Karachi Literature Festival: Jaun Elia may have been known for his verse, but compilation now gives fans prose to adore

KARACHI: So you think you have read everything ever written by Jaun Elia? Think again. And you think he never sought anyone’s approval? Think again!

In a small room, perhaps the smallest of all of Beach Luxury Hotel’s convention rooms, enthusiasts and fans of Jaun’s poetry were introduced to his prose work on the second day of the fourth Karachi Literature Festival Saturday.

A compilation of his prose, titled ‘Farnood’, was launched on Saturday in a session moderated by poet Shahida Hassan.

The book has been painstakingly compiled by Khalid Ahmed Ansari, a devoted Jaun fan, from various sources and includes essays and editorials written by Jaun since 1958, the year he moved to Pakistan.

Hassan recited a few couplets from Jaun’s first anthology ‘Shayad’, to an audience that hung on to her every word and sometimes finished her sentence for her. The most popular couplet it seemed was this damning satire that is as true for this day as it was for when he wrote it:

Yeh basti hai musalmanon ki basti; Yahan kaar-e-maseeha kyun karein hum?

(In this area, only Muslims live. Why should we do here as messiahs do?)

Journalist and writer Shakeel Adilzada, who was very close to Jaun as well as his older brothers Raees Amrohvi and Syed Muhammad Taqi, introduced the book and spoke at length about his association with Jaun.

“He was my brother, my mentor and my teacher. Everything that I have learnt is through being in his, and his brothers’ company,” he said. “The writings in this book date to 1958 when he was writing for ‘Insha’, a magazine edited by his brother Raees which is why Jaun agreed to write editorials for it. He was but a poet and all the prose he had ever written was in his love letters! So when he finally managed to write his first editorial with much difficulty, he showed to everyone for approval. It was much appreciated, and from then on he became comfortable with prose.”

“A lot of this work comes from ‘Suspense’ digest, where it became very popular because of how different a tone it took from the rest of the digest,” said Adilzada.

What set Jaun’s editorials and other prose apart, just like his poetry, was his incessant need to experiment with thoughts and with words. “He always liked to experiment with names and liked ones that sounded different. For instance, Hammorabi,” he said, pointing to Jaun’s nephew who sat in the audience.

“Jaun would often create very strange new names. Even my name is one of his creations,” he said, chuckling. “My name was plain and simple Mohammad Shakeel. He wouldn’t hear any of it and changed it to Shakeel Adilzada (Shakeel, the son of Adil). Since then, it has stuck.”

He said a special thank you to Ansari, saying that the compilation of such a book would not have been possible had it not been for him. “I would like to appreciate Ansari for his diligence and perseverance. All this work of Jaun was scattered and it took two to three years to compile it all. We are fortunate that he decided, and managed, to do it.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2013.

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Movie review: A special film indeed

Few films in Bollywood, even today, rely wholly and solely on the strength of their plot to be entertainers. Special 26 is definitely one of them.

The film, set in 1987, is based on the true story of heist events in India. Akshay Kumar (Ajay) and Anupam Kher (P.K. Sharma) are part of a gang of robbers who conduct huge robberies by posing, very intelligently, as officers from India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (equivalent to Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency). The film begins with them conducting a raid at a politician’s house in Delhi, who refuses to launch an FIR against them for fear of publicizing his own corruption. But a policeman Ranvir Singh (Jimmy Sheirgill), who had been duped by them into believing their identities and has been suspended consequently, refuses to let go until the gang is put behind bars. He approaches the actual CBI and manages to get help from officer Waseem (Manoj Bajpai) and his team to help nail the robbers. Thus begins a great game of cat and mouse, and a thoroughly entertaining and unpredictable one at that.

While Akshay Kumar has done an absolutely brilliant job and Manoj Bajpai has brought a lot into his role, the star of the film is, undoubtedly, Anupam Kher. Like a master, he switches his body language and facial expressions between his two roles as a somewhat-scared old thief and a trained, albeit fake, CBI officer. Director Neeraj Pandey has also established his credentials as a versatile filmmaker as Special 26 is completely different, but no less fantastic, than his debut film A Wednesday.

Special 26, however, isn’t without some weaknesses and tends to become a little bit of a drag. It could have benefited from doing away with the entirely superfluous love story between Akshay Kumar and his ladylove (a girl who lives across from his building in Bombay). Not only did this love track not add anything to the plot, it produces barely average songs which are filmed in full (!!). Even commercial Bollywood films seem to have arrived at the conclusion that full songs don’t have to be included in the film.

Verdict: It is a great film for a light night out. Performances by Kumar, Kher and Bajpai are well worth the time and the plot will keep you engaged right till the end.

 

To maintain the “long arm of the law”, reform it!

It is extremely tiresome, this national culture of using a position of influence as license to point to other people’s failures while ignoring your own.

The honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan has raised a very valid question, one that is on the mind of every resident of the City of LFights – Karachi: “With 22,000 fugitives roaming the streets of Karachi, are the people to stay home all the time [in order to be secure]?

This is a most important question from the citizens’ point of view, and as a hapless resident of Karachi I thank their lordships for asking this from men usually inaccessible to ordinary residents like me.

Karachi may be the cheapest city to live in but it extracts its price in many other ways. For instance, even though Karachi is believed to be the financial hub of Pakistan you cannot plan a business, a project or even just go to your day-job here without factoring in the “normal” occurrence of shops suddenly closing down in the thick of the work-day for any number of reasons. If you still manage to start up a business in this city, you cannot ignore a certain amount you will have to give away to the bhatta mafia as and when they please. If you use public transport to get to work, you cannot get on a bus or rickshaw without fearing for your life (and that’s not just because of the skill of the drivers). You cannot walk to work, or anywhere, without fearing for menacing-looking men on a motorbike who would think nothing of shooting you down for not having an expensive enough mobile phone. You cannot drive your own car without keeping an eye at your sideview mirror and panicking every time a motorbike comes too close lest the riders want to kidnap you for ransom. If you manage to spend an accident-free day, then you prefer not to try your luck and step out after 10 pm.

But, without absolving any of the elected representatives and police officials of the blame, I also ask the honorable judges to enlighten us on their community’s track record at meting out justice to trained killers and terrorists. Even if we ignore the rest of Pakistan, two very recent cases from Karachi can testify to how weak and pathetic our justice system has become.

First is the case of Ajmal Pahari, a target-killer from Karachi who had made an on-camera admission of having killed at least 111 people. He was arrested after the 2011 summer of violence in Karachi, ironically following a Supreme Court suo motu, and was acquitted in 12 cases earlier this year. It was with relief that the media reported that he had been re-arrested in 4 more murder cases just a few days after his release from jail. It is baffling how a self-confessed killer, who had shown no remorse whatsoever at his heinous crimes, could be released. And that too in 12 cases, no less, and for “want of evidence” NO LESS!

The second is the case of Shahzeb Khan’s murder. Because his friends and family did not trust the justice system to deliver until the Supreme Court itself intervenes, a simple murder case that should have been handled by an anti-terrorism court has ended up in the highest court of the country after yet another suo motu. (My blog on how this case is an example of the failure of Pakistan’s justice system)

As members of the highest court in the country, these judges are some of the brightest minds in Pakistan’s judicial system today. How is it, then, that they cannot see the obvious failure of their own system? How can they not see that underneath them, the judicial structure of this country is, to put it mildly, crumbling? Even after having practiced it for years, how can they not identify the loopholes in the process that allow killers like Pahari to be acquitted? Can they not see how perilous it is that people’s only recourse to the law is “the chief justice should take suo motu of this!” even if the issue does not merit the Supreme Court’s intervention?

If their lordships truly want the rule of the law, they need to seriously consider the weaknesses within their own system, which is malleable for people with influence and malicious for people without influence. The suo motu notices make for strong political statements, but do little for the “long arm of the law”. These theatrics have to end to make way for a dialogue on judicial reform. This politics, which has already sucked up the rest of our institutions, needs to end.