Sunday, February 27, 2011

In Their Eyes I see My Soiled Soul....Iqbal Hussain's Women In Paintings.Contemporary Painters Of Pakistan

In Their Eyes I see My Soiled Soul.  By  Meher Zaidi.
Iqbal Hussain with his Women In Painting.

Iqbal Hussain’s new exhibition of paintings and book launch at the Unicorn Art Gallery , Karachi was an intensely introspective and soul searching experience. The paintings of the women of the Red Light Area of Lahore were digging deep into the hearts of the viewer, as if  lancinating with their sad eyes to look into our conscience. Asking questions, probing to find answers. Answers of centuries, millinea of injustices to the human body, the woman in our species. As the march towards egalitarian, free society in the modern world continues this question remains. The ugly, unanswered question of human bondage, for sexual pleasure, for money. Modern day prostitution has taken many forms. This can be as raw and well defined as call girls and young boys who are called male and female prostitutes and sell their bodies for money as a profession or as vague and hidden as television anchor , dressed up respectably as a worker doing a decent political talk show. Both ways they are being exploited, especially the females by people who are ruthless, characterless, without morals and only pretending to be the label of the religion Islam.

Through the plump yet unattractive bodies of the Lahore Ladies of pleasure, Iqbal defines the flesh as a piece of meat, only to give temporary pleasure while it is savored. The dignity and beauty of the human body is screamingly absent. This is a stark truth that further lancinates our senses, our souls. Look what we have made our women , O society. Only pieces of meat to be savored and gluttoned away.

The life cycle in his paintings of a girl that is “Widai-ed” to the brothel as a girl gets to her “Susral” depicts the intense agony and in-human ignorance of the human society towards the girl in the center of the societal stage. A woman, who is described as the mother beneath whose feet is the door to heaven by God. This agony of separation from the parents and the start of an unknown, un- natural and often cruel life every girl who is married also has to undergo. Looked as a commodity with beautiful lips, body and hair the girl that is being wedded is no different from the prostitute girl in Iqbal’s paintings.

The irony stands big, fat and cold, cruel and stark for us to see. But then how many amongst us even understand the cruelty of fate, judgment, our own small selves. How many of us even understand what we are doing individually or as a society to our women by not giving them equal status as laborers, workers, mothers, teachers, doctors, anchors, airhostesses and professionals. 

How many of us even understand that by not giving equal rights of women in labor and agriculture we are not just increasing the poverty rate, the economic deprivation, the inequality in right to health, education and freedom  but also opposing God’s system of peaceful egalitarianism that is so vehemently emphasized in all His scriptures.

Meherzaidi with Iqbal Hussain's self portrait.

For those who are only following the narrow path and not the middle path in all their deeds as  ordered by Him, these eyes of the women in his paintings ask the eternal question. How have you looked at your soul? How have you searched for the truth that is God in your heart? 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Brave New Politics Of The Middle East.

