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Quaid – the Mard-e-Mujahid

ISPR produced a song about the founder of the nation on his recent death anniversary. Does this mean Pakistan’s cultural space is now also being encroached upon?

Quaid – the Mard-e-Mujahid

It has been more than a week that a song on the birth anniversary of Quaid-e-Azam was released by the Inter Services Public Relations. The song is already history as very few are in a position to recall, let alone hum it. It can be the best comment on the artistic merit of the composition and its rendering at the very outset. It can be said that there was nothing outstanding about it. It appeared to be a job done on orders where official obligation takes precedence over the urge to create and to deliver.

The services of Sahir Ali Bagga, otherwise a good composer and a vocalist, were hired but the end result petered out only as an exercise in mediocrity. The song written by Ahmed Rafique Akhter was about the achievements and sacrifices of many in the creation of the country, and later of its many citizens. Those highlighted visually were Moin Akhter, Tahira Qazi and Arfa Karim.

In the first place, it may sound a little unusual for the army’s public relations department to be releasing a song on a national occasion where the main purpose has been or should be to pay tribute to the founder of the nation who brought all this about through his political party, The All India Muslim League, and a political process that was meant to be devoid of an armed component to it.  Probably it would have been more in tune with things if there had been a war or a war-like situation and the nation needed to be emotionally charged about it.

It has been alleged that some of the films made in Pakistan recently have been funded by some “agencies” and it appears many more ventures on the cultural front have been rumoured to be financed by one or the other body of the same ilk.

It may be conceded though that for somebody with that mindset and training, if it is not actual war, but the possibility of war that is always lurks, and calls for battle-readiness at every moment of one’s life. Some would argue that the country is in a state of war with our own war against terrorism.

The fist great spurt of taraanas that one experienced was during the 1965 war. It was more an expression of innocence, that of being aggressed upon than anything else. The outpouring was complemented by a few songs that were already in circulation then, mostly film compositions made earlier or about that time, than an actual result of the war like Noor Jehan’s “Ae watan ke sajeele jawano” composed by Mian Shaharyar broadcast on the Rann Katch battle that preceded the September war. Many of the songs were created for the occasion but all these songs were not mere war cries and anthems of heroism, but deeply embedded in the human aspect of war and its sufferings. Noor Jehan’s “Ae puttar hattan tey naie wikde” written by Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum brought out the sadness behind the apparent valour and sense of sacrifice, so touted and propagated.

It may be said at the same time that the level of the composers and vocalists was also very high. If there were Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hasan and Ustad Amanat Ali Khan/ Fateh Ali Khan, Alam Lohar, Masood Rana and Naseem Begum, the quality of whatever they did had to be good, if not exceptional, at least not falling  below a certain standard anyway. It is actually the artistic talent in a person that gets charged by whatever the moment has to offer, and something exceptional is created, but if the primary honed talent is missing then only mediocrity rules.

Usually the two are separated by a thin line and it is usually opined that the moment creates the poet or the artiste – this is not true, the abilities are already there and these have to be kissed by inspiration, coalesced in some kind of a unity and hence attain a form usually labelled as a whole. One has to be a poet before being a believer and this was partly the reason why the taraanas of that war are still played till now. Similarly, by the next war of 1971, some of the purity of that innocence had been tainted and the quality of music created was good but not of the order of the first war. In terms of quality and in terms of quantity, it could not parallel the height that had been achieved in the maiden flight.

Art should be a spontaneous overflow of emotions. If the birthday of the Quaid is such a moving occasion, then many should be coming forth with their compositions, poems and paintings. But conceded that Pakistan is a society that is poor in its institutional structures, and therefore the responsibility to further the art falls on institutions, mostly managed or run by the state. But then there are many institutions that are meant to be sketching and colouring the nation’s cultural image like the radio, arts councils, television and other institutions, either supported by the state or run directly by them, so why is there a need for the armed forces to step in with its own version or narrative of the Quaid.

It has been alleged that some of the films made in Pakistan recently have been funded by some “agencies” and it appears many more ventures on the cultural front have been rumoured to be financed by one or the other body of the same ilk. Such control of artistic expression cannot augur well for a society for it veers everyone towards a single narrative that militates against the spirit of a democratic order. The Quaid was a great advocate of democracy and with it comes plurality of thought and action. A certain divergence is a sign of health when confronted with a military straitjacket.

It appears that the cultural and historical narrative too now cannot be allowed to rest with the civilian authorities. In that area as well, it has to be managed and cannot be allowed to be a random offering for the fear of it straying off course. The discipline, so much touted and valued, is to be interpreted in its most literal sense…

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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