Karachi Literature Festival: In conversation with Amar Jaleel
By Attiya Dawood
Amar Jaleel, one of the most prominent contemporary Sindhi fiction writers and columnists, has a distinct style. He not only has a good sense of humour but knows the art of saying bitter things in a satirical manner.
But he also keeps a low-profile and hearing him speak at the KLF was a rare delight. Moderator Shah Muhammad Peerzada did not introduce Jaleel in much detail, partly because it is not easy to sum up a towering personality; he also wanted to give Jaleel the maximum time to talk.
Jaleel read out the English version of his story “Hemingway’s Death,” which was introduction enough. The story goes like this: a man angry with America decides to kill one of its important personalities. He had heard Hemingway’s name and thus sets out to kill him. One day he comes across a child worker named Hemingway. The man tells the boy that he wants to kill him. The child asks the man, “what’s my crime?”
The moral of the story is that we can differ with a country’s politics, but not with its people. Following the reading, Jaleel was asked to comment on many social issues including the language question, terrorism, and religion.
He said that the word ‘regional’ for the languages of provinces was omitted in 1974 from the Constitution through an ordinance. Now all languages are our national languages. Urdu is the language of communication. Jinnah had called Urdu the official language.
He said that Urdu isn’t the language of Muslims just as English isn’t the language of Christians. On extremism, Jaleel said that more is needed to counter it than just writing against it. He said that when a child is born, for three to four minutes he or she has no religion. Then he is bathed and rituals are performed to make him a Muslim, Hindu or Christian. At that point he recited a line from one of Kishwar Naheed’s poems: “iss liyay he to bachcha itna rota hay” (that’s why the child cries so much).
A participant lamented that the voices of Mansoor Hallaj and Salman Taseer were vanishing from the country. Can we revive secular Pakistan was the question. Jaleel’s answer to this was that Pakistan was made in the name of Islam. It was founded under the two nation theory. Fundamentalists have a free hand here and terror attacks are carried out in the name of religion.
On Sufism, Jaleel said that Shah Bhitai was not a complete Sufi as he was influenced by religion. Similarly, Dadi Janki was a famous Sufi but she preached Hinduism.
Two years ago, Sindhi poet Hasan Dars had been a speaker at the KLF and had mesmerised his listeners. He had read out his poetry’s English translations but was requested to read out the Sindhi as well because people wanted to listen to its rhythm even if they couldn’t understand it. At the fourth KLF, a collection of his poetry titled Hasan jo Risalo was launched, more than a year after his death. It is the first publication of his works.
Mohammed Hanif moderated the session while Mazhar Laghari, Masood Lohar and Sardar Shah shared their memories of Dars. Ameer Mandhro read out from his poetry. Hanif said that Dars was a great poet, not only among his contemporaries but also among his seniors.
Laghari, himself a well-known poet, said when they all were composing poetry against Zia’s dictatorship, Dars’s poetry was galloping at a horse’s speed. (Dars frequently used the horse as a symbol in his poetry.) Laghari said Hasan was very fond of touring Sindh and used to say that the “whole of Sindh is a reflection of a friend.”
Lohar said that Dars was deeply influenced by Sufism and wrote hamds and naats as well. “After his death we compiled his poetry honestly. We could not exclude the hamds and the naats from the collection.”
“Hasan never recited the hamds and naats in our private gatherings,” said his close friend Muzaffar Chandio sparking a debate about his Sufi leanings. Iqbal Mallah said that Sufism is a part of our traditions and our Sufi poets raised their voices against injustices of the rulers of their times. Ishaq Samejo was of the opinion that we should not put poets into compartments. Whether Dars was a Sufi or not is a futile question.
Dars also wrote a lot on women. He used to say that women would continue to be victimised till they take up arms for their rights. During the question- answer session, people from the audience paid tribute to the poet. The session was so well-attended that many had to stand.
Attiya Dawood is a Sindhi writer, poet and activist