A Pakistani Down Under – 3

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By Faisal Sayani

Date: October 9, 2014. Time: 5.40pm. Place: yes, where else but the Mitchell Library, Sydney, New South Wales.

“The novel is taking place in a world where democracy has turned into a farce of an ideal throughout the entirety of the world; where governments are held at gunpoint by military powers and political leaders are dictators selected through false elections.”

This backdrop rings several bells for a Pakistani, but is intended to describe a fantastical novel about characters that have been living with humans for a very long time and now coming out to fight for their real freedom. “At the centre of the novel is a trio of leaders — the Helldog, the Empress and the Usurper — working together and sometimes against one another to mould the rapidly growing Empire and eventually, the world, into a perfect stage for their individual agendas,” explains its Sydney-based co-author, Cait, as she talks about her epic book-in-the-making. (That the images that cropped up in my head while I was listening to her were of Pakistani news bulletins is neither her fault nor mine.)

Cait tells me that she’s collaborating with a Houston-based person called Adolfo on this project. Between them, the two co-authors have committed to write at least nine books of 100,000 words each in order to tell this story. That’s a lot of words. The authors think it should take them a couple of more years to finish and I can personally vouch for her dedication: I see her often, sitting across the room with her laptop, oblivious to her surroundings, typing away with a childlike anxiety on her face.

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Ironically enough, getting a book published in Pakistan is both extremely difficult and awfully simple.

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By now, many of us have seen or read The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. And so, Cait’s sci-fi fantasy magnum opus won’t offer something very different or new. But that’s not the point: the amount of seriousness she invests in her writing draws me in, makes me want to look forward to the work. I ask her why she chose such a strikingly quiet library as her workplace. “Personally, I love the quiet of the library,” she says. “The times I came with the original [writers’] meet-up [group], it was quiet and I felt like I could hear myself think for the first time in ages. There’s a calm that comes with the library; I think it’s something all writers are familiar with in some way or another and I thought that a two-hour intensive every other week would be perfect for those of us who need and want that quiet.”

I wish her good luck and immediately wonder how one would organise such ‘meet-up and write’ sessions in Pakistan. While the last decade has seen the emergence of many new voices from Pakistan, we can definitely use something like this. A Facebook page inviting aspiring writers to gather at a library or a cafe and write for an hour or two could be a good start. Someone with little bit of experience could conduct short, creative writing exercises to set the mood. Who knows, it could spark a bunch of great books from our region?

Ironically enough, getting a book published in Pakistan is both extremely difficult and awfully simple. Difficult, because even if you find a publisher who likes your work, the publisher wouldn’t know how to make any money on it for himself, let alone sharing some of it with you. But also simple, because you just have to pay the printing and distribution costs (of course, including the publisher’s fee) to a publisher of your choice and bingo. (I am, of course, talking about publishers of Urdu books only). Isn’t it time we considered online publishing?

But first, let’s get some writing done! I offer the Karachi Press Club’s Literary Activities’ Facebook page for the purpose. Any takers?

Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2014.

 

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A Pakistani Down Under – 2

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By Faisal Sayani

It is September 25, 2014. I am at the Mitchell Library in Sydney, which was established in 1910 and is based on the collections of David Scott Mitchell, Australia’s first and greatest collector of Australiana — items of historical or cultural interest of Australian origin. It has more than 800,000 items, books mostly, but also a variety of literature in other formats like CD ROMs, pamphlets, government reports, performances, sheet music, even invitations and menus. If you’re researching anything Australian, be it historical or contemporary, this is the place to spend most of your time in. The Mitchell Library is part of the State Library in New South Wales, which dates back to 1826.

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Writing is so pleasurable when it’s effortless. It is so frustrating when you are trying too hard.

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No, I didn’t end up here because I was researching about Australia. After coming to Sydney, I signed up for various writers’ meet-up groups. Members of one group, called ‘Write Together’, assemble in this remarkably quiet Mitchell Library room on alternate Thursday evenings and write in absolute silence for a couple of hours. And this is what they and I are doing right now.

The organiser of this group is a young girl who works as a data analyst and is passionate about writing. Caitlyn is writing three books currently, yes simultaneously. Her science fiction fantasy novel with 130 characters appears to be the centre of her attention these days.

Dr Christine Williams, who is the author of several biographical books and a number of short stories, organises another such group, ‘Sydney Writers Circle’, but the members don’t just write quietly there — certainly not in silence as the meetings take place in a pleasant, and at times noisy, cafe at Redfern, a Sydney suburb. She shows each of the participants an image, an illustration or an unfinished sentence, then off they go scribbling or typing. It feels like a race sometimes. I often find myself getting frustrated over the time my laptop takes to be switched on. With a pen, I can only fill out forms as my handwriting is so poor. Then, Dr Williams shares her feedback. Next, the members share their manuscripts/writings followed by a critique and advice session. Dr Williams teaches memoir classes and her books are published not only in Australia, but also in England and India.

While toiling with my writing, I ended up writing a scene for one of my many fantasised short films. That felt good. Writing is so pleasurable when it’s effortless. It is so frustrating when you are trying too hard. I think the cause of my recent writer’s block was that I was trying too hard.

The story of the impressive Mitchell Library would be incomplete if I didn’t talk about another library I spent a few hours in. Located in the suburbs, a couple of kilometres from my place, it has a very hospitable and friendly staff. The library has quite a large collection of books from many genres, placed neatly on the well-organised shelves. I didn’t see anyone going near them though, or any of the library books on any table. Instead, there were food, cans and very loud conversations. This was also the place where I heard people talking in Urdu.

This led me to ponder over the fact that there are contrasts like this everywhere. In every city of the world perhaps, be it Australia; be it Pakistan. In the DHA library, in the pricey neighbourhood of Karachi, it’s very quiet and nice too, very library-like. Whereas the Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai Library in Old Golimar — now almost a slum in Karachi — was not as calm and peaceful a place when it was functioning as a library.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2014.

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A Pakistani Down Under

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By Faisal Sayani

September 11, 2014. Okay, this is what, my 15th day in this city of a very, very different English accent. It took me a while to figure out that ‘toime’ is actually ‘time’, and I still don’t know what word the young teller at McDonald’s used to refer to a meal that comes with a drink and French fries along with a burger. I did ask her but perhaps, I scared her. I just wanted to learn a few words that would help me mingle.

So, I am struggling. Not that I am not liking it or am irritated, on the contrary I find it to be interesting — quite amusing, as a matter of fact. Quitting my comfortable and well-paying job back in Pakistan was not difficult. I was bored. There was nothing left to do, or, should I say the age of experimenting was over in the news television industry there. Besides, I was tired of hiding, of pretending to be what I was not. I am assuming no one will bother if I am reading a typically controversial book in a public train in Sydney. The man himself was here in the city last week (I were late to find out, damn!). I love his work.

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I was tired of hiding, of pretending to be what I was not.

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I don’t think I have ever written anything sitting in a very large and quiet room before this. Being a journalist, I was used to typing away stories for news in a big room (not this big though), but newsrooms are never quiet. I like this library room. And the more I look around, the greater is the urge to go up and look at the books closely. I don’t think Caitlyn (the organizer of this meetup) would appreciate this. Not now…

The train service to meet the commuting needs within the city is impressive (except for today –there were major delays today). Not long ago, I’d fuss and complain about bad roads and how much I hated driving, and would want to use a bus or a train to work, and read or sleep all the way. Now, here I am, still haven’t read a word from the book I’ve been carrying around in my bag as I am still besieged by the navigation issues and what’s right time to run to the door, etc., but just the assurance of the fact that I can is something to cherish.

My legs hurt and I miss my car.

Will I find the meaning of Peter Handke’s, “As if pain had no past…” here? One of the things that have been intriguing me for years, this is also inspiring in a strange way. It is already feeling good to having written a few words. Years of television (so-called) journalism affected the urge and the ability. “It [television] has to be shallow in order to work,” someone said. The last serious piece I could write was in 2012 after I returned from a seven day trip to India — which was quite emotional, a journey. I’d write pages and pages while I was the editor of a monthly magazine back in 2000.

Now, what is wrong?

Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2014.

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FEICA VS FEICA

Feica vs Feica is a short documentary (27 min. 48 seconds) about Pakistan’s veteran political cartoonist, Feica. For the last 30 years, Feica has been taking on all shades of bigotry – political, religious and social – through his cartoons. For these ‘sins’, the Karachi-based artist has often found himself in trouble with state authorities and political parties. But even stints in jail haven’t curbed Feica’s outspokenness, his non-conformism. His critics call him stupid for openly criticizing Pakistan’s power centres; for flouting the ban on alcohol by taking his hipflask to public places. But while he courts the image of a troublemaker and an irresponsible alcoholic, Feica is also a notoriously disciplined cartoonist, a canny entrepreneur, a doting father and caring husband.

This film confronts Pakistan’s contemporary socio-political realities as reflected by the public and private faces of its best-known satirist. What do these two Feicas think of each other? Who is the real Feica and what does he think? Why is he hated as much as he is admired?

This short shows the best and the worst of Pakistan though the eyes of a liberal, progressive artist. Most importantly, this documentary speaks of what resistance looks like and its future in a country eviscerated by its contradictions, its bigots and zealots.

Director’s Statement:

I grew up in Karachi at a time when art, culture and music were fading. Under Ziaul Haq, Pakistan’s omnipotent dictator, religion was used to purge society of its liberal and progressive elements. So effective was Zia’s revisionist account of history that the fabric of an entire nation was transformed. A secular, modern city such as Karachi that was once called the ‘Paris of the East’ became a loose grouping of shanties and towns driven by sectarian, ethnic and religious affiliations. And art, music and theatre were among the first casualties of this self-conscious false piety.

I’d long admired Feica as one of the few warriors who stood up against a dictator at the zenith of his power and continued fighting against the fanaticism sown by the tyrant and his cronies. When we finally met in 2009, it was perhaps inevitable that we’d hit it off and equally predictable that I’d want to memorialize his story.

But the idea for this film materialized in 2012, when I realised that the drunk Feica and the sober Feica are two distinct people. And while both have lived different lives, each has very strong ideas about the other’s journey. Hence, the idea of getting the two to confront each other, using the medium of film.

Feica’s message: “You can live without art but how wonderful a life with art” (that was the tipsy one).

Festivals

So far, Feica Vs Feica has been officially selected for:

  1. 5th Mumbai Shorts International Film Festival (2016), in Mumbai, India. Screening: December 21, 2016. The film also got ‘Special Festival Mention’

http://miniboxoffice.com/mumbaishortsinternationalfilmfestival/

  1. SHORT to the Point, Bucharest, Romania. The short has been screened on October 31, 2016.

http://spunepescurt.ro/2016/11/05/october-2016-official-selections-short-to-the-point/

  1. FreeNetWorld, Nis, Serbia. Screened between December 15-18, 2016

http://freenetworld.org/4.

4. 5th Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival, Kathmandu, Nepal. Will be screened between March 17-19, 2017

http://nhriff.hrfilms.org/

Faisal Sayani is an independent filmmaker and freelance journalist who teaches television production and the history of cinema at public and private universities in Karachi. Between 2002 and 2015, he headed current affairs departments at Geo News, DawnNews and Express News. He has also produced several documentaries on various subjects, including the 2006 ‘Zinda Tau Rehna Hai’ (Life Goes On) about life in the northern areas of Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake. He’s also a passionate photographer.

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Mairaj Mohammad Khan (Part 4) – Bhutto and the NSF

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TFT Issue: 27 Jan 2017

The late Mairaj Muhammad Khan recalls Bhutto’s emergence as a populist ‘saviour’: in his own words, interviewed, translated and researched by Faisal Sayani

Fatima versus Ayub

In Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies elections, almost all of our candidates won, badly beating not only Ayub’s candidates but also Ms. Fatima Jinnah’ candidates. That was NSF’s experiment [National Students’ Federation] of contesting some constituencies in order to expose the ‘Basic Democracies’ scam. That was followed by the presidential election of 1965 which was contested between Fatima Jinnah and Ayub Khan.

Obviously, we sided with Ms. Jinnah. NSF boys roamed around with lanterns (Ms Jinnah’s election symbol) in the city [Karachi] and campaigned for her more than the opposition political parties that supported her. To begin with, Ayub’s self-serving 1962 constitution was under fire. Secondly, we were strictly against his Sharif Commission (National Education Commission).

Ms. Jinnah invited me over while my arrest warrant was in effect. I’d go there in disguise using a cap, etc. And, the intelligence people, being intelligence people, never suspected [a thing]. She cried, “Bacha log (boys)¸ what are you up to? Do you want another martial law to be imposed here?”  I replied, “No, no, we have resisted martial law all our lives. Even today, we are standing there in your support and chanting slogans against Ayub Khan. Who says we are trying to bring about martial law?” She said, “Okay, but don’t cause too much of a commotion!”

There might be some differences amongst the leaders [of opposition political parties] but students unanimously supported Ms. Jinnah. We told them (the party leaders) that the public were generally against Ayub. I’d give speeches against the regime in different areas and places like Laloo Khet and an imambargah. And when the police arrived I’d escape from the alternate routes, sometimes entering and exiting a series of houses in areas like Martin Quarters (Karachi). People helped and supported us.

Seen here with Pakistan's first military strongman Ayub Khan, Ms. Fatima Jinnah ran a courageous - if eventually unsuccessful - campaign against him

Seen here with Pakistan’s first military strongman Ayub Khan, Ms. Fatima Jinnah ran a courageous – if eventually unsuccessful – campaign against him

“Bhutto agreed with me on a lot of issues – land reforms, foreign policy, military agreements and a movement to put the bureaucracy right” (Mairaj Muhammad Khan)

Ayub khan created the Electoral College which consisted of 80,000 Basic Democrats through the Basic Democracies election for his presidential election in 1965. During the election campaign, Muhammad Shoaib, then finance minister, was being sent to us in order to quieten down the students’ movement. A temporary moratorium was established that I would not be arrested for the next 12 hours. My arrest warrants were out and they had been looking for me everywhere and houses were being raided. After consulting my fellow NSF activists, I agreed to meet him. He asked if I had the list of our demands with me. I gave him the pamphlet. He assured me that the government will accept almost all of our demands: “We will make the announcement on radio. You can hear it yourself.” I was pleasantly surprised. I said, “I am glad that you are taking an interest in resolving students’ issues. Please go ahead.” That’s when he revealed his real motive: “But you’ll have to do us a little favour too. Just declare that you will stay neutral in the upcoming presidential election (1965).” I turned the offer down: “We will not abandon Fatima Jinnah. And staying neutral is out of question whether you do or do not accept our demands.” That proved to be a deal-breaker.

The movement began. And so did the clashes. People were persecuted and jailed. The good thing that came out of it was that the whole student community stood up against the hooligans hired by the Muslim League. Ms. Jinnah secured more votes than Ayub in Karachi.

Ayub Khan put me in jail for 9 months. I was still in jail during 1965 war when the superintendent of the jail told me that the government wanted me to address the youth through the radio, asking them to unite against India’s aggression. I knew how to give speeches. Not only did I do so, I also organised a procession against India’s invasion, which consisted of no less than 100,000 people.

Fatima Jinnah won the support of all stripes of pro-democracy opinion in Pakistan, including progressives and leftists such as the National Students' Federation (NSF)

Fatima Jinnah won the support of all stripes of pro-democracy opinion in Pakistan, including progressives and leftists such as the National Students’ Federation (NSF)

***

Bhutto rises

When Ayub Khan defeated Fatima Jinnah through bogus votes and his electoral college, people turned against him in West Pakistan. People of East Pakistan hated him anyway. Consequently, when in 1966 after the Tashkent declaration (Jan 05, 1966) Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto parted ways with Ayub (some people say Ayub chucked him out but Bhutto insisted that he refused to compromise on his principles and he quit) people looked up to him. He emerged as a popular leader after his speech at the Security Council (September 22, 1965) as foreign minister during the war. It felt as if a young man from the Third World stood up for his country’s freedom. His heated words: “We will wage a war for a thousand years, a war of self-defense… irrespective of our size, of our resources, we will fight till the end” appealed to the youth and he became a hero of sorts.

After quitting the government in June 1966, Bhutto boarded a train in Rawalpindi that headed to Lahore. Many MNAs and MPAs, including Ghulam Mustafa Khar, saw him off at the station. He was given a warm welcome by the swarms of youngsters that included NSF boys at every station that the train stopped at. Anti-Ayub slogans were being chanted. More than 50,000 people gave him a hero’s welcome at the railway station in Lahore. People would throw flower petals at him. One would kiss his hands, another would run around carrying the handkerchief with which he wiped his tears. Emotions ran high and you could feel the love for Bhutto in the air.

When we (NSF) found out about Bhutto’s arrival in Karachi, we organised a huge procession at Cantonment Railway Station to welcome him. I remember Mumtaz Mehkri barging into Bhutto’s compartment and asking him over and over: “Say something against imperialism. Say something against the Army, or Ayub Khan”. And he’d say, “Yes, yes, I will!”

That orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Ali Shah who lives in Nazimabad, Karachi, tried creating confusion by claiming in his book and in a television interview that he arranged that welcome gathering at the station – which is an absolute lie. He was not even present there.

Thousands of NSF boys, after receiving Bhutto at the station followed him to his home. In the evening that day Bhutto invited us over and we presented him a document containing suggestions on foreign policy which he seemed to like. Besides myself, Rasheed Hassan Khan, Jauhar Hussain and many others whose names I can’t recall were also present.

Mairaj Muhammad Khan (1938-2016) - lifelong opponent of authoritarian and military regimes in Pakistan

Mairaj Muhammad Khan (1938-2016) – lifelong opponent of authoritarian and military regimes in Pakistan

***

Bhutto and the NSF – a love story?

A week or so later while I was busy in my routine chores, I heard some noise coming from outside the house that I used to stay in. Boys in the neighborhood were screaming “Jeay Bhutto!” When I peeked through a jafri (lattice) I saw Z.A. Bhutto standing there in the street. After greeting him I said, “You should have sent for me. Why did you bother?” He went, “I came here because you guys told me that you were against Ayub Khan, but it seems you have compromised with him”. I asked, “Who says so?” “You would have been out there in the field had you been willing to fight the regime!” he challenged. I said, “We are fighting it, not because of you. We’ve been fighting since you were Ayub’s minister. We fought against his martial law and brought it to an end. We were jailed, tortured and ‘externed’. Who told you that we have compromised with him? We are against him because he turned my country into the seat of international conspiracies. He sold our freedom to America. You may want to drive bargains with him but I will never do that.” He said, “No, I am willing to fight him. Come over, let’s talk.”

Thanks to the NSF, I was constantly obsessed with politics and would yearn for doing something for society. Our meetings began. I told Bhutto that there’d be no compromise with the imperialists. All such agreements will be terminated at once. Secondly, feudalism needs to be eliminated. Western parliamentary democracy cannot go hand in hand with feudalism. Such so-called democracy will be useless for us. “Give us your word that you will change this outdated system, be it through reforms, if not a revolution.” He agreed with me on a lot of issues, like land reforms, foreign policy, military agreements and initiating a movement to put the bureaucracy right. That is why we stood with him. He was a very intelligent man. He could tell what went on in a person’s mind. Also, he was very brave and energetic. For such a person in Persian they say: “Aatish Zer-e-Pa” – If there’s fire under a person’s feet, he won’t stay still. He’d just go romping around. There was hardly a place in (West) Pakistan where he hadn’t paid a visit. Be it a small village or a city or a district, he went everywhere. It didn’t matter to him if it was a crowd of 5 or 50 or 5,000 people that he was speaking to. He’d set off a dialogue of sorts with people in his speeches:

“Will you fight Ayub Khan?”

They’d respond, “Yes, we will!”

“Will you struggle with me?”

“Yes, we will!”

“Will you come out on streets with me?”

“Yes, we will come out!”

“Will you die with me?”

“Yes, we will die with you!”

This is how he connected with common people. He’d motivate them, evoke enthusiasm in them. He’d shake hands with them, mingle with them, he would call people over to his house. He’d talk to them for hours. These qualities would inspire a common man.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, flanked by Hafeez Pirzada and Mairaj Muhammad Khan

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, flanked by Hafeez Pirzada and Mairaj Muhammad Khan

“Senior members of the leftist organisations told us to join his party and take control of him. I told them we cannot have any power over Bhutto”

Bhutto had a fascinating personality. Later, I myself went through a lot of struggle to get out of his charisma. It was very difficult to say goodbye to him.

I used to raise this question at NSF forums: what do we do after years of student activism? Become a journalist? Find a job? Or run a trade union? We must do something beyond that. We should take active part in politics to fix things in this country. I’d suggest that we form a political party. I made a lot of noise among my fellow activists.

The senior members of the leftist organisations saw in Bhutto an opportunity to release some pressure from themselves and they told us to join his party and take control of him. I told them we cannot have any power over Bhutto. He was a popular leader. Though he agreed with most of the matters we advised him on, he also differed with us on some issues and would conveniently dodge us. And he’d turn hostile towards us someday. Still, if we manage to get him to agree with us on some affairs, I’d consider that a victory.

Faisal Sayani is a freelance journalist, teacher and filmmaker with experience in current affairs television production. All translation, research and fact-checking for this article is the work of the author. He may be reached via email at faisalsayani@gmail.com

Published in The Friday Times on January 27, 2017

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Mairaj Mohammad Khan (Part 3) – Arson and coin tosses – the riotous ’60s

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By Faisal Sayani  TFT Issue: 18 Nov 2016

The late Mairaj Muhammad Khan recalls taking on the Ayub regime: in his own words, interviewed, translated and researched by Faisal Sayani

While I along with others was banished from Karachi and other major cities, the female students of DJ College Karachi went on a hunger strike. A procession was held by the students and general public in their support which was then attacked by police on horseback. That ill-advised action by the government did not just enrage the students but it also enabled people from all walks of life to take sides. Teachers, workers, trade unions and even the business community of Karachi began to support us. There were protests everywhere and it looked as if the whole city was set to revolt against the Establishment. The major demands of the 1963 movement included: reduction in the duration of three-year degree and law courses, abolition of the wicked University Ordinance and annulment of the externment orders of the students.

When the 1963 movement was at its peak and country-wide strikes were being observed by the students, forcing closure of colleges and universities, it was Nur Khan (then PIA chairman) with his liberal mindset, who helped by arranging a meeting between the students, trade unionists and the Governor of West Pakistan, Amir Mohammad Khan of Kalabagh. The meeting was held in Lahore and the delegates from Karachi were flown in on a PIA chartered plane. The Nawab of Kalabagh accepted all of the demands (including withdrawal of my exile) except the demand for doing away with the university ordinance. He said it was beyond his jurisdiction and only the ‘centre’ (Ayub Khan) could reverse it.

Nawab Amir Khan of Kalabagh

Nawab Amir Khan of Kalabagh

We were breathing in the century of revolutions

Differences with CPP and the ideological training

The Communist Party of Pakistan, after being banned in 1954 (on charges of conspiring to overthrow Liaquat Ali Khan), went underground and remained there for a very long time. They grew very circumspect after losing Hassan Nasir and feared a crackdown more often than not. I was believed to be a rebel and far too adventurous to controlled. Hence, they were quite upset with me.

When I was little, I would lie down under a neem tree and enjoy the breeze while listened to my mother’s advice. She’d say, “Stand by the weak and stand up to the oppressor.” I couldn’t stand repression and tyranny since I was a child. Later, when I was given Karl Marx’ books to read, I felt ill at ease at first but as I read on, it occurred to me that this man is, pretty much, giving me the same advice as my mother with a copy of Quran in her hands did. He speaks for the downtrodden and the exploited, tells them to unite against their tormentors and says, “you have nothing to lose but your chains.” That clicked with me and thus it became my ideological tutoring. I found myself drawn towards Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong because they fought imperialists for freedom and wanted to evolve a social system where every person gets work according to his ability and is rewarded according to his services. Such ideas would attract any young person, and they did excite me. We were breathing in the century of revolutions. Russia, China, Vietnam, Korea and Algeria went through revolutions in that very century. I began to romanticise a revolution in Pakistan too.

In the early NSF years, Sher Afzal was a leader I would put on a very high pedestal. So much so that had he asked me to jump off a building, I would do that right away. I’d even kill my own brother if he would demand so in the name of the revolution. Such was my love and respect for him – which later turned into a dispute. He started to poison me against certain party members. I learnt only later that it was due to the split within the CPP between Karachi and the rest of the Sindh membership of the party.

Syed Mohammad Taqi

Syed Mohammad Taqi

The ‘Pro-Peking’ and ‘Pro-Moscow’ Divide

It made sense that Russia and China as different nations had a dispute over the different versions of the same ideology but for us to jump into that conflict was not justified. CPP activists tried to pull NSF into this clash and that’s when the cracks began to appear. I tried very hard to prevent it, but you know when the communists fight amongst themselves they tend to become ferocious, deprived of any reason.

The Peking-Moscow conflict began in 1964 (in NSF), it blossomed in 1965, and in 1966 when I was about to assume the responsibility of leading NSF, the split took place. I went through polemic studies on the Sino-Soviet split and deduced that China’s side carried much more weight for me than that of the Soviet Union. I found Mao’s tireless determination and passion to be very inspiring. Then, China’s supportive attitude towards Pakistan at the time of 1965 war was cherished by a common man here, but resented by the pro-Moscow faction. There must have been about a hundred thousand people in the procession we organized after the 1965 war. Bunder Road (now M.A.Jinnah Road, Karachi) was swarmed with people from one end to another, with men holding life-sized portraits of international leaders like Sukarno, Yasser Arafat, Ahmed Ben Bella and Zhou Enlai.

At the time of the 1965 election, there was a divide in NSF over the action plan. I was the Secretary-General and Baqar Askary was the President. I was of the opinion that we ought to initiate a movement against Ayub and that movement will eventually transform into an election campaign for Ms. Jinnah because the regime will come down hard on us – and then public sentiment will turn hostile towards Ayub. However, this suggestion was opposed by some (including Sher Afzal and Baqar Askary) in the meeting, who proposed campaigning for Ms. Jinnah only. Speeches were given on both points of view. I sensed what the majority of the members were leaning towards and couldn’t help playing a little mind game there. I asked Baqar to not to get a vote on this as there was going to be a split. Baqar, being from the opposite group, at once demanded a vote (something I desired) and about 90 percent supported my proposal. Although the divide in the NSF was noticeable by then, nevertheless the 1964 movement began with a bang.

Pakistan's Ayub Khan with President Kennedy - the former soon found his pro-Western military regime challenged by a mass movement

Pakistan’s Ayub Khan with President Kennedy – the former soon found his pro-Western military regime challenged by a mass movement

Seeing that they were on the losing side, Jamaat-e-Islami eagerly agreed. A coin was tossed

The 1964 Movement – Crackdown at Islamia College

The 1964 movement had a 12-point agenda which included fee reduction, a policy of college admissions for all, the establishment of more educational, technical, and engineering institutions, etc. in addition to the demand for termination of the University Ordinance. Students managed to shut down almost every educational institution in the city. Islamia College (Karachi) became the NSF’s power base of sorts. The institution was comprised of various types of colleges – it was an arts college in morning, science in afternoon and commerce in evening. Thousands of students were enrolled there. When we went on general strike, the college founder and owner Abdul Rehman Mohammad Qureshi (who had also served as Jinnah’s driver) called in the Rangers and the Frontier Constabulary to crack down on us. Islamia College campus looked like a battlefield as the result. The paramilitary personnel, not being able to distinguish one from another, started beating students and teachers alike. We refused to give up and vowed that the strike will not be called off, unless the demands are met and after that brutal act by the administration, the education minister of West Pakistan, Mohammad Yasin Khan Wattoo, will have to meet the students in person.

While that onslaught was proceeding at Islamia College, I along with a few other boys went to the nearby busy square, Guru Mandir, and set a few double-decker buses on fire. Consequently, as expected, the paramilitary force had to be moved from the college to Guru Mandir, hence saving the protesting students from further thrashing.

We set off to Syed Mohammad Taqi’s house, which was located in the vicinity (somewhere in the Garden area) to take refuge. He treated us warmheartedly. After listening to our story, he shared his concern with his brother, Rais Amrohvi, “Do you see this. Where they are headed to? What’s going to come out of all this?” Then he made us wash, got us changed into clean clothes and fed us generously. He knew about my arrest warrant and was aware of the consequences of us getting arrested at his place but that did not bother him at all.

[The talks between the All-Parties Students’ Action Committee (led by Mairaj Muhammad Khan) and Yasin Wattoo generally failed as most of the demands were not met]Basic Democracies election, 1965

In 1965 I was asked (by CPP and NSF) to contest the Basic Democracies election. Knowing Ayub Khan had engineered the system to provide legitimacy to his rule, I resisted. But they insisted that it was necessary to take part in the election. I agreed finally and ran for it. My opponent in the constituency (of Karachi) belonged to Jamat-e-Islami. A very senior JI member asked me to refrain from the election, upon which I confronted him as how could he ask me for such a thing while they themselves were going for it! After some discussion it was agreed that we would do it in a fair manner, and only the listed voters will cast their vote, and that the result will be acceptable for both the parties. The polling began and by looking at the kind of turnout it was obvious that I was going to bag more votes. That’s when they called in Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) activists – who came in hordes and began to cast votes illegally. We objected and warned them that they couldn’t beat us in this (student power) game. They told us off. At that point I sent for NSF boys at Islamia College. Our activists got hold of a public transport bus, filled it with our supporters, dropped them off at polling booths, and sped away to fetch more. Within a few such rounds the place was thronged with my supporters, who like IJT workers, began to fill the boxes. Now it was JI’s turn to accuse us of rigging. I said, “When you yourselves were doing it, you sanctified the act as Islamic.” Just then, Fatehyab Ali Khan arrived at the scene. The senior JI man asked him for justice. To my surprise, Fatehyab said, “Let’s flip a coin. Heads is a winner and tails a loser.” Seeing that they were on the losing side, JI eagerly agreed. A coin was tossed and it was tails, i.e. I lost. But clearly, Fatehyab was up to something different. He picked up the coin and announced to JI bunch, “I am sorry, you have lost. Mairaj has won.” Obviously, they protested. Even I whispered in his ear, “What are you doing? It was tails. What do we even achieve by winning this election?” He was adamant, “No, no, you have won. That’s how the coin was.”

That was the manner in which my friend Fatehyab took care of the Basic Democracies election.

Faisal Sayani is a freelance journalist, teacher and filmmaker with experience in current affairs television production. All translation, research and fact-checking for this article is the work of the author. He may be reached via email at faisalsayani@gmail.com

Published in The Friday Times on November 18, 2016

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Mairaj Mohammad Khan (Part 2) – A song of batons and jails

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TFT Issue: 29 Sep 2016

The late Mairaj Muhammad Khan on his years as a firebrand student leader, in his own words – interviewed, translated and researched by Faisal Sayani

 

A song of batons and jails

Internationalism – Mairaj Muhammad Khan recalls Pakistani students organising protests over the murder of Congo’s leader and pan-African icon, Patrice Lumumba

 


After the Democratic Students Federation’s victorious 1953 movement against (mainly) the fee hike in colleges and universities, the government found a way to persecute and punish DSF members. They started to use the label of ‘communism’ in order to crush such protests. As (Indian ex-communist M.N. Roy) said, “Communism in Asia is nothing but nationalism painted red”. Anyone who spoke of any rights – be it of students or workers, anyone who talked about land reforms or criticised capitalism and emphasised the welfare of the people would be marked dangerous, godless, an enemy of God and hence worthy of jail and persecution. Eventually, in 1954, the DSF was banned on the grounds of its connections with the Communist Party of Pakistan, which was also banned around the same time.

A new student organisation called ‘All Pakistan Students Federation’ was formed and banned in a very short time. Subsequently, all attempts made by the former DSF activists to establish an independent organisation met a similar fate. Finally, in 1956, these unsettled activists managed to infiltrate an organisation called ‘National Students Federation’, which was originally formed with the support of the government. NSF used to be a social welfare organisation which would organise events for students, invite ministers as chief guests, distribute books, receive grants (embezzling some of them). Many of the less prominent former senior DSF members like Dr. Abdul Wadood were sent to join NSF. He, along with others, changed the whole direction of the organisation. That was particularly revealed to the government in 1956 when at the time of the Suez Canal crisis, thousands of students and NSF activists rallied on the streets and chanted slogans against imperialist regimes (‘Down with England, Israel, France…’).

Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Fateyab Ali Khan - Photo Credits - MM Khan Collection

Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Fateyab Ali Khan – Photo Credits – MM Khan Collection

“In jail, we were kept near the gallows on death row”

The first time I was sent to jail was in 1959. I was campaigning in colleges to organise a demo against US president Eisenhower’s visit to Pakistan, so that the people of the world could see that there is a significant presence of anti-imperialists throughout this country. But before it could materialise, the intelligence agencies got the information and they arrested me and put me in jail for three months. They also picked up several trade union leaders. Prominent Communist Party activist Hassan Nasir was also detained at that time.

Ayub Khan imposed martial law in 1958 after convincing the USA of the sheer incompetence of the civilians and of their incapability to run a parliamentary system of government. It was not just about political parties: the NSF – which was just a student organization – was also banned. Ayub knew that NSF had become stronger than the political parties of the time, just as the DSF used to be much more powerful than the mainstream political entities. The students’ rage was increased two-fold when in 1959 (most newspapers and websites claim the year to be 1960) Hassan Nasir was murdered in police custody.

Student leaders in 1965 - Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Rasheed Hasan Khan

Student leaders in 1965 – Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Rasheed Hasan Khan

All ministers ran off except for Z.A. Bhutto. He refused to leave the stage and kept fighting us. I liked his determination

To add to the misery of the students, in 1959, the National Education Commission (commonly referred to as the Sharif Commission) was established. The most damaging thing it did was to scrap the University Act which enabled universities to be free and autonomous. The commission, through a newly drafted University Ordinance, gave absolute control over universities to the provincial Governors i.e. martial law. Governors and vice chancellors were given the powers of confiscating a degree, denying admission and even expelling a student. Because of such laws, I was illegally and unconstitutionally denied admission to the University of Karachi in 1963. As a result, I could never finish my M.A. The University Ordinance also extended the duration of degree courses from two years to three years. Many of the NSF activists were of the opinion that it was already hard for a poor man to send his kids to a university for two years – how could he afford to do so for three or more years? NSF wanted to oppose the ban and avenge Hassan Nasir’s death. We wanted to raise a voice against such laws.

In 1961, the first legally elected prime minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated. First, we organised a huge rally to protest Lumumba’s murder. Around the same time, the Jabalpur Riots took place in India and many Muslims were slain. Some people accused of us being Red (communist) and not Pink (a subscriber of more moderate communist and socialist ideas), alleging that we care about Lumumba (whose leanings were towards Soviet Union) while completely ignoring helpless Muslims of Jabalpur. So I decided to call a huge gathering and we rallied to protest the riots. Though I was told by Communist Party members to call off the protest as they feared the crackdown on the party, I flatly refused. Thousands came out, formed a procession and marched on the streets of Karachi rendering the martial law practically ineffective.

Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

Mairaj Muhammad Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

While sweets were being distributed at Burns Road (Karachi) and a common man was rejoicing the end of martial law, many of the NSF leaders including myself, Fatehyab Ali Khan, Ali Mukhtar Rizvi, Johar Hussain, Sher Afzal Malik, Ameer Haider Kazmi, Anwar Ahsan Siddiqui, Dr. Mehboob and Agha Jaffar were picked up, jailed and tortured dreadfully. Among us, Iqbal Memon was the one who was tortured most brutally. They probably thought that since his name contained ‘Memon’ in it, he’d be easier to break. They were clearly mistaken. They tried to force us into writing false confessions like ‘(NSF) received Rs.500,000 from Soviet Union’ or ‘…200,000 from India.’ For a month, they kept us in various police stations. They would drag us from one station to another. On February 27, 1961, a court (under martial law) sentenced me, Fatehyab, Johar Hussain and Sher Afzal Malik to one year of penal servitude. Ameer Haider Kazmi was given nine months, whereas Anwar Ahsan Siddiqui, Iqbal Memon and Ali Mukhtar were given six months in prison. In order to prevent contact from the outside world, some of us, including myself, were sent to Bahawalpur and the rest to Multan jail. In Bahawalpur jail, the four of us (myself, Fatehyab, Johar and Sher) were kept near the gallows on death row. Constables wearing red caps would ask us “What have you done that they are hanging you?” We could tell that these were the tactics employed by our oppressors to scare us, which certainly didn’t work.

We were rigourously interrogated, too. The superintendent of the jail (I wouldd rather not put his name on record) was a very nice man and he opposed Ayub’s tyrannical ways. Therefore, he secretly helped us with those interrogations. He told us to stick to one – and just one – story.

During one of these interrogatory sessions I was brought to a smaller jail in Rahimyar Khan. They gave me filthy and tattered clothes which I refused to put on despite their threats. When they were taking me back to Bahawalpur jail from Rahimyar Khan, the cops were given money to hire a horse-drawn carriage for transport. They stole the money and we went on foot instead. On the way, a posse of children coming out of a school spotted me in handcuffs and being taken away by cops and started to yell ‘Chor! Chor!’ (Thief! Thief!). That was so soul- crushing that my eyes welled up and I wept. Moments later, a shopkeeper from around came running to us and hushed the boys, “He’s not a thief. He’s your leader.” I was reminded of Faiz’s poem, the one he wrote after his captors made him walk on the streets of Sialkot in shackles to humiliate him, “Aaj bazaar main pa ba-joulan chalo, Dast afhsaan chalo, Mast-o-raqsaan chalo, Khaak bar sar chalo, Khoon badamaan chalo, Raah taktaa hai sab shehr-e-jaanaan chalo”

(Today, you must walk the marketplace in chains

Walk, with palms open before you

Walk, with your head caked in dust

Walk, with shirtsleeves seeped in blood

Whirl, in frenzied throes of ecstasy

Walk on, the beloved city yearns for you)

(Translated by Mustansir Dalvi)

Although we were imprisoned, we were successful in achieving the goal of putting an end to the terrifying period when a common man was too scared of even saying anything against Ayub’s regime.

In 1962, we were quietly released after nine months of incarceration once they brought us back to a jail in Karachi. However, only 10-15 days later came the orders of our externment. That was the first externment (of activist students), and Fatehyab, Johar Hussain, Iqbal Memon, Ameer Haider Kazmi, Ali Mukhtar Rizvi, Anwar Ahsan and I were forced to leave the city.

Ayub versus the students – rise of the NSF

Although a noticeable industrial growth was witnessed in Ayub’s period, at the same time, the exploitation of workers was at its peak. Labourers were hired for a month and then were re-hired, hence benefits like pension or gratuity were totally denied. Trade union activities and strikes were dealt with using brute force. For that reason, the working class of the country took an active part in the struggle against Ayub’s rule.

Army dictators of the Third World were given this tool called ‘guided’ or ‘controlled’ or (in Pakistan’s case) ‘basic’ democracies by the imperialist powers of the world. After demolishing parliamentary democracy, Ayub Khan in late 1959 introduced Basic Democracies. Local government elections were held and an electoral college was manufactured, which in 1960, elected him President.

Ayub went on and enforced his expedient constitution in 1962, which we (NSF) rejected as vehemently as Habib Jalib did through his poem ‘Dastoor’ (Constitution).  Soon enough he felt the need for a political party to endorse his reign. The convention of Muslim Leaguers who supported him resulted in Convention Muslim League and Ayub Khan became its chairman. The first grand public meeting of the party was organised at Polo Ground, Karachi, in 1963. Delegates from East and West Pakistan came to attend it. Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman was presiding and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was conducting the convention. That was the political party a military dictatorship was giving birth to, and it was being imposed on the public in the name of democracy. Poor workers and students were already battling against the dictator. The ban on the NSF was recently lifted owing to 1963’s Party Act and the students were all charged and angry enough for a new adventure.

Jinnah Courts, currently the home of Rangers personnel, used to house hundreds of students. It was at these hostels where the plan to disrupt the Convention League gathering was chalked out. A group of NSF activist girls went to Lyari to meet the well-known gangsters Sheru and Dadal who were hired by the government to ensure things go as planned. After much pleading and convincing – which included holding their feet – the duo agreed to give them a couple of hundred passes of the convention and warned them not to cause any commotion. The (NSF) boys, making use of those passes along with Ayub’s photographs and badges carrying pictures of rose (Ayub’s election symbol), were able to penetrate the convention. Just when the meeting began, we took out the banners with ‘Ayub Khan Murdabad’ (Down with Ayub) written on them and took over the convention. Flowerpots were thrown on the ministers. Chairs went flying off in the air. Considering his old age, we carefully placed Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman’s chair off the stage. Syed Saeed Hassan, Ali Mukhtar Rizvi, Fatehyab and I took over the stage and delivered speeches and presented a resolution. All ministers ran off from the stage except for Z.A. Bhutto. He refused to leave the stage and kept fighting us throughout the 15-minute siege, despite being physically bashed up by our activists. I liked his determination. We left the scene after getting the signal from Sheru and Dadal.

Obviously, that incident infuriated Ayub so much that before the next morning all of us were arrested. Among the twelve whose externment orders were issued immediately were: Fatehyab Khan, Ali Mukhtar Rizvi, Johar Hussain, Ameer Haider Kazmi, Agha Jaffar, Saeed Hassan, Wahid Bashir, Hussain Naqi, Nafees Siddiqui and I.

Unlike the last externment, we were quite prepared this time around. We had alerted our friends and comrades in every university and college about the likely exile and were assured that if that happened, they would have to support us. We were banished from metropolitan cities, so we went to smaller cities like Sukkur, Bahawalpur, Rahimyar Khan and Multan. It was there that we started campaigning for a bigger struggle against the regime which transformed into the famous 1963 movement.

Faisal Sayani is a freelance journalist, teacher and filmmaker with experience in current affairs television production. All translation, research and fact-checking for this article is the work of the author. He may be reached via email at faisalsayani@gmail.com

Published in The Friday Times on September 29, 2016

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Mairaj Mohammad Khan (Part 1) – The man who threw flowerpots at British soldiers

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By Faisal Sayani

The late Mairaj Muhammad Khan on his early, formative years, in his own words.

I saw Mairaj Muhammad Khan for the first time in the late 1990s, leading a candlelight vigil for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) in Karachi. I can’t deny that I was overwhelmed by his fiery and loud manner but at the same time I found there was more substance in his speech than that of the party chairman. There was a world of difference between the two Khan sahibs. Mairaj was one of Pakistan’s strongest voices of dissent, a politician who, among other accomplishments, was one of the founders of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP).

More than a decade later, I found myself sitting with him at his house in Karachi, enjoying his hospitality and listening to the stories of his past. Thanks to technology and Mr. Khan’s willingness, I was able to record more than 10 hours of his absorbing monologues over a period of about seven months in 2012. He passed away, at the age of 77, in Karachi this summer.

The material for this piece, edited for clarity, has been taken from those recordings which are part of an unfinished documentary film on his life.

