Posts Tagged ‘ Habib Jalib ’

Satirical Song, a YouTube Hit, Challenges Extremism in Pakistan

By Salman Masood for The New York Times


A satirical song that takes a tongue-in-cheek swipe at religious extremism, militancy and contradictions in Pakistani society has become an instant hit here, drawing widespread attention as a rare voice of the country’s embattled liberals.

The song, “Aalu Anday,” which means “Potatoes and Eggs,” comes from a group of three young men who call themselves Beygairat Brigade, or A Brigade Without Honor, openly mocking the military, religious conservatives, nationalist politicians and conspiracy theorists.

Their YouTube video has been viewed more than 350,000 times since it was uploaded in mid-October. The song is getting glowing reviews in the news media here and is widely talked about — and shared — on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

The name of the band is itself a satire of Pakistan’s nationalists and conservatives, who are often described in the local news media as the Ghairat Brigade, or Honor Brigade.

Local musicians have produced work in the past vilifying the West, especially the United States, but rarely do they ridicule the military or religious extremists, and none have had Beygairat Brigade’s kind of success.

Sung in Punjabi, the language of the most populous and prosperous province, the song delivers biting commentary on the current socio-political milieu of the country, in which religious radicalism and militancy have steadily risen over the years and tolerance for religious minorities is waning.

Just this year, a governor who opposed Pakistan’s contentious blasphemy law was killed by one of his guards. The assassin was then celebrated by many in the country, including lawyers who greeted him with rose petals and garlands.

The song rues the fact that killers and religious extremists are hailed as heroes in Pakistan, while someone like Abdus Salam, the nation’s only Nobel Prize-winning scientist, is often ignored because he belonged to the minority Ahmadi sect.

“Qadri is treated like a royal,” wonders the goofy-looking lead vocalist in the song, referring to Malik Mumtaz Qadri, the elite police guard who killed the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January after he challenged the blasphemy law.

Another line in the song, “where Ajmal Kasab is a hero,” makes a reference to the only surviving Pakistani gunman involved in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. Still another line, “cleric tried to escape in a veil,” alludes to the head cleric of Islamabad’s Red Mosque — which was the target of a siege in 2007 by the Pakistani government against Islamic militants — who tried unsuccessfully to break the security cordon by wearing a veil.

The song even makes fun of the powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, for extending his role for another three years.

Potatoes and eggs “never tasted so good,” wrote Fahd Husain in a commentary on Tuesday in The Daily Times, a newspaper based in Lahore. “They will always be credited for being politically incorrect when most needed, and giving voice to all those Pakistanis who live in fear.”

The popularity of the song on the Internet has made it a sensation across the border in India as well, surprising the band members, who have been incessantly asked whether they feel they have put their lives in danger by ridiculing the mighty.

There are certainly enough provocations to rile nationalists and conservatives. At one point in the music video, the lead singer holds a placard that reads, in English: “This video is sponsored by Zionists.”

The band members chose to upload the song on YouTube instead of handing it to television networks because they said the work was too offbeat and might be censored. Not surprisingly, some have criticized the song and its taunts as pedestrian and in bad taste.

“We were not expecting such a huge response,” said Ali Aftab Saeed, 27, the lead vocalist, who lives in Lahore, a city that is often considered the country’s cultural capital.

He said the assassination of Mr. Taseer was the inspiration for the song and its lyrics.

Resistance poetry and literature are not new to Pakistan, and they raised spirits during the somber years of military dictatorships.

During the protest rallies of the seminal lawyers movement in 2007, when they led the campaign to oust the president, Pervez Musharraf, the lawyers would sing and dance to a poem written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, considered a giant of Urdu literature. Habib Jalib, another famous Pakistani poet, wrote several poems against Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator in the 1980s.

But “Jalib is irrelevant to the generation of urban, young, middle-class kids that Beygairat Brigade is addressing,” said Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a culture critic based in Karachi.

“This band is offering an alternative narrative to the one this generation has grown up on, and provides a counternarrative to establishmentarian and conservative notions of politics, history and society advocated by televangelists, conspiracy theorists and, of course, the right-wing electronic media,” Mr. Paracha added. “And what better and more effective way to do this than by using satire and pop music.”

The band members, on the other hand, have no pretensions of being revolutionaries, activists or intellectuals, though they do feel that the song represents those who do not believe in extremism and want to live peacefully.

“At the end of the day,” said Mr. Saeed, the lead vocalist, “we are just musicians who raised some questions.”

Poetry Soothes the Pain in Pakistan

By Nahal Toosi for The Associated Press

The outrage was swift after Pakistani security forces shot dead an unarmed young man in the southern city of Karachi, an incident caught on videotape and broadcast widely. Editorial writers demanded justice. Television talking heads decried the brutality of the men in uniform.

And then, a few poets got to work.

“No regard of life! No fear of Allah! Animals in jungle are better than you,” one English-language poem posted on YouTube rails at the culprits in the June incident. Another, in Urdu and circulated on Facebook, mourned victim Sarfraz Shah, who had “told his mom he will return home early.”

