POSTCARD USA: Royal road in New York —Khalid Hasan
The story of Anarkali is a myth and not a very nice one either because she was buried alive on orders from the most enlightened Mughal king, Akbar. Is that what we are going to show in New York, namely that we bury young women alive if they cross the line?
What is it about kings, queens and royal courts that so fascinates Pakistanis! Over the years, I have come to believe that what we want is neither a parliamentary, nor a presidential, nor a military system: we want the return of kingship.
Pir Ali Muhammad Rashdi (I hope I am spelling his first name correctly and not getting into the crosshairs of Ijaz-ul-Haq’s counter-blasphemy hit squads) was a man of much wisdom and though everybody at the time made fun of a suggestion he made to Ayub Khan, in hindsight, it should have been accepted. Had Ayub declared himself King of Pakistan, as the Pir suggested, instead of promoting himself to the utterly ridiculous rank of Field Marshal, today we would have had His Royal Majesty Zill-e-Subhani, Muhafiz-e-Islam, Ghazi Gohar Ayub Khan Hazarvi as our King.
Unless Gen Pervez Musharraf is advised otherwise by income tax wizard Tariq Aziz, I would suggest that he resurrect the Rashdi proposal. Since he is so good at them, why not hold a national referendum on the issue. There should also be another amendment in the constitution — 137th if my count is right — laying down that Pakistan will have only kings, not queens. That would once and forever rule out Ms Benazir Bhutto.
This will only be a recognition of the true Pakistani character. We are always crowning our heroes and heroines. Madam Nur Jehan was given the title of Malika-e-Tarannum and Roshan Ara Begum was dubbed Malika-e-Mauseeqi. Had the Quaid permitted us, we would have put a golden crown on his head. One might as well perhaps admit then that this is the way we are. If Gen. Musharraf decided to abolish the assemblies, tear up all copies of the, in any case, unrecognisable 1973 Constitution and declare himself King, with Mushahid Hussain Syed as Herald-in-Chief, he will have my backing.
But why sitting in distant Washington am I thinking of kings and queens (and, in between, knaves)? Well, that is all I can think of since I read that Gen Musharraf has been invited to be “chief guest” in New York come September at a performance of Anarkali. (In no country except Pakistan, is there such a bird as “chief guest”, since all guests are treated not as Indians but as “chiefs”) The best camouflage for anything that one is in doubt about has always been “charity”, so this performance is also for charity. The money raised, according to a news agency report, will go to the good work and workers of national human development foundation.
While I have nothing against human or animal development or even foundations (except the Foundation University in Islamabad that does not have the guts to call itself the Fauji Foundation University), surely a play representative of contemporary Pakistan, a play of this time and place, a play about issues more serious than princely myth, should have been staged. I know it is heretical to suggest this, but I will go ahead and do so anyway, since I already have scores of black entries against my name in the files of every Pakistani snoop outfit. If a play were to be staged in New York, it should have been Shahid Nadeem and Madeeha Gohar’s Bullah. But then the husband-wife team I have named has nothing but black circles around its name in every sarkari file.
But why Anarkali? What has it got to do with Pakistan or Pakistani history and culture? We are not the descendants of the Mughals and the Mughals were not our kings, nor did they consider themselves Indian kings. The story of Anarkali is a myth and not a very nice one either because she was buried alive on orders from the most enlightened Mughal king, Akbar. Is that what we are going to show in New York, namely that we bury young women alive if they cross the line?
Since this is getting much too serious, let me close with a priceless Madam Nur Jehan story. After she had decided that she was going to make no more films, she was approached by a producer who said that he wanted to cast her as heroine in a movie about Anarkali. “Then you will have to call it Purani Anarkali,” Madam replied.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is email@example.com