Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Colonialism through Journalism: Establishing, appropriating, otherising and suppressing voice of locals through 'media power'

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi
It is an aspect that needs to be talked about more. How, locals can be totally sidelined and their voice suppressed cleverly through a complex but established process. 
That people can be made voiceless in their own land. This is possible through media. 
You can be made to believe that 'it' is a traditional 'vegetarian land' or the local history can be totally altered-erased, as in the case of several towns where it happened within a comparatively short period, around 15-20 years.

The ability to mould public opinion, gives this power. In front of your eyes, it will happen but you can't even notice. It is difficult to even understand as this is a different sort of power, you don't acquire it by cracking a examination or winning election. But this creates the discourse and sets the agenda for everyone, in later years.
Highly opinionated, biased and arriving with a sense of entitlement--a few people can make it happen. A job in a mainstream newspaper gives people this freedom, the power to push such a narrative. It is bizarre, the power to decide what to publish, what not to publish.
And, whatever is published on a regular basis, is believed. 
The lack of diversity in the newsrooms, as well as TV channels, makes it a universal phenomenon. If in the largest circulated newspaper, you won't find a single person belonging to local community, most of the caste groups or any of the minority religions in editorial, just imagine the situation. 
Similarly, in tribal regions, you may not find a single tribal in the editorial section. Groups that form barely 5-10% of population, form the overwhelming majority, and hence, the ability to present, misrepresent and project things in a totally different way.

Recently, I had given an example, which was posted on social media. I am again mentioning it. It is about a guy who came from a town 500 km away from the region. No great qualification, not even command over Hindi, but as he has an uncle in media, the youth gets job in newspaper.
Initially, he is asked to see copies from small towns, and soon becomes journalist.
Without knowing city or making acquaintances, no idea about town but believes 'local populace here is too backward and uneducated', though he has no statistics to support it. This is amazing sense of entitlement, armed with half-baked notions.
But the person is confident and feels that whatever he knows is absolute truth. He is ready to shoot his mouth, everywhere. He hasn't met people in the town despite having lived a couple of years now but never ventured into lanes or entered into households, but reflected in writings too about city, region.
Goes to a hotel, becomes friendly with him, then even tells him about what's wrong with 'your community', telling the owner whose daughters' and sons' achievements or education he has no idea about. Hotel owner has a beatific smile, nods, he has seen such saviours earlier too.
Meanwhile, his reports continue to show extreme lack of knowledge even about his 'beat'. Within 2-3 years he believes that he is voice of the region, now a 'buddhijeevi' [intellectual]. Imagine when there are dozens of such people in each media house.
Photo courtesy. Pexels

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Craft of Urdu Ghazal, Nazm: Meter, Prosody and charm of couplets vis-a-vis poetry sans meter

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

When you write 'ghazal' or even a nazm, it's not just radeef & qafia [rhyming system], but 'beher', 'wazan', the meter too you need to be aware of.

The entire ghazal has to be in one particular 'beher' [among many] & all couplets in the ghazal will be in accordance with this pattern. For ages, 'faaylun, faaylaat' has confused young writers.

To some, it comes naturally. You remember 'dohas'--the laghu [1] & guru [2] or even in lyrics [movie songs], the 'dhun'. Classical masters, bards who never studied, knew it well, it came naturally to them. Others learn it.

Initially, it appears too tough & master poets tell you basics, correct the mistakes. If one knows the system, it's good. If you don't know, try to learn. In many languages, poetry is no longer dependent on prosody. But it is also true that this art is the reason Urdu couplets and ghazals have tremendous reach, quotability and are remembered.

Don't dissuade: Knowledge of Prosody is not for patronizing, rejecting

Everyone is free to write. And, knowledge of prosody must not be used to deter and dissuade anyone. As the 'ustaad-shagird' system has weakened in recent decades, unfortunately, some senior poets, don't help, rather their command over the subject becomes a ruse to reject others.

I remember, I was sitting with veteran poet, Kausar Siddiqui, when he was asked by a young boy about 'arooz'--prosody. He instantly took out a piece of paper and started explaining the system of 'beher'. There are ways to easily make you understand when a teacher is around. How the words are broken, where you can take liberty, how much is allowed, etc.

There are arguments in favour and against this system. Debate has been going on for decades. 
But it is still believed that if you want to write literary ghazal or even a nazm, (except Nasri Nazm), there has to be meter. But apart from that, there is another aspect.

