Beyond the Full Circle – An extract from the novel

Extract from the novel: Beyond the Full Circle by Narendra Luther

In Karachi Nawab Hafeez Yar Jung was given a temporary accommodation in Nazimabad, a township set up to accommodate refugees from India. He was offered a rank in Government, one place lower than the one he had in Hyderabad. Only the refugees from India spoke Urdu. The local inhabitants spoke Sindhi and they were generally resentful of the people coming from India. ‘Muhajirs’ – Urdu for immigrant – they were called. The term has some historical significance, because the Prophet of Islam had himself been one, when during the period of his persecution, he left his ancestral town Mecca and migrated to Madina. The Muslim calendar is based on that. Muhajirs were the people, who had left their homes and hearths behind and sacrificed all that they had, to come to the new promised land – the land of believers, a pure land, as the name of the new country implied.

Even at the secretariat Nawab Hafeez Yar Jung was referred to by everyone as ‘that muhajir’ from ‘Hyderabad Deccan’, not their Hyderabad, for there was one city with that name in Sindh too. The muhajirs also had categories amongst them. Those from Uttar Pradesh and East Punjab considered themselves the real ones – the genuine martyrs – one cut above the rest. Not many had yet come from Hyderabad Deccan. So they were isolated and made fun of, largely because of their accent. At the very first meeting with his boss, Manzoor Qadir, Hafeez was asked about his title.
“What were you Nawab of ?”

Hafeez looked puzzled as his hand played with the button of his sherwani.
“You must be having some jagir. Where was it ?” Manzoor Qadir tried to help him.
“No, Sir. This is a title. I was not given any jagir as such, although we had an ancestral jagir.”
“So you are a Nawab of No Land – Lord Lackland as they would say in England,” Manzoor Qadir chuckled good-humouredly.
“You can say that.” Then he quoted a stanza from Mir Taqi Mir, which the 18th century poet had recited when on his migration from Delhi to Lucknow, he was asked where he hailed from. It was an enchanting melancholy poem full of self pity and memories of lost grandeur.

“Well put,” said Manzoor Qadir. “I never saw Hyderabad. Heard a lot about the Nizam and that most beautiful woman – Niloufer. His daughter-in-law, I think.”

“Indeed,” responded Hafeez somewhat coldly. He was taken aback by such casual reference to his “Ala Hazrat”. Hafeez wondered, now that he was no longer the ruler, how the Nizam was referred to in Hyderabad.
The local people in Karachi resented the intruders – all the muhajirs as well as people from the Pakistan part of Punjab and East Pakistan, who had landed there in large numbers. The Punjabis dominated the civil and armed services. Some of them had intruded into the traditional preserve of the Sindhis – business and trade – in which they excelled. But a businessman had to kow-tow before the bureaucrats and the latter were predominantly ‘outsiders’. Nobody gave any credit to the muhajirs for their sacrifices. Some people bluntly asked them why they had come to Pakistan. It didn’t take long for Hafeez to start feeling that he hadn’t been wise in leaving Hyderabad. Though the leaders of Majlis and ministers had been arrested, others like him had remained largely undisturbed. He too could have stayed on instead of coming to a place where nobody gave him credit for his sacrifice. Back in Hyderabad, perhaps he would have been transferred to another job, put down, demoted by a rank for his over – zealousness. But he had lost a rank here too. He also missed the glorious nights and weather of Hyderabad, in particular, the monsoon. And Banjara Hills. There was no place like that. Karachi was a muggy port town, now bursting at its seams with people, who did not belong to it – or relate to each other.

But more and more people were coming from Hyderabad. People, who had acquired a taint for extremism and feared reprisals. People, who believed that a homeland had come into existence at last and it was their duty and their glory to live in it, to serve it.

Soon ghettoes developed in Nazimabad. Even in Karachi. Communal, sectarian settlements came into existence. ‘Punjabi Enclave’, ‘Bhaiya Basti’ for migrants from UP and Bihar, and ‘Gosha-e-Deccan’ for people from Hyderabad. They set up separate cultural and literary associations, but except for the very few, who were able to manage to sell off their properties in India, or to get prized Government jobs, they lived on the margin. Wheels within hierarchical wheels came into existence in the cosmopolitan society of Karachi.

