Muqaddamah Sooba Saraikistan by Muhammad Akbar Ansari

مقدمہ صوبہ سرایکستان – محمّد اکبر انصاری

Muqadammah Sooba Saraikistan by Muhammad Akbar Ansari

(English title: A Case for the Saraikistan Province)

(First published 1989; This edition 2009; Language: Urdu)

Why it is absolutely necessary to carve out the province of Saraikistan out of preset-day Punjab? The author lays out his reasons with great gusto in this fiery polemic.

This is a case for a province for the Saraiki people who boast a unique language and distinct ethno-cultural ethos. This people inhabit the lower plains of present-day Punjab, the area which is informally known as the Saraiki Belt and includes parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh where sizable populations of Saraiki speaking people are native to those lands.

The argument kicks off with the refutation of objections found in the current political discourse on the creation of a Saraiki province. The author briefly brushes off each objection as unfounded, dishonest or sensationalist and goes on to make a case for the separate linguistic and cultural identity of the Saraiki people which necessitates a separate province.

The book rejects the claims of those who object to the name “Saraikistan” fearing it would lead to further fragmentation of the country.  The author points towards provincial nomenclature current in Pakistan, which are, as they are, already named on ethno-lingual basis, that is, Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, and now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

It concludes that Saraikis do not demand something unique and new; their demand is in line with well established and existing principles of geographical organisation. Since Pakistan is divided into provinces on ethno-lingual basis, it only makes sense to give Saraiki people their due historical share and thus a province of their own.

There is a further and informative argument from history. A Multan province had long existed alongside Punjab since the times Delhi Sultanate up until when Ranjit Singh invaded Multan province and annexed it for Punjab. Then British came along but they kept the former Multan province within the boundaries of Punjab. It has remained in Punjab ever since.

The book states that provinces were created in British India on the basis of ethnical and/or linguistic identity.  Then it proceeds to give examples of multi-lingual countries like Belgium and Switzerland where every language is accorded state recognition and given equal status in the constitutions of those countries. In former Yugoslavia too, geographical entities were based on language and/or ethnicity and so was the case in former USSR.

When the rights of a people are not given, they resort to violent means. There is a grim warning of the inevitable with the aid of the examples of Hungary and Bangladesh. Hungarian people carved out their own country when Austrians refused to accord equal status to their language, and by extension, their culture. Bengalis who were patriotic Pakistanis, says the author, rebelled against the status quo when Urdu was imposed on them, causing them to separate from Pakistan in favour of preserving their separate linguistic and cultural identity.

A good chunk of the book deals with assessing the demand by some Saraiki circles of the restoration of former Bahawalpur province. It is a bad idea in the view of the author. What Saraikis need is a unified province which includes all Saraiki-majority areas. If former Bahawalpur State’s provincial status is restored, it would leave out half of the Saraiki-majority areas inside Punjab. This would be divisive and counter-productive.

Successive waves of Punjabi migration before and at the time of Partition have caused a population shift in the cities of former Bahawalpur State. A census would reveal that settler Punjabis are actually in majority in most cities which means their political control on Bahawalpur will remain even if Bahawalpur province is created. To counter this, Saraikis across the board will have to unite and demand a unified Saraiki province if they want to end their exploitation at the hands of Punjabi settler elite who now rule the roost in Saraiki-majority areas.

A good picture is sketched of the systematic plunder of agricultural farms in and around Cholistan during Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship. It was a time when a potent and active movement for Bahawalpur province existed. Military and Punjabi bureaucratic elite from Upper Punjab were allotted large chunks of lands and made to settle in Bahawalpur to dilute the political influence of native Bahawalpuri families. They succeeded in gaining access to local votes through state patronage and thus weakened the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province.

He cites various examples of discrimination faced by Saraikis in their own lands at the hands of Punjabi elite, who prefer their own kind for civil jobs and appoint officials from Upper Punjab to exploit Saraikis whenever they have a chance. This, he says, goes back to relative underdevelopment of Saraiki areas.

This feeling of alienation and exploitation of the Saraikis at the hands of mostly Punjabi elite forms the core of the argument and the biggest reason, in author’s opinion, that why a Saraiki province is needed. Funds meant for Saraiki areas are diverted and spent on Punjabi areas of the Punjab. This is why Saraiki region, despite being the bread-basket for Pakistan, is impoverished and has high illiteracy rate relative to Upper Punjab. Every medium town in Upper Punjab boasts a state university but there are only two state universities in Saraiki Belt (a third university has been established recently in Rahim Yar Khan) even though the populations of Punjabi and Saraiki-dominated areas are relatively equal. This has led to a situation where civil service jobs mostly go to Punjabis simply because they are more educated. This is worst form of exploitation.

Having laid out the multi-layered argument in detail, let me also add that it’s a political polemic with sweeping generalisations, strong language against Punjabis, knee-jerk rejection of the objections of intelligentsia, and an unwavering faith in the efficacy of Saraiki province as the only and ultimate solution to fix all social and political ills of the Saraiki people.

Movie: Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)

(Country: India; Language: Hindi)

You are reading about a long and sordid tale of fight for supremacy and honour turned into one of the epic gangster movies ever. The place is Wasseypur in the Indian state of Bihar (now Jharkhand). Two Muslim criminal gangster families of Bihar have been fighting a war of the survival of the fittest that spans three generations over six decades.

It starts from 1940s with the story of the origins of the dispute that reached its crescendo during 1990s and culminated in 2000s when most able men from both families were killed by either side and there’s no one left anymore to fight. Slap for slap, bullet for bullet, humiliation for humiliation, rape for rape, and murder for murder…they do not stop come what may. You know something is really messed up when a gangster kills a political head honcho for killing his grandfather five decades ago.

It’s divided into two parts like Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Both parts are completely interconnected and heavily depend on each other. My criticism is restricted to its run time (319 minutes or 5.3 hours) and documentary-like running commentary done from the perspective of the character of Nasir (Piyush Mishra) who is mentor to Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpai). Granted that the film tries to tell the whole story spanning six decades but I still think they packed too much information for a movie. It becomes tedious to keep up with all the hard info coming in in quick successions.

To call the sound track brilliant would be an understatement. It’s heavily derived from folk and falls right in place with the film’s five senses. “Tere qehqay loon ga”, “Ik bagal” and “taar bijli” served to lighten the mood of otherwise grisly film.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Faisal Khan was impressive with this impeccable improvisation. It was a tough role to play but he did justice with the role he was entrusted to.

It was debut film for Huma Qureshi (not related to the gangster Qureshi family). Full marks for spontaneous dialogue delivery and raw beauty of her character ❤

I’d rate the film 4/5.  Cut the run time and cut down on running commentary and get a straight 5/5.

PS: For those who are still wondering, let me tell you it’s not some melodramatic, romantico-sentimental, typical Bollywood crap; it’s actually an art movie. IMDb Link

Movie: I am Slave (2010)

“You don’t decide when you are thirsty. I decide when you are thirsty”. A Muslim girl in the back of the mini truck is told when she asks for water from her captives.

She is captured in the wake of a raid conducted by militant Islamists and later sold to a wealthy Arab woman in Khartoum. She is only 12 when she is enslaved. She is beaten, ill treated and told that she is worthless and must stay with her master if she wants to live.

Her travails and troubles do not stop when she is handed like a parcel over to a cousin of her master’s in London who has been “nagging me for help”. There in London she lives the same life of captivity, not allowed to leave home or answer phone, and treated like a shadow, till, she finds her salvation.

There is a lot of literature and films about obsolete institution of tradition slavery but little about modern-day slavery. This film fills the gap. I was astonished to know that there are up to 5000 people living in slavery in London of all places.

This film is based on a true story told in this book. My rating 5/5. IMDb Link

Movie: The Last Station (2009)

Based on the last months of Leo Tolstoy – the story of the conflict between him and his wife over Tolstoy’s decision to give away his vast estate and copyright of his works to the public.

Happy married for 45 years, the relation is breaking apart under the weight of Tolstoy’s idealism who, being, as he was, a proponent of anarcho-pacifism and an opponent of private property.

Tolstoy, at age 82, gifts copyright of his works to public and finally leaves his estate for good when things do not work out between him and his family. He dies at a train station but the legend lives on. The filming of relevant scenes is done at the real station of Astapovo in the real surroundings he died in.

Nothing magnificent about the film but it was an emotionally charged drama with good acting and a lesson into the history of the last days of Tolstoy and the decisions he eventually made just before he passed away.

Helen Mirren as Countess Tolstoy has again lived up to her reputation of being really good at playing Royal roles (Elizabeth I in “Elizabeth I”, Elizabeth II in “The Queen”, Queen Consort in “The Madness of King George, Geruth in “Prince of Jutland” etc). Her’s was without doubt the best performance of the film.

My rating 3/5. IMDb Link

Movie: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Year 1805. Off the Coast of Brazil. England and France are at war over the lordship of Europe. English navy captain Jack Aubrey receives orders to intercept a formidable French frigate which is twice in size and strength of arms and soldiers. Action begins.

You get to see a glimpse of how life would have been in the middle of the deep blue seas for men away from land and women. The pressures, the fatigue, and the sense of duty that was slowly transforming into full blown national patriotism at that time.

I enjoyed limited action scenes interspersed with depictions of intrigues and personal rivalry of comrades on a ship. The language of the script didn’t quite live up to the vernacular for a story set in early years of the 19th century. Film’s visuals were nonetheless a treat to watch. Rated at 4.5/5. IMDb Link