For example, a youngster has a superb potential, he has imagination. He writes a ghazal or nazm, the master poet says, 'it is kharij az bahar' or simply junk, this is patronizing. Rather than telling, correcting and asking him to keep writing and learning, he tries to impress him with his knowledge of a 'lesser known art'. 
The youngster gets disheartened, reads lot of books, but is still not able to learn, even the names of the 'behers' are so tough, he gets disheartened. In case, he tries to read Dr Naresh, understands a bit, then may watch Bhatnagar Shadab sb's videos, but there is a greater chance that he may get overwhelmed.
However, if he decides that there is no need to learn this craft and he starts writing in Hindi, presenting the same compositions in devnagari, he is hailed as a poet. In Hindi poetry, there is no such issue. The 'chhand' was was shunned long ago.

Uniqueness of Urdu poetry: A tradition of centuries and focus on art, language

It's not that 'arooz' is something that should scare us. It's an asset. When it comes to Urdu poetry, it is the uniqueness. And, Urdu has an extremely tough system about judging poetry because of a long history, tradition, three hundred years of master poets who took inspiration from Bedil and Hafez etc.
Anyone who knows 'arooz' naturally feels that the youngster who doesn't know it, is just not 'mauzoo.n' for poetry, and that it's junk. This is also an extreme view. I remember Ustad-i-Shahar Ishrat Qadri sahab in Bhopal, would instantly tell youngsters--go write prose.
'Aap ke bas ka nahi, aap rahne dijiye', he would say. He felt there were too many poets and there was need to focus more on prose. Then, you see those who know arooz, try to patronize, else dissuade others while on other hand give 'crash course' to son or preferred 'shagird', telling them the ways how to ensure that their ghazals follow rules, but reject others. 

You must not patronize, decide or control what others write

Most basic thing in life is that, one must try to learn and if someone asks you something, share your knowledge, help them out.  Lekin aap izhaar par 'qaid' bhi nahi laga sakte. If someone writes, he-she is satisfied, adhering to meter or not, it's fine.

They seek your help, you should give them the necessary tips. Every ghazal or nazm may not be literary as per your standards. But everyone has the freedom to express themselves. You can't hold others at gunpoint--write in meter or I'll not consider you a poet unless you prove yourself in this format.
If someone is writing, it's their choice. 'Paband shayri' ya 'azad', whatever they do, it's their choice. Don't give gyan, unless asked. And if asked, don't discourage but make person realise what he can do, best. Not 'Gyan ka Ghamand' or becoming a 'pir tasma-pa' unknowingly.
Similarly, if someone ready to provide you tips, you must be thankful and treat them respectfully. Lot of Hindi knowing youth are now learning arooz, practicing daily on FB. This is a topic that needs our attention, discussion and it may go on a bit longer.
Not just ghazal, either it's Azad Nazm or Nazm-i-Muarra, all genres in Urdu poetry have 'beher'. The sole exception is 'Nasri Nazm' which many accomplished Urdu poets still feel is 'prose'--that is scattering sentences [prose] to turn it into a 'Nazm'. Many purists even believed that Nasri Nazm of only those people are worth consideration who can write ghazals, nazm in meter. However, there is a change in opinion now. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Vilification of Muslims as a political strategy: Majoritarian tendencies and obsession with minority in Indian society

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

A cab driver who was not earning well, even before Coronavirus, still felt that 'all Muslims were poor'.

It was well entrenched in his mind that he may not be rich but 'all Muslims are poorer' than him. Enough to give him satisfaction!

Truth is all communities have rich, poor. As far as social backwardness is concerned, on most parameters, Muslims have done far better, despite lack of adequate government support.

Meanwhile, another guy finding difficult to pay his rent, casually said that 'ye log bahut bol rahe hain' [they are speaking too much], because Muslim youth were holding a protest, then.

He said he was sick 'with them'. He wanted them to be shown 'their place'. The dominance, majoritarianism gives him happiness.

That's what he expects from his leaders, party or elected representatives too, obviously, not infrastructure or something else. More than own issues or aspirations, he gets happiness is something else. Third person was angry with a Muslim leader who speaks fearlessly.

He doesn't want a Muslim to be so vocal. He wants to even decide this that how much they (minority) should be allowed--speech, rights. TV channels have drilled in their minds this that all Muslims are poor, backward.

They've little idea about Muslim society. If they come across an educated Muslim, they tell themselves, 'oh, this is an exception'. There are poor among Muslims but certainly there are lot of positive aspects. Muslims certainly had a drawback--didn't get due favour in government jobs.

But education, intelligence or mastery in job-art-work doesn't need govt job validation. There are reasons Muslim economy still works, thought it is not proper to reveal all. Strangely those who never had decent friends, never ventured into Muslim localities or seen Muslim households--rich or poor.

No interaction, yet, feel Muslims backward, still competing with them. Drown yourself in hatred, delude yourself, your choice. It is this systematic propaganda, the debates on Halala & Talaq, ignoring all the social evils among Hindus, that led to this strong belief among majority community.

A reason that why many 'self-styled' intellectuals didn't like the sight of Muslim women taking charge of protests or Muslim girls speaking confidently, conversing in English. This is because there are forces that have invested in it, this project, they want the entire nation to believe something else.

This is a very complex society.  On one hand, they want everyone to believe that Muslims are the most backward community, they also want to 'compete' with them, yet have strange fears about Muslims, still want to outdo, dominate.

The political project: How it helps get rid of incumbency, how it continues to work

All the passion, fire, anger among youth in this society, is not for better facilities, a better future, basic amenities or policies that help them. But all this is turned towards a group that has been turned into a common enemy. It helps this political project.

Even if a person is suffering, he is delighted that the 'other, is suffering even more. That's what he gets to hear on TV, the same news he gets on WhatsApp. That's why so much emphasis on propaganda, even on celebrities who tweet rubbish.

As everything comes to the level of Hindu Vs Muslim, as political class, mass media and society keep pitting communities against each other, nothing else is needed. All frustrations, all anxieties, anger, everything, it goes to just one thing.

They suffer, but are content that 'country' is safe. The feeling that finally those parties that appeased minority, are out. The satisfaction that even if there is bad governance & we may remain or not but the sole country where we are a majority, will remain (Our culture, supreme, dominant again).

All the passion goes into divisive aspects, so there is no anger over poor governance or anti-incumbency factor. When everyday, you just heard primetime hour dedicated to debates over Azan, Namaz, Madarsa, Infiltration, Rohingya, Triple Talaq, Temple, how can you not feel strongly about it!

You have to understand the depth of emotion. 'Those' who were trying all means, overpopulating, encroaching, infiltrating, shown their place. The idea that, 'We may not live long but at least, our faith reigns supreme now, no more pseudo secularism'. 'Main rahoon na rahoon, ye desh rahna chahiye...'

Sometimes people feel that 'economy' will force people to have a rethink, but the reality is that the communal temperature has been too high for years and entire generations have grown up, hearing just one thing--day and night. That's the political project and it works.

READ: Lack of jobs don't anger youth, electoral success of Hindutva politics in India

Monday, July 13, 2020

Why fewer government jobs, lack of recruitment doesn't anger youth in India: Electoral success of Hindutva politics in India

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

If thousands of job openings in a department are closed for ever, shouldn't youths express concern and oppose the move?

The general belief is that they should protest and get angry. But there is no such anger visible on the ground. It is this reason that Ravish Kumar wrote an article that sarcastically says that there is joy among youngsters.

This led to debate on social media. However, one must try to understand why there is no feeling of loss if  vacancies are not filled and job opportunities decrease. It is a complex process but one must understand Indian society.

Firstly, majority of Indian voters have repeatedly and decisively voted the BJP. The BJP's plank was Hindutva i.e. Ram Temple, Article 370 removal, 'infiltration', cow protection and so on. The party has been honest and has done it's best on this front.

It not only got Article 370 abrogated, it also remained serious towards its commitment made to the electorate. Ram Temple will also be constructed in Ayodhya soon, as Supreme Court verdict has paved the way.

Muslims faced lynchings and hence the message went to the ground that they are at the receiving end. The dominance of Hindutva in Indian politics has given a sense of power to a section of Hindu majority that felt it was 'cornered' and Muslims were 'appeased' during previous regimes.

The 2014 victory was not a fluke. 2019 results clearly show that BJP under Narendra Modi enjoys immense popularity among majority. The party delivered on those counts. More thrill in the feeling that finally you rule in your own country, sense of being powerful.

From Persecution complex to Hindutva pride

The strength that comes when they wear Saffron scarf and feel Muslims reined in. Can anything beat it! As far as government jobs, privatization and end of vacancies, it must be seen in the context of Indian society.

Those who have heard stories of 'persecution' for years and felt that they were 'victimised', say that they never felt this freedom and happiness while celebrating festivals. 'Was such Kanwar Yatra possible during the days of earlier governments? (even though earlier too such yatras were taken out).

That's how a upper middle class man reacts when there is a sea of youth with Saffron bands on the street, DJ, loud music, bhajans et al. For him, this is finally the country where he can live like a proud Hindu. Now, ask him, that when he was persecuted or how, there will be a long conversation.

He has made up his mind, he is cent percent sure that in the past Hindus were not safe. The Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave the Valley. But now, of course, this can't happen. [So what if BJP was in the power at the Centre along with Janata Dal, when the KPs left Jammu and Kashmir.]

Jobs, Economy, Society

Now coming back to economy and jobs. Do we need to talk about it after demonetization and the failure to create 'crores of jobs'. The point is how much you have been able to convince and how much the voter is convinced--either due to propaganda or politics.

BJP has successfully used religious and Hindu victimisation card in India. Once people feel that they are more secure and have self-respect, than during the previous regimes, all other facts are meaningless. Over the years, the number of government jobs has come down, drastically.

There's high competition, most youngsters know its tough to chase the dream, one guy gets it with hard work and luck in a mohalla but 95% know they don't stand a chance, its not on their radar either. They know they ain't getting, rather anger towards those who get it..

This figure of a few thousand govt jobs ending, actually affects very few. 'Hamein kaun si sarkari naukri mil rahi thi' [We weren't getting the job anyway], the 'good riddance' factor that, 'doosre bhi aish nahi karenge' (others won't get either).

Remember, envy and jealousy are important factors. In a country where people can't afford higher education or high cost of medication, but still don't speak up for improvement in basic facilities in primary health centres and government hospitals, or even unable to raise voice for infrastructure at schools or reconstruction of a road, it is too much to expect.

READ: How identity interest overrides, make us vote for those who risk our future

This society is more complex than it is generally believed. The idea of taking position for 'overall public good' or what is good for society, either doesn't appeal to people in the same way it does in other countries.

Things are more seen through the prism of local factors--caste, local leader, party, with whom people align themselves for 'certain benefits' or due to 'loyalty factor. Politicians too get votes not for the hope that they would bring quality services or improve infrastructure but due to altogether different reasons.

READ: Why people elect rogue politicians, musclemen and goons in India

Friday, July 10, 2020

Sharib Kausar Kakorvi: Urdu poet who mastered calligraphy, composed chronograms and also wrote ghazals in Persian

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

The ever-smiling poet Sharib Kausar Kakorvi's life was an inspiration for many of us.

A self-made person, he didn't let physical disability stop him in his passion--acquiring knowledge.

One can't forget the twinkle in his eyes when he would talk about writing a second 'qaseeda-e-lamia' or a 'hamd', composing a chronogram or ghazals in Farsi. His zeal to constantly learn and improve his skills, was unique.

Despite polio that had affected his legs, I never saw him sad or depressed for even a moment, though it affected his school education. But he learnt from books, mastered languages, taught innumerable children. Also, he achieved financial independence.

If there was no one to teach him a particular subject, he would delve deep in books or find a way to learn it. He learnt 'arooz' [prosody] from Iftikhar Ahmad Alavi, who lived in Delhi, and was a disciple of late Sahar Ashqabadi.

The hunger for learning, child like enthusiasm, the passion, it was inspiring for all of us. ٰٰٰI remember when he used to do composing work for publishers, doing 'kitaabat' i.e. writing with 'klik' pen on those yellow pages before advent of computer apart from teaching.

Alongside, he would teach kids--correct their Sheen, Qaaf, as well as looking at their handwriting. In later years, he would always have a certain aim. For a period, he would focus on Arabic, then he would feel that he needs to improve his English.

In recent years, he would ride his tricycle and often attended 'mushairas' too. In the town he was loved by all and sundry. When he would go out, people would gather, stop and won't let him go unless he recited a few verses or ghazals.

He has left several collections of poetry in Urdu. His recent collection of ghazals in Persian is yet to be published. It was remarkable that in recent years, he composed ghazals in Farsi, when very few poets in India are penning poetry in Persian.  
As far as chronogram is concerned, it is the art of composing couplets in such a way that it denotes a particular date--the addition of Urdu letters as per the 'Abjad' system, brings out the date or year of the event.

Poet Dr Makhmoor Kakorvi has paid this unique poetic tribute. On the right, the Qita-e-Tarikh* is mentioned.

All these things apart, the single biggest thing one could learn from Sharib Kausar's life was that if a person doesn't have a dedicated teacher or resources, has several constraints, but can still go against all odds and carve a niche for himself, if he has such a strong desire and determination to do so.