Pakistan is a country that reveres poetry, gently weaving it into daily life, and the last decade has provided no shortage of material. The rise and fall of a military ruler, the demands of a foreign superpower, the devastation of Taliban bombs — these themes and more have crept into Pakistani poems.

Some of the resulting verses carry overt messages about specific events. Often, though, the approach is more subtle, and occasionally, it’s tinged with humor.

“Of course, everything which is happening around a poet, it has an effect,” said Shahzad Nayyar, a published poet based in the eastern city of Lahore. “Such … events, which are causing destruction, which are causing loss to man, material and property, they are affecting poets a lot.”

Although Pakistan is just 64 years old, its people’s poetic tradition is centuries old and is intertwined with that of the rest of South Asia, while also influenced by the Persians. Urdu is the most widely used language, but even regional languages, such as Pashto and Sindhi, have notable poetic histories.

Today in Pakistan, one can find poetic verses on the back windows of taxis, on the sides of delivery trucks and atop gravestones. Newspapers regularly publish poetry, while Pakistani politicians, such as the country’s ambassador to the U.S., post verses on their Twitter feeds or use them in speeches.

Poetry recitals — known as “mushairas” — can draw thousands of spectators and last deep into the night, with audiences shouting encouragement to the men and women onstage. Sometimes, mushairas are part of larger gatherings, such as weddings or trade conferences; others are intimate affairs.

The country even has a national holiday dedicated to a poet-philosopher, Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Iqbal’s writings were seen as an inspirational force toward the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland in 1947, though he died in 1938.

Of the 1,000 books published each year in Pakistan, there are some 50 books of poetry, said Saleem Malik, vice chairman of the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association. While a handful of poets may earn enough to live on writing alone, at least for a while, most are engaged in other professions.

Many of the poetry books are self-published and distributed for free among friends. Still, that doesn’t account for the poetry that appears in other forums, such as magazines or websites such as Facebook, a popular setting for younger poets who can’t afford to publish their own books.

Perhaps the most popular form of poetry in Pakistan is the ghazal, which is made up of five or more units of two lines each and often sung.

Some of the most well-known Pakistani poets say that despite the material provided by the turmoil of recent years, they are careful about how they word their poems and often prefer to use indirect language and symbolism. This is in part to avoid being labeled a “propagandist.”

“It loses your emotional power when you are direct — it becomes like a slogan,” said Farhat Abbas Shah, a poet especially popular with younger Pakistanis.

Iftikhar Arif — a poet so famed in Pakistan that one section of his many, teeming bookshelves is devoted just to academic tracts written about him — said poets should aspire to write in a universal manner that can be appreciated beyond national borders and withstand the test of time.

There are poems written from other periods of turmoil in Pakistani history that are still relevant today because of this approach. “There is a history, perhaps more honest, more correct, more sincere, written by poets,” Arif said.

The line between direct and indirect is a fine one, however, and over the decades, some of Pakistan’s most popular poets have gone back and forth.

The late Habib Jalib, often described as a “revolutionary” or “the People’s Poet” raged against political tyranny, and even referred specifically to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in his famed collection called “Ten Poems.”

Kishwar Naheed, a spry 71-year-old who is considered one of Pakistan’s pre-eminent feminist poets, is among those who occasionally embraces the direct approaches. In “A Mourning Poem for Bajaur,” Naheed decries the violence gripping Pakistan’s northwest regions bordering Afghanistan:

“Coffins have become so numerous, That the city is shrinking,” the poem begins.

A later verse: “We have the same court-yards, the same threshers. But bullets jump through them, Riddle holes in my fields, and in the bodies of my children.”

Naheed, who has published more than a dozen books of poetry, says every couple of months she receives threats because of her poems.

“They may say, ‘If you continue like this, you may have an accident in your car,'” she said, with a grin. “But I don’t mind having such reaction. If you don’t have a reaction, that means you have no appeal.”

Pakistani poets insist that their community is largely a peace-loving, liberal bunch — though many point out that they may feel just as much ire for U.S. actions toward Pakistan as they do for religious extremists.

Still, militant movements and their sympathizers also use poetry as a tool. After the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden in a nighttime raid in May, a group at Punjab University in Lahore advertised a poem and essay contest dedicated to glorifying the al-Qaida chief.

Taliban operating on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, where the Pashtun ethnic group dominates, often use poems and chants, shared by way of CDs and cell phone recordings, to reach out to a largely illiterate population and persuade ordinary citizens to resist foreign troops.

Much of the poetry of Pakistan is not high art, but rather street-level verses exchanged by text messages, often with anonymous authors. Much of it is laced with the bitter, resigned humor of a people beset by poverty and downtrodden by corrupt elitists.

One popular Punjabi-language poem chastised former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who was eventually ousted in 2008.

“You rush to Washington all the time, and please Bush again and again,” it says. “Beg at his feet all the time, and threaten the oppressed. Why don’t you confront the oppressors?”

%d bloggers like this: