Bollywood, Muslims, culture and exile
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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.
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 and scarves.
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 NaheedSiddiqui 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.
The author left architecture for painting but ended up as a cartoonist and now writes Hijjo. He is the jack of all trades.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.