Sunday July 14, 2024

Ayaz Melo: pride of Sindh

Ninth Ayaz Melo in last week of December 2023 was special for it coincided with centenary celebrations of Shaikh Ayaz

By Dr Naazir Mahmood
January 15, 2024
Participants speak during a session at Ayaz Melo in Hyderabad on December 29, 2023. —Facebook/Ayaz Melo
Participants speak during a session at Ayaz Melo in Hyderabad on December 29, 2023. —Facebook/Ayaz Melo

Ayaz Melo in Hyderabad has become a regular winter festival for notable literati from across the country. For nearly a decade now, women such as Amar Sindhu, Arfana Mallah, Haseen Musarrat and Zakia Aijaz set the stage for this five-day festival every December. The event sees ordinary people’s involvement, not normally experienced in other such festivals.

These daring women also have support from men such as Imdad Chandio, Majeed Chandio and Taj Joyo. The ninth Ayaz Melo in the last week of December 2023 was special, for it coincided with the centenary celebrations of Shaikh Ayaz (1923–1997).

Ayaz is not only one of the greatest poets of Pakistan but he also carried the pride of being a political prisoner, falling in the category of other great poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Gul Khan Naseer, Ajmal Khattak and Habeeb Jalib, who had the similar distinction of being a target of authoritarian forces at some point in their lives.

People love them for their defiance, and it was in the fitness of things that other symbols of defiance such as Benazir Bhutto and ZA Bhutto were also remembered at the Ayaz Melo. So all hell broke loose when the Ayaz Melo committee decided to invite Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari for the inauguration of the ‘melo’ (festival).

Social media remained abuzz with criticism against the festival as some people tried to project it as a mouthpiece of the PPP in Sindh. But Amar, Arfana and others remained steadfast in their decision and proceeded with the inauguration by Bilawal.

Asghar Nadeem Syed was the keynote speaker at the inaugural ceremony, and he stole the show by not mincing any words about the theft of granite from Karoonjhar Mountains in Tharparkar.

Karoonjhar is a cultural, geographical, and historical symbol which is under threat from the greedy corporate sector that is gradually removing granite in collusion with the bureaucracy and politicians. The range is hardly 20km long and just 300m high so it can be chipped away within years, depriving the region of its heritage that goes back to billions of years.

Bilawal Bhutto in his inaugural speech did talk about the sacrifices that his family rendered for democracy in the country. He was articulate and impressive with a careful selection of words. But he failed to give assurance that the prevention of Karoonjhar theft was on his priority list.

On the same day (Dec 21), some Baloch women protesters in Islamabad were on the receiving end of atrocities by the city’s law-enforcement authorities, but Bilawal preferred not to talk about it at all. Of course, there must have been some political considerations, but the deafening silence from major political parties about this issue is disappointing.

On the second day of the festival, there were interesting sessions including several book launch events: ‘Face to Face with Benazir’ by Zahid Hussain, ‘Sindh Gulal’ by Rana Mehboob Akhtar, ‘Nillian Silhaan Pichhoon’ (Across the Blue Tiles) by Rafat Abbas, ‘Jahan Abad ki Gulyaan’ by Asghar Nadeem Syed, and the ‘Case of Karachi’ by Prof Aijaz Qureshi.

Ghazi Salahuddin and MA Shaikh appreciated the book by Zahid Hussain and spoke at length about the contribution that Benazir Bhutto made to democracy and politics. Zahid Hussain shared with the audience his impressions of Benazir as an open-minded politician who could appreciate and learn from differing opinions.

The speakers were of the opinion that Benazir Bhutto even in her 20s and 30s displayed a high level of maturity as she believed in democracy and political evolution through a consistent struggle. She wanted to transform the country’s political culture but her adversaries thwarted most of her attempts.

In both her governments she had to deal with unfavourable IMF bailouts that the caretaker governments before her had signed and imposed on the country, leaving her little space to manoeuvre. In a way, she was baptized with fire as the establishment conjured up an opposition alliance called the IJI.

‘Sindh Gulal’ by Rana Mahboob Akhtar is a book that traces Sindh’s cultural heritage from the times of Sambara (the dancing girl of Mohenjo Daro) to Shah Latif. Jami Chandio and Muddassar Bhara spoke about the book and explained that ‘Sindh Gulal’ is about the Sindhis of the 21st century who are tracing their roots in this ancient land.

It is about a journey spanning centuries and culminating in present-day Sindh. Rana Mahboob Akhtar reflects on both love and resistance as represented in Gulal which is red; and the colour red is an anathema to king and clergy alike.

Nazeer Leghari and Khaleel Kunbhar spoke about the Saraiki novel ‘Nillian Silhaan Pichhon’ (Across the Blue Tiles) that uses the traditional blue tile at tombs as a camouflage to disguise the oppression that the Saraiki people have endured over the centuries.

The novel discusses the local people as untouchables who have faced hatred and disgust from the rulers. The slaves who should have been the real masters of their land became entrapped in the blue tiles that resonated with devotion and faith rather than autonomy and empowerment. The horses of different dynasties have trampled the Saraiki land, and the novel beautifully captures the misery of the trampled.

‘Jahan Abad ki Gulyaan’ (The Streets of Jahan Abad) by Asghar Nadeem Syed is a semi-autobiographical novel about which Nasir Abbas Nayyar was all praise. He said that most great novels have focused on some significant events in history and that this novel is about the history of Pakistan as it transformed after the military takeover in 1977 led by General Ziaul Haq against the first elected prime minister of Pakistan, ZA Bhutto.

The novel begins with the birth of a child on the night ZA Bhutto was hanged through judicial manipulation. The novel traces the journey of the father of that child after being arrested, tortured, and exiled to London.

‘The Case of Karachi’ is a book based on meticulous research by Prof Aijaz Qureshi. Dr Kaiser Bengali and Gul Mohammad Umrani discussed the book and highlighted its significance for the history of Sindh. The book deals with the attempts from some quarters to separate Karachi from Sindh.

Prof Qureshi has compiled invaluable data in the shape of parliamentary speeches and government documents that were used to make Karachi the capital of Pakistan as a separate entity and not as an administrative part of Sindh. The book is unique in its subject and must be a compulsory read for Pakistan Studies courses.

There were numerous other sessions such as on ‘Naey Naqqad ke Naam Khutoot’ (Letters to New Critics) by Nasir Abbas Nayaar, ‘Shaikh Ayaz ji Lughat’ (Glossary of Shaikh Ayaz) by Dr Fayyaz Latif, ‘Selfie’ (short stories) by Zarrab Hyder. There was also a session discussing the short stories of M Hameed Shahid and another session discussing the metaphors of Falasteen and Sindh in the poetry of Shaikh Ayaz.

In short, there were dozens of sessions with over a hundred speakers that included activists and authors, journalists and poets, and above all there was plenty of representation of young people and women across all days of the festival.

Amar Sindhu and Arfana Mallah deserve a standing ovation for keeping this torch alive which was made possible by the last minute intervention of Ahmed Shah who contributed a couple of million rupees from the funds of Arts Council Karachi.

Ahmed Shah in his speech at the concluding session reiterated his commitment to the promotion of the arts and culture not only in Sindh but across Pakistan as well. Bravo the Ayaz Melo team, keep shining.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets/posts @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at: