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Sunday, 24 April, 2011

Identity, maybe!

By Fatima Ahmed

were both acceptable neutral alternatives. The importance of Hazara cannot be understated, although the provincial chief minister has seen fit to visit this strategic region just once in his three years in office so far. Hazara is the economic backbone of the province. The main trade link with China, the Karakoram Highway, passes through it. The main tourism hub of the country is the Galliat near Abbottabad.

The Hattar Industrial Estate is a rapidly growing industrial zone of the country where companies such as Sony have their assembling units. Despite the uncertain situation in the province because of terrorism, there has never been a single incident in Hazara. The Khanpur Dam in Hazara provides for electricity for the entire province. The Pakistan Military Academy is located in Abbottabad. So, if Hazara was made into a province it would be a feasible enough entity economically too. As argued earlier, a province with just eight districts may sound absurd. But, as you might have guessed from the tenor of this piece, the Hazarewals feel strongly about their identity, and quite rightly so. During protests against the name change, the killing of 14 people amplified the Hazarewal’s feelings. For the latter, anything less than a separate province is an unlikely resolution of the issue. At the same time, if the name is changed to something more neutral, the predominant sentiment of anger might fade away a bit. If not, then the Hazarewals are not forgetting that they have been made to feel like insignificant aliens in their own land. And the struggle is likely to continue till the Hazarewals get this identity issue resolved.

3 Revisiting Qurratulain Hyder’s legacy 4 Cholistan in Lahore



What’s in a name? ‘That which we call a By Imran Khan


y any other name would smell as sweet.’ One agrees with the contention of the protagonist for a Hazarewal that the name of a province is not just a name, it is an identity. It was because of this reason that one of the founders of the Pakistan idea, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, in the historic pamphlet “Now or Never” (1933) criticized the acronym NWFP by stating that ‘It is wrongful because it suppresses the social entity of these people’. The founding fathers of Pakistan refused to refer to this region as NWFP, and instead used the name ‘Afghania’, the “A” or Alif from Afghania being the second letter in the country’s name. When the people of Hazara Division rose in support of Pakistan, they did so knowing pretty well that the “A” in the name of


Frankly, the colonial sounding NWFP was not a good name for the province. But there could have been other alternatives that did not involve one ethnicity being preferred over the other

Illustrated & Designed by Babur Saghir

hile travelling from Rawalpindi to Abbottabad, one’s ancestral hometown, one would often see HQM (Hazara Qaumi Movement) graffiti on the walls. Now, why would anybody want to make the small Hazara division of the then NWFP into a province? One got the answer when, through the 18th amendment to the Constitution, the government renamed the province as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. There was celebration in Charsadda and total disbelief in Abbottabad. While the Pathans had been given the identity that they had been craving for, the Hazarewals (the Hindko speaking population of the province), had been deprived of the little identity that they had. The irony is that the Hazarewals are called Punjabis by the Pathans and Pathans by the Punjabis. And now the province that they called theirs had been given a name that they do not relate to. Yes, Pathans are in a majority but Hazarewals are a part of the population too. The Hazarewals are not recent migrants either, for they have inhabited the area for as long as the Pathans. The argument that there are minorities in other provinces too, but the province is named after the majority, is fallacious. Firstly, the people of the province are known by the name of the province and not vice-versa. And secondly the minorities have migrated to those provinces, like the Pathans in the Punjab. The minority that has not migrated, like the Seraiki speaking population, is already asking for a separate province. The discrimination against the Hazarewal is to the extent that in the 1998 national census the Hindko majority districts were listed as “other” as opposed to the Pathan majority ones listed as ‘Pashtu’. Hazara was initially a part of the Punjab, which makes more sense as one has to pass through Punjab if one is to go to the rest of NWFP from Hazara or the other way round. But then for administration purposes, the British made it a part of the then NWFP. It didn’t really matter to the people what province they were being made a part as long as they were thought to be equal.

But renaming it on linguistic basis has really hit the minority as the Hazarewals have been ignored completely. Just to bring it on record, it was the Hazarewals who in 1947 voted in favour of joining Pakistan because the Pathans led by the Red Shirts of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan wanted a separate state, Pashtunistan. Then one fine day the Awami National Party (ANP) said it had the mandate to change the name of the province and all the other parties agreed. It must be pointed out that the ANP does not have a single MNA or MPA from Hazara and the people the Hazarewals elected had promised that the name would not be changed. Why they failed to live up to that pledge is another debate, but consequently they did not vote for the 18th amendment. How else can one say in a democratic manner that one does not desire a change of name? All this gives one the impression, ‘the Majority is the Authority.’ Frankly, one agrees with the view that the colonial sounding NWFP was not a good name for the province. But there could have been other alternatives that did not involve one ethnicity being preferred over the other. Names such as Gandhara, the ancient civilization of the area or Abaseen, as the Indus is called in the NWFP,

Frankly, the colonial sounding NWFP was not a good name for the province. But there could have been other alternatives that did not involve one ethnicity being preferred over the other

the review

What’s in a name?

the review

What do you mean Faiz Ahmed Faiz is dead? By Urooj Zia


ou learn new things every day. For instance, just this week, I found out that Faiz Ahmed Faiz is DEAD! Who would’ve known! Not me. And boy, was it a shock! You see, these Citizens for Democracy (CFD) waaley had organised this “Jashn-e-Faiz” thing in Karachi. I was overjoyed because I’d heard so much about Faiz Sahib and really wanted to meet him. But boy, oh boy, was I in for a disappointment. *sigh* The event was from 11 a.m. to midnight, and even though it was all the way at the KMC Sports Complex, I went nonetheless. Imagine my horror when after all of this, I saw the absolutely unwelcoming venue. Not a single person there knew me. I was treated like one of ‘them’ – the great unknown and unwashed. I was indignant! I protested! “Do you know who my father is,” I asked. But they didn’t care. They made the driver park our car so far away it’s not even funny. I had two options: either walk for all of five minutes in the blistering heat and risk garmee meiN kharaab hona; or share one of the shuttles which the organisers had provided with the great unwashed. They don’t even use deodorant, you know. Walking was out of the question, so I took a shuttle. The worst two minutes of my life! Ugh! I don’t understand why those people kept smiling – what do they have to be happy about? How do they even know about Faiz Sahib?! They don’t read. They’re the jahils who vote with their hearts; which is why we elect corrupt people. They don’t deserve democracy. Why did Musharraf leave? But I digress. I entered the venue – mind you, there were no carpets; I had to walk on sand which ruined my new pedicure. Then the women at the security check post demanded to check my bag and got their dirty fingers all over my new Prada. At the next desk, they made me fill out a form. One of them had the audacity to ask me if I wanted to fill it out in Urdu. Hel-loo? But I was in for a bigger shock: the entry fee was only Rs20, and that too, only if one could afford to pay it. What

do you mean, I gasped! This way, everyone will get in! The volunteers said that that was the point. What?! Then one of them stamped my arm. Who knows whose skin that stamp had touched. Yuck! Total turn-off. But I soldiered on – I did really want to meet Faiz. I tried to ask people where he might be found. They pointed at the billboards and posters with Faiz Sahib’s pictures. No, but where is he, the person? Why would he not come to his own event? And that is when they told me that Faiz Sahib was dead. Good lord, what?! What do you mean Faiz is dead?! Why did no one tell me this before I came all the way over to this side of the city? Also, why would you call this “Jashn-e-Faiz”? Are you trying to make money in the name of a dead man? The horror! I needed a drink to calm my nerves. I walked over to this stall, and this dirty-looking man who couldn’t afford deodorants said drinks were for Rs50. What?! I needed to sit down now. How could these nobodys charge Rs50 for a drink? Only my friends who own posh cafés can sell drinks at higher rates – they deserve to make money; they work so hard! What do these people do, these... these robbers! They took my money in the name of a dead man. My world! It fell apart that day, I tell you. I decided to look around. There were stalls selling organic food. There were even workshops to teach people how to grow organic food. But here again, I was forced to mingle with the hoi polloi. None of them even got up when I entered and they insisted on sitting on chairs just like me. Like I said, my world fell apart. Up was down and down was up. These people aren’t my peers. They can’t be equal, you know. They used to know their places. At this event, however, they seemed to have forgotten their manners. Speaking of manners, there were no boards to tell me where to go. No one came to me to ask me what I needed. Oh I missed home, where Shareefan is always a bell away. I managed to find my way around in the wilderness, nonetheless. Some women were selling homemade clothes, bags and jewelry. It was pretty, but it was so cheap! I decided to not get it. I figured, if I can get the same thing from a proper shop at a proper price, why must I give my money to these people? Middlemen are important for the economy and they work hard to earn what they get. Af-

ter all, they keep these people away from us by going all the way to Hicksville to pick material up from them and then bring it to the city to sell. It costs money, you know – their profits are justified. These people, on the other hand, they can make do with whatever they get. Giving them too much money would turn their heads, and then they’d think, I don’t know, that perhaps they can be our masters! Even the thought makes me shudder. So I walked on. There was some art too at a stall. Oh! Beautiful paintings of God’s name, and our hero, Muhammad bin Qasim, regal on horseback. My heart soared. Finally, some sanity, I thought. But it was short-lived. Soon after, some commies came marching by in a procession, chanting slogans against “capitalism” and “imperialism” and “exploitation”. Ha ha, what a joke! Without the free market, we’d all be living behind the iron curtain! These people should be outlawed. They’re a


The shifting moods of Qazi’s cityscapes One more factor that establishes Qazi as not only experienced but keen is his use of silhouettes and minor detail that have massive impact on the visual narrative By Mustafa Naqvi

02 - 03

Sunday, 24 April, 2011


sing a variety of mediums art instructor G.N Qazi explores architectural heritage, eras gone by and a subtle time when life was less dense – actually rather simple. Nostalgia is bound to overcome any and everyone who visits Qazi’s solo exhibition on display at the Ocean Art Gallery. Qazi is a painter of the past tense, his work not only reflective of the bygone cityscapes but also of the very simplistic notion that is absent from our lives today. With over two dozen canvasses of the type on the gallery walls, Qazi’s evocative art is not only different on an individual basis, its totality is also overpowering. Jharokas, minarets, havelis, staircases, empty windows, turrets, clerestory and a hundred other architectural elements are the building blocks of Qazi’s work. His work is devoid of automobiles, telephone boosters, and above all advertisement hoardings. Neither are any modern skyscrapers in sight. Qazi’s inspiration, indulgence, and muse remains Karachi. Not only a resident, he is a particular observer of the changes that the city has gone through over the years. Houses clustered close to each other in ‘mohallas’, with buildings hugging each other so without breathing space, are present throughout his work. Except for one or two of the paintings, the rest have no human element present. One more factor that establishes Qazi as not only experienced but keen is his use of silhouettes and minor detail that have massive impact on the visual narrative. The application of paint as well as the subject matter has a fading quality to it. These works although initially seeming to have a plain historical impact are much more than that as they also encompass a surreal nature. With a variety of different moods and situations, Qazi deals again and again with the same romanticized architectural dwellings. Qazi’s work has a very twodimensional uniqueness to it. The use of orange in pure

browns and blacks gives the illusion of candles or lamps alight deep inside these hallow structures. Similarly some paintings are filled with kites of different colour in the sky, full of vibrancy, exotic notion and purity these paintings are nostalgic to anyone, who has ever been to spring kite flying fiestas of the interior. In terms of the highly detailed visuals, they are a treat to watch. One can spend hours at end just staring at the depth of details added by the painter. Whether it’s wooden carvings, fresco walls or intricate floral patterns on the facades that he is rendering, Qazis’s hand remains steadfast and skilled throughout. The mood from painting to painting shifts gradually too. Celebration and festivity changes into emptiness of a quite summer afternoon, from there on it evolves into a jazzy night of rain and drizzle, further on to a sultry night with full moon and bright mornings full of life. The most alluring part of Qazi’s work is the intricate detail with which he makes the architectural structures come alive. Like arteries covering the surface of a specific organ and providing it blood, Qazi’s intricateness in terms of minor architectural detail provide the painting a lifeline. The blank and somewhat melancholy sky peers out of some of the paintings, while others are filled with dots of random colours that are representative of the kites covering this huge sheet of blackness. Throughout the works one can see as Qazi’s world is bracing itself for the time to come, whether it’s the reflective quality of the floor and ground underneath these structures, antennas slowly creeping up in the skyline or other modern interventions making their presences felt in

this calm abode. One is sure to feel pangs of worry, angst and fear for this place that soon is going to disappear or simply change. The beauty, aura, magic and the simplistic galore of life is captured so keenly and ritualistically that one is sure to feel that the artist himself is aware of being separated by these sooner or later. All in all, Qazi is not only an able painter but one who is trying and trying hard it is to make sure that although the world is fast moving ahead, someone is there to safeguard the simple yet important relics of the past.

