Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Laal" - Anthems of a Different Pakistan

Few musical voices are more emblematic of the rise of Pakistan's civil society in the last couple of years than the group that goes by the name "Laal". The day after the restoration of the Chief Justice on March 16th, 2009 they headlined a concert on Geo Television Network celebrating this hopeful moment in Pakistan's history. I love the spirit and music of these young men who, unlike many in their elite ranks, are embracing the struggle for a just society. Here is a relatively old interview with them.

"Laal" in Urdu means the color red and fittingly the members of the group are passionate left wing activists. Supporters of democratic freedoms they wish to highlight the wretched class divisions of Pakistani society and struggle against them. Shahram Azhar, the vocalist and Taimur Rahman who has composed most of the songs met at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) where Taimur was a lecturer and Shahram a young student. They have only released a few songs but the lyrics they have chosen to sing are overtly political anthems by the leading socialist and liberal voices of Pakistan like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib. Shahram's Facebook page lists people as diverse as Evo Morales, Rosa Luxemburg and Bhagat Singh as influences.

My personal favorite is "Umeed-e-Sehar" ("The Promise of Dawn") by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It is a wonderful composition, the video is simple but powerful and the impact of Faiz's beautiful poetry is enhanced by skillful vocals. Surprisingly, the English subtitles are not clumsy literal translations but actually convey something of the power of the original.

Their biggest hit so far was the first track they released called "MeiN ne us se yeh kaha". This is Habib Jalib's famous poem called "Musheer" or "Advisor" which lampoons the obsequious advisors who seem to surround everyone who attains power in Pakistan. Thanks to Zakintosh, I have a 1960's recording of Habib Jalib singing his own poem a cappella. The melody is exactly the same as Laal's version with instruments. Unfortunately this video does not have subtitles.

Here is a link to a blog that has videos of some other performances by "Laal".

Saturday, March 14, 2009

And, now, for something completely different -- Pakistani Women Cricketers

Even as I follow the twists and turns of the political and security situation in Pakistan with grave concern, observe the myopia of the country's governing leadership and witness its hapless citizens experience the steady erosion of state institutions, I have chosen not to write much about it on this blog. Instead I have stayed engaged in that ever evolving discussion on a separate online political forum so as not to inundate this blog with minutiae of Pakistani politics.

However, I was disappointed but not surprised that amongst all the political hullabaloo a wonderful Pakistani story went under-reported. The ICC Women's Cricket World Cup is currently being played in Australia and the Pakistan Women's team is not only ably representing their under-siege country but has performed significantly better than expectations. On March 9th, they beat Sri Lanka Women by 57 runs in Canberra to win their first ever World Cup match after six previous losses. This was also the team's first ever win against Sri Lanka in 19 ODIs. The team lost their next two matches against India and the favorites, England. However, the victory against Sri Lanka allowed the Pakistanis to move into the Super Six round where they were ranked at the bottom. Even as they were always unlikely to make the semi-finals they demonstrated some fighting spirit once again by defeating the West Indies Women by four wickets in the Super Six round match on March 14th in Sydney. They now face Australia on March 16th and New Zealand on March 19th for their final two Super Six games in Sydney.

The star performers with the bat have been the captain Urooj Mumtaz, the opener Nain Abdi and Armaan Khan, who in partnership with Urooj led the successful fight back in the chase against the West Indies. The fast bowler Qanita Jalil has been the main strike bowler but has been assisted strongly by the allrounder Sana Mir and the captain herself. Sana's steady performances both with the bat and the ball have been the critical contributors to the team's success.

This World Cup seems to be a turning point for the team as they will gain tremendous confidence from their victories on foreign soil and against better fancied opposition. If only they got some steady support from the Cricket Board and the people of Pakistan, perhaps one day these women would win Pakistan the World Cup that the men have not been able to win since 1992. The courage of these young women to play competitive sport in a culture that hardly encourages it and their heroic performance without much support from any corner deserves rich tributes and is particularly poignant in the wake of the Talibanization of parts of the country and the dastardly terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan national team in Lahore. I hope that Pakistanis will make an effort to recognize and reward the marvellous contributions of this band of pioneering cricketers.

Photos: 1) Urooj Mumtaz lifted up in celebration 2) Naila Nazir, Qanita Jalil & Urooj Mumtaz; 3) Nain Abdi playing a square cut 4) Qanita Jalil running in to bowl 5) Sana Mir playing an off drive (Courtesy Cricinfo)