Two great personalities, Abdus Salam’s death anniversary and Dilip Kumars’ birthday were commemorated recently in Pakistan. This was followed by the remembrance of the fall of Dhaka for us and Independence Day for Bangladesh. Abdus Salam’s anniversary went by unceremoniously, while Dilip Kumar’s birthday was enthusiastically celebrated. Dilip Kumar’s 90th birthday was seen as a noteworthy event and the date was monumental enough to take up formidable space in the newspapers. The total number of likes for these two columns was a colossal 4 likes and 3 tweets. Of the two different personalities, one chose self-exile and the other opted to remain in India. We take pride in producing artists, only when they have made a name for their artistic expression or scientific achievements outside the country.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.
Muslim actors, painters, poets, scientists, musicians, writers are
successful in India. The examples of Dilip Kumar, Bollywood Khan actors,
M.F. Hussain, Raza, Ghulam Rasool, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, A.R.
Rehman, Rafi, Mehdi Hassan, Shakir Hussain, Mehboob Khan and
ex-president Abdul Kalam are testimony to the prominence of Muslims
across the border. Muslims excel in cultural, artistic and scientific
fields in a country where they are in a minority. Talented Muslims tend
to flourish outside the countries where they are a majority.
Before Partition, Lahore was the cultural capital of India. The
successful artists, directors, poets, actors and musicians flocked to
Lahore. Artists like Pran, Manto, Noorjehan started their careers from
Lahore. Lahore was a hub of these activities because it was not a Muslim
majority city. It was a city that had Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and
Hindus, besides Anglo Indians, Ahmadis and many more. This myriad of
different faiths and races produced an environment of tolerance, and
reciprocal learning. We might criticise Lord Macaulay’s
education system and the Indian penal code but the British education
system was secular and was not prepared to produced ideological minds
and impose a singular identity.
The mystique of Lahore in India is still present because of pre
partition image of Lahore. It was here where the first modern Indian
artist, Amrita Sher Gill and Abdur Rehman Chughtai lived and were family
friends. As Safdir Mir noted, Amrita Sher Gill looked for her artistic
inspiration in modern Indian rural peasants, while Chughtai traced his
artistic roots to the central Asian tradition of miniatures. Two modern
Urdu poets, Iqbal and Faiz were products of the British era and were
under attack from the Muslim clergy. One died before partition and the
other was either incarcerated in Pakistan or lived in exile. Even a
religious scholar like Abul Ala Maudoodi was a product of the British
Raj. If he had written, ‘Khilafat aur Malokiat’ today, he would have lived in exile like his follower Javed Ahmad Ghamdi.
In Pakistan, sharia and not culture defines the identity of the
country. Culture is looked at suspiciously as a vehicle of separate
identity against the common identity of Muslims. By eliminating
different cultural identities, sharia is considered as binding us into a
single Muslim identity. The sharia enforced black veil is preferred
over the culturally diverse head gears like shawls, chadders, dupattas
After partition we deliberately tried to forge a singular identity
based on religion and suppressed the different identities of Bengalis,
Pashtuns, Balochis, Sindhis and Punjabis. We tried to impose a single
identity on the culturally rich Bengal, the land of Tagore and artists
of the caliber of Zainulabidin. This only resulted in losing the eastern
wing of Pakistan. Here, we tried to kill culture by banning films,
music and dance during Zia’s era. Later basant, classical dance, singing and dhol
performances at sufi shrines (Shah Jamal) were obliterated, instead we
had attacks on the Christian population, bomb blasts at Data Sahib’s and
Baba Farid shrines to further decimate Pakistani culture. In India, BJP
came to power for their appeal to a single identity of Hindutwa, we saw attacks on Indian Picasso, M.F. Husain, who later died in self-exile.
Similarly, the first Pakistani Nobel Prize Laureate Abdus Salam had to live in self-exile. Even religious scholars like Fazl-ur-Rehman and Daood Rahbar were forced to flee the country. Recently, Javed Ahmad Ghamdi
fled the country and is now living in self-exile in Indonesia. The two
greatest novelists of modern Urdu literature, Abdullah Hussain (udas naslain) are living in England, Quratulain Hyder (Aag ka darya) Ustad Bare Ghulamali Khan, Sahir Ludhianvi
decided to move back to India. Writer and political activist Sajjad
Zaheer was extradited to India and film Director Zia Sarhadi settled
permanently in England. Saadat Hassan Manto and Saghar Siddique
opted to stay in Pakistan and thus, face court trials and die in their
early 40s. Zia Moyauddin and Naheed Siddiqui stayed outside Pakistan for
most of their creative life. Recently, Adnan Sami decided to settle
permanently in India. The first Pakistani pop singer, Nazia Hassan lived
in England and shot to fame when she joined forces with Bollywood.
Recently, we see new successful writers who are writing in English for
international readers like Mohsin Hamid, Mohammad Hanif and Ali Farooq
Qureshi. They are the brave souls who have moved to Pakistan, like Saghir and Manto. Lets see how Pakistan treats them.