Hafeez Ahmed – nobody called him Nawab Saheb there – had become plain ‘Mister’. He soon began to perceive a flaw in the political creed that he had developed under the tutelage of the Majlis. Religion alone didn’t unite; language alone couldn’t hold. If that were so, why were all the brothers-in-faith in Pakistan bickering with each other? Why were there muted protests against the imposition of Urdu as the national language of Pakistan? It is not our language said the Sindhis, nor ours said the Pushtos and Baluchis. Even Punjabis, who had always accepted the subservience of their mother tongue to Urdu, were suddenly possessed by unusual jingoism. But the most strident opposition came from East Pakistan. Their language was the mellifluous Bengali – the lyrical language of Tagore and Nazrul Islam, which had roused them against the British and given them the vision of an El Dorado – ‘Sonar Bangla’- which they shared with their brethren in West Bengal more than the ‘aliens’ of Western Pakistan. Having overthrown the English, were they to accept the neo-imperialism of the Urdu-wallahs? They were in majority in Pakistan and so if there had to be one national language, it had to be Bengali. They didn’t mind Urdu also to be given an official status as the language of West Pakistan. Hafeez had to come to Pakistan to learn the simple fact that Urdu was not the language of all Muslims. They spoke many other tongues and were willing to fight for them – even to shed blood for them.

As Hafeez discovered how his political education had been ill-conceived, he began to withdraw more and more into his shell. He felt cosy there, as he found that he had indeed grown up as a frog in a well.

He also found that in any society there would always be enough factors to divide people. Human beings discovered ingenious ways of establishing separate identities. People had enough of religion, enough of language, enough of economic interests to divide them, but not enough to unite them. He had, by his own convictions, landed in a false heaven. Indeed all heavens were false, mirages to tantalize the believers. That’s why they always lay in the future, which no one had yet peered into or come back from – to testify to their existence.

It was at these moments that the memory of Sakina tormented him. How much she knew ! How wise she was in her judgements!

“Stay on, Hafeez,” she had once implored him, when he glanced at his watch which was always a prelude to his getting up and saying : “I must go.” How she dreaded that moment. And still it came every time they met. Hafeez would then say : “How would we savour reunion unless we part?” “Good logic”, she would say, and would then yield. Did she have a choice? She always entreated him not to go; not yet; ten more minutes, all right five, okay, just one minute. She begged from him crumbs of time. That was the daily routine. But one particular evening had frozen in his memory. Then she had said in her deep husky voice : “Heaven is here and now. It lasts so long as we are together. There is no heaven hereafter.”

One day a subordinate of his presented an invitation to him for an evening of ghazals by Munni Begum. She was the up-and-coming singer of Pakistan and she too had what is now commonly called a sexy voice. She sang that ghazal:
‘Aaj jane ki zid na karo’ “Don’t insist on going today.”

Hafeez Ahmed was entranced. He was transported. He felt he had gone back to Hyderabad and suddenly it was Sakina singing, as if by magic. Word for word, it was what Sakina had said, though Sakina couldn’t sing.
He had sat through the whole evening and returned home late at night, refreshed and exhilarated. Munni Begum was Sakina. Sakina was Munni Begum. And the image of Sakina had brought the image of Seema to his mind. Seema, his daughter was a souvenir of Sakina. Not born of her but hers nevertheless, because she had given her a name. Seema had now started going to a prep school. He went to the children’s bedroom and kissed her forehead. …….

Beyond the Full Circle by Narendra Luther

Published by Creative Point, Hyderabad
Price Rs. 150


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Executive as Hero

An old building collapses in a metropolis killing many people. A wave of sympathy rises for the victims. Cities are flooded during the monsoon. Thousands are rendered homeless. There is outbreak of epidemic in the unhygienic parts of cities. A crammed bus fall into a river killing picnic-going school children. An overloaded boat sinks in a river drowning many men, women and children. Such is our daily diet of news. They no longer shock or move us.

Onions are exported in February. Hurrah for earning foreign exchange. Six months later they have to be imported at a much higher cost. Tons of them rot at the port because of some bureaucratic hassles. Sixty cold storage facilities are out of order in just one state. Three-fourth of the x-ray equipment in district hospitals is out of order in another

The Corporate Sector

On the business page of papers you find that a company which declared high profits last year shows a staggering loss this year. A firm shows extra-ordinary increase in productivity one year. Next year there is a breakdown because it wasn’t shut down for maintenance last year.

An undertaking announces an increase in the salary scale of the employees. Promotions are given to some people on the eve of the departure of the boss on transfer or on retirement.

There is a common thread running through all these occurrences. These organizations are run by human beings. They are all endowed with varying degrees of ego. It impels them to claim as much as the credit as possible during their tenure. This necessitates sub-optimization –that is, pursuing short-term personal ends instead of long-term organizational objectives. In other words, all these incidents occur due to the neglect of routine functions, which by definition are unexciting and monotonous.

Generally all the day- to- day functions and periodic checks and inspections are laid down in the respective organizational manuals. It is a common sight to see fire extinguishers in the corridors of most government offices. A periodic drill is prescribed to check whether the system works and whether the employees are familiar with the required procedures. However, in most cases one finds that the fire extinguishers are overlaid with dust and the buckets of sand hanging by their side are used as ashtrays by passers-by. According to the Secretariat and District manuals, the superior officers are expected to periodically check various registers. But those who do that are dubbed as persons lacking in vision and concerned only with the nitty gritty. An organization to promote industrial ventures boasts of the number of venture it has sponsored. The fact that a large number of the earlier ones have become non-performing assets is never mentioned or never asked. That is considered destructive criticism. Then one day the corporation becomes sick and faces closure.

Neglect of Routine

The moral of all this is that in all bureaucracies – government or private — it pays to neglect the dull routine and, instead, to take up the unusual and the dramatic. When a city is struck by an epidemic those guilty of cumulative neglect of preventive steps are not hauled up. The entire attention of the community and government is then focused on how to get rid of the problem. Huge amounts are readily sanctioned. The ‘villain’ who ought to be punished becomes the hero who has brought succour to the suffering people.

To a large extent this myopic and cock-eyed view is built in to our system. All bureaucracies have a tenure system. They administrators and managers hold their jobs for short terms. Their accountability is limited to that period. They are judged by the results for that duration. That narrows their vision and limits their concerns. Very few civil servants or corporate heads bother to make a long- term contribution. That is so because that will bear fruit after they are no longer upon the scene. The credit will be hogged by the person then in the driver’s seat. That won’t get them noticed by their superiors and the public at large. The building of the institutions is a far more challenging task than creating a four-day wonder or enacting a one-day drama. But that is not rewarded. The prize is for the short-term results.

The Successor Syndrome

And then there is the successor. He too has his own ego and immediate concerns born out of that. The successor will seldom concede credit to his predecessor for having creating the structure or even added a brick to it. All of them stand on the shoulders of their predecessors, but most like to proclaim that they are taller than normal.

This happens in the political system also. In history, the Mughal Empire collapsed three decades after the death of Aurangzeb. The Congress was routed in Indira Gandhi’s own time. MGR in Tamil Nadu and NTR in AP were commemorated in giant cutouts but left their respective states virtually bankrupt. Today it is the populistic measure, which gets passed in the legislatures a jiffy. Often a piece of legislation is pushed through without the public debate and consultation envisaged in the somewhat long-winded process of legislation. The argument given is that the people can’t wait and we cannot be bogged down by delays devised by a ‘colonial system’. The result is that crucial legislation is introduced either through an ordinance or after a short debate in the legislature—from which the Opposition is absent because of a walkout. Later, when the shortcomings and the difficulties emerge, amendments or even reversal are made. The typical cases in this category would be the introduction of Prohibition in Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. The ordinance for the amendment of the Prasar Bharati Act by the U.F. Government would also fall in the dame category. In all these cases the governments acted in haste –and, in the case of Prohibition, repented at leisure. Lessons from the experience of others were not heeded. There is nothing like making one’s own mistake and learning from one’s own experience. Measures both in the parliament and state legislature which aim at winning immediate applause always supercede those which have a long-term perspective. That is because we are all human and human life is short. It is shorter in political offices. In bureaucracies in many cases it is shorter still. In the case of the civil service, its length is rooted in arbitrariness. No wonder then that we are all bothered about ‘our period’. It is that space of time in eternity which we want to be remembered and to be associated with our name. It is not realized that there will be a successor who will start with a blank slate, reinvent the wheel, and dismiss everything done by the person before him. ‘After me the deluge’, is the second part of the boast of which the first is: ‘Before me, nothing’. He will then proceed to launch his own pet projects with great fanfare – again to be completed within his tenure.