***

Childhood in India and migration

My father (Taj Mohammad Khan) had been practicing hikmat (traditional medicine) in Quetta since 1942 and one of his daughters was living in the city after getting married. She fell sick and he went to Quetta from Qaimganj, UP, to treat her himself. He eventually set up his clinic in Quetta and would visit Qaimganj twice a year. I, with my two sisters and elder brother Minhaj Barna, lived in Qaimganj with our mother. The rest of our siblings were in Bombay.

My mother told me she could not imagine that traveling from Qaimganj (India) to Quetta (Pakistan) will be an issue after the Partition, and that passports and visas would be a prerequisite. She did not see it coming that the properties of those [people] who are temporarily or permanently living on the other side of the border could be confiscated.

Zakir Hussain, who headed Jamia Millia and later went on to become President of India, was a major influence on a young Mairaj

Zakir Hussain, who headed Jamia Millia and later went on to become President of India, was a major influence on a young Mairaj

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“You think you can come back here anytime? No, you can’t. Now it’s two different countries. But you will not get it”

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She, being of a very democratic school of thought, had asked us, “See, your father stays in Quetta most of the time; would you want to move to Quetta?” We unanimously replied in the negative, so we remained in Qaimganj after Partition. It was not to last.

One day in 1949, a Sikh custodian knocked at our door along with a few more men. He asked my mother about the whereabouts of my father and she told him the truth.

“Ma’am, think again before you answer my question,” he replied. “Where is he and when is he coming back here?”

My mother was puzzled. “Son, he’s been living in various cities for years – Karachi, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, and now Quetta. I can’t decide on his behalf when he will return.”

“I want to tell you something,” the Sikh custodian said. “I am a refugee (sharnarti) from the part of Punjab which is now in Pakistan. I came plundered and ruined. And, I am sorry that I have been given a task I am not happy to carry out. Now, think again and tell me whether your husband will stay here or there?”

She grew more confused. “He will decide that himself. We have been living in India, and we will go to Pakistan whenever we please,” she said. “Why is it a problem?”

“No, That’s not the case anymore,” he replied. “Do you know who owns this house?”

“My husband does.” The Sikh custodian then asked her to consult a lawyer. She refused and insisted on finding out what was going on.

He said, “We [the Government of India] know that this house is in the name of your husband but I am here to confiscate it on behalf of the government.”

A scene from the Royal Indian Navy mutiny of 1946

A scene from the Royal Indian Navy mutiny of 1946

My mother resisted. “Are you declaring us homeless in our own house? Should we not protest?”

At that point, the man burst into tears. “I am a refugee and am homeless myself and I can feel your pain. You are a simple woman. You won’t understand why I am doing this. You think you can go there and come back here anytime you want to? No, you can’t. Now, it’s two different countries. But, you will not get it. You’re like my sister and I want to offer you a concession. I can write an agreement of minimal rent for you so you can stay in this house with your children.”

I used to study in Jamia Millia, Delhi when I was little. When Gandhi went on his ‘fast unto death’ (to protest British support of the caste system in the Indian electorate in the Indian Constitution), Dr Zakir Hussain sent us kids to chant slogans like “Gandhi-ji ka barat turaao, Gandhi-ji kee jaan bachao” (Let’s end Gandhi’s fast, Let’s save Gandhi’s life). He offered Gandhi a glass of milk and flowers. This is the kind of love and harmony I was raised with. We learned catchphrases like ‘Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Eesai, Aapas main hain bhai bhai’ (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, They are all brethren) at Jamia Millia. There was no concept of Hindu-Muslim riots in Qaimganj. Pathans were mostly feudal lords and Kolis and Bheels (Hindus) worked as labourers on their lands. And, there was harmony among them. I did not know the differences that caused Partition and neither did my mother. Hence, she was devastated and her desire to stay in India despite everything was crushed. She gathered all of her children and told us we would have to migrate to Pakistan.

Fighting back - Mairaj Muhammad Khan

Fighting back – Mairaj Muhammad Khan

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My niece and I (at eight years of age) threw a flowerpot at a truck full of British soldiers

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So, in 1949, four of us – my mother, me, my brother Minhaj Barna and my sister Qudsia Khanum – migrated to Quetta. The rest of my siblings decided to stay back: two brothers and a sister in Bombay and a sister in Kanpur. We came to Lahore first and then boarded a train to Quetta. Most of Pakistan I saw out of the window was a desert. I’d ask my mother, “How come there are no trees here?” The stations before Quetta such as Aab-e-Gum and Saryab looked deserted. Neither a station master nor a coolie was in sight. No one would get down or hop on there. That would make me anxious as I had seen scores of people everywhere while traveling on the train from Delhi to Qaimganj. And, here I hardly saw anyone. I’d ask my mother nervously, who I would play with because I couldn’t see any children, a park or a tree. And she’d say, “Present all these questions to your father politely when we reach Quetta.” But, Quetta turned out to be a beautiful city. In the summers, every house would smell of roses.

Asghari Khanum: Bombay before Partition

My elder sister Asghari Khanum had a huge flat at 3 Sankli Street in Bombay, which was frequented by authors, poets and intellectuals such as Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Krishan Chandar, Sibte Hassan and Josh Malihabadi. She was the one who introduced Sahir Ludhyanvi to the film industry. There’d be literary gatherings every Saturday at the flat. More than Urdu literary gatherings, they were anti-British meetings.

In 1946, the Royal Indian Navy mutiny against British rule by the Indian sailors was in full swing in Bombay. British soldiers could be seen in every street. When the mutiny began, sweets were distributed in every nook and corner of the city. I ate a laddu too. And I didn’t stop at just a laddu. My niece and I (at eight years of age) threw a flowerpot at a truck full of British soldiers from Asghari Khanum’s flat’s balcony. The annoyed soldiers came running upstairs. Sensing I had something to do with it, my sister asked me. I said, “You kept mentioning in your conversations that they are bad people, so I threw a flowerpot at them.” The soldiers were very upset but Asghari Khanum handled them well. She asked them, “If during this world war (which was in progress then), Germany takes over your country, what would you tell your children to do? Throw flowers or fling flowerpots at them?”

“We will fight them,” the soldiers replied and started to laugh. They said they got the message and asked us not to throw flowerpots at them again. I believe children’s minds get developed at such an age.

Mairaj Muhammad Khan as a young man with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, attending a mushaira event at Dow College

Mairaj Muhammad Khan as a young man with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, attending a mushaira event at Dow College

‘Dukhi Prem Nagri’

My father was a conservative man. We had to be home before sunset by any means. At that time, keeping long hair was fashionable among boys but my father didn’t like it. He used to sport a Turkish cap (fez) or a Dopalli Topi (Lucknow cap) and he loathed bare heads. One day, the postman handed him an envelope. My father, not recognising the name written on it, returned it to the postman and told him that no one by that name lived there. “Hakeem sahib,” said the postman playfully, “You don’t know, but it’s your son Wahaj Muhammad who writes short stories and uses this name, ‘Dukhi Prem Nagri’ (Gloomy Love City).”

My father was shocked. He summoned Wahaj Muhammad in the evening and asked him: “What’s ailing you? What disease do you have? I am a physician. Perhaps I can cure you. Do you want to get married? Do you want me to increase your pocket money? And, show me where is that Prem Nagar located on the map of India? We are Pathans from Qaimganj. What’s Prem Nagar?”

Needless to say, the next day at 10am, he took all three of my elder brothers to the barber and had their heads shaved. All three had long hair and were forced to go to college with their bald heads.

[Wahaj Muhammad Khan, widely known as Dukhi Prem Nagri, became a famous poet, lyricist and film journalist. His celebrated ghazal ‘Dunya kisi kay Pyar main Jannat say Kum Nahi’ was immortalized by Mehdi Hassan Khan]

Mairaj Muhammad Khan was a lifelong opponent of unconstitutional rule, especially military regimes

Mairaj Muhammad Khan was a lifelong opponent of unconstitutional rule, especially military regimes

Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and Sandeman School in Quetta

I received my early education in Jamia Millia, Delhi. Minhaj Barna was the first among my siblings to study there. He was in college and I was admitted to the primary school. I take pride in this. I sat next to Gandhi. I have witnessed Jawaharlal Nehru kicking Gurkha soldiers who were deputed at Jamia Millia to protect students from possible attacks because of the riots at the time of Partition. He caught them sleeping at 6 am. Then, he called in the Madras Regiment. The soldiers would give us books and toffees. Hindu and Sikh children were also enrolled at Jamia Millia. We were given training to build temples for the refugees who came from Pakistan. Though the general atmosphere there was religious, we were never taught to hate. There was harmony among all sorts of believers. They would make us meet prominent personalities of the time in order to boost our confidence. My friends, Saiful Islam and Mujahidul Islam’s father was the secretary of Abul Kalam Azad. I’d heard so much about Azad that I urged them to arrange a meeting with him, which did materialise eventually. Dr Zakir Hussain – who headed Jamia Millia for many years and who later became the President of India – also had a major influence on me as a child. Such dedicated teachers who wouldn’t take salaries and would live on a single meal a day so the institution could function were a part of Jamia Millia. Such were the traditions of that establishment.

