Thursday July 18, 2024

SLF – a celebration of Mohenjodaro

By Dr Naazir Mahmood
March 27, 2022

It has been exactly 100 years since the world came to know about the splendor of Mohenjodaro. Not that the Indus Valley civilization was not known to the world; it was in the 1920s that major archeological excavations revealed the larger extent of the city of Mohenjodaro.

This year’s Sindh Literature Festival (SLF) held from March 18 to March 20 marked this centenary. This was the fifth SLF and by far the best in terms of its diversity and scope. Since the mainstream media in Pakistan does not give adequate coverage to such events, not many people get to know about the discussions held and questions raised at the sessions of these festivals. There was a lot to learn from this SLF, but let’s start by highlighting the main players that make such an event possible. The main organizers of the SLF are two young men: Naseer Gopang and Zohaib Kaka.

Naseer and Zohaib are the leading faces of this event and of course they get ample support from Ahmed Shah and Ayoub Shaikh of the Arts Council, and Naseer Memon, Noorul Huda Shah, and Sardar Ali Shah. Impressive teamwork has made the SLF one of the most celebrated annual events in Karachi. Piran Sayed and Sajjad Suhag beautifully moderated the inaugural ceremony. The government of Sindh deserves due credit for its departments of population welfare and youth affairs with the Sindh Education Foundation and Sindh Literary Foundation joining hands to make the SLF a resounding success.

There were dozens of sessions and book launches with stimulating discussions on a range of topics. This column is an attempt to give an orientation to the readers about what streams of thought are flowing in the country, especially in Sindh. The youth of Sindh is reading and writing on diverse topics and making ripples in literary circles. Take for example the session on Saleem Jamali’s book ‘Gustaakh Mohabbat’. Halar Nawaz moderated the session featuring doctors Moiz Awan and Shahnawaz Dal with the writer whose main characters are the marginalized in society, mostly belonging to the LGBT community in Sindh.

Saleem Jamali is a young Sindhi writer who has broken new grounds by touching taboo subjects and highlighting the issues that prostitutes, the gay community and transgender persons face in Sindh. His earlier books ‘Rooposh Nagar’ and ‘Twaaef’ won critical appreciation from Sindhi readers; his new book ‘Gustaakh Mohabbat’ is also making waves. Though a lot has been written in world literature about such topics, they have overall remained on the margins in the languages of Pakistan. Saleem Jamali has also become a target of derision for his no-holds-barred approach but he is persistent in his quest for literary excellence.

Moiz Awan is perhaps the most qualified transgender person in Pakistan; she is a medical doctor and a vocal activist for transgender rights in the country. Sexual orientation is seldom discussed in countries such as Pakistan, and that is one reason it is considered an aberration rather than an orientation. Dr Moiz Awan is pretty articulate in her assertions and protestations that transgender persons have become the most vulnerable community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Hardly a day goes by without reports of violence against the transgender community across the country – and more so in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Another book launch that attracted a large audience was ‘Baba Anwar Pirzado’, written by his son Amar Pirzado. Amar is a young Sindhi poet of considerable repute whose poetry collection ‘Ishq’ made critics take him seriously. Though Amar works for a pharmaceutical company, he finds time to indulge in his literary pursuits. Now he has penned a book about his father Anwar Pirzado who was a well-known anthropologist and expert on history and literature of Sindh. His research works were scattered in pages of newspapers and magazines and now his son has compiled some of them in this new collection.

Anwar Pirzado had an in-depth understanding of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s poetry. I met him a couple of times with my friend Shahid Bhutto who was leading his music group in the 1980s. Anwar Pirzado was also my colleague at Dawn where he commanded immense respect from his coworkers. He died at the age of 62 in 2007. I remember attending a conference in 2015 to celebrate Anwar Pirzado’s life and work. He was a connoisseur of the cultural heritage of Sindh and had a large following in the journalistic and literary circles of Sindh. In his 62 years of life, Anwar Pirzado spent 30 years in active journalism, which was his bread and butter.

One of the best sessions at the SLF was about the feminist movement in Sindh. With speakers such as Amar Sindhu, Qurrat Mirza, and Sheema Kirmani, the stage was set for a heated debate. Sheema Kirmani pointed out that the status of artists in any society is directly related to how that society treats its women. If one becomes a victim the other is bound to suffer too.

Amar Sindhu highlighted the link between feminism and humanism, for a belief in humanity is the bedrock of feminism. She clarified that not all women’s movements are feminist movements and one should be careful about drawing any conclusions. Only those movements that are clearly anti-misogyny and anti-patriarchy can be termed feminist movements. Qurrat Mirza took this discussion even further by expanding the scope of feminism to nearly all economic, political, and social problems of society. She connects feminism with fights against all injustices meted out to girls, men, minorities, or women.

The session about ‘Books that have influenced Sindhi society’ was pretty innovative. Dr Sher Mehrani posed this question to Ishaq Samejo, Jami Chandio, Madad Ali Sindhi, and Mumtaz Bukhari. The writers emerging as the most influential in the past 100 years or so included names such as GM Syed, Ibrahim Joyo, Mirza Qaleech Baig, Rasul Bakhsh Paleejo, and Shaikh Ayaz. All speakers at the session opined that perhaps Ayaz and GM Syed have left an indelible mark on modern Sindh, followed by the writings of Joyo and Palijo.

Lastly, I would like to highlight the session titled ‘Popular movements of Sindh’ in which Prof Aijaz Qureshi spoke at length about the One Unit scheme and the struggle against it. He has written a marvelous book on the 15 years that One Unit existed from 1955 to 1970, and how a popular movement galvanized Sindhis against it. Ustaad Nizamani talked about the Hur Movement and how Sooryah Badshad at the young age of just 30 led a strong resistance against the British and was hanged at the age of 35.

Masood Noorani – an active participant of the 4th March Movement of 1967 – spoke at length about his association with the struggle against the regime of General Ayub Khan. Dr Bakht Jamal dilated upon the Sindhi Shagird Tehreek of the 1980s against the military dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq. Dr Riaz Noorani shared his experiences as an eyewitness to the anti-Kalabagh movement in Sindh. This session, moderated by Zulfiqar Qadri, was highly informative as all speakers had been active participants of these movements. The audience in most sessions was fairly involved and posed interesting questions.

In short, the SLF has a high level of participation from the youth who appear to be fully engaged in discussions. Kudos to the entre SLF team.

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