Sir Frederic Salmon Growse was born in 1836 at Bildeston, a village in south-west Suffolk, England. He was a scholar at Oriel and Queen’s College in Oxford where he completed his masters. In 1859 he passed the competitive examinations for the Indian Civil Service and in 1860 he joined the Bengal Civil services with a posting in the North-Western provinces.
In his time in Mainpuri he understood that design and craft share a symbiotic relationship when practiced together. This led to his understanding on the importance of local buildings and crafts and he realized that the work of Indian traditional artisanship will not be appreciated or sustained until it would not profit Europe. This understanding made for “his model of architectural practice in India under foreign influence“.
A post by LatestLY was dedicated to Growse on his 128th death anniversary that infoemed:
Even in Bulandshahr he held archaeological excavations in some sites and was able to find inscriptions and coins which are currently sitting in different museums across India and England. He was also gazetted C.I.E. i.e. Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1879 on New Year’s Day.
Growse took leave from Indian civil services due to poor health and retired to Haslemere, Surrey in England in 1891. E.B. Havell mentioned Growse as “a martyr to the cause” but by the early twentieth century many architects emerged to regard Indian artisans and building traditions much more sympathetically even if they felt their own ideas were superior.
“In losing him, the world of Oriental literature has lost a fellow-labor, whose work, in its own peculiar sphere, was conscientious and thorough, and at the same time frequently graced by an eminently artistic style.”
India, P. B. N. S. (2021, May 19). Frederic Salmon Growse Death Anniversary: The Britisher Who Translated Ramcharitmanas Into English: 📰 LatestLY. LatestLY. https://www.latestly.com
Mallick, B. (2018, March 11). (thesis). Agency of Labor Resistance in Nineteenth Century India: Significance of Bulandshahr and F.S. Growse’s Account . University of Cincinnati. Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu
Watt, G. (1903). Indian art at Delhi, 1903.: Being the official catalogue of the Delhi exhibition, 1902-1903. Superintendent of government printing, India.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Saloni Tehri is a fourth-year architecture student from Jindal School of Art and Architecture in O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat. She is an ardent learner and researcher who likes to contribute to the cultural heritage and histories of places.
Alexander Cunningham came to India in 1833, at the tender age of 19, under the East India Company as an army engineer. His life is characterized under two parts, his army life and what he was better known for – Director of Indian Archeological Survey. The history of Cunningham’s exploits into archeology and excavation of coins that Bulandshahr is known for – has a complex and layered history. James Prinsep’s (in charge of Calcutta mint) interest in the coinage of India overlapped with Venture, who was Ranjith Singh’s French general – who was inspired by the success of the story of Egyptian Pyramid Grave Robbers and took it upon himself to excavate at the plains of Punjab. The collection contained Bactrian, Roman and Indonasian coins, all requested by Prinsep for inception – who became a figurehead of the venture into unknown Indian history. Cunningham’s arrival was right in the midst of this whirlpool, and soon became one of Prinsep’s closest collaborator.
Cunningham’s shadow and right hand man, A.C.L Carlyle was also a force to reckon with and deserves the mantle next to Cunnigham for his discoveries. A.C.L Carlyle was Cunningham’s assistant when he was appointed Director General of The Archeological Survey of India. Caryle, not only assisted, shadowed and helped in Cunnigham’s excavations, he himself excavated objects of great importance to India’s long forgotten history. He discovered traces of Mesolithic Rock-art in the rock-shelters of Sohagighat in the mountain range of Kaimur (Dist. Mirzapur). He was credited with excavating the first Stone Age antiquities and found 20 copper and 4 silver punched coins in modern day Banaras, in India. He thoroughly documented the tours of Cunnigham, that helped and preserve Cunngham’s legacy, work, styles etc., while most of what Cunnigham himself wrote were historical analysis of his excavations more than general report of the excavations themselves.
Source: British Museum (coins)
Fun Fact: Cunningham studied the archaeological excavations of India so steadily and intently that he could easily distinguish between what was Indian and what wasn’t, hence he was the one to discover the first Harappan seal. He dismissed the seal as not Indian due to the writing, the bull without the hump and the material. Historian, Neil McGregor, attests that it was this seal that led to the discovery of Indus Valley Civilization, as it was left to successor John Marshall – who indeed discovered Indus Valley or the ruins of the city Harappa.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
This is Arpita Sk, 3rd year student at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, majoring in Literary Studies and Sociology. Summer Intern at Kala Chaupal.
It is said that in a Jat village, it is nearly impossible to find a single-family that does not have at least one member serving in the armed forces. Since the colonial era, the Jat community has been designated as a “martial race” and to date constitutes a large percentage of the Indian Army. There exists a historical affiliation between the Jat community and the armed forces, and it is this affiliation that is considered to be the pride of any Jat village.
Who are Jats?
In the twenty-first century, over nine million people across the Indian subcontinent belong to the Jat community. Today, the majority of the community resides in the region which is bound by the Himalayan foothills in the north, by the Ganga on the east, the Indus on the west, and by the Deccan Plateau in the south. However, a minority of almost five percent of the Jat population resides in present-day Pakistan.
Since the colonial era, the Jats have been considered to be a “martial race”. During the colonial years, the Jats were valued for their strength, valour, and loyalty and were recruited into the army. Even today, a large portion of the Indian Army is made up of soldiers belonging to the Jat community.
What is a “martial race”?
Kshatriya – the warrior caste
From a cursory glance at the “martial race” theory it becomes evident that it was highly flawed and contradictory. Simply put, it was in no way “scientific”. However, it did capitalise on the four-fold varna system. The British were interested in the warrior-caste or the Kshatriya who were said to possess loyalty, bravery, and other “martial” ideals.
The idea of “innateness” was a key to the British conception of “martial races.” The idea of “innateness” gave legitimacy to the endeavour of classification in the first place. According to the British, “martial” qualities like stature, bravery, and loyalty could be heritable and thus, was the foundation of the model of innateness. Hence, elements like culture, social practices, and region of origin were treated as genetic factors. This led the British to favour certain religious and caste groups as “martial races.” For instance, Muslims were seen as more “martial” than Hindus. However, communities like the Jats, Rajputs, and Sikhs were Hindu communities possessing “martial qualities.” This could explain why these communities have time and again tried to re-assert their Kshatriya status.
Mythological claims on “Kshatriya-hood”
The rebellious Jats
The question is, how did the British realise that the Jats were warriors? Possibly many were mercenaries but it is much more likely that it is because they fought with the Jats themselves. This brings us to the “siege of Bharatpur.”
The siege of Bharatpur took place between 2nd January and 22nd February of 1805 in the princely state of Bharatpur (now in the state of Rajasthan). The siege of Bharatpur was the climax of the long-drawn Second Anglo-Maratha War. The princely state of Bharatpur was the capital of the Jat kingdom. The Maharaja of Bharatpur, Ranajit Singh, rose in rebellion against the British by joining an alliance with the Indore Maharaja Holkar and the Maratha Empire.
The Jat Regiment and World War 1
The Jat Regiment of the British Indian Army played a decisive role in World War 1. Although they were often dismissed as peasant people, the British recognised their strong military tradition. Over 40,000 Jats were recruited into the Indian Army during the First World War.
One such brave Jat soldier was Risaledar Badlu Singh (13 January 1876 – 23 September 1918). Risaledar Badlu Singh was one among very few Indians who were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
The Jat regiments in post-independent India
Even after 70 years of independence, the Jat Regiment remains one of the most highly decorated Regiments in the Indian Army. Currently, the regiment has 23 regular battalions, 4 Rashtriya Rifles battalions, and 2 reserve battalions. The battle cry, adopted in 1955, in Hindi, “Jat Balwaan, Jai Bhagwaan” meaning – “Jat is Powerful, Victory be to God!”
The glorious history of the Jat Regiment is in keeping with the motto “Sangathan Wa Veerta”, which means “Unity in Valour”. This truly signifies the spirit and fighting qualities of the Jat soldiers.
Therefore, it becomes evident that the Jat community has played a central role in the history of Colonial and Independent India. The Jat community has played a crucial role in the development of India – from feeding the people as farmers to protecting the people as army men. To date, the Jat community remains the embodiment of strength, bravery, and loyalty.
About the Author
This is Srabondeya Haldar, a third-year History student of Shiv Nadar University currently pursuing a minor in Sociology
Everyone does family history nowadays. Genealogy used to belong only to the wealthy; once upon a time only they owned a past and laid claim to a history based on land and property. Now everyone who can use a computer or go to a local records office has a stake in the past.
– Alison Light, Common People (2014)
The term “genealogy” has held the public interest and started numerous debates for centuries. The study of family genealogy is concerned with the who, when, where, and what of how it all began. In layman’s terms, the word “genealogy” is an account of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor. In reality, it is much more than that – it is crucial to understanding who one is, where one is from, and why one believes and practices certain ideas.
Ever since the hit BBC television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” was aired, there has been a renewed interest in piecing together family genealogies. However, even before it hit the screen, the trend to reconstruct family history was already popular. In fact, family genealogy was an important subject of the larger tradition of oral history in pre-colonial South Asia, which gradually got replaced by written records and documents. Thus, anyone with time, patience, and perseverance can put on their detectives’ hat and piece together generations’ worth of information. But the question is – why should one be interested in tracing their family history? The answer lies in the human kind’s desire to belong. It is this desire to belong that in turn, shapes an individual’s cultural identity and perception of self.
In our discussion so far, it becomes clear that family genealogy plays an important role in understanding one’s roots and heritage. Perhaps the greatest gift of undertaking the tedious task of tracing family history is being able to give your future generations a sense of the past, their roots, and their heritage. Cultural heritage is something that one can in the present tap into – it gives a sense of purpose and meaning to one’s life, when one finds themselves in the ever-overwhelming life of the present. Many families are working to protect and promote their heritage and have start sharing their various stories that have passed on through their generations.
Take for instance the ancient city of Bulandshahr. It has been a seat of intense historical and cultural importance and events – battles during the Mughal Era, the 1857 War for Independence and National Movements in the twentieth century. There are many ethnic groups such as the Jats, Gujjars, Pathans, and many more who settled in Bulandshahr many generations ago and continue to reside there with the intense desire to preserve their unique tales.
The Pathans of Bara Basti have been a family that stayed in this region – known as the Khanpur Estate for many centuries. Originally, horse traders in Afghanistan, they migrated to India and served as Mansabdars or military administrators under the Mughal Empire. Many of them later become important names in the war of 1857 against the British East India Company.
Cultural heritage is a complex and multifaceted entity and can be understood as a person’s unique inherited sense of family identity: the values, traditions, culture, and artifacts handed down by previous generations. This takes on a rather concrete form when one considers the centrality of family homes in an individual’s cultural heritage. With its rich and diverse cultural heritage, Bulandshahr is also replete with important heritage buildings and important family homes. Families have been living in Bulandshahr for several generations and these family homes have become important landmarks of the region.
One such important landmark is the Agarwal family home. This beautiful home is said to be the very first to be built in Bulandshahr. It was commissioned by Mr. Murli Manohar Tirlok Chand who owned a Parchun business. Many years later this home is still inhabited by the Aggarwal family and remains an important heritage building to this day.
Another interesting family home is that of the Beri family. Beri Bhawan was originally constructed by Gopal Rai, the Prime Minister of Kuchesar in the mid-19th century, and his son, Deputy Sahib. This iconic home was the residence of Deputy Sahib and his wife Rani Chandra Kanwar till the 1930s. After their demise, the home was inherited by their next of kin – the Beri family from Chandani Chowk. The house was subsequently split into five parts for the five brothers. Their descendants continue to live on the premise of the incredible home.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating landmarks at Bulandshahr is the Sirohi Haveli. Today, a resort, The Sirohi Haveli was originally built by three Sirohi brothers, who served in British Indian Army and retired as Risladars. On retirement, three brothers were given a village each as zamindari, which was Pali Partapur, Seria, and Abhaypur. The family later settled in Pali Partapur around 1854, where presently the three Havelis exist. The structural complex comprises of three Havelis and three guest houses with a common gate and high and thick walls. The whole property was made in such a way, to protect the residents from any outside conflict. The architecture and cultural value of the Havelis continue to capture public interest.
A person’s heritage can express itself in many ways. Some families define their heritage primarily as their ethnic, cultural, or national identity. This identity can centre around the kind of beliefs and practices they hold dear or the different stories and histories they together assert they have traversed. Other families identify it as the value that has been passed down generations – cuisine, artform, religious devotion, etc. However, in this fast-changing world where change is the only constant, it is these deep roots of heritage and cultural identity that anchors our place in the world.
Therefore, it becomes evident that there exists a tripartite relationship between the biodiversity of the region, the technological infrastructure, and the history of the region which are inextricably embedded in the nuanced legacy of Bulandshahr.
The Bulandshahr Doab region is rich when it comes to fauna. Historically, the Ganga-Yamuna region was densely forested, and the thick forest cover was scarcely interrupted by pockets of villages and settlements. According to historical texts and records wild elephants, buffalos, bison, rhinoceroses, lions, and tigers were hunted here. This is evidenced by the tiger skins and deer antlers that are still preserved by families in their homes. However, most of the original vegetation has disappeared to give way for intensive agriculture. Presently, there are few large wild animals apart from deer, boars, wolves, jackals, and foxes. Yet, the region is still home to a wide variety of fauna – from fireflies, to peacocks, to leopards.