threat to our way of life. Just like the mullahs. Speaking of mullahs, I thought the CFD was against them, but there were so many beards at the event! So many! My god! All the beards referred to each other as “comrade” and said that they were communists. But aren’t communists atheists? No, they said, communists are secular. How would you know anything, I asked. You’ve never been to school. They said it didn’t matter, because they read books. Ha ha right, as if. That said, the only good part of the event was the freedom of expression that it provided. That is important, you see. The bad part was that this freedom was universal – working class nobodies were allowed to say anaap-shanaap against industrialists and landowners. I shut my ears in horror! You can’t say these things about my friends. They’re nice people! And they throw the best parties! I was at one just the other day, and it was fabulous! Imagine how shocked I was, then, when these dirty people referred to my friends as “exploiters” who only paid them Rs6,500 per month. Ha ha what a lie! Why would anyone work for Rs6,500? How are they even alive? Rs6,500 doesn’t even cover one meal at a semi-decent restaurant. I’m not a fool, you know, I know these things. So I told them that they were liars who wanted to merely defame my good friends. Also, I said, if you’re so unhappy, why don’t you quit and look for a different job? It’s all about marketing your skills. But they just looked at me like I had three heads. So mean! See, this is what happens when people who don’t deserve independence are allowed to speak out. They say the most hurtful things! The concert was nice. Shehzad Roy is such a cutie! He even sang “Saali tu maani nahi”. I love that song. But this crazy woman kept saying that it was misogynist and had no place in a Faiz event. What would she know? These “feminists” say the same thing about everything, even “Sheila ki javaani” which is such an empowering song! Not everything is “misogynist”, you know. I hate these femi-Nazis. They ruin everything. The organisers said that around 30,000 people had turned up for the event – they knew, because they had counted the forms that everyone had filled out at the second check post. Yes, I thought, that was 29,800 people too many! Why have an event where everybody can enter? It ruins the entire thing. Okay, security was awesome – I wasn’t harassed even once, but so what? The organisers said that after a long time, Karachi had actually managed to pull off a mass event of this sort without a single glitch, but that’s not the point! Who wants a mass event? Not me! It is not the job of the masses to change the blasphemy laws. What would they know anyway? You need to be educated to understand things. What a waste of time. The great unwashed were very happy, though. They kept saying idiotic things like how “their Faiz” had been revived. THEIR Faiz? Hel-loo? Faiz is ours! He was rich! How dare these people appropriate our Faiz?! This is all the CFD’s fault. They want to “empower” the awaam. Yes, wait till the “empowered awaam” takes over our homes. Remember Disney’s Anastasia? Exactly.

Revisiting Qurratulain Hyder’s legacy The book is a commendable attempt to compile and collate diverse resource material on the life and art of Qurratulain Hyder, the ‘First Lady of Urdu literature’

By Syed Afsar Sajid


urratulain Hyder (19272007), that doyenne of Urdu fiction, has left behind, as Rakhshanda Jalil, the anthologist/editor of Qurratulain Hyder and the River of Fire –- The Meaning, Scope and Significance of Her Legacy would have us believe, ‘a legacy as complex and multi-layered as her own persona’. The articles in the anthology are intended to explore ‘the scope and significance’ of this legacy. Her magnum opus Aag Ka Darya is the centerpiece of this study comprising some sixteen essays by writers of cross disciplines, languages and nationalities, focused on personal portraits, critical narratives and textual appraisals (See box for detail on the articles). The editor of the volume Rakhshanda Jalil is an Indian author associated with the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and now working on the Progressive Writers’ Movement, with special reference to Urdu literature. Qurratulain Hyder came of an illustrious literary household headed by her father Sajjad Hyder Yuldram and mother Nazr-e-Sajjad Hyder, nee Nazrul Baqar – two distinguished pioneers of Urdu fiction. Qurratulain Hyder wrote her first story when she was only 11 years of age. Her maiden collection of short stories titled Sitaron Se Aage was published a couple of years before the Partition. The stories carried by the publication were not on subjects relating to women alone and were characterized by polished but lyrical prose. Her creative work encompasses travelogues, translations, novels, plays, novelettes and short stories. The present book is designed to ‘revisit’ her literary legacy and align it with the meandering track of post-Independence writing. ‘The River of Fire’ is employed as a metaphor

here ‘in which the writer must sink or swim from the moment he/she crafts a piece of writing to the time it is read and understood by the reader’. In the context of post-colonial constructions, the River of Fire merges into the River of Time in the words of the editor. It would be instructive to cite here randomly from the essays in question to have a fairer appraisal of Qurratulain Hyder’s person and art. “She (QH) thoroughly disapproved if they (her four servants) were referred to as servants and would insist on them being calleddomestic help.” (Huma Hyder Hasan) “I have always been a nonconformist and the people whom I met were all rigid and moulded in some way or the other. When one has to set out on the untrodden path, as I did right at the onset of the journey, it is impossible to come back and walk tamely on the known and accepted roads.” (QH interviewed by Noor Zaheer) “There she (QH) was: every inch the perfect lady and a writer without peer whom many have tried to imitate but no one has been able to match her élan, her brilliance, her wit and sense of humour, her compassion, her sense of history, her wide sympathies and her modesty about her own formidable achievement and place in Urdu, indeed in world literature.” (Khalid Hasan) “Almost all of Qurratulain Hyder’s fiction reflects her preoccupation with India’s cultural past, the pastness of the past, as well as its relation with the present.” (Gopichand Narang) “But above all they (QH’s works) leave a legacy of humanism and the primordial human quest for love, belonging, and search for enlightenment. This is what most of her characters end up doing in the vast maze of history and time.” (Raza Rumi) “She (QH) stands apart from her Progressive contemporaries, both ideologically as well as through depiction of social class and milieu, emerging as an ambassador of l’art pour

Whats in a name? ‘That which we call a rose…’

l’art dictum of Gautier, giving priority to aesthetics and the imaginative spirit.” (Fatima Rizvi) “Hyder is supposed to have drawn heavily on history for the content of her fiction, that in her writings, one finds the effect of the relevance and continuity of history.” (Mohammad Sajjad) “The River of Fire is the River of Time, and Time, like the river, any river or a river anywhere known by any name, is by its very nature ceaselessly flowing………..And while men and women carry on with the business of their lives, while wars are waged, empires rise and fall, Time is flowing too as ceaselessly as the river.” (Rakhshanda Jalil) “The configural mode of ‘grasping together’ the diversity and dense affiliations of a multireligious subcontinent is more crucial to the secular imaginaire of Aag Ka Darya than the politically correct history lessons within it.” (Kumkum Sangari) The book is thus a commendable attempt to compile and collate diverse resource material on the life and art of Qurratulain Hyder, the ‘First Lady of Urdu literature’ (as Khalid Hasan would remember her).

Title: Qurratulain Hyder and the River of Fire -The Meaning, Scope and Significance of Her Legacy Edited by: Rakhshanda Jalil Published by: Oxford University Press, Karachi Pages: 255; Price: 495/-

List of Articles in Qurratulain Hyder and the River of Fire – The Meaning, Scope and Significance of Her Legacy the Book 1. A Rainbow of Reminiscences by Huma Hyder Hasan 2. Talking to Aini Khala by Noor Zaheer 3. Qurratulain Hyder: The First Lady of Urdu Literature by Khalid Hasan 4. Qurratulain Hyder: An Author Par Excellence by Gopichand Narang 5. The Enigma of Dual Belonging: Qurratulain Hyder’s Enduring Popularity in Pakistan by Raza Rumi 6. Post-Colonialism and Marginality in the Fiction of Ismat Chughtai, Khadija Mastur, and Qurratulain Hyder by Fatima Rizvi 7. Once Upon a Time: Cultural legacies, Fictional Worlds of the Partition and Beyond by Asif Farrukhi 8. ‘Amma, Basant Kya Hoti Hai?’: Turns of Centuries in Aag Ka Darya by Sukrita Paul Kumar 9. History and Fiction: The Depiction of 1857 in Qurratulain Hyder’s Fiction by Mohammad Sajjad 10. The Creative Genius of Aini by Syed Mohammad Ashraf 11. Qurratulain Hyder and the Partition Narrative by Shamim Hanfi 12. Lost/Found in Translation: The Author as a Self-Translator by M. Asaduddin 13. Imagining India: In and As the River of Fire by Rakhshanda Jalil 14. Representation of the Female Psyche: The Champa of Aag Ka Darya by Sami Rafiq 15. The Configural Mode: Aag Ka Darya by Kumkum Sangari 16. Transcreating History: A Reassessment of River of Fire by Asim Siddiqui

From Page 1 their future country referred to their province as ‘Afghania’. If it was not so, this country might have had a different name. The denial of the Pakhtun identity began in 1947, when despite the legitimacy of the name ‘Afghania’, the government decided to continue with a set of compass directions, that is, the NWFP. The name ‘Afghania’ was supposed to somehow legitimize the claims of Afghanistan across the Durand line. Hence, those asking for ‘Afghania’ gave an alternative and resultantly the name ‘Pakhtunistan’ was proposed. But that too appeared too independent and nonPakistani. Again the proponents of a name change compromised and proposed “Pakhtunkhwa” but this proposal was also shot down. Finally, a solution was proposed by the opponents of a name change, which was to make it a hyphenated name to make it acceptable to all sensibilities. Resultantly, after a series of compromises, a hyphenated identity was finally bestowed, that is, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. But many, like the writer of the aforementioned piece, still think that this outright magnanimity of the

Pakhtuns, as shown by a series of compromises and a wait of more than sixty years, to be a great injustice. The main argument is that naming the province after a majority is not the norm in Pakistan. While she discards the Mohajir minority of Sindh as ‘migrants’ she also conveniently ignores the Seraiki speaking minority of Sindh as well as the Pashtun minority of Balochistan; two minority ethnic groups that are not migrants and have no qualms about the name of their respective provinces, just like the Kohistani and Chitrali minorities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Interestingly, the writer mentions the Seraiki Sooba movement, presumably as a similar phenomenon to the Sooba Hazara Movement. But the Seraikis of Punjab are not just fighting for a name they are fighting for a fair share in resources, and against outright discrimination. This discrimination is not just backed by anecdotal evidence about mere name calling, but can be seen in development indicators. For instance, consider one measure, which relates to the material used in roof structures; a region with more concrete roofs that is ‘pakki chhat” is

obviously faring better than a region with less concrete roofs. According to the “Pakistan Standards of Living Measurement Survey” for 2008-09, the provincial average for concrete roofs in Punjab was 33.85 per cent, and against that provincial average, the Seraiki districts of Rajanpur, Layyah and Muzaffargarh were at 4.34 per cent, 8.87 per cent and 3.35 per cent. While the deprivation of the vocal districts in the Seraiki Sooba movement is obvious, it is interesting to look at the same for the Sooba Hazara movement. The provincial average for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in terms of concrete roofs was at 28.62 per cent, in Mansehra it was just about the same at 28.72 per cent, Abbotabad showed an even higher incidence at 42.03 per cent while Haripur at 60.97 per cent has the highest percentage of concrete roofs than any other district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. This development indicator clearly denotes that despite being an ethnic minority the Hazarewals could hardly be said to have been “ignored”. In fact Hazara Division has had the highest number of chief ministers from amongst all the divisions in Khyber-

Pakhtunkhwa. While the above writer agrees that NWFP was not a good name for a province, she still laments its change as a loss of identity for the Hazerewals. One personally finds it hard to believe that the identity of the Hazarewals lies in the denial of the Pakhtun identity, as do many people who have shown disdain at this democratically backed demand for a name change. Such criticism is centered on chastising the Pakhtuns for their lack of magnanimity. Well, the same can be asked of those opposing the name ‘Khyber-Paktunkwa’ : why don’t they show magnanimity in the face of a democratic decision?. The people of Hazara Division have every right to demand a separate province through constitutional means. These same constitutional means took more than sixty years to bring about a mere name change. Keeping in view that time line, a separate province would probably require a lot more patience and hard work. Such a struggle would strengthen the democratic tradition in Pakistan and make this country a much stronger democracy.

Sunday, 24 April, 2011

Cholistan in

By Salman Rashid


am a Cholistani; Cholistan lives within my soul,’ says my friend Akhtar Mummunka. And so it is that barely half an hour from the famous crossing known as qainchi in east Lahore, as one drives to Kasur, one notices a sign by the canal bridge on the right side of the road proclaiming ‘Cholistani’. There along a smaller distributary and barely a few hundred metres off the highroad is a walledoff, tree-shaded compound. This is the dream that was born back in 2002 when Akhtar was invited to

a conference by Asian Productivity Organisation in Japan. Every year, this organisation awards one person from around the world for outstanding work to preserve the world’s environment. That year it was a man who had tuned an abandoned factory into a hotel somewhere in the South American rain forest. The winning idea was to do as little as possible to disturb what already existed. Now, if someone had an abandoned factory, Akhtar had ten acres of land and an abandoned poultry farm sitting on it that could be similarly altered. He returned home and invited a couple of well known architects for ideas. Although he told them the factory to hotel story, our architects said it would be better if the poultry shed was torn down and a fancy new building erected in its place. That was the only way, according to them, to make anything of the tract of land. But buildings block the view and in the Cholistan Desert that lives in Akhtar’s soul, there is openness. The eye can rove as far as the horizon. The only thing that comes into view is vegetation and sand dunes. The gopas (traditional homes with conical roofs), the


only buildings the desert knows, blend into the dunes for their very material comes from these same dunes and bushes. If he were to raise a brick and mortar monstrosity, the very idea of keeping of tampering with the environment in the least possible way would be killed. Urban educated wisdom having failed him, Akhtar reverted to his roots: to the village in Cholistan. There was Mistry Mohammad Khan, the master craftsman and builder who knew by heart every little bit of the architectural and ornamental vocabulary of the desert. In Mohammad Khan’s hands, mud plaster quickly transformed the ramshackle poultry shed. A couple of arched windows and a door with arched niches so commonly met with in the desert changed the whole prospect. As the Cholistanis add colour to their world of sand and sparse vegetation with bright colours, so too did the borders of bright blues, greens, reds and yellows around the niches and windows bring a sprinkling of the desert to the old poultry farm. Now resembling a longhouse of the Indies or South America, this building can house about one hundred persons for dining or conferencing.

Ten acres is a good deal of real estate and anyone with less gumption would have been sorely tempted to clog the area with buildings of all manner. But as he had said, Akhtar wanted his place to give a feel of the openness that only the desert can. He added only a gopa on one side of the old shed and a few open cubicles on the other side. If you ask me, this little house, equipped as a bedroom, is a perfect honeymoon getaway for an unconventional couple. As a take on the toba or pond of the desert that fills up after every fall of rain and provides drinking water to nearby villages, Akhtar created an elongated, serpentine lake along the west side of the open lawns. The unexpected bonus of this water body was a sudden upsurge in the number of birds. Here we have seen woodpeckers, kingfishers, golden orioles, Brahminy mynas, tailor birds, munias and magpie robins. These species were once common in Lahore, but because of the wanton destruction of indigenous trees and their replacement with imported species, are no longer to be seen. In neighbouring India, the Choki Dhani resort near Jaipur has a similar concept. There they have regular fairs – but then they

Pictures by the Author

It is an island of tranquility only an hour away from home. It surprises me that so few people in Lahore or Kasur know of it. Such a place in India would have been swamped with visitors on weekends

have tourists from all around the world. Every time I have been to Akhtar’s Cholistani, we have had local tourists from Lahore wandering in to check out what the place is all about. But it seems it will take some little while before Cholistani actually takes off as a Sunday resort to get away from the madness of Lahore and relax to the sound of birdsong under a limitless sky. Meanwhile, Akhtar has other ambitious plans. There are at least over a dozen traditional Cholistani crafts that are dying out because their practitioners no longer find them profitable. The idea is to establish artisans’ villages in this little piece of paradise and get the exponents of the fading crafts into action. But, says Akhtar, the prod-

ucts will have to be adapted for modern utilisation. Of course, this will have to be effected without loss of originality under Akhtar’s expert artistic eye. The artisans’ village may take some time to materialise. But for the time being, the ambience of the place draws me back to it again and again. It is an island of tranquility only an hour away from home. It surprises me that so few people in Lahore or Kasur know of it. Such a place in India would have been swamped with visitors on weekends. What really is the matter with us? –Salman Rashid, rated as the best in the country, is a travel writer and photographer who has travelled all around Pakistan and written about his journeys.

The Review - 24th April, 2011 - Pakistan Today  

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