Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A half asleep woman

Give me a woman who rolls here eyes
half asleep, shrouded and draped

Her eyes drowsy
this early morning
I see a thousand mountains
and tiny alleys
Faces of caution and some passion.

Divine, supple I'm drawn to her close
I cannot let her go, enveloped in sleep
are great bards and minstrels
They refuse to wake her at the hiss of any man but me.

I brace myself effectively
when she says something that pierces me
and then those three words that she spoke
counting on stars and sailing in sea
I shall avow that moment forever,
while I turn immortal in those seconds.

Give me a woman
half asleep.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Safdar Hashmi- Natak Jaari Hai

Art is at the center of any political or social upheaval. This is the assertion with which some of the greatest artists of 20th century did set on their journey. One such artist was Safdar Hashmi.

New Delhi, January 4th 1989:

That winter day witnessed a sea of artists, intellectuals and workers joining hands. What was so on this cold January day that brought them together? It was the incident 3 days back at Jhandapur on the outskirts of Delhi that shook an entire nation. Safdar Hashmi was the conveyor of Janam- a theatre group that performed on streets. From rising inflation to workers plight from American President's visits to police violence- Safdar's plays, some drew inferences from Bretch- were varied and touched a milieu of such crisis. Safdar's endeavor at the heart of it, was to start a cultural awakening. It was a movement which sought to make arts as a means of expression for freedom, economic and social justice.

New Delhi, January 1st 1989:

On a day when Delhi haze had quietly settled over its smoke throwing chimneys, in the Industrial area of Jhandapur, Janam was supposed to perform its street play 'Halla Bol' in support of trade union demands; when their adversary Mukul Sharma- a political thug from ruling Congress(I) confronted Safdar and his comrades. He along with his group of men assaulted the actors. They fled. Over a settling sun Safdar and his troupe ran for their lives, but only till Mukul Sharma found them. Safdar Hashmi was ferociously beaten by hockey sticks and cricket bats. He received many blows on his head. Next day, Safdar, as his comrades called him, succumbed to his injuries in a Delhi hospital.
It stunned everyone. Recounting the incident Javed Akhter says that it wasn't that this was one of the first such brazen attacks on artists, but it is just that we couldn't take it any longer. There had to be an outburst. Enough was enough.

On January 4, over fifteen thousand people gathered to bury Safdar. The funeral procession was nine miles long. Every artist, every intellectual, every worker – it was a sight to behold.

Janam returned to Jhandapur, the same day, to finish what they had begun. Dressed in their trademark black, solemn and angry, the players threw themselves into their art and their activism. Among them was Moloyashree Hashmi, Safdar's wife. Reflecting on that moment, Moloyashree wrote several years later.

"We are often asked what made us perform in Jhandapur that day. Why did we go there a day after Safdar died? Was it difficult? And so on. At that time, it seemed the most natural thing for us to do; I don't think it was carefully planned. Was it an emotional response? Perhaps it was – we had lost a dear friend, comrade, companion. But I don't think it was merely an emotional response. We were doing what we had been doing for so many years: performing among the people. And as performers, we felt very strongly, as we do till date, that we should never leave a performance incomplete. The 4 January performance was also Janam's salute to Safdar, the people's artist. And there was also the political context: we had to assert that people's art cannot be crushed by brute force."

It may be of some interest that Safdar Hashmi taught in Kashmir University in mid 70s, right after he completed his M.A from St. Stephen's Delhi.

In solidarity with the organisers of Gallery One, who put a fight against the system. For art shall prevail.

'Safdar Tu Zinda Hai.'

A documentary ‘Natak Jaari hai’ on this episode and the larger message that Safdar wanted to carry forward, directed by Lalit Vachani can be purchased online on the below URL:

This piece was carried in Greater Kashmir's March 6th 2015 edition.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Abba: Growing around an Idealist Grandfather

On sunny summer days, Abba would hold our fingers and walk towards the Grand Mosque every Sunday without a fail. While on the way from our home in Anzimar Khanyar, Abba would ensure to carry corn for pigeons and city doves, from a shop near Khwaje Bazar. Later in the large span of Jamia Masjid’s Bunyanesque gardens, that immediately transmute you into some medieval grandeur of royals, Abba would call the pigeons and feed them. In times, when Father was posted in Anantnag, Abba would take us for long walks over the bund, which ran the span of our ancient river Jhelum, while serpentining deviously through the breezy town. Laden with willow trees that ran thick and dense at some places, while its branches dropped carrying dry hay from a fresh harvest, Abba would ask us to sit and listen to the chirping of birds.  Listening to the songs, hearts of migratory birds that carried, from far off lands, some parts of land whose stories Abba read and lived with him forever. The wind carries music for those who listen, as goes an Arab saying.

It's been 10 years since he left us on a sombre March day. Yet his values and principles stay with us like a fresh spring shower: forever emanating its kindness and love. For a fairly young guy, I used to have long conversations with Abba. Seeing my interest in cricket he would translate some articles written in Urdu into English for me; encouraging us always to read. Abba was an avid reader himself.
He read lot of Russian literature during his formative years which perhaps explained his bent towards Marxist ideology. Few months back, piqued by Abba's interesting intellectual life, I got around talking to one of his old friend- Khwaja Salah-ud-din, who had migrated to Pakistan in '48 and later worked for Voice of America. He is currently based in Washington, USA.

Their memories relate to an era which in the 21st century medium could appropriately be described as ancient because they were still yoked to the colonial rule and their minds were full of romantic dreams, about a society emancipated and wedded to the ideal of the uplift of the underdog. These were the dreams that Abbad and his comrades shared with each other when they would assemble at our house, joined by Khwaja Qalander usually, as well as during the very long walk that they had to take every day to and from  Amar Singh college. That was the time when subcontinent was going through an uneasy transition, preparing to shed its colonial shackles and embark on the realisation of the dreams kindled by the defeat of the monster of Fascism at the hands of the allied forces, says Mr Salah-ud-din. "We were mightily impressed by the decisive role played in this Pyrrhic Allied victory in World War II by the Soviet forces, who routed no less than three hundred Panzer divisions compared to mere eighty that the West had to tackle. This enormous military feat reinforced our admiration for the Soviet system and also became an inspiration for the teaming millions of the newly emerging nations. Socialism thus became a burning topic among the educated class and our group was no exception. The Progressive Writers movement was very popular and we savoured the verse and prose that it generated, particularly favorites like Krishin Chander, Ismat Chughtai, Manto, Faiz and the like. Mikhail Shelakhov, among the Modern Soviet novelist was a favorite too as were his predecessors like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky."

In his later years partly disillusioned with what socialism could never transpire into, through its personality cult figurative ideas, step by step eliminated almost the entire Bolshevik leadership cultivated by Lenin.

Abba believed in equal rights. His generosity was completely unbiased. He dotted on domestic helps, always regarding them as part of the family. Abba would insist them to share their meals on the same dastarkhaan with the rest of the family. There are countless such small gestures and values that Abba without an effort instilled in us. For someone of his times, when women liberation was rarely given a thought in our part of the woods, Abba on his part, always believed that true development of a society lied in how we treat women.  

Religious bigotry and extremism were things Abba always opposed.   Like most of the teenagers with an impressionable mind, I got buoyed and carried away with September 11 attacks, hailing Osama and his ultras as heroes. The obsession was starting to take devious turns, when Abba pulled me back. He would jokingly call me a ‘Foolish Fanatic’.

Everything necessary to understand Abba lies between two stories: the story of a generous man and the story of a man who defied what death brings. These stories run like parallel rivers, amidst a maze of everything that life throws at me- the deceit, the ugliness, utter breakdown of faith in humanity. Of lives we live without love; selfishly. Abba died quietly on that early spring day, walking gracefully into death, accepting death like he accepted life and its fallacies with a smile and hope. He lives in us. Forever.