Monday, 12 February 2018

Peshawar Radio’s aesthetic phase when N.M. Rashid ran the show

Peshawar Radio’s aesthetic phase when N.M. Rashid ran the show
City Diary
Afzal Hussain Bokhari
25 January 2005 Statesman

With huge listeners’ mail piled up on his table, station director of Radio Pakistan Peshawar, late Noon Meem Rashid, who was later to become the founder of modern Urdu poem and earn the title of being ‘poets’ poet’, picked one letter after the other and examined the contents personally. The voice that answered the listeners’ letters in those days described itself simply as “payami” (the messenger). Quick to find a pattern in a regular phenomenon, Rashid somehow noticed that every week a letter signed just as “salami,” found its way into the radio mail. The contents of the letter showed that its writer understood broadcasting and had adequate knowledge of Urdu, Persian, Arabic, English, Pashto and Hindko.
The passion for talent hunt, for which old-time broadcasters (like Zulfiqar Ali Bokhari) were famous, dominated Rashid. He decided to reach out to the author of well-written but anonymous letters. “Payami” came on air and dished out a thinly veiled threat that in future he would not be entertaining any letter from “salami” unless it contained his complete postal address. The threat worked and the next letter said it came from 312, Dhakki Munawar Shah, Peshawar City. Without letting anyone in the Broadcasting House know of it, Rashid quietly descended on the place.
Out from the building to greet the radio director emerged a handsome, smiling young student Malik Rahat Ali who was then the editor of the Edwardes College magazine. Malik later did his Master’s in Persian, went into journalism and retired as a senior member of the daily Mashriq’s editorial section. Rashid was amazed to see that the 19-year-old college student had specially travelled to Lahore to see Maulana Chiragh Hassan Hasrat who then wrote fascinating columns for the prestigious Urdu daily “Imroze,” mostly with his byline but occasionally under the pen name of “Sindbad.”
Meetings between Rashid and Malik continued as long as Rashid stayed in Peshawar. During his tenure, writers like Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi, Sa’adat Hassan Manto and others felt attracted towards Peshawar. Qasimi even agreed to stick around and work at Peshawar Radio as script editor for some time. Rashid later left Peshawar and disappeared into the dizzying heights of fame and eminence.
Born in Ali Pur Chattha in central Punjab, Rashid has all along been an essential name on the literary scene. Soon after his birth, a Hindu astrologer worked out a horoscope and predicted that Rashid would have two male issues, which incidentally proved true. His son late Shehryar Rashid by first wife Safia became a civil servant and was later appointed Pakistan’s ambassador in Uzbekistan. Shehryar’s mother Safia is buried in Karachi. Rashid took care to get Safia’s grave cemented. Apart from Shehryar, Safia also had a loving daughter Nasreen, who by good chance is still alive. We pray for her health and a long life.
Almost every year, Rashid’s death anniversary goes unnoticed. Most of the senior names in Urdu poetry and prose feel scared in arranging a get-together where befitting tributes could be paid to the sublime art of Rashid. The main reason for this unpardonable neglect appears to be the mysterious circumstances in which his last rites were performed in London.
Rightly or wrongly, after 29 long years of the poet’s departure, his daughter Nasreen Rashid has tried to lift the curtain on her father’s death. In an article carried by the Rawalpindi edition of a major Urdu newspaper, she wrote that when her father died of a heart attack in Surrey, England on October 9, 1975, he was in the custody of his second wife Sheila, who had an Italian father. When Sheila’s father died in London, he was cremated according to family traditions.
Rashid went to see the cremation of his father-in-law but the guards hesitated in allowing him into the ritual. When he introduced himself as a retired UN officer, the guards ultimately let him in. Nasreen said that on his return from the cremation, Rashid felt so disturbed that he simply would not wish a similar end for himself. All the same, on Rashid’s death, Sheila ordered a cremation. The ashes remained preserved for some time in a crematorium in south London but these were later scattered over the Garden of Remembrance.
The rules in England were strict and gave legal wife the rights to decide about the last rites of her husband the way she liked. Nasreen said she and her brother Shehryar did not want to have the dead body of their beloved father burnt. They wanted to give him a decent burial but they were helpless. They contacted some London-based writers but everybody said he was sorry. In its obituary note, BBC’s Urdu service quoted Sheila, as having said that a cremation was what Rashid had personally desired in his will but Nasreen said she or Shehryar were absolutely unaware of any such will.
The BBC news, when reproduced by the vernacular press in the subcontinent, created immense embarrassment for Rashid’s family back home. People in general tended to dismiss the poet as a Westernised secular intellectual who did not like even an Islamic burial for himself. Nasreen denied all this as one-sided propaganda and said that she knew very few Muslim scholars who understood the Holy Quran better than her father did.
Giving an example of how deeply religious her father was, Nasreen recalled that in order to offer ‘fateha’ on her mother’s grave, Rashid took Tanzeel, his son from the second wife, to Karachi. When Tanzeel said he felt like urinating, Rashid told him to wait until they were out of the graveyard. “How could such a man want cremation as had deep respect even for the dead?” asked Nasreen.
Apart from the unending debate on being more religious or less, in the literature of the subcontinent, Rashid emerged as some sort of T. S. Eliot of Urdu poetry.
The obscurity and vagueness in his poetry, the grandiose and unfamiliar diction, the mystery and the intricately woven rhythm, and his fascinating way of co-relating the ordinary atom to the wider universe is the same as in Eliot.
Even well-read critics of Urdu literature shy away from attempting a worthwhile analysis of his poems and collections of poetry.
Aside from his wonderful translations from modern Persian poets of Iran, Rashid has left behind four beautifully challenging collections of poetry: 1. Mawara, 2. Iran mein ajnabi, 3. La = Insaan, and 4. Gumaan ka mumkin. Cremated or buried, these books will never let Rashid die, anyway.

