Archive for Life

Land reform vs. agrarian reforms in Pakistan

Recently I read some thing calling for land reform in Pakistan. Land reform is important, but leftists need to be clear on the parameters and forms of land reform necessary. Here are some tentative thoughts.

It’s not enough to break up large landholdings and to distribute them amongst small farmers.

For many small farmers who already have possession of land, they lack the capital (that is, money) required to invest in the land to make it intensively productive. They cannot afford fertilizers, pesticides, appropriate seeds, and other forms of inputs needed to make things work out.

Additionally, some kinds of capital, especially machinery, requires extensive (not just intensive) farming. The smallholding patterns, with individual households making individual decisions about crop growth and consumption/sale, will and does get in the way of potential for larger scale farming.

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Racism and class struggle

Often white (but not only white) “progressives” and “Marxists” will complain about how raising issues of racism or national oppression divert attention away from organizing people along class lines. How can the unity of the working class be achieved on an international level if we keep talking about racism and national oppression. There is a vulgar idealism at work here, the kind that imagines that because people think or talk about race, that’s why racism exists. “Gee, if all we did was stop thinking ourselves in terms of races, it would all go away,” or that racism and national oppression acquire a reality only on the level of discourse. This kind of view is just wrong.

When I talk about racism and class struggle I am not talking about the cute little things that a lot of us petty bourgeois racialized people like to talk about. We like to complain about white privilege as a cultural category alone, for instance. Like when white people wear blackface or wear geisha costumes. That shit is ignorant, but that is not even the primary problem of racism and class struggle. What’s more important is understanding the entire set of social relations that enable white people to even imagine thinking they can dress up as another race or culture. This is more insidious.

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Life lessons from Islamic Studies

When I was in primary school I had a class called Islamic Studies in English. I think we had one in Arabic, too, but I probably flopped that one. I remember that as part of our homework we were supposed to have read chapters from the course textbook (stuff like when you walk you should not display haughtiness, or be rude by spitting on the ground, but be humble for being a creature of Allah).

We were supposed to get the chapter or something signed by our parents. I don’t recall my father ever testing my knowledge or understanding of the chapters, but he would often sign it anyway.

There was a hefty punishment for not getting it signed. I think, but can’t say for sure, that corporal punishment was involved. Certainly, from the one vignette I can remember, students who hadn’t gotten their books signed were being sent to the front of the class. Perhaps to have their hands slapped with two of those foot-long wooden rulers that had been rubber banded together, the rulers would be pulled back and then released on the palm of the hand — snap. I do remember having been punished with that ruler at other times, and I do remember that it stung.

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Here I am trying to do something on my laptop. A moth flies around me, and reflexively I try to shoo it away. It persists. My attempts to make it go away are ineffective. It lands on my finger. I am too tired, I concede.

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Shade of love…

This is my translation of a poem by my homeboy Makhdoom Mohiuddin. I did this last week, and the translation is still a work in progress — so if you know Urdu and English, and have suggestions, please hit me up in the comments (same goes for transliteration).

The poem itself was collected in his 1944 anthology, Surkh Sawera, or Red Dawn.

محبّت کی چَھاؤں
مخدوم محی الدین

ہم محبت کی چھاؤں میں سوتے تھے جب
خار بھی پُھول معلوم ہوتے تھے جب

ابتدائے جنون کی وہ اک بات تھی!
وہ محبّت کی تاروں بھری رات تھی

دِل کے تاروں سے مِضراب ٹکراگیا
آتشیں لئے اُٹھی کیف ساچھاگیا

حُسن کا وار جو تھا وہ بھر پور تھا
جس کو دیکھا نظر بَھر کے وہ طُور تھا

دِل کو اک بار سَب دھوگئیں بجلیَاں
میری رگ رگ میں حل ہوگئیں بجلیَاں

دردِ دل کا بَہانہ بَنی دِل لگی
آنسوؤں کا فسَانہ بنی دِل لگی

پَل کے پَل میں بدلنے لگی زندگی
غم کے سانچوں میں ڈھلنے لگی زندگی

چاہ کا دِن ڈھلا شام ہونے لگی
دِل دھڑکنے لگا آنکھ رونے لگی

رات اور دن یُوںہی آتے جاتے رہے
حُسن اور عِشق تکمیل پاتے رہے

muhabbat ki chhaoN
makhdoom mohiuddin

hum muhabbat ki chhaoN meiN sote the jab
Khaar bhi phool maloom hote the jab

ibtida-e junooN ki woh ek baat thi
woh muhabbat ki taaroN bhari raat thi

dil ke taaroN se mizrab Takra gaya
aatisheeN lae uThi keif sa chha gaya

husn ka vaar jo tha woh bharpoor tha
jis ko dekha nazar bhar ke woh toor tha

dil ko ek baar sab dho gaeeN bijliyaN
meri rag rag meiN hal ho gaeeN bijliyaN

dard-e dil ka bahaana bani dil lagi
aanso’oN ka fasaana bani dil lagi

pal ke pal meiN badalne lagi zindagi
gham ke saanchoN meiN Dhalne lagi zindagi

chaah ka din Dhala shaam hone lagi
dil dhaRakne laga aankh rone lagi

raat aur din yooNhi aate jaate rahe
husn aur ishq takmeel paate rahe

Shade of Love
Makhdoom Mohiuddin

When I slept in the shade of love
Even thorns seemed to be flowers then

That was a matter of the beginning of passion!
That was a night of love, full of stars

My heart’s strings were struck by the pick
Fires rose up, a kind of intoxication cast over

The one endowed with beauty was endowed abundantly
The one I looked at endlessly was revelation

Once my whole heart was washed over with lightning
Lightning was dissolved in my every vein

My heart’s amusement became the reason for my heart’s pain
My heart’s amusement became the story of my tears

My life began to change in a moment
My life began to be cast in the mould of sorrow

The day of love declined, the evening began
My heart began to throb, my eyes began to cry

Night and day came and went like this
Finding beauty and love finished

Revelation. I’ve translated toor as revelation. toor literally means hill or mountain, but refers to Mount Sinai and to the revelation received by Moses there. On Mount Sinai:

When Moses came to Our appointment and his Lord spoke to him, he said: ‘My Lord, show me Yourself that I may look upon You.’ He said: ‘You shall not see Me, but look instead upon that mountain. If it remains firmly in place you shall see Me.’ When the glory of his Lord appeared upon the mountain, it levelled it to the ground. Moses fell down, unconscious. When he came to, he said: ‘Glory be to You! I have repented before You and I am the first among believers.’ (Qur’an 7:143)

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A book and a birthday

This is a random story. I really like books. You know Walter Benjamin, in one of his essays he writes on unpacking his library. The essay is about not his book collection as such, but about the very process and meaning behind collecting books, and he goes on and on about it. At first, I reacted to it as bourgeois sentimentality, and, soon enough, I realized I was emulating it. Okay, we can all have our vices. The problem is that almost always, whenever I walk into a used bookstore, I can’t walk out without having purchased something; and if it is older, the better. Now this isn’t anything as fancy as what Benjamin’s going after (or, more aptly, anything like what Benjamin’s going after) but I can give you a bit of an idea of what my kind of sentimentality involves.

Over the winter, I was writing a paper on states — that is, the state, what it is, why it is, etc. (and, of course, from a Marxist perspective). I figure the paper would’ve been a really good and sound basis for further studies in political science but that the paper was actually a paper about writing a paper about the state — a “bibliographic essay.” One of the books that was very important in writing this paper was The State and Political Theory, by Martin Carnoy. It was published in 1984 and synthesized many of the Marxist debates on the state up until then (and, in fact, since then the debate has perhaps not gone very far, in many ways). I had to sign it out from one of the college libraries at the University of Toronto because, I think, the Robarts copy is missing (or stolen, it’s worth stealing).

In Markham not too far from where I live, there is a used bookstore. The problem with this one, unlike BMV or any of the other used bookstores downtown, is that stock turnover is really low, and new (old) things take a long time to arrive and be put on display. And, since I spend so many Fridays there, this is one of those rare used bookstores from which I can often walk out without having purchased anything.

But, one Friday, I stumbled upon Carnoy’s book in fine paperback. With the exception of a little bit of hard-to-notice highlighting in the front, the book was spotless. Now, what’s interesting is that what seems to be the original receipt was still in the book. It is a receipt for two texts, actually — one cost $5.95, the other $13.30. I can’t imagine this book costing $5.95, even back in the 1980s (although, the used price was $6.00), so probably it was purchased for $13.30. If, indeed, it is in fact the original receipt. But I’d like to think that it is because the date on the top says “02-12-85”. This, of course, can mean one of two things: February 12, 1985, or December 2, 1985.

For no reason other than sheer sentimentality, which is where we began, I’d like to think it’s the latter — because that’s my birthday.

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بول، کِہ لب آزاد ہیں تیرے
بول، زباں اب تک تیری ہے
تیرا ستواں جسم ہے تیرا
بول کہ جاں اب تک تیری ہے
دیکھ کہ آہن گر کی دُکاں میں
تُند ہیں شُعلے سُرخ ہے آہن
کُھلنے لگے قُفلوں کے دہانے
پھیلا ہر اِک زنجیر کا دامن
بول، یہ تھوڑا وقت بہُت ہے
جِسم و زباں کی موت سے پہلے
بول کہ سچ زِندہ ہے اب تک
بول، جو کچھ کہنا ہے کہہ لے!

فیض احمد فیض

bol, ke lab aazad haiN tere
bol, zabaaN ab tak teri hai
tera sutwaaN jism hai tera
bol ke jaaN ab tak teri hai
dekh ke aahangar ki dukaaN meiN
tund haiN sholay, surKh hai aahan
khulnay lagay qufloN ke dahaane
phela har ek zanjeer ka daaman
bol, yeh thoRa waqt buhut hai
jism-o zabaaN ki maut se pehle
bol ke such zinda hai ab tak
bol, jo kuch kehna hai keh le!

V.G. Kiernan’s poetic translation:
Speak, for your two lips are free;
Speak, your tongue is still your own;
This straight body still is yours’
Speak, your life is still your own.

See how in the blacksmith’s forge
Flames leap high and steel glows red,
Padlocks open wide their jaws,
Every chain’s embrace outspread!

Time enough is this brief hour
Until body and tongue lie dead;
Speak, for truth is living yet–
Speak whatever must be said.

V.G. Kiernan’s literal translation:
Speak, for your lips are free;
Speak, your tongue is still yours,
Your upright body is yours’
Speak, your life is still yours.
See how in the blacksmith’s shop
The flames are hot, the iron is red,
Mouths of locks have begun to open,
Each chain’s skirt has spread wide.
Speak, this little time is plenty
Before the death of body and tongue;
Speak, for truth is still alive–
Speak, say whatever is to be said.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

I’ve read and heard this one a few times, and even in Faiz’s own voice (frankly, he isn’t no Habib Jalib as far as this is concerned). But it wasn’t until today that I heard Tina Sani’s rendition and it really hit me, pretty deep. (Of course, Z sent me this file a long time ago and in my usual indolence I didn’t listen to it until now. My bad.)

Sani’s version on YouTube:

Skirt, or daaman, doesn’t have the gendered implication it would in English. The word, depending on the context, has one too many meanings. Another way to translate the line is to imply that the chains are actually begging. But Kiernan was down with Faiz and the latter looked over the translation. Note, also, the poetic translation, “Every chain’s embrace outspread!”

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This murder…

یہ قتل قتل کسی ایک آدمی کا نہیں
یہ قتل حق کا مساوات کا شرافت کا
یہ قتل عِلم کا حِکمت کا آدمیت کا
یہ قتل حِلم و مُروّت کا خاکساری کا
یہ قتل ظلم رسیدوں کی غم گساری کا
یہ قتل ایک کا دو کا نہیں، ہزار کا ہے
خدا کا قتل ہے قدرت کے شاہ کار کا قتل
یہ شام شامِ غریباں، ہے صبح صبح حُنین
یہ قتل قتلِ مسیحا یہ قتل قتلِ حُسین

مخدوم محی الدین

yeh qatl qatl kisi ek aadmi ka nahiN
yeh qatl haq ka musaawaat ka sharaafat ka
yeh qatl ilm ka hikmat ka aadmiyat ka
yeh qatl hilm-o murawwat ka Khaaksaari ka
yeh qatl zulm raseedoN ki gham gusaari ka
yeh qatl ek ka do ka nahiN, hazaar ka hai
Khuda ka qatl hai qudrat ke shaahkaar ka qatl
yeh shaam shaam-e GhareebaaN hai subh subh-e hunayn
yeh qatl qatl-e maseeha yeh qatl qatl-e husayn

This murder is not the murder of any one person
This is the murder of truth, of equality, of decency
This is the murder of knowledge, of wisdom, of humanity
This is the murder of tolerance and kindness, of humility
This is the murder of sympathy with the most oppressed
This is the murder of not one or two, but that of a thousand
This is the murder of God, the murder of the masterpiece of providence
This evening is the evening of desolation, this morning the morning of Hunayn
This murder is the murder of Christ, this murder is the murder of Husayn

Makhdoom Mohiuddin

(My translation)

Update: This poem was translated into Persian by Eskandar. Makhdoom wrote this poem upon the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr (in 1968). It is the first of three parts, but I’ll leave the other two for later.