As one Arab despotic dictator comes tumbling down one after the other, a new dawn is breaking all over the Middle East. A dawn of truth and the brave new world that will strive for justice, a new life of egalitarian values, a life of equal opportunities.Gone are the days of totalitarian regimes. Gone are the days of injustice and hegemony.
The winds of change are blowing hard all over middle East. The US has failed in its strategy of strategic interference.Even if this was as US planned, the quiet truth of awakening has dawned on the oppressed nations of the Middle East. So what is the implication in this even for Israel. Two things  need to be discussed in this context. As the politics of the Middle East change within two months, so will Israel have to fast pacedly change its non-cooperation and rigid Zionist stance. The spectre of Zionism will have to be tempered down. It is no longer relevant in the Brave New Middle East. As the tyrants like Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali, and now the totally nuts Gaddafi fall like dominoes, Israel cannot stand alone as a Zionist nation. Its whole existential philosophy has to be rewritten. Are the Israelis listening?
Gone are the days of conspiracies, covert operations, injustice to back the existence of a state and a nation. It all has to be out in the open. It has to be clear as black and white. The times of grey areas are gone. Look at Bahrain. People are demanding change of the Sunni regime and franchise to the populace . It is not Shia/Sunni divisive politics. It is the politics for egalitarian , equal opportunity values.Bahrain is changing. It has changed.
Thank God the politics of change in the Middle East is Secular. It is definitely egalitarian. Now the groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbollah, Islamic jihad will also have to redefine and redesign its entire revolutionary, snatching political space, even violently sometimes, political and social policies. These groups and others will also have to garb the secular, egalitarian political mantel that is now the the new fashion attire of the Middle Eastern youth. I know that truth will always prevail. As a new awakening warms the hearts of all those in the Middle East, the West will have to also support these brave new leaders. The West has to realize that what truly beautiful age the Middle East is entering. Instead of political and social conspiracies, it has to support the true awakening. It has to facilitate the economic and social enterprise. Mr Cameroon's visit to Egypt with meetings with all leaders and people except the Muslim Brotherhood defines that how slow he is still to understand the change that is taking place in Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood has taken some 30%  of the votes in Egypt. It is a vote bank that  is not to be ignored. The youth has risen. Its politics and stance is secular, hungry for egalitarian society. No groups can survive on conspiracy and emotional politics. Middle East is Muslim but then this is no Muslim awakening nor Islamic politics. Non-Muslims need not fear this New Awakening.
The Hamas in the Middle East will also have to change its stance for a better solution to the Palestinian problem. They have to understand that egalitarian values which they are striving for are a desire of  people of all religions.I t is not the Islam they are serving. All people want justice and equal opportunity. The Israeli state and its people will also have to change their Zionist stance to survive in the New Middle East. Hamas must change now too.
As the winds of change blow over the Brave New Middle East, the truth is writ large on its oily rich sands. gone are the days of despotic dictators who snatched all the oil wealth away from the people , with the help of the West who helped them to fuel their own economic, technological and social progress and sat like serpents over the oil wealth of their people. The winds of true freedom are here blowing hard and fast.
As the crazy old , haggard Gaddafi screams, squirts and shouts, threatening his own people with death and extermination, looking like a sick dog that whimpers before dying, the specter of exploitation, dictatorship and force falls down.
Iran's long holding clergy politics will also have to wake up. The green revolution is also there to stay. That awakening has reached its doors knocking hard and persistently.
It is time for these winds of change to enter the Indian subcontinent too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sajni by Jal Band.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Hidden People of Waziristan.

As I work at my welfare clinic for poor people, an eye opening experience happens. When one reads it in a newspaper or sees it as a news item on television screen the news of people killed in drone attacks, houses broken by bombing become just images of far away places that you can not relate to. The faces of the women and children are never seen.These unfortunate people are the hidden people of  Waziristan. Life in this once beautiful area was apparently peaceful. Everyone knows that the Afghan Jihad destroyed the peace in Pakistan. Zia ul Haq favored the US and opened Pakistan to all sorts of militants or would be militants. Osama Bin Laden came with tons of money given to stoke up the fires of Jihad in a hitherto peaceful land, burning the quiet serene peacful statue of love and ancient wisdom. Peshawar and Swat were ancient Buddhist towns. The nearby Taxila University , a symbol of a old and prestigious culture. All this I had read in books and and seen destroyed in front of my eyes.But today as clear, sparkling teardrops fell like diamonds so precious from the blue, blue eyes of a retired havaldar, tall ,handsome but now weak due to poverty and more because of  sorrow, I realized that this tragedy of immense proportions is not just a news item or an article in the newspaper.I realized that it is neither a strategy nor a policy nor a lifeline for Pakistan to keep the dollars coming in to feed our forever sick economy. Nor is it a Midas Golden touch to keep the parasitic elite and the corrupt sycophants forever in power. Nor is it a small price we pay for someone else's war on terror.
It was the truth of agony, the pain of longing to go back to their beloved towns. To run and plough their own fields. To drink the pure water of their springs. To watch their children play happily . To love and kiss their women in peace.
The dawn of reality of the hidden women and children hit me hard. Like tons of ice cold slapped on my face.
The ugliness of my made up face started showing in my mirror of false vanity. These women and children are displaced from their homes.They are dispersed in small shanty town slum homes in crowded cities like Karachi and Peshawar and others. They live with their poor relatives who are mere laborers or chowkidars and have families of their own. They have left their homes with one dress on their bodies. Now they have no homes. They have no food. They have no medicines. In these ugly shanty slums they are just the shadows from Waziristan , forgotten, uncared for, despised, degraded and never helped.
Their few male counterparts for many are widows and orphans are trying to feed them along with their own families. The government has forgotten them, the religious pretenders and hypocrites have forgotten them and the media and the people have forgotten them. Ironically he and many like him have served the army for ages. They are the hidden people of Waziristan. These women and children. There is no Watan card for them. There is no Government support for them. The humanitarian agencies do not enlist them for they are the lowliest on the rung for humanitarian help. Who will take their stand. Who will voice for their grieviences and rights. Who will champion their cause.Who will stand up for the women and children of Waziristan. The diamond tears shone bright in the blue , blue eyes of the handsome Chowkidar in a navy blue impeccable American jacket and I bowed my head in shame. He gave me blessings for a few measly medicines that I gave him but I have hope of redemption. Perhaps he saw the deep true love in my heart. Please help the women and children of Waziristan. Please help them wherever you find them . They are near you , in the shanty slums. Give them money, clothes, medicines and food. Above all give  them Love . All you can. Let the light of love and dignity shine back on their faces.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pakistan Happenings: January 2011.

