it highly. He affectionately went through my first screenplay and discussed it with me. Those sessions were as good as coaching, and hence I consider myself to be his pupil.

While discussing my screenplay, he argued that I should not end it on a note of despair (as I had). He presented an extremely sophisticated argument supported with choicest examples from literature and cinema to show me that a movie or story should always depict someone bringing about a positive change through their efforts, even if they have to sacrifice their life for it. To him, even the greatest tragedies were about the victory of virtue over evil. They were called tragedies just because the victory was won at the cost of the protagonist's life.

This is an idea that permeates through all his work. I must mention here especially two. The first, his response to the evil movie Maula Jatt (1979) and the second, his take on what he called "the brain drain" (intelligent and capable Pakistanis leaving their homeland and settling abroad).

In February 1979, a Punjabi film based on a character created by Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi was released in Pakistan. It was called Maula Jatt. The message was that individuals should take law into their hands and settle vendettas through violence and mass murder. The movie became extremely popular among a certain segment of our society and spawned many - too many - sequels. 

Malik responded by making an Urdu film Rishta (1980). "This is the land of Sohni and Heer," the protagonist in Malik's film alludes to the famous love stories of Pakistan in an unforgettable moment in that film, and goes on to ask: "Why has a blood-dripping gundasa [sharp blade] become the symbol of our culture?"

The climax of that movie takes place in a broad field where two feuding families stand against each other. The villain fatally wounds the hero's mother. The hero wants to get even but his dying mother stops him and tells her muderer that vendettas must end; we should not pass on a legacy of hatred to our successors. "Therefore," She goes on. "In the name of our Beloved Prophet who was a mercy to all worlds, I forgive you my blood - and I forgive it here as well as in the Hereafter. Nobody should take my revenge."

This was Malik's reply to Ahmad Naeed Qasmi, to his iconic 'Gundasa' and to the legacy of violence which the priests of high culture have unleashed on the land of the Sufis.

Malik was probably the first Pakistani film maker to have a masters degree from the University of California in 1963. Resisting the temptations of a career in Hollywood, he preferred to return to his home country and serve it. As such, he was quite disturbed about intelligent and capable Pakistanis settling abroad. He addressed this issue in at least two of his movies. Today, we may argue that non-resident Pakistanis are also playing an important role for Pakistan and on that ground we may feel justified in ignoring some of the points made by Malik in those movies but even then we might be compelled to admire the sophistication with which he presented his argument in films like Kamyabi.

In that movie, the hero is a Pakistani who has settled in Canada. He falls in love with a Pakistani woman who wants to return to her homeland. When he fails to convince her that living in a developed country is better than going back to a third-world homeland, he asks her tiredly, "May I ask you, what is it that you find lacking here?" She looks at him and, after a moment's pause, she says calmly, "The sound of azan is not heard here." (Azan is the Muslim call to prayer). 

With these introductory lines, I offer you the interview which I conducted with Pervez Malik, my "teacher", a very long time ago.

Pervez MalikDAWN Tuesday Review, Aug 20-26, 1996
Light, Camera, Action

Afternoon, March 16, 1966. Naz Cinema, Karachi. The scene opens on a night club. The atmosphere is lively with a band, drums and the guitar. Young couples are shown taking to the floor, gyrating to the Western music. The camera tilts right to show a young man (black suit, with his back to the camera), probably finishing off his coke, while his stooge tries to draw his attention to the "beauties" on the floor. The young man is apparently not too interested. (Cut to the next shot). Another part of the club. The camera now shows us the entire orchestra. Suddenly our young man enters the frame from the left, and starts singing (playback, Ahmed Rushdi): Meray khayalon pay chhai hai ik soorat mutwali si... Kokokorina, kokokorina!
Thus, on the ninth minute of the first public screening of Armaan, the fourth venture of Film Arts, the history of the Pakistan film industry was re-written.