QK Archives: A readable anthology of Hindko poetry

A readable anthology of Hindko poetry
Published Monday October 6 2003 by Statesman Peshawar

By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
It is very rare that a book in Hindko gets published from Peshawar, Abbottabad, Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan or any other Frontier town where the language is spoken or understood. Idara Farogh-i-Hindko, Peshawar, therefore, deserves a pat on the shoulder that it brought out a 160-page anthology of poetry titled so aptly “Hindko ghazlaan di soghaat.”
A quick look at the contents shows that the compiler of the volume, Aurangzeb Ahmad Ghaznavi, who works at Superior Science College, Peshawar, has ostensibly taken pains to put together in book form 140 ghazal pieces by 136 writers scattered oddly across the province into cocoons of self-love. Poetic pieces picked for the anthology are not new. Those with a keen eye and a sharp ear for Hindko poetry or prose have already read or heard of most of the pieces included. The important thing about the publication is that ghazal pieces were taken out from the personal diaries of the writers and put together like a bouquet of sweet-smelling flowers.
In his foreword to the anthology, the compiler has said that responsibility to determine the order of seniority (hifz-i-maratib) of the selected writers falls on Khatir Ghaznavi and Haji Mohammad Ismail Awan but at times the compiler appears to have so naively mixed up junior and senior writers that serious readers of Hindko literature receive rude shocks. For example, Mukhtar Ali Nayyar, Nazeer Tabassum and Sajjad Babar perhaps deserve a better place than the one allotted to them.
In his brief two-page history of Hindko ghazal, Khatir Ghaznavi has started from Mohammadji Wanjiara and come down to Aurangzeb Ghaznavi but he took care not to make even a passing reference to his contemporary writer Mukhtar Ali Nayyar. This situation is best summed up in an English quotation: “I do not agree with what you say but I shall sacrifice my life to give you the right to say so!”
This type of factual lapses, future historians may call it sheer dishonesty, on the part of a senior literary research scholar may render his entire research questionable. Everyone in Peshawar knows that Khatir and Nayyar are genuine scholars of Hindko to the extent of being even chauvinists. They live at a walking distance from each other but due to professional rivalry neither of them wants to see the face or hear the name of the other, which is so agonising for their admirers.
Difference of opinion with fellow writers apart, the compiler of a credible anthology of poetry should be unbiased and dispassionate. Aurangzeb has tried, wherever possible, to be precisely like that. Still there are some names in the anthology that are missing. For example, Mushtaq Shabab, Bushra Farrukh, Qudsia Qudsi, Shamshad Nazli and Nasira Sajjad Babar can write better poetry than many of those piled up in the book but not a single line by them has been included. Feeling apologetic about this in his foreword, the compiler has, however, promised to include them in his next attempt.
Somewhere inside him, the compiler probably has a latent desire that in times to come when Hindko will perhaps be taught at the M.A. level, Peshawar University may, by a sheer stroke of luck, decide to include this anthology in the curriculum of the M.A. Hindko classes, whenever that happens. Without meaning disrespect to anyone, it may be submitted that content-wise quite a few ghazal pieces especially by new and little known writers appear amateurish and mere versification of third-rate emotions of imagined love. Whether or not the book finds its way to the M.A. courses, the sheer delight of reading of reading a new anthology of Hindko poetry should be enjoyed just for the fun of it.
Sajjad Babar can write equally fascinating poetry in Urdu and his mother tongue Hindko. Had the compiler requested for a fresh, unpublished piece, Babar is the type of man who feels pleasure in obliging others in such professionally literary matters. But such a request does not seem to have gone out to any other writer as well. It may just be in the fitness of things to reproduce here the most quoted lines from Sajjad Babar: “Hor te saada wass kay chalda eh wadiyaee keeti, warkha,warkha sari album chai chai keeti!” (Having been driven to the wall in love, I was rendered totally helpless. In desperation what I did was to burn the entire album, page after page, to ashes!).
Diminishing returns at saving centres: There was a time when widows, pensioners and salaried men and women in the city queued up in front of the National Saving Centres with their hard-earned money to invest in half a dozen of highly attractive schemes. Those who invested Rs100,000 in the monthly income schemes were given a profit of Rs1,550 which after the deduction of withholding/income tax, came down to Rs1,350. Since the rate of profit was good, customers did not mind the deduction of tax. Due probably to a liberal inflow of foreign aid after the 9/11 developments, our government does not appear to be in need of public savings. Rate of interest has gradually been coming down. At present if anyone invests Rs100,000, he gets a monthly profit of nearly Rs936. On special saving (registered) certificates, the customer gets a six-monthly profit of Rs3,750 on an investment of Rs100,000. As if this was not enough, the saving centre staff deducts Rs93.75 as Zakat money and, if your investment exceeds Rs150,000 which is more often the case, a 10 percent deduction from July 2001of withholding/income tax (Rs375 on a profit of Rs3,750) is also done. So with tears in eyes, and a nasty curse in whispers, a poor, old elderly woman returns home with a six-monthly net profit of Rs3,281, which comes down to Rs546 per lakh per month. The goldsmith living next door ridicules the frail old widow and offers to give Rs3,000 every month on her amount but the woman thinks her money may not be safe with the clever goldsmith so she continues to harvest humiliation from the State-controlled exploitation centres under the pseudonyms of savings.