Leave a comment

Book Excerpt: Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician by Zafar Anjum

Iqbal

 

I’m of a pure Somnathi extraction

My ancestors were idol worshippers

—Iqbal

In a wide green field, a crowd chases a pretty, white pigeon. The pigeon circles above the heads of the chasing party. The crowd, in a mad dash, tries to capture the bird in flight. Now the bird flies high and now it descends down, teasing those who are sprinting after it. At last the pigeon swoops down into the lap of a tall and handsome 40-year-old man who accepts it as a gift from the heavens.

Shaikh Noor Muhammad, the man dreaming this dream, wakes up with a smile in a house near Do Darwaza Mosque in Kashmiri Mohalla in Sialkot, a border town of the Punjab located by the Chenab river, at the foot of the Kashmir hills.

It is a cold night in early November and he sees his wife Imam Bibi sleeping peacefully next to him under a warm blanket. She is expecting again and he interprets the dream to be a divine indication that he will be blessed with a son whose good fortune it will be to serve mankind.

The tall Kashmiri Noor Muhammad, red of skin and with a penetrating gaze, is known for his simplicity in the community. He has a peaceful and aff ectionate nature. When he was growing up, he could not study at the maktab, the local school; but this did not stop him from teaching himself the alphabets. Because of his own efforts he becomes literate and is able to read books in Urdu and Persian.

He is the eleventh child of his father, Shaikh Muhammad Rafiq, the only child to have survived from his father’s second wife. After him, another son, Ghulam Muhammad, was born. He grew up to be an overseer in the department of canals in the British government.

Noor Muhammad and his family have always lived together with his younger brother Ghulam Muhammad’s family. The house near the Do Darwaza Mosque was bought in 1861 by their father Muhammad Rafiq and they have been living in this house ever since. It has been expanded over time to accommodate new members of the family.

Noor Muhammad loves to spend a good deal of his time among sufis and Islamic scholars. By virtue of keeping such pious company, he has come to have a good grasp of Shariat and Tariqat. His knowledge of tasawwuf (mysticism) is so deep that his friends call him Anpadh Falsafi (Untutored Philosopher). He regularly studies and recites the Quran which he considers to be the ultimate source of all bliss, worldly and for the hereafter.

By profession, he is a tailor and embroiderer. In his early career, he helped his father, Shaikh Muhammad Rafiq, in his dhassa and loi (blankets and shawls) business but when an official rents him a Singer sewing machine, a mechanical marvel of its time, he turns to tailoring. His wife, Imam Bibi, disapproves of the sewing machine when she learns that the machine was bought with illicit money. Noor Muhammad returns the machine to the official and he strikes out on his own as a cap embroiderer, and makes Muslim prayer caps. The enterprise becomes a success and soon he employs other workmen in his workshop. By virtue of his popular merchandise, people start addressing him as Shaikh Natthu Topianwale. In the later stages of his life, he slowly loses interest in his business and takes a deeper interest in mysticism. He ignores his business and, with time, his business suffers decline.

Continue reading

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Poetry: Closedopens by Saheli Khastagir

Closedopens — Saheli Khastagir

Saheli

Bio: Saheli is an artist, occasional poet and a development consultant. You can find her art on her website or her fb page. She is currently developing an illustrated directory of mental health terms, called MH Illustrated, and also creating 26 portraits of Writerly Women for 26 letters of the alphabet.


Leave a comment

‘Manto’s lunatic’: My Punjab has no border, no limits

As told to Nirupama Dutt

A poem of mine devoted to my homeland goes thus: “Punjab mera tan Duniya jidda, Punjab mera anhadd hai; iss vich sabho darya vehndey (My Punjab is as big as the whole world, it has no borders no limits; all the rivers flow in it). In other words, humanism and universalism is what true Punjabiat means to me. And none other than Baba Nanak is its icon that symbolises this sentiment the best. Though I have to cross the Wagha border – created by the Punjabis themselves – showing my British passport, but in my mindscape there is no border. I am Manto’s lunatic from ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and I never reconciled with the division of the Punjab.