Pervez Malik, the director, says, "While I was studying film at California University (1960-63), I kept on analyzing the state of the Pakistani cinema. I was especially interested in music, and there was nobody there to teach me how to film a song for an Indo-Pakistani audience. When I came back, Waheed Murad -- my friend since school -- was busy producing, and starring in, Heera Aur Patthar. He was not sure whether or not my American credentials would be good enough for bringing success to a Pakistani movie. So he asked me to hang around for a while, and study the local style of film making while he tried to get on with someone else. I almost dissociated myself in disappointment, but a few days later he came to my house and asked me to direct his film. (Apparently, Waheed was not satisfied with the work of his director). I tried to reconcile them first, and on failing I took up the megaphone. The concept of Heera Aur Patthar had already taken shape by that time, so that I was not able to change everything, only embellish whatever had been given to me… I inserted a few sequences and altered some others, asking Masroor Anwar, the songwriter, to pen the dialogue for these. I realized that he was as good a dialogue writer as he was as a poet…

"The basic function of a director is to visualize his own film before it comes into being. For instance, when I used to picturise the songs, first we would all discuss it - myself, the songwriter, the music director. But it is the music director who gives the final ‘pieces’. I listen to the music, trying to get the mood of each piece. For instance, if a piece suggests movement, I would film it in a moving shot. If I film it with a static shot, it won’t give the right effect. So, I would concentrate on the song, playing it in my mind like background music, trying to catch whatever would come, until I could almost ‘see’ something. Then I would go to the location. You juxtapose your vision upon the location and you actually get the shots. Finally, I would sit down, correlating every individual piece in the music to a specific shot, and working out the details of each: the artists’ position, the camera angle, the frame, and so on. Direction is something about realizing your vision on the silver screen."

A critic’s comment: "Pervez seems to be especially fond of ‘movement shots’ in his songs, and also of songs picturised on a mobile vehicle. Almost all his early films contain examples of these -- perhaps the most well-remembered one being Mujhee talash thee jis ki from Jahan Tum Wahan Hum (1967) -- if you live in Karachi, then you may be one of the thousands who recall it every time they get into a Victoria [a horse-driven cab]." Another famous, but not quite ‘fashionable’ one would be Mujhe tum say mohabbat hai, filmed on a donkey-cart! This lilting number occurred in Pervez’s very first release.

Pervez says: "Heera Aur Patthar was a success, but my directorial innovations went unnoticed by the Press or by the film community. Nodody turned around to say ‘who is this Pervez Malik?' When our team (the "famous four" of the sixties: Waheed, Pervez, Masroor and Sohail Rana, the music composer) took up Armaan, I came back with a vengeance, determined to do something that would force everyone to take notice. This time, I was working on a fresh project, so I had the liberty…"

A critic’s view: "The rest is history. Armaan was the first Pakistani film to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee (75 weeks). It created the legend of the chocolate hero; and Waheed became the heart throb of thousands. Armaan is definitely wrothy of being considered for other merits as well. The song sequence Jab pyaar mien do dil miltay hain is a masterpiece of symbolic filmmaking… When a person is photographed between bars, it signifies depression or misfortune. Pervez has made extensive use of this convention in his early movies, especially in this song sequence."

Pervez says, "After the record breaking response to Armaan, we became rather careful not to become captives of our own success. We knew that if we make another love story, no matter how good, people will say: this is not better that Armaan. So we decided to make a film about the problems faced by young widows… Ehsaan (1967) was quite an unconventional film (in the sense that its heroine is not just a widow, but she is also the mother of a seven or eight-year-old girl when she first appears in the film.)"

Doraha (1967), Pervez’s own production in partnership with Sohail was, comparatively speaking, a flop.

"I do not blame Sohail. He gave nine songs in that film, and all of them were hits. It was all my fault. I had become too much obsessed with my feats of directorial innovations. In Doraha I filmed songs in a manner which fascinates people even today, after a lapse of almost thirty years. I introduced a fresh approach towards camera movement, cutting, editing, and so on. But in the process of doing that, I allowed myself to ignore one most important aspect of filmmaking: the script. I had read a short story in the Reader’s Digest about a singer who dies. We got it adapted for the screen, but we introduced a side character, a lively girl.

"In order to satisfy her, we kept the hero alive after his beloved is married away, and had him survive the wounds he acquires while saving the life of her husband. This, saving the hero’s life, proved fatal for our film. This was the greatest flaw in the story, and ruined the effect.

"I learnt more from the failure of Doraha than I had from the success of Armaan. I sat down and analysed the situation. Meanwhile, I happened to be present at the screening of a Shabab Kiranvi film, which used the most basic technique of all: a fire place in the middle, camera shot, hero enters from right, heroine enters from left, they speak, he goes back his way, she exits the frame from her side. There is nothing more basic than this. That film was a success, nevertheless. Now just think about Doraha! I reached upon this conclusion: clever photography is no substitute for a good story. Consequently my next venture was Saughat (without Waheed Murad, for a change!), where my techniques were much simpler as compared to Doraha, but which had a stronger storyline. I allowed the subject matter to become more prominent than my ‘technique’. I think this is how it should be. A director should not draw attention to himself. In a well-directed film, you should hardly think about the director’s work while you are watching the film. He should give you everything just as you need it - close-up, etc. You leave with an overall impact, and that’s all.

"But this is not always easy. Quite often we (the directors) are carried away by a desire to show off. We get praised Wah, wah, Kya shot hai -- but that is, strictly speaking, against the basic principles of direction. My next venture was Mere Hamsafar (1972). Our unit went to Europe -- England, France, Holland -- for the first time. It had a very good musical score from Sohail, but suffered from a mismatch: when Sohail was preparing the score he had Waheed in mind, who was going to be the hero of this film. Due to certain differences which grew later on, Waheed’s role was given to Muhammad Ali. I think Ali Bhai did a good job too, in spite of the fact that the songs were tailor-made for Waheed -- not just the composition by Sohail, but also the rendering by Ahmed Rushdi, who had this flair for singing songs in a manner that would suite the specific actor who was to play it. It is a fact that when he would sing for Waheed, it seemed as if Waheed himself was singing.

"Ahmed Rushdi was the king of expressions. I won’t say he was fond of acting, but he had this natural talent of expressing himself in voice as well as expression --  as you could see from his later appearances on the television."

A critic’s comments: "Most of Pervez Malik’s early films are distinctly divided into two halves. A commercial, entertaining first half and a sad, tense, second half."

Pervez says: "This was a formula. A binding. Those days people just expected to be entertained in the first half and then weep in the second."

A critic's comment: "Pervez made this formula stand on its head in Mehman (1977)…"

Pervez says: "If you get a story which demands something else, then you do it. This film was based on a novel by Salma Kanwal. The novel begins with a tragedy, so the first half of my film was tragic. In this case the second half was romantic."

A critic’s comment: In the early eighties, Pervez Malik surpassed his own Armaan with Anmol, which ran for 118 weeks in Karachi. It is ironic, because Anmol (although quite entertaining in its own right) was not even comparable with Armaan or to the earlier Pervez Malik hits in terms of finesse. It seems he wanted to be one with the Lahore film industry. However, the film had a haunting musical score by Nisar Bazmi.

After Anmol came Dushman (1974), Pehchan (1975), Intikhab (1977), Qurbani (1981) and several others. Qurbani is regarded as his best, even by Pervez himself, on the basis of its strong screenplay. But none of these films reflect the touch of Pervez Malik.

Ghareebon Ka Badshah, one of the most successful movies of the latter part of his career has a few sequences which really move us -- such as when the advocate recognises the dead body of his lost daughter, the girl he had unknowingly allowed to get raped. But, on the whole, the film sufferes from poor direction and crude sensationalism being passed off as social message.

The director who had intrigued a people with Armaan, and bravely defied all conventions of the Pakistani cinema with Doraha, now, had apparently compromised with the degenerate industry, although it was a compromise much on his own terms. When did the downward slide begin? As a critic, I would say the heartening success of Anmol, back in 1973, was a thin veneer over the greatest defeat of Pervez Malik: his decision to compromise.