Interestingly, the entire stretch of the Ganga and its tributaries is home to thousands of birds who rely on the Ganges for water and fish. There are numerous indigenous species of birds found in this region, including – mynas, kites, parrots, crows, Kingfisher birds, partridges, fowl, ducks, snipes and peacocks. Additionally, this region is also visited by numerous species of migratory birds. Thanks to the efforts of the forest and environment department of UP, many of UP’s wetlands have been declared as bird sanctuaries that are aim to protect and conserve not just the numerous bird species but also the biodiversity as a whole. These bird sanctuaries play host to a wide variety of bird species including the Red-crested pochard, Ferruginous duck, Egyptian vultures, Palla’s fish eagle and the Greylag goose. These wetlands are popular recreational and tourism destinations and support farmers as a source of livestock fodder.
The waters of the river Ganga, itself is rich in diverse fauna. Over 140 species of fish have been found within the waters of the Ganges and its tributaries. Additionally, there are over ninety species of amphibians inhabiting the river and its surrounding regions. The Ganges is also home to several critically endangered species, like the freshwater turtles, Asian small-clawed otters, Gharial crocodiles, and the extremely rare Ganges Shark.
Perhaps, the most fascinating element of Bulandshahr’s biodiversity is the river dolphin. Dolphins are one of the oldest creatures of the world alongside turtles and crocodiles. The South Asian River dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is an endangered freshwater or river dolphin found in the region of the Indian subcontinent, which is split into two subspecies, the Ganges River dolphin and the Indus River dolphin. The Ganges River dolphin is primarily found in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and their tributaries in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, while the Indus River dolphin is now found only in the main channel of the Indus River in Pakistan. The Ganges River dolphins were officially discovered in 1801. However, today these freshwater dolphins are the most endangered species of mammals in the world. Only 41 Indo-Gangetic dolphins remain. Regarding the river dolphins, Dr. Sandeep Behera, consultant of National Ganga Clean Mission (NGMC), said, “We must put an effective check on the frequent death of dolphins.” He said the stretch of Ganga between Narora and Garhmukteshwar was declared a Ramsar site (wetland site of international importance) because of these dolphins and the community’s participation in their conservation.
The alluvial soil of the region has allowed for a wide variety of flora at Bulandshahr. Interestingly, the plants of this region are imbued with cultural meaning and are often of great social and historical importance. Take for example the Babul tree. Also known as the Acacia nilotica, the Babul tree is an important riverine tree in India and is scattered across Bulandshahr. This fast-growing plant is usually found in arid regions and when covered with millions of its golden flowers, it creates a picturesque setting in an otherwise torrid landscape. In addition to its ability to provide shade on a hot day, the Babul tree is an important source of firewood in the region and is important to the natives. Thus, the Babul tree is an important aspect of Bulandshahr’s biodiversity.
Another plant of significance is the Butea monosperma or the Palash tree. The Palash tree is a medium-sized deciduous tree which is found all throughout India. With its red flowers in full bloom, the Palash tree has a striking effect and has been called the “forest fire”. Additionally, this plant species has a long history of cultural significance, and has been reference time and again in Vedic literature for its role in Yajna rituals. However, since the commencement of the colonial rule there has been a systematic reduction of the population of the Palash plant to increase agricultural production. In fact, according to the Statistical, Descriptive and Historical Account of the North Western Provinces of India (January, 1875) – “With the exception of a preserved tract in Chandaus belonging to the Pisáwa zamíndárs, there is now little Dhák (another name for Palash) jungle, and there are few trees of any size or value in any part of the district of Bulandshahr.” Thus, the Palash tree is another important aspect of the biodiversity of Bulandshahr.
Kishwar Naheed is an eminent Urdu poet known for expressing bold feminist and political concerns. She was born in 1940 in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh (then United Province), into a Sayed Muslim family. Her contribution to the literary field is exemplary. Her gazals and nazms have made many people fall in love with Urdu literature yet again. For generations, this Pakistani poet plays a principal role in speaking about the issues of the oppressed and the condemned of the society, especially the woman and children.
Kishwar Naheed’s work expresses her own experiences and individualistic concerns, and such an intimate utterance is what gathers together the sorrows and travails of all the women of the ‘third world’. Recognized as the Simone de Beauvoir of South Asia, Kishwar Naheed Aapa’s voice of resistance has spread across the ‘Third World’.
“We regard Kishwar Naheed as Aapa because she is the patron saint of not only all women in Pakistan but also the feminist movement across South Asia!”
Raza Naeem, a historian and translator of a few of her works, spells out the prominence of Kishwar Naheed in an interview with Kala Chaupal.
Find the Interview at the end of post.
The bad woman
“I am today because of what I experienced between 1947 and 1949.”
Kishwar Naheed, in an interview with Herald, stated that her experience between 1947 and 1949; had influenced her ideology and writing. The things she saw during those two years had a lasting impression on her mind and her heart. During the Partition riots, some Muslim girls who belonged to Bulandshahr were kidnapped. They either escaped or were rescued from the captivators and got back to Bulandshahr. She has accompanied her mother and sisters to visit few women who were attacked. They were exhausted and broken. She witnessed women who were bruised and soaked in blood. It was then, she apprehended the vulnerability of her section of people.