I exist in Punjabi and I’ll die in it. I dream, think and feel in Punjabi. It is my last refuge against all odds. As my children don’t speak it, it’ll die with me. The poem ‘Lasan’ was written while I was flying back to Vancouver from California in 1988. There I had come across the word Lasan written in the Punjabi script on a huge billboard meant for woman farm workers, migrants from the Punjab. Read more

Source: Hindustan Times


Leave a comment

The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Ravi Shankar

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

ravi-shankar-at-jaipur

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Wow, well start with the easy questions, eh? Well, I suppose, thinking of Rilke—whose poems and letters I’ve always loved but who I would sadly come to find out (in that way we eventually kill our heroes) was a kind of a pretentious deadbeat who shirked his responsibilities and mooched off the aristocratic patrons of the Hapsburg Empire in pursuit of his “pure” art—I have gone into myself and found that the need to write has spread its roots into my heart. I don’t know if I would die if forbidden to write, but having dug deeply, that mythic Rilkean imperative of “I must” is there, for better or worse. I write because I feel compelled to describe what I’ve seen and touched and tasted, the losses I’ve tallied, the places and people who’ve inspired me, all in pursuit of trying to better understand myself as a bicultural human being at the beginning of a new millennium. Those marks of signification help me fix the flux into something that might resemble, if not the answers, then at least the questions that are most relevant to ask when delving into the nature of our shared reality.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing/editing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

Well I should mention two projects that achieved closure around the same time. One is the anthology I co-edited with Alvin Pang, entitled “UNION: 15 Years of Drunken Boat and 50 Years of Writing from Singapore” [https://www.ethosbooks.com.sg/products/union] which encompasses two very disparate bodies of work, one from the online journal of the arts I founded in 1999 and one from the Singaporean city-state founded as a modern republic in 1965. The main purpose behind this project was to highlight the subconscious connections that writers might share, who on the surface might not have anything at all in common. To view the Malay Peninsula through the prism of experimental poetics, then to stand on the other side of the lens and look back. I’m particularly excited that I can introduce to an American readership the really wonderful work happening in Singapore. I also just recently translated the 9th century female Tamil poet/saint Andal with Priya Sarukkai Chabria [http://zubaanbooks.com/shop/andal-the-autobiography-of-a-goddess/], and this ancient bhakti poet writes remarkable sensual yet devotional work that is as relevant to our time as it was to hers. Her fierce longing takes the shape of the corporeal body but transcends in such a way that she is continually reaching beyond herself in the way true mystics do. And because Tamil is my mother tongue, it was an important project for me, especially to resuscitate Andal not as a scholar’s creation but as a poet’s, even when that meant taking some liberties with her work, for we hoped to make her sing in a contemporary English idiom.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

If I was visual artist, I might be Gerhard Richter, he of those photorealistic blurs alongside those scraped and layered abstractions. That range, that impulse never to settle on one unity of style, when it might lead to a calcification of perception, of a repetition of motive, has never interested in me. Instead I am the formalist who believes in roughening up his enjambments; the postmodern archaic who loves forms that are simultaneously contemporary and ancient, like the zuihitsu and the cento, collage-forms and remixes that are many centuries old. I believe in a geometry of language, poems sculpted until they sit in the palm like a desk clock. But I also believe in those wild, undetermined screes of language that accumulate upon the slope of speech like some alien transmission—which they are—some spiritual guidance given the form of a salamander that skitters on the page.  I believe in translation and transmission, vision and revision, and mad distillation so that nothing can be pared away without collapsing the entire tower.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Pakistani poet-writer Ali Akbar Natiq: Mullahs have no place in religion

ali-akbar-natiq

He says his sister was killed by her husband three days ago. The couple had four children. It was a supposedly happy marriage. The husband’s fingers did not leave the wife’s neck. Not until there was any sign of breath left. It was for insurance money, he says.

This is how the conversation starts. He then closes the topic. Immediately.

He says his job is to tear away veils – “Mein benakab karta hun, sabko.” He says his characters are also ornamented with multiple disguises. And that it is the reader’s job to see through, for he trusts the latter’s intelligence. “And if they can’t decipher, how is it my fault?” he whispers, almost.

Pakistani poet and writer Ali Akbar Natiq, who shook the literary world with his enigmatic collection of short stories What Will You Give For This Beauty, published by Penguin Books India last year, insists it is unfair to underplay the cruelty and corruption of the poor.

As he constantly questions the cliché of rich man being evil personified, this 39-year-old author confides: “I have lived among the poorest. I have smelled their sweat. Don’t think it is sweet. I have never been rich, but have come across many kind souls in big mansions. Point is, I don’t slot people. It is a very unfair thing to do. A writer needs to show the complexities of his character, all his shades and hues. He does not have the right to pass judgment. Neither should he promise any redemption – to the character or the reader.” Read more


Leave a comment

India: Sarala Puraskar for Hrushikesh Mallick

The Sarala Puraskar for 2016 was conferred on poet Hrushikesh Mallick for his outstanding contribution to Odia literature here on Wednesday. Eminent Kannada writer Chandrasekhar Kambar gave away the award carrying a cash prize of `five lakh and a citation to Mallick for his work ‘Jeje Dekhi Nathiba Bharat’.

On the occasion, Dr Gopal Chandra Panda was awarded with Ila Panda Memorial Music Samman while Dr Dinanath Pathi posthumously received the Ila Panda Memorial Art Samman. The awards carried a cash prize of `1.5 lakh along with citations.

Kambar said Indian languages and literature which share a common history are under threat from English. “English today threatens to dominate over all our languages,” he said and added that the only solution to this distressing scenario is translation. “It is not just our languages that are shrinking under the influence of globalisation. Our memories, hopes and thoughts are threatened by this alien language. Our languages have to survive the onslaught of English for our literature to grow,” he said. Read more


Leave a comment

Unearthing: A poem by Mohineet Kaur Boparai

Mohineet Kaur Boparai is a research scholar at the Department of English, Punjabi University, Patiala in India. Her research interests include issues of subalternity and agency. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Lindenwood Review. She has published three books of poetry, Poems That Never Were(2007), Windows to the Ocean(2012) and Lives of My Love (2012). Her poetry has also appeared in several journals and anthologies including the coveted anthology of Indian poetry, The Dance of the Peacock (2013), The Lindenwood Review and Zymbol Magazine. She is teaching English at DAV University, Jalandhar. She is 29 and lives at Moga.


Leave a comment

The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Sonnet Mondal

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

sonnetmondalLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I have been a witness of sharp and frequent vicissitudes of life. Whenever the road of life seemed downy to me – some deadly obstacle made me comprehend that I am in a capricious voyage through unknown waters beneath stranger skies. From day one of my scribbling and entry into the self-revealing world of poetry to my present, poetry has been an accompaniment for me and I am less concerned about what others feel about this sublime supplement of my life. The best part is we have frequent quarrels and sometimes we stay apart but at the end of the day, it is me opening a bottle of wine without using a corkscrew for my accompaniment, Poetry.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

Among my most recent projects there is a book titled Karmic Chanting – Poetry in Folds. It can be considered a collection of large mystical poems containing smaller poems folded inside one theme. Some of the poems in this project will also be performed on stage in conjugation with the Kathak dance form later this year in another of my upcoming projects titled “Echoing Shadows”.

I am literally trying to achieve nothing through this but at the same time my inner self longs to pen down my major self-realizations thus far and impart whatever good in them among the compact and strong poetry-reading masses.
Continue reading


Leave a comment

Kitaab interview with Isa Kamari: Writing is like therapy to me

by Zafar Anjum

Isa Kamari

I had heard of Isa Kamari ever since I set foot in Singapore over a decade ago. Winner of many awards, Isa Kamari is a major Singapore Malay author. He has been a regularly featured author at the Singapore Writers Festival. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to read Malay and I did not know that Isa’s novels had been translated into English.

It was only recently that I got to know him in person. A few months ago, he sent me a copy of his novel, Intercession. I found it a bold work of fiction dealing with serious themes of science and religion, and yet it was so thrillingly narrated that I could barely stop reading it.  The book reminded me of Hermann Hesse’s masterpiece, Siddhartha.

Born in 1960 in Kampung Tawakal, Isa’s family moved to a Housing Development Board apartment in Ang Mo Kio while he was still in his teens. After studying at the elite Raffles Institution, he went on to take the degree of Bachelor of Architecture (with Honours) from the National University of Singapore in 1988. He now holds a senior position with the Land Transport Authority. Isa has also earned a Master of Philosophy degree in Malay Letters from the National University of Malaysia in 2007.

A prolific writer, Isa has so far published two volumes of short stories, eight novels, six volumes of poetry, one collection of stage plays, and several albums of contemporary spiritual music. He has been honoured with the SEA Write Award in 2006, the Singapore government’s Cultural Medallion in 2007 and the Singapore Malay literary award Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang in 2009.

Isa-quote2Isa’s novels are increasingly being translated from Malay for wider audiences. Satu Bumi (One Earth, 1998) was published in Mandarin in 1999 as Yi Pien Re Tu and in English in 2008, under the title of One Earth (translated by Sukmawati Sirat). Two other novels appeared in English translations in 2009: Intercession (Tawassul, 2002, translated by Sukmawati Sirat and edited by Alvin Pang); and Nadra (Atas Nama Cinta, In the Name of Love, 2006, translated by Sukmawati Sirat and edited by Aaron Lee Soon Yong). In 2013, four translations have been released: The Tower (Menara, 2002, translated by Alfian Sa’at); A Song of the Wind (Memeluk Gerhana, Embracing the Eclipse, 2007, “rendered in English from Malay” by Sukmawati Sirat and R. Krishnan); Rawa (Rawa: tragedi Pulau Batu Puteh, Rawa: The Tragedy of White Rock Island, 2009, “rendered in English from the original Malay” by Sukmawati Sirat and R. Krishnan); and 1819 (Duka Tuan Bertakhta, You Rule in Sorrow, 2011, “rendered in English from Malay by Sukmawati Sirat and R. Krishnan”).

Here is a two-part interview with Isa Kamari:

PART ONE: Becoming a Writer

IsaSmile

What set you on the road to being a writer? Do you ever regret the drive or passion that makes you keep writing?

I have always loved writing since my secondary school days but never took it seriously until my late teens. Something happened to me in 1979, the story of which I have told in my novel Memeluk Gerhana (A Song of the Wind).

That incident made me look at life in a more critical manner. It made me view writing not as a hobby but more of a calling. In any case, I begin to write only if an event or issue disturbs me deeply. I do research on the subject and try to find my own resolution/ take on the issue/predicament. Only when I understand and come to terms with the problem and form my own opinion or position do I begin to pen my thoughts on it in the form of a poem or fiction. Thus writing is like therapy to me. It is my way of finding meaning and peace with myself and the world. Continue reading


1 Comment

Excerpts from Zafar Anjum’s ‘Iqbal’: In the end, Pakistan champion Muhammad Iqbal had doubts about the Two-Nation theory

After advocating the idea of a separate country for Muslims, the poet began to have reservations about it: Scroll.in

iqbal frontIqbal is credited with creating the idea of Pakistan. In truth, the Two-Nation theory was already common currency when Iqbal became its most vocal proponent. Iqbal the patriot embraced the Two-Nation theory and devised the idea of a north-western Muslim province when he became convinced that Muslims faced extinction in India. He demanded the formation of a Muslim state in these words: ‘I demand the formation of a consolidated Muslim state in the best interests of India and Islam. For India, it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power; for Islam, an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilize its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and with the spirit of modern times.’ Continue reading