AN INTERESTING RECORD IN AMERICAN NARRATIVE OF QUESTIONING MINDS
GUY DAVENPORT, HUGH KENNER AND PAKISTANI ARIF RAHMAN CHUGHTAI
Flashback of the past. A narrative of Questioning minds with reference to Arif Rahman Chughtai, as the Guru of Lahore. Letters of Davenport and Kenner. American iconic philosophers refer to Pakistani questioning mind. And this was in 1974, in the life time of M.A. Rahman Chughtai. A writing career of the person, and an attempt in sharing thoughts with international icons. Well done Pakistan!
Books, research books, poetry books, more than 500 blog articles, and extensive analysis of Pakistan’s history and Art. That is Arif Rahman Chughtai today. There are numerous references of other intellectuals of the world. Sharing them in future.
A WAVE OF PAKISTANI PAINTERS WHO JUMPED ON TO THE BAND WAGON OF THE WEST FOR REASONS
CAN SUCH IMITATION EVER PRODUCE GREAT ART? OR SET NEW TRENDS IN INNOVATION-AL TRADITIONS
ONLY TIME TOLD AND ONLY TIME WILL TELL THE HISTORICAL GAFFE IN ART OF PAKISTAN, WE DO KNOW
ART IN PAKISTAN AND PAKISTANI ART ARE REALLY TWO DIFFERENT THINGS AND IT IS UNDERSTOOD BY ALL
The direction of the Ideology of Pakistan was as clear as crystal. International lobbies understood this well. There was need to displace everything that had ideological mooring. Art was under direct scrutiny. A group of young artists were engendered, imported and forced onto the audience. Their claim was very wide. Western art was to be forced onto Pakistan by imitating it in one way or the other. Even their costumes reflected same in shape of jeans, french beards and smoking pipes. Natural preferences unaccounted. Modern artists wished to give modern images of themselves. Another great change was the shift of water colour painting to oil based works in Pakistan. Various artists handled it in their way, but certainly they were being patronized to upset the existing reality. The 1949 grand show of Chughtai artist upset-ed Shemza. Anwar Jalal Shemza boldly said at Alhamra that he was there to uproot Chughtai artist, and he was heard not by few, but even by my cousin, who tells me the same all the time. Although Chughtai does not take the name, an attendant (guess whom?) of a lecture, he gave at Alhamra, heckled him about his art being Indian and not Pakistani. The reply of the artist was simple, “It was Chughtai Art then, it is Chughtai Art now!”. Did they achieve their goal? They tried their best, now lobbies are trying their best for them.
In Giza Egypt various mummies of Pharaohs are studied every day. Newer and newer research is done. But the mummies are dead. Their art keeps interest in them alive. The Pharaohs left plenty art for study. Pakistani artists of that period left little at all. In recent years western scholarship is working on the remnants of art left by the modern movement in Pakistan. Very little indeed. Interesting I had an opportunity to talk with some of those who are trying to revitalize the mummies of that period of art. One is certainly Ms Simone Wille with her book on Modern Art in Pakistan. She does mention the stereotype of Chughtai’s connection with Calcutta (hundred percent false) but had to mention the concept of Punjab School and Lahore too. I sent her relevant things but she did not avail them at all, for her own reasons. However she did assert Chughtai as ” the first artist to anticipate a Muslim cultural position”, absolutely correct. Gemma Sharpe, a very interesting English girl working in New York is working on modern art, including Shemza, and others. Working on the miraculous power of the kind of Jesus Christ, she wants to blow life in the left overs of that period. Best of luck to her! Shakir Ali the doyen of them all had a heart attack at YMCA on 18th January, 1975, while addressing a condolence seminar on Chughtai artist. He did not recover from that attack, but did utter the words, “If this was done to Chughtai, what would they do to me?” Moyene Najmi too ran a gallery for some time. His able and beloved wife Atiya carried him through various storms. Indeed Moyene Najmi was a gentleman and I met him various times at the Punjab Council of Arts. Ali Imam’s art gallery collapsed, and he made his living selling art of others. But he freaked out many times in his analysis of Chughtai art (the ridiculous conclusion about the bangles on a lady’s arm), and I discussed it with him in Karachi in Indus Gallery, and this was told to me by owner of Dawn, who visited us once here with another lady. In fact he was trying to buy a Chughtai painting from a collector which was a family heirloom in Hyderabad Deccan, as told to me by Nusrat ullah Shah, also originally from same place.