The ‘Law’ of Heroism

Our system of appraisal and evaluation is also based on short-term perspective. The holders of short-term offices appraise and review the work of other holders of short-term tenure.
Is there a way out in which the solid, long-term and in many cases ‘invisible’ contribution of persons at the top can be properly judged? It is said that such judgements are passed by posterity. But by definition posterity comes after one’s death. And who is bothered about that? So, we will continue to ignore the measures, which can contain natural calamities. We shall glory in tackling them after they have occurred. We shall resort to limited damage-control exercises, which make heroes out of villains. It is a tragic play in the Greek sense except that the tragedy is not for the hero, but for the spectators.

Thereby hangs a ‘law’ for the executives— ‘if thou wouldst be a hero, live and work for the day; for in the long run, thou wouldst be dead’.


Two nations; one people

Macaulay wrote of revisiting the places of one’s childhood, but he was fortunate in living in the country of his birth, for me to have the same experience, I needed a passport and a visa, because my birth place now belongs to another country Pakistan. So when I got an opportunity to visit the places of my childhood 15 years later, with the Indian delegation to a session of ECAFE held in Karachi, I jumped at it.

After the session, the Government of Pakistan offered to take delegates to Peshawar and the Khyber Pass, I was excited, but our high Commissioner in Karachi warned me that I would’
t get to the pass for ‘security reasons’.

All the delegates were given their air tickets the same evening — except me. I was handed the ticket the next morning but by that time, the flight had left. I took the next flight and reached Peshawar to find the group had already left for the Khyber. I had to content myself with a visit to the bazaar.

The High Commissioner turned out to be right, I don’t know what the Pakistanis gained by the stratagem because I wasn’t exactly a trained spy, just some one out to enjoy the scenery. Then, every Indian was suspect. In private, the official in charge of the arrangements admitted that I had been left behind on purpose. He laughed at he absurd policy and sald there was hide between India and Pakistan because all the ordinance maps had been duplicated and given to both countries at Partition, but official policy is rarely rooted in common sense.

The official also told me a story, which went back to 1947, when the British Indian Army was divided along communal lines. The Muslim officers went to Pakistan while their Hindu colleagues stayed on with the Indian Army During the Invasion of Kashmir b tribals backed by the Pakistani colonel heard a volco over the wireless which sounded like his former subedar major, a Sikh. They identified each other and exchanged greetings.

Having inquired after the family, the colonel asked the subedar major his location. The former junior officer readily revealed it. Then he authoritatively asked him to with draw 50 yards. The Indian JCO obeyed, and the Pakistanis effortlessly captured an important feature.

On the way back form Peshawar, I stopped at Lahore, where I had spent much of my childhood, I hired a taxi from the day and first went to what had been my material grandfather’s house. The family welcomed me when I told him that the house had once belonged to us. They asked me why there were two basements, and I told them we used to spend the summer afternoons there because it was so cool. They were refugees from Amritsar, so they knew the meaning of losing hearth and home. We talked about the pointlessness of Partition the unimportance of religion and the fundamental brotherhood of man.

I then went on to my father’s house. As soon as we had vacated it —temporarily, we had thought —the locals had moved in. Here, too, I was welcomed by the new occupant, who told me that he had found a lot of clothes and valuables left behind in an almirah, he was referring to the dowry collected for my elder sister. I remembered its slow accumulation, necessitated by rationing after the War.

I went to my old school, visited the Mall Road and the Lawrence Gardens and returned to my hotel late in the evening. I asked the taxi driver to the bill. To my surprise, it appeared that I didn’t have to pay. The occupant of my grandfather’s house had picked up the tab.

I was deeply touched. Who were the people, I wondered, who had so brutally thrown each other out of their homes, who had raped, murdered and pillaged? Not him. Not me. Not us. We had merely exchanged dwellings, as it were. Here was a refugee who understood the pain of anther. We were two nations, but one people.