Lahore Shah Alam market blaze with 11 buildings almost coming down, no means to extinguish fires, many millions of rupees market goods burnt including cosmetics and other inflammable material reflects on the behavior and the absolutely lawless and non-chalant behaviour of the Pakistani society.There were no fire extinguishers and alarms. The civil defense laws of keeping fire extinguishers and alarms at all public places and buildings even if present is neither applied nor respected. This reflects on the businessmen, the building owners and the Lahore administration. All are corrupt to the core. Even if a fire inspector comes for inspection , they are given some bribe and they never come back again. There is substandard often stolen electric connections and wiring.The buildings fell down because substandard construction both in terms of design and material was done. It was a miracle that it survived the earthquake that had come a few days earlier. There is no proper exit either in the market or the buildings. The Moon Market fires also did not teach a lesson to these people. The society in general is degenerating. There is no semblance of civilized  civic behavior. It seems that the Pakistani small businessman or trader does not feel responsible. Despite storing massive amounts of highly inflammable material in this wholesale market they had no arrangement for extinguishing the fires.

Incidences of violence are increasing rapidly in Punjab. It seems that the police has a shortage of staff and means to address these issues. They maybe low on their priority. The violence against women ,specifically seems to be on the increase. The four year old little girl who was raped and then buried alive to die and the other little girl raped and body left in an isolated place shows that children are so much at risk in the Punjab towns and villages. The parents are helpless and devastated. It is scary. The Punjab government shows complacency in finding justice to such victims and their families. This kind of scary indifference speaks volumes of the inefficiency and the mindset of the Punjab government to address governance and rule of law issues in this day and age. They are running the province in typical Choudary style of the last century. Even the police that is mainly illiterate seems to be having a backward mindset.Doing away with local government has really reinforced the ancient style of governance which has reflected in failure and utter breakdown of law and order.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhawa many more girls schools are blown. It seems that the little education that was being provided is in doldrums. The people in areas where the army operation is taking place are suffering heavily with displacement, poverty and death and this is not even reported in popular media.The most affected groups are the vulnerable women , children and old people who now have no homes, food, jobs or work.They have been living in other towns and cities especially Karachi burdening their already poor relatives. I am seeing cases of severe malnutrition, anemia and anxiety, depression cases; especially women from these populations. The sad part is that there is no help for them as neither government nor any religious organization recognizes their problems or helps them.The only girls college for the entire Orakzai agency was blown up by the militants on 10th February.Some sort of help for these students has to be given by the government urgently.

In Sindh , the girls college in a major town has been forcibly converted to a granary storage area and fertilizer godown by the Sindh government for the flood victims.Previously these schools and colleges were made refugee camps. All the girls are sitting in old broken area. The government is oblivious to the girl's problems. There are no lady doctors for population in Sindh where the health conditions are cave like especially post floods. The Sindh government and politicians are having it too good in Blackened window AC adorned latest SUVs and their second homes in Hyderabad and Defence, Karachi where the ambiance is so surreal and fantastic.All villages and towns that were flood affected present a picture of devastation where the citizens are aghast with what to do. In Thatta as reported by a  senior journalist the young girls do not have enough clothes to hide their bodies.This is the stark truth which the government is avoiding.
Since the removal of the Karachi mayor Syed Mustafa Kamal, the roads of Karachi are getting broken, sewage is being mishandled, chlorination of Karachi water is stopped and it seems that this largest megapolis is deliberately being made uninhabitable and destroyed to punish the population that votes for Muttahida Qaumi Movement by the Pakistan Peoples Party. This kind of revenge politics will not do and will really destroy PPP goodwill.
Overall the month of January shows that the real issues in Pakistan are not being handled properly and the citizens are really suffering. Governance has reached its lowest and it seems there is no light on the horizon in the near future. A change in government will not help at all as all is rotten in our crate of tomatoes.