Saturday, June 16, 2007

'Watu Izzu Mantasha, Watu Zillu Mantasha'

Here is a report on the Annual Indian Mushaira. I wrote this one for Arab News. It appeared in the newspaper on June 16, 2007. The picture above shows them posing for a group shot with Indian Consul General Dr. Ausaf Sayeed. Seen from right to left are: Altaf Zia, Haj Consul Dr. Suhel Ejaz Khan, Naeem Akhtar, Mashaf Iqbal Tauseefi, Rifat Sarosh, Dr. Shahnaz Nabi, Ali Zaheer, Dr. Qasim Imam, Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, Dr. Shafi Sagar, Rasheed Ansari, Dr. Naseem Nikhat, Muzaffar Razmi, Rahi Bastawi, Rabab Rashidi and Dr. Farooq Shakeel. Enjoy reading and do post your comments here. Cheers. — Siraj Wahab, June 16, 2007

Couplets Under the Stars at Jeddah's Annual Mushaira

By Siraj Wahab

JEDDAH, June 16, 2007 — The general perception is that Urdu poetry is all about love — and perhaps rightly so. Ghazal, the most popular genre of Urdu poetry, is essentially a conversation between two lovers. But on Thursday night (June 15, 2007), a young poet from Malegaon in Maharashtra gave ghazal a new meaning by drawing upon a popular verse from the Holy Qur’an:

Watu Izzu Mantasha, Watu Zillu Mantasha.

This verse from Surah Al-Imran, which is extensively quoted by Muslims at all times, simply means Allah honors those He is pleased with and disgraces those He is not happy with. Altaf Zia used this verse to compose a very interesting ghazal that became a big hit with the capacity crowd at the annual mushaira organized by the Consulate General of India at Jeddah’s sprawling and huge International Indian School.

The crowd was packed inside the school’s majestic auditorium, while outside the lucky latecomers sat in an overflow space, a playground where the cool sea breeze mixed with poetic verse, causing the fronds of the nearby date palms to shimmer and making for a pleasant evening under the stars.

Nadaan Ko Is Baat Ka Bilkul Nahi Pata
Watu Izzu Mantasha, Watu Zillu Mantasha
Allah Ke Huzoor Ye Hota Hai Faisla
Watu Izzu Mantasha, Watu Zillu Mantasha

There was a huge applause. Then Altaf Zia condemned the recent attack on Zahid Ali Khan, the editor-in-chief of the India’s most prominent Urdu daily Siasat. The attackers had stopped Zahid Ali Khan’s car near Hyderabad's Mehdipatnam area in March this year and had thrown filth at him. “My answer to his attackers is simple,” said Altaf Zia, and recited the couplet that became the highlight of the night:

Khush Ho Rahen Hain Mujh Pe Jo Kichad Uchhaal Kar
Din Aa Gaya Qareeb Ab Unke Zawaal Ka
Qudrat Karegi Dekhna Un Sab Ka Faisla
Watu Izzu Mantasha, Watu Zillu Mantasha

Two other reasons for Altaf Zia’s popularity was his melodious voice and an interesting way of presenting his compositions.

Altaf Zia was not the only successful poet at the very well-organized and well-attended mushaira, the credit for which goes entirely to the young, dynamic and popular Indian Consul General Dr. Ausaf Sayeed.

Among the other poets who were equally successful included Muzaffar Razmi, from Kairana in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzzafarnagar district. He struck an instant chord with the audience with his famous couplet that is on the lips of every Urdu lover in the Indian Subcontinent.

Yeh Jabr Bhi Dekha Hai Tareekh Ki Nazron Ne
Lamhon Ne Khata Ki Thi Sadiyon Ne Saza Payee.

I.K. Gujral read this couplet when he took his oath as the prime minister in 1997.

Muzaffar Razmi’s diction and compositions were beyond compare. Ghazal is known for its lyrical qualities and, in Muzaffar Razmi, it is at its peak and pinnacle. His diction was fresh, his phraseology unique, his coinage of metaphors superb, his imagery picturesque. His fans hung onto his every word of every couplet. His thought content was a perfect match to the lyrical attribute of the ghazal.

Then there was Rahi Bastawi from Basti in Uttar Pradesh, famous for his “geet,” another popular form of Urdu poetry that is hugely popular in the north of India. He was highly successful and his “Are re re na baba” was being crooned by the audience much after the five-hour poetry-reading session was over.

Dr. Qasim Imam from Bombay surprised the audience with his excellent anchoring and beautiful poetry. Two particular couplets from him sent the audience in a crescendo of wah-wahs. Both had political overtones, but their instant popularity was indicative of the truthfulness of the message behind them.
One was:

Sher Dil Log Pehente Nahin Chehre Pe Naqab
Apni Phansi Ko Bhi Aasaan Bana Dete Hain

And the second one was:

Ji Atalji Aapko Is Gham Pe Rona Chahiye
Dard Ghutne Mein Hai, Thoda Dil Mein Hona Chahiye

Dr. Farooq Shakeel from Hyderabad was successful in driving home some very poignant and interesting points. His “tanhaiyan bolti hain miyan” was very well-received. His couplet: “Apne Markaz Se Bichhad Ne Ki Saza Paate Hain/ Shaakh Se Toot Ke Patte Jo Bikhar Jaate Hain,” was also a hit.

Dr. Shahnaz Nabi, from Kolkata, wowed the audience with excellent and meaningful poems in a refreshing idiom. She received quite an applause. Associated with Urdu Academy, Kolkata, she has been in the forefront of giving Urdu poetry a new dimension by talking about the problems of the day. Her play with words was excellent.

Ali Zaheer from Hyderabad was inimitable. He rendered some of the choicest couplets that are in the Urdu poetry. His play of words was masterly and his couplets had that scholarly air. This one, for instance:

Ek Maidaan Mein Pada Hoon Na Hai Diwar Na Dar
Be Makaani Mein Yeh Dastak Ki Sada Kaisee Hai

Then there was Naeem Akhtar from Burhanpur, where his couplet “Har Koyee Masroof Hai Mahal Ki Taameer Mein/ Bhool Gaya Aadmi Qabr Ki Gehraiyan” was strongly applauded.

Dr. Naseem Nikhat was excellent and it was she who made the crowd remain glued to their seats till the very end. She recited beautiful couplets and her melodious voice kept everybody spellbound. Dr. Naseem Nikhat was a treat to hear; her treatment of ghazal is off-the-beaten track. She finds for herself new “radeefs” and “qafiyas”. Ghazal, which had become notorious for its monotonous and overworked and overwrought rhymes, and “radeefs” is treated by Dr. Naseem with a new and fresh idiom and images. She stole the event with highly romantic couplets.

Then there was Dr. Shafi Sagar. His satire was reflected in his delicate compositions. He made the audience laugh out loud. Rabab Rashidi from Shahjahanpur too recited some memorable couplets. Mashaf Iqbal Tauseefi from Hyderabad was the pick among the elder poets. His “Dekhen Kya Kar Rahi Hain Tanhai, Aaj Apne Hi Ghar Pe Dastak Den” was superb and very well appreciated.

The president of the mushaira was the erudite poet from Delhi, Rifat Sarosh. He is one of the greatest exponents of Urdu poetry in all its forms and gifted with a rare mode of thought and feeling about love and rebellion. He has given a new meaning to the craft of Urdu poetry.

Going by the large number of people who turned up for the mushaira, it was a record in the history of mushaira in the Middle East. The Jeddah Indian school’s grand auditorium was packed with poetry lovers and an equally large number were seated in the school grounds where the mushaira was beamed live on a huge screen.

The poets at the event came from across the length and breadth of the country. Consul General Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, in his inaugural address, said: “Care was taken to represent almost every region in India. In line with the philosophy of not repeating the poets year after year, new faces were invited. And while they were new to Jeddah, they are well-known in India and have authored very many books.”

He continued, “We have been innovating with the presentation of mushaira, which is a risky thing. But since we are not organizing it for commercial purpose, we can afford to do it. And people have loved it.” Dr. Ausaf Sayeed said: “It goes to indicate that if there is a will to promote Urdu in a good way, people appreciate it. We need to promote good poets. Mushaira is about poetry, not singing and nautanki,” he said.

According to the consul general, the idea was to introduce “academic poets” to the people here in Jeddah. Poets who are being read through their books and through magazines but who have not been “performing artists,” so to say.

Everybody appreciated Dr. Ausaf Sayeed’s efforts in promoting Urdu language. “It is in his blood,” said Dr. Qasim Imam, referring to Dr. Ausaf Sayeed’s famous father and well-known Urdu essayist, the late Awaz Sayeed. “Dr. Ausaf Sayeed has given a new turn to the composition of mushaira,” said the elderly Rifat Sarosh.

Earlier, Dr. Suhel Ejaz Khan, Haj consul and director of India Forum, welcomed the poets. The mushaira went on for five marathon hours, with the crowd remaining glued to their seats till the very end, screaming “Mukarrar, mukarrar.” Encore, encore

Sunday, June 10, 2007

‘OIC Cannot Participate in Formula 1 Race With 1972 Model’

Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu Tells Arab News

JEDDAH, June 10, 2007 — The Muslim world is in a state of ferment. There is confusion everywhere. Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine show no signs of moving out of crisis. In all three countries there is the problem of foreign occupation, but on top of that is a fratricidal war being waged with increasing ferocity. Nobody seems to be in control. Naturally there is frustration. As a result, despondency and cynicism have taken hold among Muslims. Adding to this sad state was the lack of urgency shown by the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) at the 34th Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Islamabad (May 15-17) which failed to finalize the much-needed new charter for the 57-member organization. The revised charter would give a new direction to the Muslim world. The OIC has a mandate to increase political, economic and social cooperation among Muslim nations. Since its establishment in September 1969, however, it has been a butt of jokes in the Muslim world because, though a useful forum for discussion, it is seen as lacking the means to implement its resolutions. It has been said jokingly that the OIC stands for the “Organization of Ineffective Commitments.”

