Category Archives: Randeep Singh

Cantonese in Vancouver

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Written by Randeep Purewall

Mandarin has overtaken Cantonese as the predominant non-English language spoken in Metro Vancouver homes.[1] That’s the latest report from Wanyee Lee in More Mandarin Than Cantonese Speakers, which featured recently in the Vancouver Metro.

The decline of Cantonese concerns many in Greater Vancouver. Fewer Cantonese speakers have been migrating to Vancouver in recent years. The Cantonese communities of Vancouver are aging and younger generations prefer to speak English.

Still, Cantonese is the third most spoken language in Metro Vancouver. And there are reasons to suspect why it won’t fade out just yet.

First, Cantonese is supported by an affluent community. This community represents a source of investment in the language. For instance, in 2015, the Watt brothers donated $2 million to the University of British Columbia, helping to create the first Cantonese language university program in Canada.

Second, Cantonese is a historically and culturally significant language in Vancouver. It is connected to the Chinese-Canadian heritage of Vancouver, including the community’s pioneers, Chinatown and generations of immigrants. Cantonese opera performances pack the M.J. Fox Theatre in Burnaby while local Cantonese television and radio command large audiences.[2]

Third, Cantonese forms an important part of the identity of Vancouver’s Hong Kong community. As Lee points out, most of Vancouver’s Chinese-Canadians from Hong Kong (or their descendants) live in East Vancouver. This gives Cantonese a geographic concentration in Vancouver and makes it a distinctive community.

Fourth, Cantonese will continue to have a role in an increasingly multilingual world. Many Chinese-Canadians in Vancouver in fact speak Mandarin and Cantonese. Cantonese is often spoken in one context while Mandarin and English are spoken in others contexts. Seen this way, Cantonese may end up co-existing with Mandarin in some instances.

The number of Mandarin speakers has increased in Vancouver, but Cantonese still has its speakers, its integrity and its heritage.

[1] According to the 2016 census, Mandarin has 138,680 speakers to 132,185 for Cantonese.

[2] Thank you to Dr. Jan Walls for your contribution here

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India at 70

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This year marks the 70th year of India’s independence.

Since 1947, India has grown to become one of the world’s largest economies. It has become self-sufficient in food production, developed a space program and created a large skilled, middle-class. And, it has maintained its democratic political system.

In India Unbound (2002), Gurcharan Das envisioned an India bypassing the industrial revolution to become an IT superpower. Shashi Tharoor spoke of a soft-power superpower spreading Bollywood and its spirit of religious tolerance globally.

Both men are loath to admit, however, that, for all its achievements and potential, India remains a poor country. It is poor in terms of the absolute number of its poor and in terms of its per capita income. Its governments have failed to invest adequately in health and education and India ranks lower than Sri Lanka and Indonesia on the Human Development Index.

India has failed to become an IT superpower. While it has produced successful companies like Infosys and Wipro, its high-skilled labour force comprises no more than 2% of the country’s labour force. Industry employs less than 15% of Indian workers with most eking an existence off the land.

India’s secularism and its democratic political system are also being eroded. Under Narendra Modi and the Hindu-Nationalist BJP, the Indian Government has curtailed freedom of expression and dissent by authors, students, scholars and filmmakers. It has also stoked violence against India’s Muslims through its cow-protections laws.

Its worth reflecting on what India is today and where it is going. In Midnight to MilleniumTharoor remarked that the BJP and Hindu Nationalists could not destroy India unless they destroyed India’s political culture of secularism and its acceptance of pluralism. With that culture now being undermined, can India be far behind?

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Hong Kong: 20 Years After

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Written by Randeep Purewall

On April 26, 2017, the University of British Columbia’s Hong Kong Studies Initiative hosted “Hong Kong: 20 Years After,” a symposium on Hong Kong two decades after its handover to China. Convened over by Leo Shin of UBC, the symposium brought together Diana Lary and Josephine Chiu-Duke of UBC with Stephen Yiu-Wai Chu and Petula Sik-Ying Ho of Hong Kong University.