Pervez says: "In my life, Anmol is a significant movie for two reasons. Firstly, that was a lean period of my life. In spite of my early success there came a period when things became difficult for two or three years. For some reason people had spread rumours about me in Lahore. I was not getting the response which I felt I deserved from the trade. So I was planning a comeback, to make a film that would divert attention back to me. Secondly, my producer Anis Dossani had returned from East Pakistan after having lost everything there (in the tragedy of 1971). Once he was a millionaire, a big businessman, but now he did not even have the funds needed to make a single film. He arranged funds with great difficulty. So, I was very careful about making something that would be a ‘sure shot’. I spent a long time searching for a suitable plot. The character we created for Shabnam was a contrast to the docile male character that was played by Shahid. It was also a total change for Shabnam. She had come with a very soft image. Now, I asked her to paint an entirely different character."

A critic’s comment: "Three of the ‘famous four’ turned outwardly patriotic around (or before) mid-seventies. Sohail had already left filmdom to devote himself to national and children’s songs. Masroor got famous for Sohni Dharti (incidentally, once again, a Sohail Rana composition). Pervez turned into something like a social reformer and a patriotic propagandist. Dushman (1974) included a national song, Pehchan (1976) was about the blessings of the village life, and included family planning propaganda while Intikhab was a children’s movie (a spin off from The Sounds of Music.) The more recent ventures such asGumnam, Kamyabi, Ghareebon Ka Badshah were all recognized by the government as some sort of social service and consequently received tax exemption from the Federal Government.

Pervez says, "I thought I must show my gratitude to the Almighty for granting me the success that I got. Even in my early films, I had always been prepared to include any nice things that I could. Later on, I realized there are so many problems in our collective life, which have never been filmed. The government, the politicians were always saying that islahi films are never made here. So I decided to make them, but there is no recognition. After having made seven films on national issues, I say it is a thankless job. I lost out on finances, there was no support from the government. Tax exemption is a joke. They send you a letter, stating that the Government of Pakistan is pleased to exempt you from tax, etc, etc. But this letter is issued by the Central Government. You then have to take it to the provincial government, and beg them to exempt you from tax which they refuse. I got exemption four times, but I can tell you that the financial gain of this was, literally, zero. When I received exemption for Kamayabi, I am on record for returning the letter to the government, saying, I thank you, but this letter of yours is an insult to the Central Government as well as to me, personally. But we were talking about my turning to social issues in my films. Someone once told me, ‘Pervez Saheb, your rizq is haram,’ I said to him, and then I repeated this in the convention held by Ziaul Haque, that, if my films increase vulgarity, obscenity and bay-hayai in the society, then it is not just haram but also hellfire for me. But if, in my whole life, I could reform even a single person through my films, then it is not just halal for me, it is also ibadat (worship)."

A critic’s comments: "The real value of our filmmakers’s claims to making ‘movies with a cause’ is moderated by the fact that the themes seldom go beyond abstract slogans. Hence in Kamayabi, we have patriotism defined as the love of the soil, whatever that might mean, whereas Ghareebon ka Badshah tries to symbolize the issue of ethnicity through five neighbours living together -- thus reducing the art of film to the level of a high-school pantomime. It's ironic, if not depressing, that a learned person like Pervez Malik (also a worthy recipient of the President’s Pride of Performance Award) should interpret ‘national awakening’ in these terms and never speak of issues like democracy, human rights freedom of expression…

Pervez says, "such issues are rather tertiary. They come later, only in a free society. Now your courts are discussing them, but such issues have political overtones, whereas I have always wished to avoid it. Since you have to get your film passed by the censor and every government has its own policy, so you cannot say a controversial thing -- even if it were true. So, you must turn back to the safe avenues -- such as the love of one’s homeland, or that playing up of ethnicity is a dangerous thing, as I did say in Ghareebon ka Badshah. As far as democracy is concerned, we have always had strange situations in our country. There have been periods of dictatorship, and periods of democratic governments. There has never been a stable democratic government for such a long period as to make such issues possible in films."

Consensus Literature

Did he write high literature
or popular?
We have been told about two types of art, literature and culture. There is a "high culture", which is the best of what has been said and thought, and can be understood and appreciated mainly by the experts and the initiated. Then there is a "popular culture" which includes everything else and is usually meant for consumption by the uninitiated, the masses.

The truth is that this distinction, perpetuated by a bunch of intellectuals in the middle of the nineteenth century, fails to do justice to the greatest masterpieces of all times. Rumi, Shakespeare, Goethe, Iqbal and most of the great names of literature were appreciated by the elite as well as the masses, at least in their own times.

If literature represents our dreams, then only literature appreciated by all segments in a society can represent the collective dream of that society. In fact, such literature would be rather like the dream of the King of Egypt through which a Joseph could foretell the destiny of the nation.

Therefore, at least for practical purposes, we need to rise above the dichotomy of high and popular. For this reason I have introduced the term "consensus literature" in my writings (in Urdu I call it jamhoori adab, جمہوری ادب). 

Consensus literature refers to those writings which are appreciated by all segments in a society. We need to identify such writings so that we could foresee the destinies of nations. Since the easiest way to identify something begins with naming it, we need this term: consensus literature.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Literature as a bridge between East and West

Iqbal's poems for children are very well-known and popular in Pakistan and parts of India. Almost every child who goes to school in Pakistan learns such poems as 'Lab pay aati hai dua bun kay tamanna meri'. What is not very well-known is the fact that practically all these poems are translation of English poems, usually very well-known in the English speaking world in their original form.

Iqbal included seven poems for children in his third book of poetry Baang-i-Dara (1924). They are translations of:
About three years ago I wrote a separate piece about each of these poems at this blog, and the items in the list above are linked to those posts. They are in the chronological order of the biographies of the poets.

Interestingly, Iqbal changed this order while including them in his book. Also, he revised his translations, most of which had been written in the early 20th Century. In the revised form and in thanks to the order in which they appear in the book, these poems represent a gradual process of self-development. Just like Iqbal's later work Javid Nama, the story is told in seven stages.
  • A Spider and the Fly: 
In the revised translation of the poem of Mary Howitt, the encounter where the spider tempts the fly into walking into its trap becomes a parable about the starting point of self-development where the self is naive, and this comes out in the personality of the fly who seems to be fond of small talk and repartee: instead of walking away after refusing the spider's offer, she stays on to engage in a pointless conversation which leads to her destruction. A low self-esteem is clearly discernible.
  • A Mountain and the Squirrel: 
The squirrel of Emerson's 'Fable' becomes the higher stage of the fly in Iqbal's sequence: her self-esteem is clearly higher than that of the fly. When the mountain taunts her for being small and agile, she replies bluntly. However, at this second stage, the self seems to have discovered a common link that binds all creatures in a bond of Love: "Nothing is useless in the world," the squirrel says in the end. "Nobody is worthless in the workshop of Nature."
  • A Cow and the Goat: 
Replacing the ass in the poem of Jane Taylor with a goat, Iqbal signifies the third stage in self-development. The fly, the squirrel and the goat are in the ascending order in terms of size as well as in the "maturity" reflected in their speech. Unlike the two previous creatures, the goat seems to have mastered the art of speech completely, and displays it while convincing the cow about the superiority of the human being over other creatures.
'The Child's Prayer', 'Sympathy', 'The Mother's Dream' and 'The Bird's Lament' represent the remaining four stages, which I hope to elaborate some other time at this blog, but I hope that this gives a general idea about how Iqbal utilized his sources in creating this tapestry about self-development. I have treated the subject at length in my Urdu book Roshni ki Talash (2010), which received a national award in Pakistan last year.

Can you guess the poem of Iqbal
which was translated from the one being sung here?

The Message of the East

The Message of the East

Translation of an excerpt from the preface of the second book of Iqbal's poetry
first published in 1923

There is undoubtedly some resemblance between Germany as it was a hundred years ago and today’s East. The truth, however, is that the internal unrest of the world’s nations, which we cannot assess properly because of being ourselves affected by it, is the fore-runner of a great spiritual and cultural revolution. Europe’s Great War was a catastrophe which destroyed the old world order in almost every respect, and now out of the ashes of civilization and culture Nature is building up in the depths of life a new human being and a new world for him to live in, of which we get a faint sketch in the writings of Einstein and Bergson. Europe has seen with its own eyes the horrible consequences of its intellectual, moral and economic objectives and has also heard from Signor Nitti (a former prime minister of Italy) the heart-rending story of the West’s decline. It is, however, a pity that Europe’s perspicacious, but conservative, statesmen have failed to make a proper assessment of that wonderful revolution which is now taking place in the human mind.

Regarded from a purely literary standpoint, the debilitation of the forces of life in Europe after the ordeal of the war is unfavourable to the development of a correct and mature literary ideal. Indeed, the fear is that the minds of the nations may be gripped by that slow-pulsed magianism which runs away from life’s difficulties and which fails to distinguish between the emotions of the heart and the ideas of the mind. However, America seems to be a healthy element in Western civilization, the reason for which perhaps is that it is free from the trammels of old traditions and that its collective intuition is receptive to new ideas and influences.

The East, and especially the Muslim East, has opened its eyes after a centuries-long slumber. But the nations of the East should realise that life can bring about no revolution in its surroundings until a revolution takes place in its inner depths and that no new world can take shape externally until it is formed in the minds of the people. This ineluctable law, which has been stated by the Quran in the simple but eloquent words, “Verily, God does not change a nation until it changes itself” [xiii. 11] governs both the individual and the collective spheres of life; and it is the truth of this law that I have tried to keep in view in my Persian works.

In the present-day world, and especially in Eastern countries, every effort which aims at extending the outlook of individuals and nations beyond geographical boundaries and at reviving or generating in them a healthy and strong human character is worthy of respect.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Goal Guppay Wala

A few years ago while walking in the streets of Karachi, I was suddenly stopped by one of my favourite melodies. It was the Ahmed Rushdi song, 'Goal Guppay Wala Aya'.

I turned around and noticed that it was being played from a cassette player on the hand-driven cart of a vendor actually selling "goal guppay" (a popular street snack: see Wikipedia). The seller was a young man in his early 20s. He was obviously born decades after the song was first released as soundtrack of the movie Mehtab (1962) (several years even before I was born), I asked him whether he liked the song and why he was playing it. 

He replied that he didn't like to shout in the streets for drawing the attention of potential customers to his goods. So he played the song instead and it did the job for him. 

The answer was not unexpected but it was still very reassuring to hear it from the "man in the street". In fact, the song is played by almost all vendors selling this popular street snack in Pakistan, especially in Karachi. I went on asking many of them in the subsequent weeks, and the answer was almost the same as that given to me by that young man. 

Today I want to share a few implications of this simple answer which are very close to my heart. I am sharing this today because the death anniversary of Ahmed Rushdi falls this week on Wednesday, April 11.

Ahmed Rushdi, a singer who has been dead for nearly thirty years (1934-1983), is still helping the street vendors in earning their livelihood. If it hurts their self-esteem to be shouting in the streets, Ahmed Rushdi volunteers to do it for them. The voice of a man who has been lying in his grave for almost thirty years is not only helping the poorest of the poor in earning a livelihood but is also protecting their self-esteem.

In Pakistan, the voice of Ahmed Rushdi is synonymous with style, finesse and everything desirable and beautiful: some of the best known songs of Ahmed Rushdi were filmed on Waheed Murad, the ultimate icon of style and grace. In those days, no lead actor in Pakistani movies could get accepted as stylish enough unless he got to lip-sync on soundtracks sung by Ahmed Rushdi. This is the kind of self-esteem which is still coming out in aid of the poor and humble street vendors.

Also to be noted is the fact that this voice, the voice of Ahmed Rushdi, was included in the chorus of eleven which recorded the first official version of the national anthem in 1954 - the version which was played on all official ceremonies afterwards, and of course, it was mandatory on every president, prime minister, military and civilian ruler, and the most powerful of the powerful rulers in Pakistan to stand up in its honour whenever it was played. So, the voice now selling street snacks for the poor is actually the same which has been commanding every ruler of Pakistan to stand up in its honour?

Many poets and artists claimed to be the redeemers of the working class (often without consent), but can any of them claim this unique privilege of actually going out on the streets to help the working class in earning a lawful earning even after three decades of their death?

"This blessing cannot be earned unless the Benevolent Almighty bestows it in His Kindness," as the Persian proverb goes. However, I do not take it to be a coincidence. There is something about this song - 'Goal Guppay Wala' - which we have failed to notice. 

Allama Iqbal mentioned an incident from the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in an article published in New Era (a short-lived journal published from Lucknow) in 1917. The article was titled 'Our Prophet’s Criticism of Contemporary Arabian Poetry'. In that article, Iqbal mentions two verses from the pre-Islamic poet Antra of the tribe of Abs that were recited in the presence of the Prophet, and the Prophet is reported to have said: “The praise of an Arabian has never kindled in me a desire to see him, but I tell you I do wish to meet the author of this verse.”

Please note that Antra lived in the pre-Islamic Arabia. He was not even a believer. Yet, the Prophet bestowed this unusual honour on him and Iqbal has tried to understand why:

Imagine the man, a single look at whose face was a source of infinite bliss to the looker desiring to meet an infidel Arab for his verse! What is the secret of this unusual honour which the Prophet wished to give to the poet? It is because the verse is so healthful and vitalising, it is because the poet idealises the pain of honourable labour.

What Iqbal has observed about the verses of Antra may also be said about the song mentioned here - "the verse is so healthful and vitalising... the poet idealises the pain of honourable labour." This is so true of 'Goal Guppay Wala', and so untrue of the poems written by elitists who claimed to be the friends of the masses (without the consent of the masses, of course). Those poems, written by the elitist progressive poets, try to obliterate the distinction between lawful and unlawful earning (halal and haram). They incite on violence more than hard work. They do not "idealise" the "pain of honourable labour" but make it deplorable and intolerable (consider, for instance the poem 'Aaj Ke Naam' by Faiz Ahmed Faiz).

Is it not possible that this song has gained an everlasting life in the Islamic Republic because consciously or unconsciously it matches the literary ideal which, according to Iqbal, the Prophet of Islam desired to promote in Muslim societies?

In case you wish to know, here are the original verses of Antra which were recited in the presence of the Prophet in the above-mentioned incident:
و لقد ابیت علی المظوی واظنہ
حتی انبل بہ کریم الکامل

Verily I pass through whole nights of toil to merit a livelihood worthy of an honourable man." 
Compare this with the lyrics of the song and decide for yourself whether they match or not. Foreign language readers! I do not have the ability to give an exact translation of the complete song, since it happens to be in very colloquial Urdu, but roughly it says something to the effect:

The Goal Guppay Wala is here, singing from street to street, spreading joy wherever he goes, see how he comes. My goods look fair, as lovely as fair cheeks.
It is a crime to steal, my dear, so work hard for a living. My brother, eat poor food and you will sleep well without fear of being reprimanded. Come, little boy, eat goal guppay, call that little girl too and even bring along your mum. Whoever eats this stuff today will return tomorrow for having some more - O yes, this is true what I am telling you!
Even better than the speech of a beloved are my herbs and spices. O beloveds, you shall never forget this self-intoxicated man. Come, fair girl, eat... 
(I am leaving out the last few phrases, which are so colloquial that I myself do not quite understand some of them - I am hoping that some friend, such as Akhtar Waseem Dar here, will help translate them for foreign language readers).

I hope that the gist presented here is sufficient for everyone to be able to compare it with the verses of Antra. If you find these lyrics to be similar to that, you may consider the question: What should be the role of this song in defining the art and literature of Pakistan?

Credits: the song was written by Hazeen Qadri, set to music by the duo Manzoor-Ashraf and sung by Ahmed Rushdi. It was filmed on Alaudin for the movie Mehtab (1962), which was produced and directed by Shabab Keranvi.