For the last two-and-a-half years it has been headed by the erudite and dynamic Turkish historian, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. At 64, he is a man with a mission. He is worried about what is happening in the Muslim world, but rather than wringing his hands in despair, he continues to give his all to his mission. “We can’t lose hope. These are difficult times, but we will continue with our efforts. We will not give up,” he said confidently in an interview with Arab News' Siraj Wahab last week.

Ihsanoglu is aware of the huge expectations from the man on the street, and during his time as secretary-general, he has undertaken a series of measures to rejuvenate the organization. “My message to the people is to put their trust in the OIC and in the wisdom of its founding fathers who built a unique organization for serving the Ummah. I want their support. If we have the people’s support behind us, we will be able to take more steps forward,” he said.

Ihsanoglu tried to put the Islamabad conference into perspective. “Things didn’t go wrong there, they went slowly. There was no substantial critique of the draft of the new charter that was submitted to the member countries. The OIC submitted the best draft that it could. It has been two-and-a-half years since the idea was conceived in the Committee of Eminent Persons in Makkah in September 2005. The draft then went through the Committee of Experts, which worked for the Islamic Summit in Makkah in December 2005.”

The OIC secretary-general listed the names of those who contributed to the new charter. Former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, former OIC Secretary-General Hamid Algabid, former Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary-General Jamil Al-Hujailan, former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi and former UNESCO Director-General Moktar Mbow provided their input. “These people represent a spectrum of the most experienced leaders of the Muslim world who during their long careers had shown interest in the OIC and similar institutions. Their contribution to the new charter was significant,” said Ihsanoglu.

The revised text was then submitted to a committee of prominent Muslim legal experts. This committee carried out a study of the draft from the legal perspective. “It was this draft that came up for discussion at the Islamabad meeting,” said Ihsanoglu. “Naturally, there was no substantial critique of it. However, some countries felt that they needed more time to study and digest it. So what happened in Islamabad is that the ministers said: ‘We need more time.’ And that was the decision. It was decided that the charter would be finalized before next March, and it would be submitted for approval at the 2008 summit in Dakar, Senegal.”

Ihsanoglu said the charter would empower the OIC to address the issues that have caused such anger and resentment on the Arab street, but he emphasized that a proper charter was a prerequisite for the group to take effective action. “Now we are waiting for this summit in March. But, of course, I would like to appeal to the public opinion. The OIC cannot participate in a Formula 1 car race with a 1972 model with a broken engine and flat tires. We need to have a new vehicle to participate in today’s international races.” By 1972, the secretary-general meant the charter that was approved for the organization that year.

The OIC chief elaborated on his race-car analogy. “The new charter is the engine of the new vehicle. And then we have to have well-inflated tires, and this is the staff — the staff members. We are recruiting new staff members, and we would like member countries to provide us with skillful diplomats who have experience in multilateral diplomacy. The member countries have to support us politically and financially. That is the fuel for the engine.”

Despite attempts in the Western world to dismiss the concerns raised by the OIC about Islamophobia, accusing the organization of being soft on terror, Ihsanoglu renewed his absolute and long-standing condemnation of terrorism and again focused on the growing, unwarranted discrimination against Muslims. “The OIC is, and has always been, against terrorism,” he said. “This was the stand of my predecessors, and this is my stand as well. The OIC has always and in unequivocal terms condemned terrorism.”

The meeting on Islamophobia in Islamabad, he reiterated, was a thematic session focused on discrimination against Muslims and the defamation of Islam in the world. The session aimed at addressing ways and means of dealing with this phenomenon. “This was not meant to target anybody and does not mean that we condone terrorism. I would ask those who are attacking us to go through our website,” said Ihsanoglu.

In the session on Islamophobia, the OIC ministers had only called upon the international community to prevent incitement to hatred and discrimination against Muslims and to take effective measures to combat defamation of religion and acts of negative stereotyping of people based on religion, belief or ethnicity.

Although the OIC is preparing itself to become a successful agent for change in the world, every day tragedies unfold in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon. So how does the OIC chief feel? “I feel worse than anybody else,” he said. “I feel more disappointed than anybody else. I see that situations are aggravated. We are trying our best through quiet diplomacy, through bilateral and multilateral contacts. We have to admit that situations in these crises are getting worse. There is a need for international cooperation to solve these problems. Major powers should take leading roles as honest brokers for solving these problems. We will always carry on our activities. We are committed to solving these problems, but we shouldn’t be simplistic in our approach. Simplistic approaches may actually create more problems.”

End of an Era: Dr. Majid Kazi Is No More

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