Hong Kong is not a democracy, but it is a pluralistic society with a liberal, rule-based culture. It served as a haven for artists, intellectuals and students in the Chinese speaking world in the 1960s says Chiu-Duke who, while living under the KMT in Taiwan, read newspapers like Ming Pao for their critical perspectives. Hong Kong’s residents also supported the Democracy Movement of 1989, and the city proved a creative force in film and popular culture.

That creative influence may be dying, however. As Chu points out, Hong Kong filmmakers are casting actors from the PRC in their lead roles and catering ever more to the audience of mainland China. The rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents are also threatened says Ho whether in police pepper spraying student protesters in the Umbrella Movement or Beijing’s interference in the governance of Hong Kong University.

How broad is Hong Kong’s democracy movement in any case? One audience member pointed out that the Umbrella Movement was largely a youth movement while democratic reform is rarely debated in the Hong Kong legislature. Chiu-Duke noted, however, that liberal values and the rule of law in societies like Hong Kong may precede the development of democracy as they did in the U.K.

The question of Cantonese was also discussed. Chu pointed to the PRC’s introduction of Mandarin Chinese into Hong Kong schools at the expense of Cantonese. He told me after the symposium about China’s argument that learning Mandarin results in a purer form of written Chinese than Cantonese. Lary, however, argued that Hong Kong citizens will likely speak Cantonese, English and Mandarin as multilingual citizens in a globalized world.

When I visited Hong Kong in 2015, I felt that the city was as socially and culturally vibrant as any other. It was a society buzzing with life and energy. Those who predict its end in 2047 overlook its importance to China both as a source of investment for China and as a world financial centre. Their predictions also assume that the PRC will itself not change politically, including the possibility of evolving toward a more benign authoritarian regime.

It was clear from the start of the symposium: Hong Kong matters. Canadian citizens abound in Hong Kong and the legacy of Hong Kong’s immigrants is apparent in Canadian politics, business and culture. More broadly, as a liberal, post-colonial city and as a quintessentially modern Asian society, Hong Kong will continue to inspire interest.

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Punjabi Poetry: Ustad Daman

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Written by Randeep Purewall

Ustad Daman (né Chiragh Din) was born in Lahore in 1911. As a boy, he worked at his father’s tailoring shop while also attending school. Daman learned classical Punjabi poetry at home and was educated in Urdu. He also learned Persian and English including Shakespeare, Keats and Hardy.

Having participated in school poetry recitals, Daman began attending musha’ara in the parks, fairs and bazaars of Lahore as a teenager during the 1920s. The movement for India’s independence had already begun. In 1929, the Indian National Congress made its Declaration of Independence from Lahore. The city was also home to Marxist groups like the Kirti Kisan and anti-colonial and revolutionary groups like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.

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Daman recited his own revolutionary and anti-colonial poetry at the musha’ara. While attending one such gathering, Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Daman as the “Poet of Freedom.”

‘In China the Chinese are grand,
In Russia they do as they have planned.
In Japan its people rule over its strand.
The British rule the land of England,
The French hold the land of France,
In Tehran the Persians make their stand.
The Afghans hold on to their highland,
Turkmenistan’s freedom bears the Turkmen’s brand,
How very strange is indeed this fact,
That freedom in India is a contraband’
(Trans. F. Sharma).

Daman remained in Lahore upon the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The riots of the Partition had consumed his shop and library and he lost his wife and son to illness. His first act of political defiance came in 1958 when he made fun of Pakistan’s first military coup under Ayub Khan. Daman’s arrest however did little to temper his criticism of Pakistan’s military dictatorships and the corruption of its civilian governments in his poetry.

Daman wrote in Punjabi and the form, rhythm and metaphor of his poetry bears the influence of the classical and folk Punjabi tradition. If he could be sober and thoughtful in writing on the Partition, he could also adopt a more comic and satirical note in criticizing General Zia. He maintained a friendship with poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, but lived unassumingly in an old apartment in the precinct of the Badshahi Mosque.