“That was the moment when I stopped being just a child and became a girl child.”
She was made to wear Burqa at the age of seven. However, she was amused when asked to remove it to avail of the air ticket concession. But as soon as she landed in Lahore, she had to wear the Burqa again.
As a young girl in Bulandshahr, she was inspired by the girls who went to Aligarh Muslim University in those times. She found her ambition to go to college, to read and write from the women under the ‘Burqa’. She was a daring woman who went against her family for her education and to marry the love of her life, Yousuf Kamran.
Kishwar Naheed’s poems are mostly reflective of such incidence, where a woman resists against her social conditions to achieve what she wants. Such women are usually called out as ‘bad’ or ‘sinful’. One of her remarkable poems embraces such titles given to the woman and makes a prominent stance.
ye hum gunahgar aurten
We sinful women
It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear
who don't sell our lives,
who don't bow our heads,
who don't fold our hands together,
It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become the just princes of the material world.
It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
against barricades of lies on the highways
who find the tongues which could speak have been
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.
For the wall which has been razed
don't insist now on raising it again.
It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear
who don't sell our bodies,
who don't bow our heads,
who don't fold our hands together.
Her iconic autobiography, Burri Aurat ki Katha (‘Story of a Bad Woman’), is seen not just as the autobiography of a poet but the story of an entire generation. In saying so, Raza Naeem also delineates that the term ‘bad woman’ denotes the modern woman as someone whose biggest crime is her intelligence. Last year on Kishwar Naheed’s 80th birthday, Raza Naeem wrote a personalised tribute to her. He translated the radical Pakistani writer Ahmad Bashir’s long incendiary sketch of Kishwar Naheed. Chhappan Chhuri, is a notorious sketch of Kishwar Naheed, presenting Naheed in her intense and striking character. The book is yet to published in India. But it has been published in The Friday Times in four instalments.
She faced several hardships in her journey as a poet. During Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship rule (1981-1986), she wrote her concerns on the political situation in Pakistan and the martial law, critical of the rule. There was a ban on her book and a possibility of her being arrested. She and her children lived under constant surveillance and threat. This incident forced her sons to leave Pakistan. During his reign, her husband, Yousuf Kamran was in jail under martial law.
The familiarity with jail for Kishwar Naheed Aapa goes back to her childhood.
She was seven years old when Partition happened. Her abba (father) – Syed Ibne Hasan, the secretary of All India Muslim League in Bulandshahr, was arrested for distributing sweets at Pakistan’s birth. He was in jail for two years. She belonged to the Sayed family in Bulandshahr with seven children, four girls and three boys. Just before partition, during World War II, there was a shortage of resources. The children were sent to collect rations for the family, since they had easier access.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah wrote to the public that Muslim League needed money and asked people to contribute. She and her siblings sent their pocket money to Jinnah. Every afternoon and evening, her mother, along with other Muslim women, would take a fistful of flour before kneading it. The children would go collecting the flour house to house and deliver it at the local Muslim League office.
Bulandshahr then had two parts – upper and lower (it still has Upar Kot and Moti Bagh Kothiat). The upper part consisted of Muslims, mainly Sayeds, and few Hindus. They were largely business people. When her father was in jail, his Hindu friends would enquire about the welfare of the family. Everyone in Bulandshahr – the Muslims, Christians, and Hindus spent time together. The children went to each other’s house and still had a slight fear about any uprising.
Once her father was out of jail, with the help of his Hindu friends he reached Pakistan. They were suggested to take a flight to Lahore since the train was unsafe. The family upon reaching Delhi stayed for a while in their Hindu friend’s house. They were able to meet the exorbitant air fee to reach Pakistan by selling her mother’s jewellery.
She saw women were more independent in her new home and this little girl from a small town felt Lahore more liberating. She went on to do Masters in Economics and secure a job in the government service.
An invisible boundary arises in such moments
Kishwar Naheed has visited India several times after Partition. She had been to her grandmother’s place and what was her father’s house. A lot of things that she remembered had vanished.
When Bangladesh was formed (1971) she was in Moscow working for the Information Ministry. A colleague of her (Bangladeshi) had accompanied her. She was surprised to experience the detachment so deeply.
“Yet when we would stand next to each other, even though there was no one between us, we would stand apart. We couldn’t bridge the space between us.”
Kishwar Naheed has witnessed both the partition – British India (1947) and Bangladesh (1971). Now that the partition has become the reality, she suggests that everyone must work towards building a good relationship. During the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, she and her friends argued that war can never solve problems between the two countries.
“It was the same moon that people on both sides of the border see, that the same birds sing both in India and Pakistan. If we cannot stop the birds singing or shut out the moon from shining its light in either of the two countries, then why should Indians and Pakistanis stop meeting each other?”
She believes that love transcends boundaries, while hate stays fighting at the borders. And in her case, her poem is one such tool that aids in spreading peace.
Retired from the information service as the director-general of Pakistan National Council of the arts in 1998, Kishwar Naheed established an NGO Hawwa Crafts as a cooperative for women artisans.
She has also addressed various issues across the horizon, like the Chinese Revolution, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 9/11. More recently, she wrote on the murder of the African-American George Floyd – George Floyd – Mein Amar Ho Gaya(George Floyd – I Became Immortal), the growing Talibanization and saffronization of Pakistani and Indian societies and on the COVID-19 pandemic – Kon Inka Maseea Banega (Who Will Be Their Messiah)
Through her individualistic experience, Kishwar Naheed put forth bitter and harsh comments on the present period. She not only fought for her love and her right but urges that it is in love that we find peace. Her poems continue to celebrate the universal human struggle for equality, justice and freedom. Kishwar Naheed is a prolific and great scholar of our times. She continues to give wings to many women and works for a greater cause.
Interview with Raza Naeem: Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, literary activist, blogger, book critic, and an award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore. He contributes regularly to The Wire in India and The Friday Times in Pakistan. He has curated and moderated a first-ever edition of Banned Books Week in Pakistan in Lahore in September 2014, and five successive editions since then, in collaboration with Olomopolo. He is currently the President of the Progressive Writers Association (Anjuman Taraqqi Pasand Musannifeen) in Lahore. He is presently completing a manuscript on Sahir Ludhianvi and Lahore, forthcoming in 2021 (to coincide with the 100th birth anniversary of the poet). Contact: email@example.com
The following page contains the interview with Raza Naeem.
Interview with Raza Naeem
1 Why is Kishwar Naheed referred to as ‘Aapa’?
Aapa is a fond honorific used across South Asia (especially in the Urdu-speaking community) to denote that someone is like an elder sister in terms of her age and experience. We regard Kishwar Naheed as Aapa because she is the patron-saint of not only all women in Pakistan but also the feminist movement across South Asia!
2. Kishwar Naheed’s work, engrossed for decades, people appreciate it for generations. What makes her work so relevant?
Her work is relevant because it not only reflects her own personal journey as a poet and feminist but rather more than autobiography – as I have also argued in my piece on her in The Wirewhich you cited – it is the voice of a whole generation which came of age in the 1960s (both during the dictatorship of Ayub Khan in Pakistan and broader currents of resistance across the Third World). In her poetry, Naheed has universalized her Pakistani identity by striving to gather together the sorrows and travails of all the women of the Third World. That is why her work is read and translated from Delhi to Buenos Aires.
3. In her work, she usually presents herself (and other women) as a ‘Bad Woman’ or ‘sinful women’. How does this characterisation reflect on South Asian gender dynamics?
Yes it is true that Kishwar Naheed was the first truly bad woman or sinful woman of Urdu poetry.But in Urdu prose her predecessors were the communist doctor Rashid Jahan (who died early) and the fearsome writer Ismat Chughtai, who was hauled before a British Indian court for addressing the theme of homosexuality in one of her stories. More recently, Naheed has had counterparts of the bad woman across other cultures and continents. One thinks of Simone de Beauvoir (whose book The Second Sex Naheed pubblished in an abridged translation), Nawal El Saadawi (who passed away earlier this year) and the likes of Germaine Greer, Eve Ensler and Betty Friedan, etc. In terms of South Asian gender dynamics, the bad woman represents how many girls of the middle-class in traditional households were restricted, and women like Kishwar Naheed had to fight for the basic right to study further. This struggle was later reflected in various stages of freedom and expression which Naheed negotiated successfully. Naheed’s struggle gave way to other successful ‘bad women’ in Urdu poetry like Fahmida Riaz and Sara Shagufta. Today the term ‘bad woman’ has taken on a different meaning in South Asia because we are theoretically living in a modern age, but women’s rights across South Asia are being rolled back by patriarchy and conservatism. Take the case of the Aurat March in Pakistan, which has been held successfully across our major cities despite overt and covert threats, intimidation and court cases being instituted against them. The term ‘bad woman’ has become the new normal for young women in South Asia, who had taken for granted the very rights women like Kishwar Naheed had fought for. Even these rights are now being rolled back in the 21st century. But the bad women are mutiplying!
