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NON-FICTION: MAESTRO ON MAESTRO

Poetry has textures and feeling. And the greats of poetry have lent textures to their words that are felt the moment you hold their compilations in your hand, or read those oft-quoted lines in moments of inner silence. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s imagery is almost silken, even when he uses difficult and piercing words such as nashtar [lancet]. Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s words, on the other hand, are faintly granular, subtle yet abrasive, and layered — as are the ideas behind his words laden with deeper meaning, Farsi derivatives and a timelessness exclusive only to Ghalib. Perhaps this unique texture of his poetry is where Ghalib crosses paths with the texture of the art of Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi.

The work in focus for review is a collection of 47 folders weighing almost five kilogrammes — heavy not just in terms of its physical volume. There is a lot to take in, as it features 43 of the 50 paintings that make up Sadequain’s ‘Ghalib’ series. Titled Ghalib: Call of Angel, this collection was compiled and published as a commemoration of Ghalib’s 150th death anniversary. It has a distinct texture, perhaps by deliberate design of the compilers — the folders are separate and individually complete, yet are bound by thematic cohesion. This allows the reader the choice to pick up one and reflect on it for a day, or days, or pick an irresistible one after the other and turn it into a marathon of reading a choicest selection. The paper is hard and heavy, yet smooth — suited to the texture of Ghalib’s poetry — and solid enough to carry the weight of Sadequain’s artistic renditions.

Compiled and authored by Sibtain Naqvi, the book has been published by Mutbuaat-i-Irfani and this is the sixth book that the publishing house has produced. All six books have centred on the life, times and works of Sadequain. The translation of poetry has been done by none other than the renowned Ghalib translator Dr Sarfaraz K. Niazi.

A compilation of Sadequain’s artistic interpretations of Mirza Ghalib’s poetry delights

The third folio has a sketch of Ghalib’s person by Sadequain, alongside the famous poem Allama Muhammad Iqbal wrote, lauding the prowess of Ghalib. As Iqbal accepts in a line from the poem:

Lutf-i-goyai mein teri humsari mumkin nahin

[Matching you in literary elegance is not possible]

Images from the book
Images from the book

The fourth folio is a brief write-up in Urdu by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, where the inimitable Faiz explains why Sadequain deserves to translate Ghalib into his art, and in the last line gives a testimonial to both Ghalib and Sadequain by saying, “Ghalib ke ashaar ki musawwari Sadequain ke fann ka haqq hai” [An artistic rendition of Ghalib’s poetry is the due right of Sadequain’s art].

This fourth folio is perhaps the only one where a painting of Sadequain is by another artist, Haider Ali.

The fifth and sixth folios include calligraphies of Ghalib’s poetry by Sadequain. It seems Sadequain put his heart into these particular calligraphic renditions, very aware of the power of what he was depicting.

There onwards, it is Sadequain’s artistic depictions of selections from Ghalib’s poetic works. The selections — from both Ghalib’s poetry and the complementing art of Sadequain — are matched so judiciously that it seems like a careful slice from the work of these two has been selected and married in a way so as to give a taste of the many facets of their work. Some of the couplets seem to have touched Sadequain so deeply that they have elicited not one, but two works of art from him, as if the artist felt one was not enough to do justice to it. The compiler and author has dealt with this sensitively and the result is a book that is unmissable by lovers of Ghalib and Sadequain.

In folder 13, the words have the timelessness so typical of Ghalib, where he expresses the dilemma of one trying to walk the tight rope of balancing between love and mundane worldly concerns:

Go main raha raheen-i-sitam-ha-i-rozgar
Lekin tere khayaal se ghaafil nahin raha

[Though I remained involved in managing the tyrannies of living, I was, however, never oblivious of your thought and memory]

Possibly, Faiz was inspired by the sentiment when he wrote “Kuchh ishq kiya kuchh kaam kiya…” [I loved a little and also did some work]. Juxtaposed opposite this verse is an oil-on-canvas painting which Sadequain created in 1969, showing a man bent under the weight of earning a living by carrying heavy wood logs, yet having enough strength to have kept alive an element of romance in him, holding a flower close enough to breathe in its aroma.

Another example of one of the verses where Ghalib wrote about man’s existential condition spanning over the past, present and future is in folio number 27:

Sab kahan, kuchh lala-o-gul mein numayaan ho gaeen
Khaak mein kya sooratein hongi ke pinhaan ho gaeen

[Not all, only a few have become evident as tulips and roses What images may lie in the dirt that remain hidden from us?]

Sadequain, a great in his own right, calls himself “Banda-i-Mirza Asadaullah Khan Ghalib” [follower/servant of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib] in the 47th folder, the striking and fitting Addendum, where the right-hand side presents a black-and-white photograph of Sadequain showering flowers on the grave of Ghalib alongside Zaheen Naqvi, who was then the secretary of the Ghalib Academy in Delhi. The left-hand side of the folio has what are perhaps scribblings of Sadequain as he calligraphs impromptu some of his favourite lines (not couplets) from Ghalib’s poetry, ending the page with giving himself many self-proclaimed titles, the last two being Baykal and Baychayn, both almost synonyms, meaning uneasy and restless.

Such was the temperament of the works of Sadequain — peace within restlessness, order within chaos, faces defined by his typical sharp, angled strokes, but the overall impact made whole by some softer maestro strokes. This contradiction is perhaps one other similarity between Ghalib and Sadequain, then. While much of Ghalib’s poetry is clearly inspired by the love of the Beloved, he was a man who simultaneously gave in to human temptations — gambling and consumption of alcohol being the most well known. As Naqvi writes in the introduction about him, Ghalib was “equally at ease at the king’s court or the gambler’s den, he was aware of both his poetic genius and his disreputable ways. Rather than put people off, it is this disrepute or badnaami that endears him to the general masses. The man on the street loves a flawed genius.”

The reviewer is a Karachi-based journalist, editor and media trainer; human-centric feature stories and long form write-ups are her niche

Ghalib: Call of Angel
By Sibtain Naqvi
Mutbuaat-i-Irfani, Karachi
ISBN: 978-969792700
188pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, July 5th, 2020

https://www.dawn.com/news/1566957?fbclid=IwAR330X7T01cAlyH4EEk4vO0g2gWmls_sFzrOL6tjOkdTMgKc2pucF72vIdg

The art of storytelling

With dramatic readings, Zambeel is reviving the ancient tradition of ‘dastangoi’

The art of storytelling

Eons ago, people had all the time in the world to nurture the art of listening. Long before the printing press was invented, and later the worldwide web that transmuted into e-books and digital books, narratives were recited and literature was spoken. The Hamzanama, or the Dastan e Ameer Hamza, was one of the many such works of literature that told fantastic tales of the many ventures of Ameer Hamza. Ameer Hamza’s companion Amar Ayyaar (also called Umro Ayyaar) had a bag called a Zambeel that contained all that that is in the world but the Zambeel would never be filled. The magical Zambeel, hence, could produce objects that would be core subjects of many a dastan.

But that was then and this is now. Princess Scherezade could no longer have bartered her life for tales she told as part of her Alif Laila repertoire, for no one has a thousand and one seconds to spare, let alone A Thousand and One Nights. Yet, there is a present day version of the Zambeel that has been successful in its attempts at reviving the tradition of dastangoi, or storytelling as we may call it today. Enter the Zambeel Dramatic Readings, and see a modern day semblance of this ancient art. For even if for a brief period of time, this will take you into a world where Urdu literature is read out to you the way it should be.

Zambeel Dramatic Readings came into being in early 2011 when a group of three friends — Asma Mundrawala, Mahvash Faruqi and Saife Hasan — was requested by a friend to read out a story in a gathering. “We embellished it with music. The response was what made us initiate and realise Zambeel,” says Mundrawala, a visual artist and theatre practitioner who is one of the key people behind this initiative. Zambeel Dramatic Readings was founded with a view to present texts from Urdu literature in a dramatised form to a live audience, and has mainly targeted adult audiences, but has also ventured into readings for children during the last three years.

“We aim to present texts rendered in their dramatised form, to create a dynamic collusion between literature and performance. Referencing traditions of storytelling and the contemporary form of the radio play, our works traverse time and geographical boundaries to interpret and enliven narratives through sound and recitation,” says Mundrawala.

“In an age where the purists were fearful of the fading away of correct pronunciation and nuanced delivery of Urdu, the Zambeel team has bridged the gap between the older generation and younger one by introducing this genre to them.”

Mahvash Faruqi is an educator with a background in theatre, and Saife Hasan is a performing arts practitioner particularly known for his acting.

What begun with writings from Ismat Chughtai’s rich repertoire, the group has since inception presented many projects comprising stories in both English and Urdu by authors that include Quratulain Hyder, Saadat Hasan Manto, Masood Mufti, Afsan Chowdhury, Raihana Hasan, Ashraf Suboohi, Asif Farrukhi, Munshi Premchand, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Naiyer Masud. Of late, more contemporary writers’ works are also being included into the repertoire, like Asad Muhammad Khan, Ghulam Abbas and Zamiruddin Ahmed.

“Zambeel readings have reintroduced the cultural tradition of dastangoi. The selection and the delivery has the audience in raptures,” says journalist and literature aficionado Afia Salam. “In an age where the purists were fearful of the fading away of correct pronunciation and nuanced delivery of Urdu, the Zambeel team has bridged the gap between the older generation and younger one by introducing this genre to them.”

