Just Like in the Old Days…

Source: Dawn

What is a win but a number?
What is a loss but a figure?
Adding yet another digit to the evergrowing tally.
What does it mean after all?
That the people from here and the people from there spoke for the first time in years.
That our players hugged and shook the hands in the field.

That they helped out the injured from the other side.
That they applauded every time they played well.
Just like in the old days…

New friends were made in the stadium stands.
New names were learned which we never thought were real.
We saluted each other’s flag for the first time in years.
Across the fence, we could see each other’s faces after such a long time.
At least the taunts and jests felt human enough.
Not some distant babbling regurgitated by some noisy talk show host.
Sweetmeats were exchanged whether we won or lost.
Smiles were exchanged to heal broken hearts.
Just like in the old days…

Try to come and see us every now and then.
If only to beat us every time you are here.
Even if you never want to meet us when you are there.
It feels like home again.

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Manto’s Centennial: Tapping the Lost Memory

Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) – Source: Wikipedia

Saadat Hasan Manto would have turned 100 today. Anyway he passed away more than 50 years ago in the most hostile of circumstances. However, it is needless to say that his stories continue to be an inspiration and I have personally found them to touch my imagination deeper than I expected, but I cannot say that about all of them. He is certainly a man worth remembering and telling your children about, if you have any or would ever like to have them. He was often criticized for vulgarity and obscenity by his contemporaries, for whom the crude realism and daring of his writing were nothing less than a shock and an attempt of an apparently libertine writer to break the conventions of the time.

I have not read all of Manto’s work as of this day though I do want to. I need to read more to write about it but I doubt if I’d feel too differently. I don’t know much about Urdu literature either but of whatever I have read of Manto’s short stories, I have found it really fascinating. I can’t say but probably there is some sort of encoding of the memories from the past centuries on our DNA from grandparents to parents and so on, or so it seems, probably just our imagination, which seems to be revived or activated by such stories. In Manto’s case, this is true for India during the Raj, particularly around the turbulent years of the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.

Manto’s writing style is often associated with a lot of sexual crudeness and what is commonly and popularly referred to as “obscenity” or “vulgarity”, at least for his time, and for which he had been tried quite a few times as well, but the fact is that his writings are among the most sensual and sensitive that you will ever read. It largely depends on the particular story you are reading but really I am in no position to offer a critique on what sort of a writer he was. I don’t really care about critical analysis as long as the writing taps the lost imagination, or if I dare say, the lost memory.

As a matter of fact, I find a lot of commentary on Manto’s writing very crude and in bad taste itself, especially one which tries to emulate it in admiration and ends up in putting you off. If the writing is indeed “crude”, “obscene” and “vulgar”, the sort of commentary makes it doubly so, or makes it so if it was not in the first place. Those who know about it would know about what I am talking about. Those who do not would probably have to start with his stories first. While his stories are popularly considered to drive a lot of lust and sexual stimulation in the imagination, I wonder if it is really meant to be taken that way at all. I don’t know. This is the beauty of any art form. However, carrying out an open surgery on it certainly does bring the reader’s mind to that level.

But enough of the unpleasantness. I am more of a fan of the subtle detail that constructs the picture of the India that a part of me has known even before I was born perhaps. I keep on going to that absurd threshold of lost memory, instead of lost imagination, because somehow the feeling is far stronger and far more overwhelming than just imagination. Perhaps it is that, imagination, but I would like to think otherwise, or go one step further, calling it lost memory anyway. It feels more like memory. Perhaps, it is my grandmother’s old house, my grandparents themselves, the neighborhoods I grew up in and the city that had not yet lost its tradition to the mechanized modernity disguised in progress. The curiosity how the earlier generation used to live, the loss of the different elements of the Indian society living together, the lost hormony, the lost peace, the lost values.

Some of his short stories such as Mozelle have had a deeper effect on me than others. The greatest thing about those stories is not just the people, but the very environment around which the story has been woven. Another one being Sahib-e-Karamaat, but these surely not being the only ones. It is not just the sensitivity of the story that matters but also the universe that it exists in. Of course it exists merely in our brain cells, but that information certainly comes out of each individual’s association with the time. I know this really has nothing to do with what his stories are actually about but maybe it does not really matter as much since each person can relate to it in their own way and a person born in a different era can find it as a link to reach the years he or she cannot reach otherwise or physically, in their own way. It’s a good portal.

Perhaps one of the great things about his stories has been the way it lets you construct the scene and that is the greatest thing about any writing. Of course, it is meant to bring out that lost lust in you and it was important in a more or less repressive society of the India of the earlier twentieth century, perhaps not as much as a modern mind would imagine, but at least to the extent that such writing style would have been found out of place at the time. To me, writing is supposed to be. Manto was sort of an iconoclast in terms of Indian literature at the time and of course was way ahead of his time. Not to imply that he did not have an audience or people who did not understand and who were not good enough to receive it without going into a state of unproductive shock instead of ecstasy or at least literary if not hormonal pleasure of some sort. But it nevertheless is a fact that the society mostly acts unlike its individuals.

You would say that about every artist probably but more work out of Manto would have been great because the thought of having read all his stories is frightening, as is the thought of watching all the motion pictures from Fellini or Buñuel and getting done with it.

Because we need more inspiration to tap that lost memory.

A sense of nostalgia, a past-future, that is just not supposed to be there, or maybe it is.

Maybe we should try ourselves.

Two Decades Since the Happiest News

Source: The Telegraph

I must admit I do not attach importance to sports anymore as I used to do ten years ago, neither do I associate it with patriotism in any way. I never did, even before my teenage, but it feels good to see everyone around you so jubilant and it feels very good to see something you associate with do well. Especially when it is a part of very personal nostalgia.

Pakistan is a country surrounded with troubles of all sorts, especially in the recent years, but it has had its share of fond memories and some very creative and important people in its history. I say this with an overtone of sadness that there have been very few instances of “good news” in its history, since its creation, at least in my living memory, since the late 1980s to date. However, one that I consider the most important one, and to some probably the only one, was the 1992 Cricket World Cup victory.

Now that was a huge moment for someone who had not even reached his teenage at the time and it was ecstatic. Imran Khan is my childhood hero and I recall that when I was in school there was no one in the world that I wanted to be like than Imran Khan. He is one of those very few charismatic and inspirational people you cannot help but notice. I was not alone. All the boys wanted to become Imran Khan and all the girls wanted to marry him. And it was really inspirational to see him lift the trophy for Pakistan. He is a politician now and a controversial figure, but I guess he always was. And that’s sexy.

Now that was one of those patriotic moments you cannot help but not hide under pragmatism, making it one of my very personal posts.

It happened on this day, March 25, exactly 20 years ago in Melbourne, Australia.

I know it is only a cricket tournament and many cricket world cups have come and gone since then, but to my generation, that moment means something really special. Besides, Pakistan was not as half as desensitized a nation to everything as it is now. I still remember watching the Pakistani cricket team victory parade on Murree Road in Rawalpindi from the roof of my old family house. It was a surreal moment that got attached to my memory forever and will never leave it until my brain cells are dissolved with my corpse.

Even the most useless cricketers in the squad are treated as heroes to this day.

I find the Pakistan of the 1990s a very magical piece of history anyway and it was really made special by this very special event. The earlier generations would attach far greater importance to the event not just because archrival India dramatically won the 1983 World Cup but because Pakistan was eliminated from the 1987 World Cup over a controversial umpiring decision that led to the dismissal of Captain Imran Khan in the Semi Final against Australia in Lahore. It was probably the lowest point in his career and he retired after the loss in the tournament. He was persuaded to come out of retirement and went on to lead an apparently dysfunctional team to victory, in a miraculous manner. Those who followed the tournament would know what I am talking about.

Whether you agree with it or admit it or not, I think that the 1992 World Cup victory had a great part to play in changing the destiny of Pakistan. It also led to the building of Pakistan’s first dedicated cancer hospital in Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center, which could have happened without the victory too perhaps, but maybe not in such a glorious manner. Donations poured in for it. We lost that spirit somewhere over the years. Hope not.

Imran’s acceptance speech was pretty much about him than Pakistan, but I guess Pakistanis don’t mind that. I don’t.

But it really was the Happiest News the Pakistani nation ever received.

Two decades since the Happiest News and probably waiting for the next one, which will never come because this was it I guess. Hope not.

I think the 1992 Cricket World Cup was a moment that I do associate with patriotism without any shame.

Yes, it is a moment for which I am very proud to be a Pakistani.