Archive for December, 2016

On the last day of a year we tend to look ahead and I am struggling to put my thoughts together to write a blog. 2016 had been a hectic year of writing, editing and finally publishing my book .

Perhaps, that overdoing is causing a strong writer’s block so I look for the easy way out. Why not make the blog from a collage of the news from around the world describing the passing of 2016 and the coming of 2017.  I look at the list of the New York Times ‘Most Read’ articles of 2016 and this is the one that captures my attention. Published in June 2016 it describes one of Donald Trump’s failures: “At the nearly deserted eastern end of the boardwalk, the Trump Taj Mahal, now under new ownership, is all that remains of the casino empire Donald J. Trump assembled here more than a quarter-century ago.” It takes me a quarter-century back in time for that was the first time I heard about Donald Trump, a graduate of Wharton’s Business school and a business tycoon who was building golf courses and casinos. Later on I came to know more about him through his TV show an excellent job in self-publicity.  I find the article on his lost battle in New Jersey irrelevant as he wins a war on the Presidential campaign front. I do not want to write about his future political empire? As many blogs will be written on it. My wandering mind is already taking me to another Taj Mahal, the symbol of a once mighty empire. Who can write better on it than the poets? How Shakeel Badayuni praised it, how Muhammad Rafi sang it and how beautifully it was picturized on Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala

But then Sahir Ludhianvi’s poem Taj Mahal far surpasses Shakeel’s and  all the other lofty eulogies.  The way he narrates the reality of the Taj to his beloved can convince anyone. I just discovered on Youtube that Sahir’s Taj Mahal was also used as a movie song, sung by  Rafi and filmed on Sunil Dutt and Meena Kumari . As I am floating with the flow of my thoughts I look for my response to Shakeel and Sahir in my book of poems. Please forgive me for I am not going to edit what I have written above. But I do owe a footnote and here it is:

And lo! When the Mahal was made

And the masons and the master builder lavishly paid

The Emperor in his whim severed the very pair

Of hands that had granted life to his dream

“The World should not see another wonder such as thee”

Shah Jahan is said to have wished

A legend immersed in brutality

Hard to believe, but not many deny

For it blends so well with the injustices of imperial history

Shah Jahan’s will! Did it prevail?

Taj stands, its story told and retold

Crossing the oceans it reaches the New World

A neo Mogul here creates his own Taj

With the might of the dollar

He puts to shame his forebear

Cash flows here faster than the waters of the Jamuna

Opulence exists here eternally

The New Taj stands exalted in the richest of the countries

And makes the rich around it thrive

As for the Old, its glory has not gone

The multitudes around it multiply and starve

Between the hubbub of the Old

And the growing din of the New

Sahir’s song fades away even further

He and his beloved long lost in the time, in the multitudes

What is the love of a poet against the lure of dollar?

It is the ancient story of the power of fortune against the twists of fate

Parveen Talpur

(An excerpt from the Footnotes)

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Antiquity had always fascinated me, whether through archaeology or paleoanthropology. Mary Leakey was one of my first heroes, though her quest was to trace human origins and mine turned out to be the exploration of ancient civilizations. Going further back in time, even as a child I was intrigued by the rustic world that lay beyond the lofty walls fortifying my village house. My father had led me to that world.  A man born much ahead of his times, he had resolved to rid his daughters from the curse of purdah and educate them in an English school, hence us three sisters were allowed to explore anything we wanted. For me, almost everything around seemed to hold some secret. Ancient ruins, an abandoned river bed, impoverished shrines and isolated samadhis, aging trees with their massive trunks and the equally old peasants relaxing under their shade were all mysterious.  At my school when I learnt that only an archaeologist could hold the keys to such secrets, I decided to become one.  I never lost hope even when I was enrolling for my Master’s degree in the subject and discovered, at the last moment, that there was no department of archaeology at Karachi University.

I remember walking into the office of the Vice-Chancellor of the university with the request to establish one.  The Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ehsan Rashid, responded with an Urdu verse that I do not remember but its gist was that I had the audacity to jump all the relevant authorities below and approach the highest with a trivial request. Nonetheless, he took my request seriously and assigned one of his staff members to help me.

The University could not open a department overnight, but on my suggestion Syed Muhammad Ashfaque from the Federal Department of Archaeology and Museums was hired to offer courses in archaeology.  This arrangement enabled me and my five colleagues, and many more after us, to study archaeology at one of the largest universities of Pakistan.

In 1979, I was given my first chance to read a paper at the International Symposium on Indus Civilization, sponsored jointly by UNESCO and the Government of Pakistan to help the “Save Moen jo Daro” campaign.  I was the only Pakistani woman who read a paper at that symposium and I was also the youngest speaker. Bridgett Allchin from Cambridge University, England was another woman who along with her archaeologist husband Raymond Allchin presented the paper on their joint research.

An excerpt from my book on Moen jo Daro


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