Sunday, November 21, 2010

Faiz's 26th Death Anniversary - A Noor Jehan Tribute

Faiz Ahmed Faiz died 26 years ago yesterday (November 20th, 1984) aged 73. Over the years, regardless of whether governments tried to suppress his poetry or to promote it, his hold on the Pakistani literary culture has never flagged. In addition to the seemingly eternal relevance of his poetry to the Pakistani masses, Faiz was also fortunate to have had his works performed by the greatest Pakistani vocalists of the twentieth century. Malika Pukhraj, Farida Khanum, Mehdi Hassan, Amanat Ali Khan and of course Iqbal Bano all have signature recordings of Faiz's kalam.

However, starting with "Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat Meray Mehboob Na Maang", Noor Jehan came to be identified as the voice of the revolutionary poet in captivity. Faiz is said to have heard Noor Jehan's rendition in prison and permanently dedicated the ghazal to her. With the possible exception of Iqbal Bano's "Hum DekheiN Ge", Noor Jehan's original version of "Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat" is the ghazal that most reverberates in the Pakistani popular imagination.

As a tribute on Faiz's anniversary, here is a version of Noor Jehan singing this ghazal live. The video is old but I love the quintessential Noor Jehan you see in this performance.

Here is another personal favorite of Noor Jehan singing Faiz: "Tum aaye ho na shab-e-intezaar guzri hai"

Woh Baat Saare Fasane MeiN Jis Ka Zikr Na Tha
Woh Baat Unko Bohat Na Gawaar Guzri Hai

Photo: Faiz with the Chilean 1971 Nobel Laureate poet, Pablo Neruda

Granta 112: The Pakistan Issue

"Right now there is a collision of interesting times and terrific talent of writing about Pakistan and writing coming from Pakistan. --- Its a thrilling moment literarily but obviously there are some serious themes at work here." (John Freeman, Granta editor)

"I cannot subscribe to the notion that Pakistan will fall apart; it might but I am not going to begin from that point. I can't. I love that place." (Novelist Nadeem Aslam in an interview with Carol Zall of "PRI's The World" radio program)

Granta's Pakistan issue published this fall is a major literary event for the country. Even as it highlights the quality and breadth of modern "Pakistani" art and writing it would be foolish to believe that the boom in good English writing coming from Pakistani-origin authors, by itself, is the primary reason for this literary focus on the country. The "interesting times" that Freeman refers to are, of course, a major contributing factor. Even so, this prominence on a global platform for the literary and artistic voices of the country is an unqualified boon for those who wish to have Pakistan seen from a perspective other than the prennial lens of "security".

The issue has been reviewed widely in both the British and American media: Isaac Chotiner in the The New York Times, Ben East in The National, Mustafa Qadri in The Guardian, Arifa Akbar in The Independent and Mira Sethi in The Wall Street Journal. On November 15th, Public Radio International's program The World and its host Lisa Mullins devoted half of the radio show to a discussion of Granta's Pakistan issue including interviews with Declan Walsh, Kamila Shamise and Nadeem Aslam.

Granta's issue will reach only a tiny slice of the country's English speaking elite plus a few curious foreigners but it will introduce readers to the richness of current English writing by Pakistanis. They may be surprised by what they find. Some of the most exciting voices on the South Asian literary scene are Pakistani. Mohammad Hanif, Nadeem Aslam and Daniyal Mueenuddin are easily distinguished from many of their Indian fiction writing counterparts in style as well as choice of subject matter. Mueenuddin, in particular, with his characters and stories set in a rural milieu is plying unique territory.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jafar Panahi - In Defense of Tolerance & Free Speech

Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed Iranian film director was arrested earlier this year by the authorities on charges of making an "anti-state" film. He was held in detention without trial for 3 months and released on $200,000 bail only after his compatriot filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami circulated an open letter petition to the Iranian government that was signed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.

Robert Mackey in the New York Times today has the details of the story including the English translation of the full text of the passionate statement that Panahi made to the court last week in defense of artistic freedom and tolerance. It is a plea that must be heard by repressive governments and authoritarian groups all over the world. This is an eloquent defense of the most basic of human rights: the freedom to think and speak one's conscience without private or public coercion. It is convenient to talk only of Iran in this context but these are values periodically under threat in many parts of the world. Sadly, it is the so-called Islamic world where most restrictions exist on this fundamental human freedom with many western allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt being the worst offenders.

Here's the second half of Panahi's courageous statement which is patriotic in the best sense of that much abused word:
History testifies that an artist’s mind is the analytical mind of his society. By learning about the culture and history of his country, by observing the events that occur in his surroundings, he sees, analyzes and presents issues of the day through his art form to the society.

How can anyone be accused of any crime because of his mind and what passes through the mind?

The assassination of ideas and sterilizing artists of a society has only one result: killing the roots of art and creativity. Arresting my colleagues and I while shooting an unfinished film is nothing but an attack by those in power on all the artists of this land. It drives this crystal clear however sad message home: “You will repent if you don’t think like us.”

I would like to remind the court of yet an other ironic fact about my imprisonment: the space given to Jafar Panahi’s festival awards in Tehran’s Museum of Cinema is much larger than his cell in prison.

All said, despite all the injustice done to me, I, Jafar Panahi, declare once again that I am an Iranian, I am staying in my country and I like to work in my own country. I love my country, I have paid a price for this love too, and I am willing to pay again if necessary. I have yet another declaration to add to the first one. As shown in my films, I declare that I believe in the right of “the other” to be different, I believe in mutual understanding and respect, as well as in tolerance; the tolerance that forbid me from judgment and hatred. I don’t hate anybody, not even my interrogators.

I recognize my responsibilities toward the future generations that will inherit this country from us.

History is patient. Insignificant stories happen without even acknowledging their insignificance. I, myself, am worried about the future generations.

Our country is quite vulnerable; it is only through the [guarantee] of the state of law for all, regardless of any ethnic, religious or political consideration, that we can avoid the very real danger of a chaotic and fatal future. I truly believe that tolerance represents the only realistic and honorable solution to this imminent danger.

Jafar Panahi
An Iranian filmmaker 
UPDATE: December 20th, 2010

Jafar Panahi was jailed by the Iranian authorities for 6 years for working on a film which was judged "anti-regime". He has also been restricted from traveling abroad or speaking to foreigners for 20 years. Here's the story in The Times.

Iran is a particularly noxious regime but defenders of individual liberty and freedom of speech need to be vigilant everywhere. From religious zealots who advocate murder against offensive expression to the Western governments bearing down on Julian Assange to dissuade people from exposing their wretched power games, individual freedoms need consistent defense everywhere on the globe.