We used to hear all the time a saying of our culture and that was “Dhobi ka kuta na ghar ka na ghat ka”, and we tried to understand the implicit message. There was confusion in many people, their direction was not clear. They were stupefied by environmental pressure. True Masters do not get swayed by circumstances. They stick to their guns (brushes) all the time. The clarity of vision is always there. You can never be a Van Gogh just by calling yourself Van Gogh. Pablo Picasso was an exceptional draftsman, and he mocked people all the time. No relation to any local rebel in art.
Is M.A. Rahman Chughtai no more? Certainly his art is living as he himself would want it. Going forward with time. Dr Iqbal’s Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam is evident in the paintings of M.A. Rahman Chughtai. Evolution of Islamic art through innovation. Cubism, Vorticism, Picasso and what not, were in no way Pakistan. Nor is Post-modernism. Nor any fad that West may impose on us. The list is numerous, the results are zero for ourselves. Our naqashi patterns can make fun of Suprematism any time. Neo-colonialism does not work at all. We went to our roots and evolved with time in newer and newer grafts on the evergreen plant of our art. Imitation can actually never be great art. From Mani to Behzad to Mansoor to Chughtai, we have it all. Blowing horns of other civilizations is a joke on our society.
Dr Allama Iqbal in a comment on Art, simply said:
“O Wise ones! It is well to have a thirst for knowledge,
But what is in art that faileth to grasp the reality of things.
The object of all art is to attain the warmth of life immortal.
What availeth a spasm or two that vanish like a spark!
Without a miracle nations cannot rise-
What is art without the striking power of the Moses staff!”
QAZI AHMAD ISLAMIC HISTORIAN OF PAINTERS AND CALLIGRAPHERS
MOST IMPORTANT SOURCE OF ORIGINAL INFORMATION ON ISLAMIC ARTS
There is no doubt that there is total lack of professionalism related to Art in Pakistan as well as our history of art. Like our landay bazaar politicians, our art historians (with exception of some few in the past) are totally devoid of art knowledge. Coupled with this they have no ability to look at art. The fake journalists who cover Pakistani Art Shows are in the same moronic line as our chief guests who stroll in front of each painting, nodding their heads as thy may have grasped the intricacies of the painting in depth. In fact it is difficult nowadays to even find a VIP willing to inaugurate an Art show. M.A. Rahman Chughtai used to say if he had spent a lot of time in making a painting, the viewer can spend some time in looking at it, to discover its various meanings and symbolism. He cited the example of European viewers of art who stand in front of a paintings for days or even months to grasp its totality, as he himself saw in Europe, mainly London and Paris. The journalists who cover the Art shows have no knowledge of art and are there for the refreshments being served or even actual monetary payments. Many Art galleries in Lahore have such people on their pay roll to advertise their things.
A very original and important source of history of Islamic painting is a manuscript of a book written by Qazi Ahmad son of Mir Munshi in 1606 AD. And he has a lot of things to tell us, and most authentic in all ways. Only three manuscripts known, which were translated by a Russian Scholar. Extremely rare information on painters, and states that Hazrat Ali (Blessings) beat the Chinese Masters at the profession of Calligraphy, gilding and painting. A worthy read for any researcher, very rarely available. We are proud to present an extract for the consumption of those who appreciate art knowledge. Enjoy!
THE JOURNAL OF EDWARD TERRY CHAPLAIN OF SIR THOMAS ROE
TALKS MOSTLY OF HINDUSTAN ONLY A CHAPTER ON JAHANGEER
Cultures do clash, and generate complexities of inferiority complexes, and to wriggle their way out, confuse other nations, by literally distorting the truth. The legend is of the travel of Sir Thomas Roe to Hindustan as the Ambassador of England. The talk is of a journal, which was actually never found and consisted of a portion, some letters here and there. Even a partial Dutch translation. A portion was published, but the full journal was not there. Imagine such an important colonial evidence could only be published in 1899, that is around 300 years after the actual travelogue. In our view it is a manipulated journal. The journal is at odd with other journals of the period. We need not comment on same here. We find actual publication of the travelogue of Edward Terry who was chaplain of Sir Thomas Roe, who visited (or wrote about) Hindustan in 1655 and 1665, reputed to be presented to the Prince of Wales in 1622, and amazing it speaks of the geography of Hindustan and devotes only a chapter to Emperor Jahangeer. Jyotsna G. Singh calls it colonial ethnography and out rightly says:
“I have nothing to plead for this presumption but the Novelty of my Subject, in which I confess some few have prevented me, who by traveling India in England, or Europe, have written somewhat of those remotest parts but like unto poor Tradesmen who take up wares in trust, have been deceived themselves, and do deceive of others.”
There are a few engravings in the journal. Foremost is to comment on the portraiture of Emperor Jahangeer himself. Although at first sight it looks like a Mughal subject (from some miniature), many things are wrong in it. Jahangeer’s hair style is all weird with hair going up to his neck and the crown is all wrong, alienated from the Mughal perspective. The portrayal of Jahangeer with a smelling Rose is to be borrowed from the miniature of the Turkish Sultan Muhammed, which was done by Western artists too. Look a the dagger, a stiletto with no base for the Mughals. It seems that surely Edward Terry never saw actually the Emperor and wrote about him from street gossips as it was fashionable for foreigners to do at that time.
When these foreigners could not get to the truth, they invented tales. Foremost was their dirty mind which slung slanders on all Mughals including the Kings and the ladies of the harem. William Finch accused Jahangeer of having an illicit relation with his step mother and innovated the fake legend of Anarkali. Creating scandals about all the Muslims ladies, and hurling abuses at them. Emperor Shah Jahan was accused of incest after the death of his beloved wife. It seems that their mind was full of cheapness, and they had no access to the Courts at all. Legend has it that some of these people would get to the roof of the church in Lahore to steal a look of the Mughal Ladies in their harem, and a Royal order was issued that they were not allowed to access the roof of the church, which was at a higher place and showed private quarters in the fort. Francois Bernier would follow the caravan of Mughal princesses to steal a look of them. History is reported by him on his own:
It was with difficulty, he writes, that these ladies could be approached; they were almost inaccessible to the sight of man. “Woe to any unlucky cavalier, however exalted in rank, who, meeting the procession, was found too near, nothing could exceed the insolence of the tribes of eunuchs and footmen which he would have to encounter, and who eagerly avail themselves of such an opportunity to beat a man in the most unmerciful manner.”
In fact Francois Bernier was himself was once nearly caught in a similar situation, and narrowly escaped the cruel treatment that other riders in the imperial train had experienced. Determined, however, not to suffer himself to be beaten, and perhaps maimed, he drew his sword, and having fortunately a strong and spirited horse, was enabled to open a passage, sword in hand, through a host of assailants and to dash across a rapid stream in front of him. Stalking a Mughal lady was not without danger.
Such flabbergasting stories as Mughal princess’s lover caught, who hid himself in a cooking vessel (degh). Emperor Aurangzeb had boiling water poured in the degh and the lover died in it, without uttering a sound to save his beloved. Filthy minds, outrageous suggestions.
An objective study needs to be carried out of the activities of these Goras in Hindustan, instead of romanticizing their presence here.