Mundrawala affirms that while initially the audience mainly comprised only of Urdu literature enthusiasts, over time the younger generation has also begun frequenting the readings. “We now have audiences who have read the stories and also those who have not read the stories. The younger lot may not understand Urdu with facility yet they come.”

Fahad Naveed, a visual artist and long form writer, is one of Zambeel’s young audience members. “I’ve been following Zambeel for a few years now and greatly admire their work. Their readings make Urdu literature approachable and exciting for varied audiences. I’m particularly drawn in by the group’s use of sound; often sitting on a table, they are able to transport the audience with just their dialogue delivery and a few sound effects and audio cues,” he says.

Also reviving the tradition initiated by grandmothers of the region to read out stories to children, Zambeel now also caters to a younger audience, enthralling both parents and children. One such fan of these readings is Saima Harris, an optometrist and mother of a seven-year-old.

“Our experience of Zambeel’s dramatic readings was Tipu aur Jaadu ki Bayl, an Urdu narration of my son’s favorite Jack and the Beanstalk. The audience was predominantly the English-speaking ‘Burger’ primary-schoolers of Karachi (who tend to shy away from the Urdu language), and their very keen parents,” she says, adding the dramatic and interactive Urdu narration, interspersed with toe-tapping melodies, brought a traditional English childhood classic to life. “It is a step aside from the all-important but solitary reading from a book or the mind-numbing watching on a screen. There is immeasurable potential here to both entertain and educate.”

Artist Rumana Husain, who is known for solo readings for children and production of quality Urdu literature for children, says it is rare nowadays to have literary readings in the country read in a dramatic fashion, and is all praise for the initiative.

Zambeel performers imbue texts with a poignant expressive quality and perform narratives that are supported by a soundscape, enriching the aural experience of the audience through sound and recitation, explains Mundrawala. “While we are three core members, we have had many actor friends work with us by lending their voice and acting talents to our projects. Their contributions have enriched our works and we are privileged to have had so many actors, as well as designers, artists, and musicians collaborate with us.”

The team has recently initiated an audio platform of readings once a month on the YouTube channel, Zambeelnaama.

KLF 2014: Identity & literature

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: February 8, 2014

http://tribune.com.pk/story/668919/klf-2014-identity-literature/

668919-thKarachiliteraturefestival-1391808671-464-640x480

In a country where maybe just three per cent of the population can truly read, reflect upon and understand literature written in English, is it worrisome that the best minds of the country are increasingly tilting towards writing in English.
KARACHI: Intelligent looking men engrossed in animated conversations with women clad in crisp pure cottons with motifs inspired by Pakistan’s traditional arts, wearing kolhapuri chappals and sporting white stylised hair, the venue is teeming with Pakistan’s intelligentsia. For once, even if for a short three days, the topics of discussion here are education, language, literature and the arts.
But the bigger issues Pakistan is plagued with, like security and sectarianism, have a way of sneaking into the books being sold and the conversations taking place. For Pakistanis, there is no escape from certain acetone realities.
Inside the room labeled “007” at the Beach Luxury Hotel, the answers to some tricky questions are being handled by the participants. And why not. This particular session at the 5th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF 2014) is titled “Identity and literature: New trends in Pakistani writing in English”.
Pakistani writers writing in English are making a mark globally. Books from the most beautiful minds of Pakistan, arguably, are from names like Muhammad Hanif, Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid. A concerned member of the audience says that these books talk about a girl slapping her grandmother, a woman having a full-fledged extra marital affair and detailed accounts of a rape. Are these books depicting the average Pakistani’s thought process? Are the characters of these books ones the average Pakistani can identify with? Are Pakistan’s cultural sensibilities being taken into account here or are we seeing the emergence of literature targeted at a specific readership?
Pakistanis realities are fast changing. This is reflected in the works of its writers. Participant Claire Chambers whose expertise is in Pakistani writing in English, talked briefly about how 1971 onwards, Pakistan saw a surge of literature inspired by the Fall of Dacca, and later by the Zia regime. Not long after came what Chambers explained as being literary works that were pre-cursors to 9/11. These are interesting times for writers, it was discussed, with genre-blending being done.
In a country where maybe just three per cent of the population can truly read, reflect upon and understand literature written in English, is it worrisome that the best minds of the country are increasingly tilting towards writing in English, asks a concerned member of the audience. The moderator, writer Bilal Tanweer, and speaker, writer Rukhsana Ahmed, tend to disagree, debating that some of the best literary work in Pakistan is probably being produced in Urdu and regional languages but the money is in works produced in English, and works in English end up bagging the spotlight.
In the words of Ahmed, writing in English has grown exponentially and these works are not disconnected from the identity and realities of Pakistanis, with young writers like Tanweer handling tough subjects like violence in a visceral manner. There is palpable optimism about works of these writers. But the optimism remains cautious.
Read more: KLF2014