Listening to Faiz in Ahmedabad

Raat yuun dil mein teri khoi hui yaad aai
Jaiseay wiraanay mein chupke se bahaar aajae

Last night, your memories came back to me, as though
Spring stealthily should come back to wilderness

Like cooling drops of dew, a few lines of poetry became succour from the summer sun. To celebrate the centenary year of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s birth, a collective of civic groups based in Ahmedabad, India, organized a reading of the poet’s work. Sadiq Noor Pathan, a published poet and program executive at the local All India Radio station, began with a recording of Faiz reciting his work. Playing a 1980s recording of Ashaar, Tanhaai, and Bol, Pathan introduced us to the gentle and powerful quality of South Asia’s leading modern Urdu poet’s verse in the poet’s own voice.

…Ghulam Farid, Pathan’s peer, next sang the ghazal Gulon mein rang bhare, Faiz’s refrain to his beloved – freedom – from Zindan Naama (Prison Letters):

Maqaam, Faiz, koi raah mein jacha hi nahin
Jo qu-e-yaar se nikle, toh soo-e-daar chale

No place appealed to us anywhere on the way, Faiz,
Leaving the loved one’s lane, we turned to the gallows

Here, Faiz forsakes any middle-ground when it comes to his beloved, i.e., his freedom. He talks of leaving qu-e-yaar ,his beloved’s lane, and heading to soo-e-daar, the spot where he may be executed. He declares he would rather die than give up his freedom to speak and write. Writing from Montgomery prison in Punjab, when he was jailed for four years from 1951-1955 on charges of plotting to overthrow Liaqat Ali’s government, Faiz here invokes both freedom from injustice, and his freedom to write when the government had banned his work from being published or recited.

Recreating this mood of defiance, Pathan next played a recording of Noor Jehan singing Mujh se pehle si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang (Do not ask of me, my beloved, that same love), recounting an anecdote where the singer sang the verse at a state function defying the government’s ban on reciting the jailed poet’s verse. This evocative verse, one of Faiz’s most well-known and loved works that later appeared in a film as well, voices his dilemma of reconciling romantic love for his beloved with a deeper engagement with the region’s socio-political reality. In her book ‘100 Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz’, Dehradun-based translator Sarvat Rahman deftly describes this transition in Faiz’s thought and work. ‘From the depth of his poetic being, imbued with sufi ideals of Hafiz and Rumi and all the great Urdu poets, came to him the awareness that his earlier quest for the beloved, and his later one for social justice for all humanity, are of the same nature. Both demand of him his utter devotion and, ultimately, the sacrifice of his life. He gives them both the same visage to begin with,’ writes Rahman.

Pathan played a clip of Bollywood great Dilip Kumar speaking about Faiz. Reciting Mauzooe-e-sukhan (Subjects of verse) slowly, with pleasure, the actor concludes Faiz to be the greatest poets he has encountered in what he describes as his limited mutayala(reading) and mushahida(observation). We then listened to accounts from letters Faiz wrote to his wife Alys from jail where he describes the beauty of the climbers and the sky he could see from his barrack window, the lyricism of perhon ki shaakhon pe thaki chaandni (moonlight resting wary on tree-tops) , and the music in his defiant Aaj bazaar mein paa-ba-jolan chalo (walking through the markets, chains around our feet).

Pathan concluded with a few lines from Intisaab (Dedication), one of Faiz’s last verses, a call-of-arms to the stone cutter, the courtesan, the factory worker, the postman. The reading went on half hour longer than scheduled. When we stepped out, the sun had become shade.

The full post is on Himal magazine’s website.

Naroda Patiya: A partial sense of closure

Vatva lies 18 kilometres from Ahmedabad, on the eastern banks of the Sabarmati where a majority of the city’s Muslim neighbourhoods are. Naimuddin Mohammed Yunus Ansari’s family moved to this polluted industrial settlement last year from Khanpur, the fourth time they have moved house in 10 years. He says they did not return to Naroda Patiya for years because they have found it difficult to put the violence of the 2002 riots out of their minds and go back.

“The mob killed my mother Abida Bibi. They flung my seven-year old niece Gulnaz Bano into the fire. She died. My sister Saeeda died of burns at the hospital the next day. I was attacked by swords and lost my 11-month-old daughter while trying to flee. I found her at the Shah Alam camp two months later,” says Naimuddin. His wife Naseem*(name changed) was gang raped by four men; her left arm chopped off with a sword, he adds.

Naimuddin had been married to Naseem for two years in 2002. Since the attack she has hardly spoken to anyone. She stays indoors because though the doctors at V.S. Hospital managed to reattach her arm back that night, it did not heal fully. She is unable to lift this arm and has burn scars on her back. In 2008, when the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) started collecting evidence in the Naroda Patiya case, Naimuddin made two trips to Gandhinagar and registered a complaint on Naseem’s behalf. But Naseem stayed home. It was only in 2010, when special court judge Jyotsna Yagnik started hearing witnesses’ testimonies that Naimuddin persuaded Naseem to give hers, the only woman to survive gang rape among the hundreds of victims of brutal sexual violence at Naroda Patiya. Last week, the special court convicted 32 people including a former BJP Minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet for their involvement in the Naroda Patiya violence and handed down stiff sentences.

“Jyotsnaben listened so attentively to us, we salute her a hundred times. If the defence lawyers stared at us or tried to intimidate us, she would tell them off. The only thing I do not understand is why were police officers like K.K. Mysorewala and his seniors let off,” says Naimuddin who made a living selling bread and biscuits in Naroda Patiya but has been unable to restart his business since. He works as a daily wage labourer now. “Naseem had always worn a burkha, she could not recognise her rapists. But I recognise those who attacked my family, many of them lived in Gangotri building nearby. I told Naroda police at the Shah Alam relief camp that I recognise the attackers. Many of them used to buy bread from me. I kept saying if you take me to the Gangotri, Gopinath buildings, I can point to their houses but the police did not write my complaint,” says Naimuddin.

‘Avoided investigation’

In her 1969-page order, Justice Yagnik comments that K.K. Mysorewala who was the senior police officer of Naroda police station at the time, and first Investigating Officer, “did not take even elementary and routine steps,” and “avoided investigation.” She notes that the Naroda police did not arrest even one person at the site of violence, did not collect samples from the deceased, did not take statements of victims in the hospital, and did not carry out a test identification parade for the accused. She castigates second Investigating Officer P.N. Barot, and S.S. Chudasama responsible for the investigation between March 8 and April 30, for causing delays by taking statements from Hindu residents even though the majority of the victims were Muslims. Yagnik notes how police had taken down statements in a “self-styled manner” — in one instance a statement was recorded in the name of Shoaib, a 20-day-old infant who had acid thrown on him in the riots, and made out to be that of a 20-year old man.

The order notes that when Siddique Alabax Mansuri, an eyewitness, said he had seen Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Mayaben Kodnani in the mob, the police refused to note down his complaint. The order, however, does not implead Mysorewala and other officers whom the victims wanted arraigned as accused noting that “in cases of neglect or inefficiency one cannot be labelled to have malice or any criminality.”

Imran Akhtar Sheikh was 16 years old when he lost 19 of his relatives in the riots. Now a 26-year-old electrician, he describes the verdict as “fifty per cent justice”; the rest will come when the administration and the highest executives are punished, he says.

“We ran towards the Special Reserve Police gate at the southern edge of the colony and pleaded to the guards that they take us inside but they did not. The police was carrying out a lathicharge in our direction. In desperation people tried to climb the five-high compound wall topped with glass shards and jumped inside,” he recounts.

Is no police officer responsible or accountable in an incident where 97 persons were killed, several women raped, hundreds of people injured, houses and shops burnt and destroyed?

Read the full report here in The Hindu. My previous reports in Tehelka magazine on legal justice in Gujarat here, on Modi’s Sadbhavana fast, and on the Godhra verdict. A previous long-ish report on corruption and the political economy of Gujarat here.