Daman died in 1984. His poetry was published after his death by his friends and followers. The room he lived in near the Badshahi Mosque has since become an academy in his name.

Selected Poems (Trans. F. Sharma)

We may not say it but know it well
You lost your way. We too.
Partition has destroyed us friends.
You too, and us.
The wakeful have quite plundered us.
You slept the while, and we.
Into the jaws of death alive
You were flung. We too.
Life still may stir in us again:
You are stunned yet, and we.
The redness of the eyes betrays
You too have wept, and we.

What a house, this Pakistan!
Above live saints, down thieves have their run
A new order has come into force
Up above twenty families, below the hundred million.
Other people conquered mountains,
We live under the divisions heavy ton.
Other people may have conquered the moon.
But in a yawning precipice a place we’ve won.
I ran and ran and was aching all over,
I looked back and saw the donkey resting under the banyan.


Two gods hold my country in their sway
Martial law and La Illaha have here their heyday.
That one rules there over in the heavens
Down here this one’s writ runs.
His name is Allah Esquire.
This one is called Zia, the light of truth in full array.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Ecstacy does my land surround
All around the Army is to be found.
Hundreds of thousands were surrendered as POWs.
Half of the land was bartered away in the fray.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

On TV you give recitations from Quran
With fables and traditions you go on and on.
Here we are engulfed in a brouhaha
While up there you are still there, my Allah
A pretender has staked his claim today
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Thankful are some if they can chop wood
The others, on them, their orders bestow.
Why have the people lost their mind?
For every one the Almighty has a loving glow.
People are the real masters of this world
Orders do not from the handle of a sword flow.
The ones, Daman, who have forsaken God,
Those Nimruds are laid low at the very first blow.

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Filed under India, Literature, Pakistan, Poetry, Punjabi, Randeep Singh, Uncategorized

Urdu Poetry: Mir Taqi Mir

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Written by Randeep Purewall

Mir (né Muhammad Taqi Mir) was born in Agra in 1722. His father died when Mir was eleven years old, leaving the boy to seek an education and patronage in Delhi. He was educated in Delhi by the poet and scholar Khan-e-Arzu and supported by a nobleman, but left the city upon Nadir Shah’s invasion in 1739

It was years later after returning to Delhi, that Mir became a prominent poet, winning high-ranking patrons and competing with the poets Dard and Sauda in musha’ara (poetic symposiums). Delhi was being repeatedly invaded during this period, however, by Afghans, Jat and Marathas. For Mir, the times marked not only the decline of the city, but the setting of a civilization.

This age is not like that which went before it
The times have changed, the earth and sky have changed

In 1782, Mir left Delhi for Lucknow as had other poets like Sauda before him. He found patronage in Lucknow at the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula where he received a pension and continued to write poetry. He died in 1810.

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Mir’s verses express the impermanence of life and the grief at the loss of love, beauty and spring. At the same time, his poems underline the transcendent experience and journey of love through the colours of the garden, the movement of the stars and heart of man.

How long is the life of a rose?
The bud just smiles

Mir’s themes of love and beauty and pain and separation established the conventions of classical Urdu poetry and his style inspired later poets like Ghalib (1797-1869). He also helped establish Urdu as a literary language. Mir reviewed and refined the use of Urdu in the musha’ara of Delhi and naturalized its use of Persian expressions. He wrote, moreover,  in the everyday language of the city, making the language of Delhi, the language of poetry.

(Trans. Russell, Islam; Sadiq; Ali)

Every leaf and every plant my state do know
The rose knows not what the garden knows

The world is full of illusions
We behold here what we imagine

The streets of Delhi were not mere streets
They were like the album of a painter
Every figure I saw there
Was a model of perfection

The spring has come, the flowers bloom cheek by cheek
Would you and I might stand thus in the garden!

