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Voice of Sindh – Part I

How can a cultural and literary event generate so much controversy and opposition? Well, if two brave women play a leading role in it, it does. Amar Sindhu and Arfana Mallah – with support from their friends, Haseen Musarrat, Imdad Chandio, Majeed Chandio, Taj Joyo and Zakia Aijaz – have done it again in Hyderabad.

The eighth Ayaz Melo, held from Dec 23 to Dec 25, was a resounding success despite vitriolic propaganda against it. Interestingly, the criticism did not only come from religious and right-wing circles, but also from those who pretend to be liberal including some nationalist, progressive and secular groups in Sindh. Such segments play a negative role to discredit the festival that is increasingly becoming a distinguishing feature of Hyderabad. But let’s delay this discussion for a while and look at what this festival stands for.

In her welcome address, Amar Sindhu said, “Ayaz Melo is continuing on the path of the struggle that leaders of Sindh waged for democracy and human rights with their words and deeds. After the division of India in 1947, the intelligentsia and the middle class in Sindh were severely depleted as many Hindu businessmen, intellectuals, and professionals left for India, and then a local replacement was not easy to come by. But then gradually Sindh produced its own intellectual base with poets and writers whom people loved. Shaikh Ayaz was one of those whose popular poetry reached every corner of Sindh.”

Just as Shaikh Ayaz played a pretty significant role in the intellectual development of the new Sindh, Ayaz Melo is trying to play a similar role in reviving intellectual traditions in the province. Almost all political movements in Sindh have owned Shaikh Ayaz in their own way. Amar Sindhu explained that to rejuvenate intellectual activities in Sindh, Ayaz Melo is taking the shape of a new movement by playing a historic role at this juncture. Taking inspiration from Ayaz Melo, various big and small festivals are being held from Hyderabad to Nangarparkar.

Some of the criticism directed at Ayaz Melo also pointed out that nearly half of Sindh went through devastating floods recently so there was no need to organize a festival this year. Amar and Arfana responded by saying that they actively carried out flood relief work and felt no need to prove it to anyone. Arfana’s book about her relief work during the previous floods over a decade ago was a brilliant account of the havoc those floods wreaked in Sindh. Ultimately, relief and social work is not about display, it is more about doing something irrespective of what people say.

Delivering his keynote address on the opening day, Dr Nasir Abbas Nayyar stole the show with his insightful paper. “Three rivers flow across Sindh: the mighty Indus, Shah Latif, and Shaikh Ayaz. The Indus River flows on land, while Shah Latif and Shaikh Ayaz flow through the hearts of people.” Nayyar struck a chord with his observation that “good wisdom in one land does not discount or disparage the wisdom that other lands possess.”

“If art and literature blossom in close connection with their land, they serve a medicinal purpose with a healing touch on wounds in society; they reduce the anxiety of souls, as societies can survive without preachers and pulpits, but decline without art and literature.” Dr Nayyar could not be more accurate in his observations. He considered Shaikh Ayaz an advocate of non-violence much in the same fashion as Gandhi was in his times. Ayaz belonged to common people, and while doing so, he expanded the scope and outreach of language to those who were not formally educated.

Dr Shah Muhammad Marri, Nurul Huda Shah, Jami Chandio, and Asma Shirazi were the chief guests at the inaugural session. Dr Marri is one of the most well-respected names in Pakistan.

He has produced dozens of biographies, books on Baloch art, culture and history, and translated some of the masterpieces of Balochi literature into Urdu. In his address at Ayaz Melo, he linked the development of any language to the development of its poetry. To him, poetry means evolution of language.

Shah Marri suggested that Ayaz’s work deserves translation in more languages to further spread his message, and his poetry should be linked with music. He recalled that during the long struggle against One Unit in the country, from 1955 to 1970, three prominent poets from Balochistan, erstwhile NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Sindh motivated the people; these poets were Gul Khan Naseer, Ajmal Khattak and Shaikh Ayaz. They also combined three streams of thoughts from the oppressed nationalities revolving around language, nationalism, and socialism. The state targeted these three poets and their ideas.

Shah Marri reminded the audience that, like all great poets, Shaikh Ayaz loved all languages, and his poetry in Urdu is also of high merit. “Good literature does not produce itself for the sake of it, it rejects poetry for the sole purpose of writing poetry”.

Shaikh Ayaz did not indulge in any such activity, he applied his talent to all genres of Sindhi poetry and did it purposefully in nazm, ghazal, waee, doha, drama, and others. He had roots deep in his land, and that reflected in his aesthetics. Ayaz is not a pure aesthete, rather he related more to people’s aesthetic sensibilities.

In an interesting observation, Shah Marri remarked that no one goes willingly to three places: graveyard, hospital, and jail. When Gul Khan Naseer was in jail and Shaikh Ayaz also landed in the same prison, Naseer welcomed him by writing a poem in his honour. Naseer advised Ayaz not to be sad or tired.

Nurul Huda Shah was more worried about the strengthening of the tribal system in Sindh. “Landlords and waderas are getting stronger… the struggle between virtue and vice is on, and it is a hard battle to fight. Here we gather to remember Shaikh Ayaz and by doing so we manage to say things that are dangerous and tough to say elsewhere.” Nurul Huda Shah considers Ayaz as a poet of the soil than a revolutionary one. The word province is feminine in the Sindhi language, and poets from Shah Latif to Ayaz look at their land as a beloved or mother.

Ayaz fostered an alternative narrative and challenged the civilizational inferiority complex prevailing in Sindh at that time. He reformulated folk tales of the Sindhi language and created a chain link with the past to give a certain shape to the future. For Nurul Huda Shah, this was the greatest contribution of Shaikh Ayaz.

In all genres of poetry, Ayaz experimented with new content and forms. Great poetry draws from experiences, imagination, and observations that elevate the composition to an international level from an individual one. Ayaz combined internationalism with nationalism and resistance.

To be continued

Email: mnazir1964@yahoo.co.uk

Dr Naazir Mahmood, "Voice of Sindh – Part I," The News. 2023-01-04.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social work , Human rights , Culture , Nationalism , Haseen Musarrat , Imdad Chandio , Pakistan , NWFP