Naheed had once referenced the French poet Saint-John Perse saying: ‘My story is the story of that street woman who recites the fatiha amid sorrow, bites the wayfarers, proceeds with the prince or the dagger held in her arms.’
The term ‘bad woman’ thus denotes the modern woman whose biggest crime is her intelligence.
4. Tell us a bit about your work on the sketch of Kishwar Naheed.
Oh that came about last year on Kishwar Naheed’s 80th birthday. I wanted to write a personalized tribute to her. But having already written two essays on her and being a contributor to a book of her translated poems released on her 80th birthday, I wanted to do something different. So I came across the radical Pakistani writer Ahmad Bashir’s long incendiary sketch of her which was published when she was in her 40s, just before the early death of her husband, and just starting to become notorious. It is a no-holds-barred sketch of the poet which was originally titled Gashti (Prostitute), later changed to Chhappan Chhuri; and it became so notorious that its repute spread from Lahore to London, as soon as Bashir had read it in the presence of the poet herself and her husband and Intizar Hussain write about it in his column. Everyone wanted to have a copy of it.
So in 2020, on Naheed’s 80th birthday, I wanted the younger generation to get to know her better, so I thought the sketch fulfils that purpose. It has been published in The Friday Times in four installments:
My only regret is that it has yet to be published in India. But I tremendously enjoyed translating it!
5. Recognised as an eminent feminist Urdu-Poet, Kishwar Naeed discusses a lot about the man-woman relationship. What other issues does her work highlight?
Well yes, any woman poet is immediately expected and stereotyped to produce poetry related to man-woman relationships or exclusively women’s issues. Many excellent Urdu poets have achieved this to perfection like Parveen Shakir, Ada Jafri and Zehra Nigah (who is still living and active); among contemporary poets you have Tanvir Anjum, Yasmeen Hameed, Ambreen Salahuddin, Fatema Hasan, Shahida Hasan and Azra Abbas, but Naheed has also written about other issues and continues to write about them. The circle of her poetry has been getting wider since a long time ago. Other issues she has explored in her poetry are her marital life, employment, the creation and destruction of united Pakistan, the political and social landscape and feminine sensibility, as well as some of the cardinal events of our time like the Chinese Revolution, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and 9/11. More recently, she has addressed the Donald Trump phenomenon as well as the murder of the African-American George Floyd in Minnesota last year; the growing Talibanization and saffronization of Pakistani and Indian societies respectively; and built up a significant body of work on the COVID – 19 pandemic and its local and global ramifications. I believe that Kishwar Aapa is the most prolific and varied Urdu poet of our time!
6. She has witnessed both the partitions – British India (1947) and Bangladesh (1971). Do you see any correspondence to such experience in her work?
Not really! Yes she did witness the depredations of partition as a 7-year old girl of a conservative middle-class family uprooted from her native Bulandshahr, but she quickly assimilated within the Pakistani Punjabi culture upon migration to Lahore. So partition itself does find a mention in her celebrated memoir Buri Aurat Ki Katha but it does not affect her work per se like it did her distinguished contemporaries like Intizar Hussain (also a fellow Bulandshahri), Abdullah Hussein or Quratulain Hyder. who are known for addressing such themes in their most important works. I mean Naheed is not known for her poems on partition; she hasn’t written any!
In the case of 1971, there are just a couple of chapters in her memoirs but no poetry. She has herself told me that there was a news blockade imposed by the Pakistani military dictatorship on any news coming from East Pakistan and so even when she accompanied a delegation of Pakistanis on a fact-finding mission to Dhaka at the height of the bloodbath there, she fled in horror from the carnage on a plane. So again she hasn’t really addressed this second partition in her poetry as well.
7. How has her work influenced the field of history?
I would say it has to a certain extent, and more directly in the context of her poems from the dictatorship period of the Zia-ul-Haq regime, Pakistan’s worst military regime. Read any of her poems from that period from 1981 to 1986 and you wll understand what I am talking about. Let me give the reference of just one of her poems, Mein Kaun Hoon (Who Am I?, in which the echo of a whole movement can be heard which especially in the regime of Zia-ul-Haq had spread like a wave of consciousness in reaction to the trampling of women’s rights.
8 How has translation helped her work reach a larger audience while not losing the ethos of the author?
I think Kishwar Naheed is really lucky that she is one of the most translated Urdu poets of the 20th century, if not the MOST translated. As far as I know, she has been translated into most of the great languages, including for the United Nations. I can only speak for the quality of her English translations, which have been appearing regularly since 1972. They are of varying quality as is usually the case, but they have helped establish her as the representative voice of Pakistani feminism, much like you would say about Simone de Beauvoir and Nawal El Saadawi. I mean to me she IS Pakistani feminism! The writer herself is actually not very satisfied with the quality of her work in translation. In my own humble translations of her work, I have consciously tried to bring out her daring political and feminist concerns, but I also believe in maintaining a certain jauntiness of ryhme.
9 According to you, what makes Kishwar Naheed’s work distinct from others?
Kishwar Naheed is identified as a distinct voice in modern Urdu poetry. Her tone is individualistic but it has the echo of the widest collective experience:
‘Meri aavaaz, mere shahr ki aavaaz hai
Meri aavaaz, meri nasl ki aavaaz hai
Meri aavaaz ki baazgasht nasl dar nsl chale gi…’
(My voice, is the voice of my city
My voice, is the voice of my generation
The echo of my voice will continue from generation to generation…’
Further she writes in this poem:
‘Main payambar nahi hoon
Main toa bas aaj ko aankhen khol kar dekh rahi hoon.’
(I am not a prophet
I am just watching today by opening my eyes)
Kishwar Aapa has narrated these conditions seen with open eyes in her poetry. Alongwith the continuous narrative of individualistic experience, her poetry can also be read as a bitter and harsh comment on the present period; where the incident of this era becomes poetry after being molded into personal experience. The poetry of Kishwar Naheed achieves it distinction from the illustration of this very couple of facets of experience, the individualistic and the collective. After reading Kishwar aapa’s poems from the 1960s, one could say with confidence that Urdu poetry became able enough to endure a woman.
10 What is your favourite work of Kishwar Naheed?
There are 3 poems which are all recent that I would like to mention here. Incidentally I have also translated all three. One is a poem not written by her, but about her Kishwar Naheed Ko Zinda Rehna Chahiye (Kishwar Naheed Must Live), written by Dr Najiba Arif, which is also on the back cover of the special anniversary volume commissioned for her 80th birthday last year. Then there is a long poem on COVID – 19 in early 2020 titled Kon Inka Maseea Banega (Who Will Be Their Messiah) which is probably the first poem she wrote on the pandemic and I had the honour to translate it; I had the honour to recite the translated poem at an online talk I was invited to give on the ramifications of COVID – 19 in Pakistan at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, one of Russia’s most prestigious universities. The third one is very special because when the unfortunate George Floyd was murdered in Minnesota in May last year, I rang Kishwar Aapa up and insisted that there must be a poem on this. So she wrote the poem George Floyd – Mein Amar Ho Gaya (George Floyed – I Became Immortal) on the tragedy and then amended it later. She later told the late Asif Farrukhi that this is Raza’s poem. he wrung it out of me. This will always be a source of great pride and honour for me!
Author – Manashini M
This is Manashini M. She is a 3rd-year History research major in Shiv Nadar University, Noida-NCR.
The rich and unique biodiversity of the region is an added layer of intrigue to the historical city of Bulandshahr. Located in western Uttar Pradesh and situated in the fertile Doab region, Bulandshahr is richly endowed with a wide variety of flora and fauna. Interestingly, like its many other legacies, the biodiversity of Bulandshahr is curated by the various forces of history. Thus, a critical analysis of elements of its biodiversity provides a unique insight into valuable social, cultural, and historical information.
For instance, the Ganges in Ahar Khadar, at a distance of 45 kilometres from Bulandshahr, reveals an amazing natural history. The mighty river Ganga is the heart of the fertile Indo-Gangetic Plains, and plays a fundamental role in defining its biodiversity. Due to the presence of the river, alluvial soil is the primary type of soil in the region. The river basin is continuously deposited with new alluvium, called khadar, which makes the surrounding regions extremely fertile. Conversely, the older alluvium form slightly elevated terraces, called bhangar, which often contain patches of alkaline efflorescence, called usar, which dramatically reduce the fertility of the soil. The repeated tidal process of the river and the continuous deposition of alluvium and the creation of the khadar and bhangar are important factors to understand not just the shifts in the course of the river, but also the agricultural practices of the region. For centuries, people have tried to harness the river for agriculture by creating irrigational channels. Additionally, the sandy aquifers hold an enormous amount of ground water that further facilitate irrigation, making the plains the most agriculturally productive area of the country.
However, the historical significance of the river does not end there. An interesting feature at Ahar Khadar is the pontoon bridge on the river. Also known as the floating bridge, a pontoon bridge is usually a temporary bridge created using floats or shallow-draft boats which can support limited amount of weight. Most of these bridges are made and used during wartime or emergencies. At Ahar Khadar too, the pontoon bridge is a reminder of the 1857 mutineers’ quick escape to Rohilkhand using natural water ways. Thus, the Ganges plays a central role in Bulandshahr’s biodiversity and history.
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