then and now
sorrow and motherhood
From a cultural hub that nurtured many an artist, Heera Mandi has changed into a ghetto that thwarts the spirit of women. Nirupama Dutt tells the story of Iqbal Hussain, a painter who portrays their lives.
FOR centuries, Heera Mandi in Lahore nurtured some outstanding performing artistes, including the famous Noorejahan, Khurshid, Shamshad Begum, Mumtaz Shanti and many others. Most of the early film actresses for pre-Partition Lahore cinema came from the kothas of Heera Mandi. The art of music in Punjab was confined to the streets of the courtesans with Heera Mandi taking the lead as the largest settlement in the cultural capital of the state in undivided Punjab.
Looking back and recalling a well-known courtesan Tamancha Jaan, Pran Nevile, a chronicler of Lahore, says, "My maiden visit to Tamancha Jaan’s salon at Heera Mandi was in 1945 with my friend Saeed Ahmed. We were seated on white sheets spread out on carpets with gaav takias (bolster pillows) supporting our backs. The room was fragrant with fresh flowers and incense sticks. The music played and Tamancha Jaan sang in her sonorous voice enchanting our young hearts."
However, those days are gone by for classical arts are no longer to be found in the kothas of Heera Mandi. It is a leg shake and more to popular music and flesh trade that have become the hallmarks of these streets in the shadow of the imposing dome and minarets of the pink stone of the Badshahi Masjid.
The only reason for the elite to visit the area unabashed is the restaurant that painter Iqbal Hussain has made in the haveli, which was the salon of his mother, aunts and elder sisters. Called the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, it is decorated with the paintings of the Heera Mandi done by Hussain and also quaint arty knick-knacks as well as statuettes of Virgin Mary, Buddha and Hanuman.
During a recent visit to Pakistan, we visited one of the salons in the company of some Lahoris. No longer are the white sheets, gaav takias nor incense sticks to be found there, neither the melodious unfolding of the ghazal. What one finds is very different and sad.
In the first salon behind the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, we find four girls with painted faces sitting on a sofa facing the outer door vacant eyed. Our escort says in embarrassment, "These ladies have come from Hindustan and want to talk to you." We are quickly pushed in and the door banged shut. The four young girls with made up faces spring and line themselves against the wall. The oldest of them must be just 25 and the youngest is barely 14. The musicians sitting on the floor start singing a loud pop-Punjabi number and the oldest joins them in the not-so-melodious singing. The second oldest quickly wears anklets on her feet and starts doing a cabaret number of sorts in her back body-clinging synthetic shirt and straight pajama. The two younger ones with garishly made-up faces stand glued to the wall, afraid and awkward. It is a moment of relief that the song ends and the haggling for money ends and a toughie opens the door. Outside a crowd of the street boys have gathered to see the strange women coming to watch mujra.
Little wonder that sadness marks the paintings of Hussain even when his subjects are wearing red and gold. A set of paintings under the title of "Silent Fears" have been made into cards by a Lahore-based NGO that is doing work against AIDS. In another very telling painting "Privacy", two women in rose-pink nightgowns lie in repose on a rumbled blue bed-spread. "Reflection" is another sad painting in which girls are shown against a mirror, depicting a perpetual wait for better times. Many of these women are called out to dance parties where they do a striptease and are often raped and even their earnings are stolen from them.
Hussain paints the plight of these women with despair and despondency. "Many land here from rural areas because their parents couldn’t marry them off for the reason that they didn’t have money to give them customary dowry," the painter says, "Some try to break out of their vicious lives of poverty to make more money as sex workers only to find a stark and harsh reality of such an existence."
Hussain’s own mother Nawab and aunts migrated from the Nimmanwali Haveli in the Dharampura Bazaar of Patiala to Heera Mandi. He would have been yet another street boy of the notorious colony if he did not have a talent for drawing. Now he looks after all the women of his family and his own children are getting good education. But such breakthroughs are rare. Hussain says, "I think if I hadn’t been painting, I would have committed suicide."
Hussain has been active in getting women to escape these environments if they can. He also plans to open a food street like the one in Gwalmandi that women have options to start other business.
