Monday, May 07, 2012

Indus Heritage Day

April 29.  Milpitas, CA.

Faiz, in his moving poem ‘Dua’, asked God to erase today’s sorrows with tomorrow’s sweet hopes.  Can today’s animosity be erased by yesterday’s sweetness?  Yes.  If the Indus Heritage Day picks up momentum and gradually becomes an annual commemorative event in the three big South Asian sates (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), people may come to the realization that their bond from past is much stronger than today’s superficial differences.
Indus Heritage Day--a program to discuss and understand the Indus Valley Civilization-- arranged on Sunday, April 29, was organized by The 1947 Archive (, the India Community Center (ICC;, and the Pakistani American Cultural Center (PACC;  Well-known film director Saqib Mausoof’s documentary film “In Search of Meluhha” (see a promotional video here: ) was screened at the program. [Outside Indus Valley, contemporary civilizations knew the Indus Valley Civilization as ‘Meluhha.’] 
Dr. Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, an expert on the Indus Valley Civilization and a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, gave the keynote speech.  Speaking to an audience of over 200, Professor Kenoyer said the Indus Valley Civilization did not exist in isolation.  It was connected through trade networks to Central Asia, China, and Mesopotamia.  He rejected the earlier archeological theory that the Indus Civilization suddenly disappeared, on the arrival of the Aryans.  He said that the Indus Valley Civilization set the foundation for the later historical periods of South Asia.  He said that the Indus Valley Civilization was connected to areas around it and through those connections established a unified culture throughout South Asia that became the heritage of the Mauryan Empire.  Kenoyer claimed that the concept of bangles was developed in Harappa, one of the five major cities of the Indus Valley Civilization.  He said that the walls around Harappa were probably not used for defensive purposes or warfare; they were used for economic purposes, to effectively collect taxes from people entering the walled areas.  Speaking of the Indus writing that remains undecipherable to this day, he said the writing system was very versatile and could be used to write many different languages.  He said that traders of the Indus Valley Civilization cities were wealthy, but unlike other ancient civilizations, Indus Valley Civilization people did not bury the wealth with the deceased.
Listen to Professor Kenoyer’s speech here:

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Prozac for Manto?

April 28.  Newark, CA.
Fifty-seven years after Saadat Hasan Manto’s youthful death, it is hard to do a psychiatric evaluation of the writer, but it won’t be a far-fetched guess that Manto had a hard time dealing with the demons inside him, and in fighting them he used the drug most easily and inexpensively available to him—alcohol--but that drug was not the right medicine.  What if modern medicine was available to him?  Could a Manto on Prozac still produce ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and ‘Khol Do’?  It was hard not to think along those lines listening to the life events and works of Saadat Hasan Manto in a literary program arranged by the Pakistan American Democratic Forum (PADF) on Saturday, April 28, at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark.  This year marks the centenary birthday of Manto.  Dr. Agha Saeed is the chief organizer of PADF’s literary events.  Program on Manto was emceed by Dr. Ashraf Chaudhary; Ms. Sabahat Rafiq Sherwani, Dr. Ashraf Chaudhary, Dr. Abdul Jabbar, and Dr. Melanie Tanielian read scholarly papers on Manto and his writings.

In her speech Sabahat Rafiq said, “While Manto’s childhood was relatively normal, three aspects thereof remained ineradicably part of his persona, creating in him the rebel, the revolutionary, and the consummate attention and ovation seeker.  Overachievement of his elder step brother continued to overshadow him making him an instinctive attention seeker.  Latent rebel in him was enthused by the great agitation following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.  And the socialist-revolutionary facet of Manto’s personality was inspired by Bhagat Singh.”

Dr. Ashraf Chaudhary said, “The amazing thing about Manto is the process of graphically recording the dark side of human beings while artfully maintaining a neutral position.  Manto does not pass judgment on his characters as he puts them to shame and let’s them speak for themselves.”

Before discussing the short story ‘Khol Do’, Dr. Abdul Jabbar, read a comment Manto made about political leaders of his time.
“These (political) leaders are bugs which have slipped inside the joints of the charpoi of the nation. They should be removed with the boiling water of hatred.  Young men in torn shirts must rise up, and with anger and determination in their broad chests throw down these leaders, in name only, who have climbed to the high places without our permission.”

Dr. Melanie Tanielian read her commentary on Manto’s short story, ‘Tithwal ka kutta’ (The dog of Tithwal).  The story is about a dog that ends up in an Indian military camp close to the control line in Kashmir.  The dog is given a tag and made an ‘Indian.’  But then later, the dog goes to the Pakistani camp, where he is declared to be a ‘Pakistani.’  At the end of the story the dog, running at the control line, gets killed by both the Pakistani and the Indian soldiers—the dog becomes a martyr.  Tanielian said, “It is not the story of an indecisive dog.  It is the story of the Kashmiri people who are living under the military occupation of two nations.  Struck by the absurdity of human greed for conquest and possession, Manto (in his story) exposes the irrationality of conflict and violence by displaying the unnecessary sufferings of a dog.”

Listen to the audio of the program here: