Raza Naeem

Raza Naeem

A social scientist, translator, book critic and a prize-winning dramatic reader based in Lahore. He is working on a translation of Saadat Hasan Manto’s nonfiction and was awarded the 2013-2014 Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship for his translation and interpretive work on Manto.

Remembering Shakir Ali: One of Asia’s greatest painters

Today marks the hundredth birthday of one of Pakistan’s – and according to the equally legendary Intizar Hussain, Asia’s – greatest painters, Shakir Ali (1916-1975). 2016 is deservedly being celebrated as Ali’s birth centenary year and the occasion should not only refocus attention on the enduring legacy Ali has left behind in his works inspired by modernism and the progressive tradition, but also in the form of Lahore’s National College of Arts, whom Ali single-handedly transformed into an institution of excellence. Photo: www.vaslart.org/ Ali is also singular in that, unlike his other legendary contemporaries Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Sadequain and Gulgee, his students ...

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Ismat Chughtai’s women: Women, yes – dreams, no

Ismat Chughtai is universally regarded as one of the four pillars of Urdu fiction in our time, apart from her contemporaries Saadat Hasan Manto, Krishan Chander and Rajinder Singh Bedi. This year is being celebrated as her birth centenary year. While in India, she and her legacy is being feted and commemorated.   In Pakistan, this unrelenting and daring champion of women’s rights and feminism, who anticipated by a few decades the heaven-stormers of the 60s powered and pioneered in the West by Simone de Beauvoir, has been consciously ignored. Perhaps firstly, owing to the controversy she created with one ...

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Kabira is still crying in Pakistan

While many progressives are fond of extolling Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s lament on the unfulfilled promise of postcoloniality, his evocative poem Subh-i-Azadi (The Dawn of Freedom), in prose, it is actually Saadat Hasan Manto who captures the opportunism and political chicanery which characterised the newly-formed state of Pakistan. In his little-known short story, Dekh Kabira Roya (See, Kabira Cried) published soon after Manto’s reluctant migration to his new country, Manto uses the famous 15th century Sufi poet Bhagat Kabir as a protagonist to presciently satirise the emerging trends of intolerance, orthodoxy and cultural chauvinism in the newly-independent state, which are all too familiar in Pakistan in the 21st century. As such, this fable may also be read today ...

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Rajinder Singh Bedi: Film-making is not child’s play

September 1st marks the birth centenary of Rajinder Singh Bedi, one of the most gifted and greatest fiction writers of the 20th century, completing the quartet whose membership also extends to Saadat Hasan Manto, Krishan Chander, and Ismat Chughtai. Bedi was a son of Punjab, born in Lahore. While his output was not as prodigious as his three aforementioned contemporaries, his stories are memorable, chastising ancient beliefs and superstitions which keep the ordinary person ignorant and the women oppressed. He was not a doctrinaire blinded by ideology as many of his contemporaries were, but rather than giving us the heady slogans of revolution, he preferred ...

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Majaz Lakhnawi to the labourers: ‘The day we rebel, Judgement Day will compel’

The Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif has announced that a first-ever labour policy for the province would be announced today, on the occasion of International Labour Day. This is welcome news from the incumbent chief minister, known to publicly recite from the popular poets and bard of the Pakistani working class, Habib Jalib in his more distracted moments. While the national government has yet to announce a more conciliatory policy for the hardworking workers of the country, the chief minister might also be interested in another progressive intervention on behalf of the workers from our not-too-distant past, the ...

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Majaz Lakhnawi advices young women to ‘lift the veil, raise the flag’

Majaz Lakhnawi lived through a turbulent yet exciting time: in 1930’s British-controlled India, where patriarchy also raised its ugly head, especially in Muslim households. Yet Majaz, who himself was born in a Muslim family, became a prominent member of the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA), whose task was to rid India both of British colonialism and patriarchy. He quickly became a popular poet, ahead of his illustrious peers, both amongst young men and women, due to his message of revolution and female emancipation. Owing to just a few of his poems, Majaz has entered the pantheon of great poets who recounted the social history of the Indian subcontinent ...

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Would Malcolm X have denounced Obama’s imperial adventures in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

“The house Negro usually lived close to his master. He dressed like his master. He wore his master’s second-hand clothes. He ate the food that his master left on the table. When the master would be sick, the house Negro identified himself so much with the master, he’d say, ‘What’s the matter, boss, we sick?’ The house Negro was in minority. The field Negroes were the masses. They were in the majority. When the master got sick, they prayed that he’d die. If his house caught on fire, they’d pray for a wind to come along and fan the ...

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Kashmir ko Salam

Kashmir played an important part in Krishan Chander’s fiction; he initially spent a lot of time in Poonch owing to his father’s employment there and used to return to Kashmir whenever the opportunity afforded itself. His first three short stories were devoted to the beautiful valley and its people. Of about twelve stories which he wrote on Kashmir in all, are two novels, Shikast (Defeat) and Mitti kay Sanam (Earthen Idols). At least five decades before Kashmiri poets and writers like Agha Shahid Ali, Basharat Peer and Mirza Waheed and indeed filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj’s recent memorable Kashmiri nod to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in his film Haider became household names, Chander wrote presciently in a preface to his collected ...

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In Manto’s words, this is what Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi looks like

We live in strange times. Saudi Arabia’s ageing despot has finally died. The difference between then and now of course is that Saudi visits are hardly as honest and just as scarcely the bearer of good news for Pakistan’s perpetually-indebted elite. If in the 1950s they brought some hope for the poor along with gold, now these visits carry a heavy price tag, despite assurances to the contrary from the country’s financial mandarins after the latest Saudi bequest of $1.5 billion in a scarcely-entertaining drama at the national level. And the heavy price-tag might end up consuming Pakistan itself. Our dependence on Saudi oil, remittances ...

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60 years ago Saadat Hasan Manto knew what Pakistan was in for today

“I have seen him;  On the cleanest roads, in a dust-covered amazement;  In the gathering storm of blind, overturned cups; Tossing the empty bottle he shouts, ‘Oh world! Your beauty is your ugliness.’  Booms becoming the noise of chains, The world stares back at him, Their bloodshot eyes rattle with the question, ‘Who nabs the pillar of time, By the noose of his drunken breath? Who dares to break into dim corridors, Of twisted conscience? Who intrudes upon poisonous dens, Of demonised souls? Through icy glasses his rude glance, Chases us like a footfall, Foul monster! Bang! Bang!” (A poem for Manto - Majeed Amjad) The man who saw beauty in the world’s ugliness and for whom this poem ...

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