His paintings at first created controversy but now these are appreciated and one of his works fetched as much as `A34,000 at auction at Sotheby’s. At the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ hangs a portrait of a local woman with her wrists and ankles bound in penitence at Muharram. Hussain says that his subjects always break into tears as he paints them.
Deprived of support from other men, they often turn to him for help because he is the one who flew over the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’. Iqbal Hussain has done for this red light area in visuals what Saadat Hasan Manto had done in words.
M.L. Raina introduces Gabriela Mistral, the Chilean poet who devoted her life to children
THE first Latin American woman poet to receive the Nobel Prize as ‘a great singer of sorrow and motherhood’, Gabriela Mistral (born Lucila Godoy Y Alcayaga), who longed for but had no children of her own, devoted much of her life to children’s causes. Anguished by the suicide of her lover, Gabriela (1889-1957) wrote of sorrow and grief, yet in later life recovered enough `E9lan to engage actively with the cultural renaissance of her native Chile.
Like her younger contemporary Pablo Neruda, she was recognised as the representative of Chilean literature abroad. Unlike Neruda’s, however, her commitment to poetry was never overtly political.
She began her career as a schoolteacher. Later she was as educational adviser and Chilean counsellor in Mexico, Madrid, Lisbon and other places. She also served on the League of Nations and later helped establish the Unicef. She capped her career with a professorship of Spanish literature at Columbia University.
During all these years she continued to write in the sombre and passionate lyrical manner that had characterised her verse from the very beginning. Her Christian faith and influences from J.Krishnamurthi further strengthened her ingrained earnestness and modesty of ambition.
Gabriela Mistral is essentially a poet of love who also celebrates the rural landscapes of her small river valley of Elqui and delights in the folklore of her peasant community. Combined with these is her permanent preoccupation with death and human mortality. Her first collection, Desolation, published in America in 1922, includes her early sonnets on death and inaugurates what would surely be her life-long subject of interest: I saw him pass by. / The wind ever so sweet/and the path full of peace. /And these eyes of mine, wretched/saw him pass by. (Ballad)
In another poem, the longing for the loved one and the reverie it induces is cut short by a rude realisation: If you leave, you will crush my soul/in the very moss of your tread/ Thirst and hunger will gnaw at you/on every mountain and every plain/and in every land the evening sun/will stain the sky
with the blood of my wound. (God wills it).
In spite of grief, there is a rustic joy that courses through the early verse: Here is the salt, here the oil/in the center the bread that almost speaks/gold more lovely than gold of bread/ is not in broom plant and or
fruit". (The House).
The second volume, Tala (Tenderness, 1938) is a quasi-mystical understanding of the oneness of all being. What is distinctly new is Mistral’s musings on solitude and loneliness, as in the poem, Foreigner,
She speaks with the moisture of her barbarous seas/still on her tongue, with the taste/of sands and algae unknown to me. /And she will die among us`85only her fate for a pillow/a death silent and foreign.
Lagar(Winepress, 1954), published three years before her death, marks a slight departure from permanent themes: she now writes about men and women who toil and suffer privations. She never loses sight of the mountains and clouds of her childhood memories, but now she grounds her poetry in the daily sufferings of ordinary people. From now on she regards her poetry as an act of service.
In these poems her Christian ideal of charity and social justice comes to the fore.
The years in which she wrote Lagar were a testing time for the poet. The Spanish Civil War and the death of personal friends such as Austrian novelist Stephan Zweig left her with the pain of loss.
In One Word, she spills it over. I wish to throw seeds so violent /they burst and smother it in one night /leaving not even a syllable’s trace.
Another poem, Mourning similarly embodies her personal and public tragedies.
A much-travelled poet and a successful diplomat, Mistral never lost her love for Chile, particularly her childhood habitat of the Elqui valley. This home, nurtured by her instinctive motherliness, remains her lasting legacy to her people: In the valley of Elqui others have come and are singing/ and there will sing many more.
SHE could epitomise the corporate woman of today. She is articulate and charming. She has the flair to succeed, the drive to excel, and the verve and vigour to push herself beyond limits and come up trumps. Her diminutive 5ft1inch frame belies her towering performances and tall achievements. She has had a number of firsts adorning her distinguished 36-year career in the Army, and now the spotlight is on her yet again. This softspoken but ramrod stiff disciplinarian has become the first woman to become Lt General in the Indian Army, a post directly below the Chief of the Army Staff. Taking over as Commandant of her alma mater Armed Forces Medical College, Pune, last week, Lt General Punita Arora has also become the first woman officer to command the medical college.
A topper of the second batch of the AFMC, Arora has since than been decorated with more than 15 medals. She received the Vashisht Seva Medal for providing efficient and timely help to victims of the Kaluchak massacre in 2002, in which militants killed 32 civilians, including 11 children and 12 women, and injured 48 others. Arora, who was then commanding the military hospital at Jammu, was a pillar of strength to the families of victims.
Known to be a meticulous performer, this specialist in gynaecology and obstetrics was honoured with the Sena Medal for providing gynae-endoscopy and oncology facilities and pioneering invitro-fertilisation and assisted reproductive techniques for infertile and childless couples in military hospitals.
This 50-something doctor has doctors for company at home too. Her husband, a dermatologist, retired from the Army as Brigadier. Her two children too are AFMC alumni: the son is a dermatologist in the Air Force and the daughter is pursuing trauma medicine in the USA.
ZILA Khan has successfully established herself independent of her celebrated father Ustad Vilayat Khan."I was always very clear about my choices. I admired the vocal tradition with all my heart. Fortunately for me, abba never restricted my flight," explains the vocalist.
Zila’s Sufi songs in Ishq Ki Nayee Bahar were released by Music Today which is investing heavily in Zila. The album introduces her as the most powerful voice of the sub continent.
The collection features Zila's full throated, crystal-clear rendering of seven songs that span the varied hues of love. Currently being played on almost all video channels in the country, the songs showcase Zila's versatility .If you ask her to choose, she shrugs, "How can you pick a particular ingredient from food. You need minerals as well as vitamins to survive. Music is also food for the soul. How can I then deny myself the pleasure of partaking of its many preparations?"
Ishq ki Nayee Bahar, the title track of her new album is a legendary verse by Baba Bulle Shah. A high voltage song, it reveals Zila's dexterity in handling the poetry and its music with great care and ease at the same time.
MEENA Dhanda is the Punjabi Indian woman to earn a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford, and then to head the department of philosophy at the University of Wolverhampton.
Meena’s political awareness goes back to her Panjab University days, where she did her Master’s degree in philosophy about 15 years ago. She then won a Commonwealth scholarship that took her to Britain. While she was still doing her doctorate there, she was offered a job, and so she stayed on.
"One of the first things that I learnt was that before the 1980s colleges in Oxford were not mixed institutions." Does that make much of a difference? "Yes," says Meena, "studies show that some women may perform better in all woman institutions where there is a culture of mutual support and a less competitive environment"
"Doing philosophy taught me to think independently. Philosophy makes concepts clear, it helps you see things more objectively. With time, I realised that philosophy is a male-dominated field. There are only three women who are subject leaders in the departments that teach philosophy in the U.K., I am one of them."
Meena, for the first time, got a chance to interact with Asian girls of Muslim background. "With time, I learnt more about them. I found that they were not as docile as they have been projected. They are often in conflict with the older generation."
The reason for this conflict, Meena argues, is the nature of migration that took place in the 60s. "Since the migrants were from a rural background, they failed to integrate in the new country; they got stagnated. The second generation is more complex, but they tend to lead a double life. They are one person at home, and another on the campus."
"There is a very subtle kind of racism on the campus, and there is a very complex relationship between non-White teachers and students. And the fact that I am not White sometimes does matter; people often take it for granted that I must be one of the non-teaching staff. I am forced at times to assert my identity as a lecturer." Some issues are no longer being raised in the U.K., for example, women are fighting for better positions and control over their lives but they are not too worried about the problem of objectification of women in terms of how they should dress. In India feminist activism seems to be rather symbolic and remains concerned with gestural politics such as not wearing makeup, jewellery etc. Most feminists here want to be seen as feminists. Over there sometimes there is a problem of overconfidence, as if there isn’t a problem about women’s equal status with men any more."