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NSF activists would talk about inequality and the rights of the poor. They wouldn’t treat politics as forbidden fruit

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After moving to Quetta, I was enrolled in the sixth grade. Most of the teachers were Punjabi, with the exception of one or two Urdu-speaking ones. The mathematics teacher spoke in a Punjabi dialect. Once, he was dictating figures which we were supposed to take down. Since the numbers he uttered were alien to me (like unhanvay or 89), I’d just sit there dazed. He walked up to me and asked why I wasn’t writing. “Because I can’t comprehend anything,” I responded. He let out a few more ‘arhanvay’ and ‘ninnanhvay’ which I still could not get. Then I got a beating.

At Jamia Millia we were told that Akbar was the greatest emperor and reformer of India. We were also told that Aurangzeb, who has his leanings toward religious fanaticism, was responsible for the Mughal Empire’s downfall. So, one day at my new school in Quetta, the history teacher asked, “What were the causes of the demise of the Mughal Empire?” I quickly raised my hand and went on to list Aurangzeb’s misconduct – “he had his brothers killed, he did this, he did that, and so on.” Needless to say I was thrashed. “How can you be disrespectful to Aurangzeb?”

Of fasting and parents

My childhood friends in Quetta had cherry orchards. I would especially spend time there during Ramazan. I would tell my mother that I wouldn’t fast. She would say, “Okay, don’t. But do wake up early and have Sehri with your father.” I would comply.

Once, I refused to go for Friday prayers to the mosque and my father confronted me. “Are you denying praying to God?”

“No, neither do I deny God nor prayer,” I replied. “It’s that fellow who spews poison in his sermons.” Though I was young I could tell when the maulvi would go off on a tangent to spread hatred. I didn’t like that. So my father made me promise that I would pray at home, which I did.

My father, Hakeem Maulvi Taj Muhammad Khan, was a self-made and very well-travelled man. He studied traditional medicine/hikmat at Hakeem Ajmal’s Tibbia College, Delhi. He had a good command over Persian, Arabic, Hindi and Urdu. Titles such as ‘Hakeem’ and ‘Maulvi’ were synonymous with the well-educated. He would forbid me to play with children belonging to the lower castes (Kolis and cleaners), making the case that we were not equals. I came back home crying one such day and told my mother. She said, “I am telling you there’s no difference among children of any caste, of any kind. All children are angels. But you must respect your father. So play with them when your father is not around and come back home before he returns.” Perhaps, that is when I was introduced to the harsh realities of class strife.

Coming to Karachi

In keeping with tradition, my father wanted me to learn hikmat from him. But my mother warned me. “He will do two things to you: hikmat and marriage.” Hence, on her advice in order to avoid my father’s two frightful obsessions, I came to Karachi on the pretext of getting a better education.

Though I was accepted as a second year student at S.M. College, it was my own brother (Minhaj Barna) who, after conducting a test, declared me to be a ‘total duffer’, forcing me to start as a freshman. I wasn’t very happy about that.

An affair with NSF (1957)

The National Students’ Federation (NSF) was already quite an effective and strong organisation when I joined S.M. College. Thousands of students were part of it and the leadership consisted of kind and affectionate people. They were not just vigorous activists but also brilliant students. Most of them had nationalist, liberal and democratic mindsets and there was a considerable presence of socialists and communists. Many of my friends, such as Ahmed Bashir and Agha Jaffar, belonged to NSF and they would talk about its activities time and again.

Meanwhile, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) campaigners also came in contact. I had recently won an award for being the best at debater and every student organisation wanted me to join. On an invitation from IJT members, I met them and asked why they didn’t protest against fee hikes. Why did they brand strikes to be un-Islamic? Why was there so much emphasis on praying five times a day only? What about doing something for an oppressed common man? They couldn’t provide satisfactory answers. Meanwhile the NSF activists would talk about inequality in the country’s education system and the rights of a poor man. They wouldn’t treat politics as a forbidden fruit. Naturally, I was inclined towards such ideas. And in 1957, one day in the backyard garden of S.M. Arts College during an NSF meeting, somebody nominated me for unit secretary, and everyone voted. Though I resisted, saying that I was a very un-disciplined and disorganized person and could not assume such responsibilities, no one listened to me. That’s when I formally joined the NSF.

Students and youth played a major role in the Pakistan movement before British colonialists left the region. After the creation of Pakistan, the Muslim League went in the government and for years there was no strong voice in the opposition. That created a space which was filled by these students and youth. They were the ones who would raise important questions.

The story of the early years of Pakistan features three villains—Ghulam Muhammad (Governor General 1951-1955), Iskandar Mirza (Governor General 1955-1956 & President 1956-1958), and Pakistan’s first military dictator, Field Marshal Ayub Khan (President 1958-1969). Hence the story of students politics and their struggle revolves around these three devils.

Faisal Sayani is a freelance journalist, teacher and filmmaker with experience in current affairs television production

Published in The Friday Times, September 9, 2016.

 

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Bahria Town Questioned!

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Text & Photography by Faisal Sayani

The construction of two huge flyovers and an underpass in Karachi’s Clifton and DHA areas began in March this year. The unprecedented and unusual about this mega project is the fact that it’s funded and being executed by the country’s biggest property tycoon Malik Riaz, chairman Bahria Town, with the cost of about Rs. 1.8 billion (around £ 10.8 million). Bahria Town claims that it’s a gift for the residents of Karachi.

 

The controversial Bahria Town Icon Tower construction site
The controversial Bahria Town Icon Tower construction site

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The heritage sites like the colonial ‘Jehangir Kothari Parade’ and the Clifton monument, the ancient Hindu ‘Shri Ratneswar Mahadev’ temple and the legendary shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, are affected. The historical Hindu temple is constructed beneath the surface of the ground, and when the construction began, stones were falling off from the ceiling.

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Environmentalists and concerned citizens wouldn’t swallow this without some skepticism (and rightly so). The flyovers and underpass in question were being constructed on Karachi’s one of the expensive areas, 26th Street, where the Bahria Town’s giant residential and commercial project, the 68 floor Bahria Town Icon Tower is being constructed. Which simply means the supposedly welfare project was undertaken to support Bahria’s commercial project (in fact, without these flyovers and an underpass, the area around the Icon Tower will be a huge mess, which would negatively influence the price of the housing and commercial units offered).

The residents have to take a series of detours. The construction site of flyovers and underpass.
The residents have to take a series of detours. The construction site of flyovers and underpass.
Another angle of the site of flyovers and underpass construction.
Another angle of the site of flyovers and underpass construction.

The bigger problem and hence the debate is – because of the digging and the use of heavy machinery for the project, following has occurred:

The heritage sites like the colonial ‘Jehangir Kothari Parade’ and the Clifton monument, the ancient Hindu ‘Shri Ratneswar Mahadev’ temple and the legendary shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, are affected. The historical Hindu temple is constructed beneath the surface of the ground, and when the construction began, stones were falling off from the ceiling.

The famous colonial heritage Karachi monument being affected. (Bahria Town Icon Tower in the background).
The famous colonial heritage Karachi monument being affected. (Bahria Town Icon Tower in the background).
Clifton Monument (closer view).
Clifton Monument (closer view).
The historical ‘Jehangir Kothari Parade’ and the rubble of the construction.
The historical ‘Jehangir Kothari Parade’ and the rubble of the construction.

26th Street is one of the busiest roads in the area used very frequently to commute from one spot to another. Now, the residents have to go through a series of detours that are full of bumpy small streets, which also causes traffic jams.

I’d quote from May 2, 2014’s Daily Dawn: “The work had started even before an NOC from the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) had been issued, which is done after the agency assesses a project to determine whether it requires the more basic Initial Environment Examination (IEE) or an EIA (Environment Impact Assessment). The latter is mandatory for projects over Rs100 million and entails public hearings to consider feedback from concerned citizens.”

The gate of ‘Shri Ratneswar Mahadev’ temple and the boundary walls that are affected because of the construction. The temple is beneath this ground shown in the picture.
The gate of ‘Shri Ratneswar Mahadev’ temple and the boundary walls that are affected because of the construction. The temple is beneath this ground shown in the picture.
Juma, a temple volunteer from Hindu community (Hindus are minority in Pakistan).
Juma, a temple volunteer from Hindu community (Hindus are minority in Pakistan).
Worshippers/Visitors at temple have to face difficulties in reaching the temple as the usable road around it is pretty far away now. Juma is helping them getting in.
Worshipers/Visitors at temple have to face difficulties in reaching the temple as the usable road around it is pretty far away now. Juma is helping them getting in.

Various stakeholders have taken the matter to court and work on the project has been stopped twice. Latest, however, is the announcement of Bahria Town of rolling back the flyovers and underpass projects (April 30, 2014). I took these photographs today at around 9 am (May 4, 2014). The work on Bahria Town Icon Tower continues, the flyover sites stay dug up. The damage done to the heritage structures is still unattended. The detours and blockades are still in place.

The shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi (on left with the green tomb) close to the Bahria Town Icon Tower. The entrance to the shrine is almost gone.
The shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi (on left with the green tomb) close to the Bahria Town Icon Tower. The entrance to the shrine is almost gone.

Faisal Sayani

May 4, 2014

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Koohi Goth Hospital – International day to end obstetric fistula…

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he wept inconsolably, and the doctors at Koohi Goth Hospital Karachi could not understand why. They had treated this young woman in her 20s already, and they were ready to discharge her so that she could go back to her family near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

By Farahnaz Zahidi

Photography by Faisal Sayani

A translator was brought in who told them the real problem. “My first born is with the money-lenders as girwi (mortgage). I developed the fistula during his birth. But I was so desperate to be healed of this constant leaking that I took the chance. I needed money to reach here to get treatment.” Doctors at the hospital raised the money and sent her home. One life saved out of the nearly 5,000 women that develop the fistula every year in Pakistan. But thousands await treatment.

For fistulas, precaution is the best cure. And the cure is simple: Women of Pakistan need to deliver babies into trained hands and with basic health care facilities. This cure is still a distant dream.

Koohi Goth Hospital is  a women-friendly space where women heal through sharing joys and sorrows, and are counselled to lead a better life once they leave here.
Koohi Goth Hospital is a women-friendly space where women heal through sharing joys and sorrows, and are counseled to lead a better life once they leave here.

Snuggled away in the outskirts of busy Karachi, Koohi Goth Hospital is Pakistan’s only hospital exclusively built to end the scourge of this preventable disease. Only, there should be not even one fistula hospital in Pakistan, because fistulas should no longer exist. “The last fistula case in England was in the 1920s. Here we are with 5,000 new cases every year,” says Dr Shershah Syed, founder of this hospital.

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For fistulas, precaution is the best cure. And the cure is simple: Women of Pakistan need to deliver babies into trained hands and with basic health care facilities. This cure is still a distant dream.

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“If the labour is prolonged, the baby’s head can get stuck in the birth canal. If it keeps pushing against the thin wall between the bladder or rectum and the wall of the birth canal, thereby causing strain,” says Dr Suboohi Mehdi, one of the surgeons at Koohi Goth Hospital.

Dr. Suboohi Mehdi is Pakistan's one of few surgeons trained to repair fistulas.
Dr. Suboohi Mehdi is Pakistan’s one of few surgeons trained to repair fistulas.

Another way a fistula may be formed is if, by mistake of an unskilled surgeon, a cut is caused in the bladder or rectum during surgery. “We are able to treat just 500—600 every year. Lack of awareness and no accessibility to treatment facilities is the reason,” says Dr Sajjad Ahmed, project manager Fistula Project. The project, run by Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health (PNFWH) and UNFPA, has treated some 3,400 women since it started off in 2006.

Women suffering from fistulas leak urine or stool uncontrollably. Because of this, they are socially ostracised and lead isolated lives. The fear of leaking leads to them starving themselves, which in turn leads to malnourishment-related problems. They miss basic joys like socializing and traveling by public transport.

“I have forgotten what a normal life is. All I have done the last four lives is wash clothes,” says 40-year-old Rihana from interior Sindh. Rihana cries easily; she knows her case is a complicated one. “I don’t know how I will fix her. Sometimes, the cases are so messed up by the time they come to us that there is little we can do,” says Dr Mehdi.

40-years-old Rihana’s case is complicated. “I have forgotten what a normal life is. All I have done the last four years is wash clothes. Everyone told my husband to leave me but he did not”.  Her eyes well up in gratitude.
’40-years-old Rihana’s case is complicated. “I have forgotten what a normal life is. All I have done the last four years is wash clothes. Everyone told my husband to leave me but he did not”. Her eyes well up in gratitude.’

“The first thing we do when a lot of them reach here is give them a shower,” says the dedicated Noor Gul, a senior nurse at the hospital. Gul is now a trainer, helping train young girls who come to the Koohi Goth Midwifery School and Hostel. Once trained, these girls will go back to their communities and be able to help deliver babies safely, so that more women do not develop this disease.

“When they reach us they are drenched in urine. The first thing we do is give them a shower,” says the dedicated Noor Gul, a senior nurse at the hospital who is now trained enough to not only deliver simple cases of child birth, but also train others.
“When they reach us they are drenched in urine. The first thing we do is give them a shower,” says the dedicated Noor Gul, a senior nurse at the hospital who is now trained enough to not only deliver simple cases of child birth, but also train others.
These young girls in pink from the vicinity of the hospital are under training to eventually becomes midwives. “Baaji do you like Balochi people?” one of them asks. “Will you put our pictures on Facebook? Please do.”
These young girls in pink from the vicinity of the hospital are under training to eventually becomes midwives. “Baaji do you like Balochi people?” one of them asks. “Will you put our pictures on Facebook? Please do.”
These young girls in pink from the vicinity of the hospital are under training to eventually becomes midwives. “Baaji do you like Balochi people?” one of them asks. “Will you put our pictures on Facebook? Please do.”
This young midwife in the making from Koohi Goth area has learnt a lot since she came here. “I go back home and raise awareness among my people.”
This young midwife in the making from Koohi Goth area has learnt a lot since she came here. “I go back home and raise awareness among my people.”

In a message on this day, the President Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan (SOGP), Dr Tasneem Ashraf correctly points out that doctors must identify high risk patients for fistula development, especially pregnant women below the age of 20 years or above the age of 40 years, women who have given birth to many children, those suffering from obesity or Anemia, or having larger than normal babies.

Sheher Bano doesn’t know her age but seems not older than 15. “Doctors say I will be cured soon,” she says, and giggles with excitement at the prospect of being dry.
Sheher Bano doesn’t know her age but seems not older than 15. “Doctors say I will be cured soon,” she says, and giggles with excitement at the prospect of being dry.
Six-years-old Salma has accompanied her elder sister  Sheher Bano from a small village in Thatta district, accompanied by their mother Jannat and sister 6 years. “We hope to go back home soon.”
Six-years-old Salma has accompanied her elder sister Sheher Bano from a small village in Thatta district, accompanied by their mother Jannat and sister 6 years. “We hope to go back home soon.”

Husbands on Board

Naz Bibi is tiny in stature but gives a resolute smile. Suffering from a fistula since the last nine years, this woman in her 40s has come to Karachi all the way from Goth Dera Bugti. She lies on a plastic sheet spread out under her, and can’t wait for the day when she will be dry once more. “Every one left me. Family, friends. I smelled all the time. I leaked non-stop. Yet, my husband was the only one in my life. He brought me here,” she says.

Naz Bibi from Dera Bugti, Balochistan, has been suffering from the condition for nine years. “Everyone left me but my husband. On way to Karachi, traveling was tough in the bus because fellow passengers were disgusted with my stench. I hope that will be over soon.”
Support and counselling is a part of the treatment for socially stigmatized fistula patients. A single touch and a kind word can heal.
Naz Bibi from Dera Bugti, Balochistan, has been suffering from the condition for nine years.

“We are seeing a definite positive change in the trend. More and more husbands now support their wives through the ordeal,” says Dr Ahmed.

“My husband brought me here all the way from Sialkot,” says Fozia, who developed a fistula during the birth of her first child. “I am so excited! Once I heal, I will be able to say my namaz. I have not been able to pray for the last seven years”.

Fouzia from Sialkot, developed a fistula in her first child’s birth, and has given birth to another 3 children since then. “I am so excited! Doctors say once I heal, I will be able to say my namaz. I have not been able to pray in the last 7 years”.
Fouzia from Sialkot, developed a fistula in her first child’s birth, and has given birth to another 3 children since then. “I am so excited! Doctors say once I heal, I will be able to say my namaz. I have not been able to pray in the last 7 years”.

Facts in numbers

Fistula is a poor women’s disease, and the patients are 99 per cent poor women who cannot afford to get their child delivered under proper medical care.

Every year, Pakistan has 4,500—5,000 new cases of fistula. Out of these, only 500—600 reach doctors for treatment.

Pakistan has an estimated 38 surgeons who can perform fistula repair surgeries, but because this is not a lucrative line of medicine, only an estimated 15 are regularly working in this field.

Life saving info:

For information, call 0800-76200

Pakistan National Forum on Women Health

PMA House, Sir Aga Khan III Road, Karachi.

Office number: 021-32231534

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24, 2014.

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