Shaam-e-Ghareeban is literally, “evening of the poor,” but I learned from Eskandar’s translation that this refers to the commemoration of the martyrdom of Husayn (see below) on the 10th of Muharram (Ashura), and so, following Eskandar, “evening of desolation” it is.

The Battle of Hunayn was fought between the Muslims and certain tribes after the conquest of Makkah. In the opening part of the battle, the Muslims were ambushed and in disarray despite their strong numbers, which resulted in the slaughter of many of them. The battle was later turned around for Muslim victory, but apparently after great loss.

Husayn ibn Ali was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin. He was killed (martyred) by Yazid’s forces — many considered Yazid to be a usurper of the caliphate — at the Battle of Karbala.

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Writing on Mozambique, pt. 1: Discourse on Development

I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to work on a paper on the politics of Mozambique. The reasons for this are both political and personal, and the ways in which these two intersect. It was due at the end of April, which seemed reasonable at the time, but then a whole series of events followed and life in general took a tanking dive and I’ve been trying to deal with a lot of that. I haven’t been able to work on the paper, and when I try, I fail quite miserably.

But if I can’t bring myself write on Mozambique, perhaps I can write about writing on Mozambique (argh, postmodernism’s revenge!). I’ve done a bit of research — having gone through dozens of journal and news articles and a few books. All of this raises more than a few questions for me, to which I have no satisfactory answer. I hope my musings here will help to, at least, organize the issues for me and give me focus in writing the paper.

I took the class in the first place for a few reasons. I could have taken David McNally’s class on Marx’s Capital — which would have been fantastic, no doubt — but I felt like I needed a grounding in the way capitalism works, internationally, on the ground. I have more than a passing interest in the politics of southern Africa and I wanted, also, to examine how the post-colonial moment has been working out (answer: not well). Also, I heard that this might be one of the last times that John S. Saul would be teaching the class (and, indeed, it was the last class he taught), and that it was worth it to take a class with him. (Saul is a noted scholar-activist, and he was involved in the struggles against colonialism and apartheid, back in the day.) Of course, I also heard and kept hearing other stuff about Saul — vague and non-specific rumours, all of which turned out to be unsubstantiated; and the fact that he seemed to assign his own work a lot was a bit disconcerting, but ultimately, it wasn’t a problem at all.

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On Marxism and Eurocentrism

Well. I’m not going to apologize for being a Marxist.

But it seems that there are some people for whom I have become a caricature of myself, a caricature of a Marxist. No, I’ve never tried to sell papers to you, and though I may have suggested reading a piece or two by Marx, I certainly don’t think I’ve hit you over the head with anything. Oh, I return to Marxist perspectives and ideas in our conversations, sometimes explicitly referring to them as Marxist and other times not, but you can tell — right? — you can tell that that’s Marxist.

And for you, of course, that’s a problem. Because, I guess, Marx is white? Or Marx is European? Marx was Eurocentric? Okay.

And of course, I’ve lost my way. We — those of us who aren’t white — must, by all and every means reject everything that is Western. And, I suppose you imagine that I’ve never had to wrestle with this sense of being detached from my own reality, of being detached and disgusted and even insulted because when I go into a library and stare at a shelf of books on a topic the only thing I can find from the general direction from where I came is some Orientalist’s rendering of an 11th century scholar anyway. So we must reject all of the Western shit because it is Western. No, we must. We must have a visceral distaste for the West and Eurocentrism and look for “alternative epistemologies” and ways of looking at things. Just because.

Which is fine. I don’t envy you your alternative epistemologies. And perhaps you’ve read a couple of Marx’s works yourselves, though I doubt it, and more likely you’ve read a critique of Marx written by some scholar who is far out of his field of expertise. Maybe not even that.

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