(Indian Express 17-10-1997)

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x + I = T

On 23rd August I had a rare experience. A workshop on Chief Ministers pet ‘Vision : 2020’ was held in the Jubilee Hall.  This was a workshop in which ‘Think Notes’ were presented by 12 Task Forces in crucial subjects like Governance and Development, Social Sector Policy, Industry, Agriculture, Infrastructure, Human Resource Development, Health, Information Technology and Tourism.  The Chief Minister and most of the ministers sat through the workshop as one convenor after the other made their presentations.  Three consultants – two from abroad and one from India were also present besides a number of experts on each subject not only from the State but also from outside. Each convenor was given about 15 minutes and the presentations was made through multi-media on the screen.  I was roped in as one of the experts and so attended the workshop. The workshop was closed to the media.

The presentations were precise, pointed and were refreshing exercises in brevity. They defined the subject, indicated the goals identified the problems, gave the vision of the future and then spelt out the strategy.

As we rose for a late lunch I thought to myself that that was a unique experience for me – and indeed for everyone. Chandrababu Naidu had made the beauracrats dream. He had made them imagine, made them brain storm the problems. Such a thing had never happened before. The civil service has been likened to a missile that doesn’t work and which can’t be fired. And here were civil servants who had over-worked for days together and picked the brains of experts to make this hi-tech spectacle possible.

It was remarkable for another thing. In the course of their presentations civil servants were able to say things which they could ordinarily never have dared to say before the ministers, much less the Chief Minister. They commented on corruption, inadequacy of political will and short tenures. They seemed to have acquired a rare courage suddenly.

Another spin- off was that a lot of statistics were generated - again something which is seldom available in government when you need it. That alone would have been worth the effort.

Also an impersonal ambition was sparked in the minds of the civil servants.  Industry Group wanted to beat Maharashtra, Tourism wanted to over take Kerala and Rajasthan.  Most wanted A.P. to be the foremost State in India. Bravo!

Cynics have lampooned the concept of ‘Vision : 2020’ ever since the Chief Minister talked about it in public. It is a Utopia and the questions often asked in the media are : “Is he sincere ?“ “Will he be around then ?”. The answer to the first question is; he is entitled to a chance.  To the second, the answer is that by the law of averages he will probably not be. But he is young. By the law of exception as in the case of West Bengal, he might be. But to my mind the significance of the event lay in the fact that he had dared to dream. More important, he had made the hard-boiled civil servants dream and think big. He has spread an infection.

It has been said that a politician thinks only of the next election while a statesman thinks of the next generation.  This workshop was about the next generation. Through that, in one sweep, Chandrababu Naidu seems to have lifted himself from a level of a politician and become a statesman. It was the first meeting that I ever attended which was organized by him and in which he sat through moderating and mostly listening. The discussion which followed were frank and free. I must admit that I went a skeptic and returned a believer.

Some good interventions were made including the one by Tarun Dass, Secretary General of FICCI. His suggestion would necessitate a reorientation of Government publicity.

In my brief intervention I gave a formula for the development of tourism. That is x + I = T where ‘x’ stands for anything or even nothing and ‘I’ stands for imagination. You will note x is in the small case. This is to emphasize that the raw material need not be big or may not even be there – like in the case of Haryana, or significant like in the case of Rajasthan and Kerala which now are as the model states in the subject. On the other hand ‘I’ is in capital which means a lot of imagination is needed. In this State there are numerous resources and raw materials crying for development. They are like the sleeping beauties waiting for the kiss of the Prince Charming to be awakened.

Later as I thought over the subject myself I felt that this formula need not be restricted to Tourism. It has universal applicability. What is required is a big dose of imagination. And now I would like to add a ‘C’  to  the equation. ‘C’ stands for courage.

In this workshop a statement about what we want was made. The resource constraint would be applied in the next workshop where a vision of what is realistically achievable would be worked out. Then it would be discussed in public for popular approval.

If the Chief Minster can make the beauracracy, legislature – and beyond – the people share this vision and if he doesn’t allow his integrity to be tainted in its implementation, I could sit smug in the house in the confidence that we are in safe hands and also that we are on the march. A band of workers is busy drafting a blue print for the welfare of the people.  Sometime there is courage needed to dream and that seemed to be in evidence on that day.  To vary Shakespeare, one might say, “Now let it work; Imagination, thou art afoot, Take thou what course thou wilt”.

One hopes that one’s optimism generated by this workshop will not be defeated.


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