The greatest sinner, Mir
Was he who adopted love as his religion

The moments of happiness
Within this world were few
Now weep for the smiling dawn
Of the garden like the dew

I never saw the stars so bright before
It was her eyes that taught them how to shine

To keep my eyes on you, and you alone
My one and only heart’s desire is this
To open them only if you are there
The height to which I can aspire is this

Mir, quit the company of Shaikh and Brahmin
And mosque and temple too – leave them behind.
Lay one stone on another in the desert
Worship your Love at your own humble shrine

I grant you sir, the preacher is an angel
To be a man, now – that’s more difficult

Go to the mosque; stand knocking at the door
Live all your days with drunkards in their den
Do anything you want to do, my friend,
But do not seek to harm your fellowmen

What days those were!
When I would drink and climb up to the tavern roof
And fall asleep, the white sheet of the moonlight over me

Man was first made of clay
And if the song you sing be good
This world of clay for years to come
Will listen to your voice

Sources:

Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (Columbia University Press, New York, 1973).

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Mir and Ghalib: Comparisons (trans by F.W. Pritchett), 1997.
http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00garden/about/txt_srf_mir_ghalib.html

Khurshidul Islam and Ralph Russell, Three Mughal Poets (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1991)

Muhammad Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (Oxford University Press, London: 1964)

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Filed under Delhi, History, Poetry, Randeep Singh, Urdu

Films on South Asian Muslims and Islamophobia in the Diaspora

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Written by Randeep Singh

In much of post-9/11 cinema, a “Muslim” is someone whose identity is defined fundamentally in terms of religion rather than nationality, culture, class or ethnicity. Indeed, South Asian Muslims in post-9/11 American cinema are usually portrayed either as religious radicals or terror suspects in films like The War Within (2005) or as exhibiting a bipolar Muslim disorder in The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012).

Thankfully, there have been attempts to understand the more nuanced shades of South Asian Muslim diaspora identity. In The Muslims I Know (2008)Mara Ahmed speaks with Pakistani Muslims in upstate New York on questions of cultural identity and being American while also interviewing others on what they think of Muslims.

Films from the U.K. have also tried to portray the experiences of South Asian Muslims humanistically. One such film is Yasmin (2004). The story of a spunky, young British girl from a Pakistani family in West Yorkshire, Yasmin (played by Archie Punjabi) is forced to choose her identity after the Twin Towers come crashing down.

Another film is Bradford Riots (2005), a film about Karim (Sacha Dhawan), a young university student also from northern England. When Bradford burns in riots during the summer of 2001, Karim finds himself on the wrong side of the mob and the law.

The third film, Brick Lane, is the story of Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a young woman who moves from Bangladesh to East London. The film looks mostly at her life against the backdrop of her family and the British Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets, before and after 9-11.

With respect to identity, Yasmin and Karim are the British-born children of working class immigrants. They are, at most, “Muslim” in an ethnic sense. Like many from working class backgrounds, they are tough, proud and street smart. Yasmin wears a hijab when she has to but otherwise lets her hair down. Karim has his white mates at college and dosses around with his boys back in the pool halls of Bradford.

In contrast, Nazneen is a first-generation immigrant who came to England to get married. Her memories are those of the paddy fields back home with her sister as she adjusts to her life in England and to raising a family. She prays to God, but writes to her sister more often.

There’s a difference in how these characters experience racism and Islamophobia. Yasmin and Karim are labelled Muslim by a society and system. Karim is sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the Bradford riots, raising the question of whether he received a fair trial at a time of such heightened racial tension and the public call for retribution.

Yasmin meanwhile is detained on suspicion of harbouring a terrorist in her husband. Not having gone to the mosque in five years, she is given a copy of the Quran in prison and told which direction Mecca is in. Having suffered taunts at work, she is subjected to the gaze of a police constable who threatens to charge her for withholding information which she doesn’t have.

In Brick Lane, Nazneen’s lover, Karim bears the brunt of racism and Islamophobia. After facing harassment from racist gangs, Karim and starts holding meetings on how the local Bangladeshi community can defend itself after 9/11.

For Yasmin, Karim and Nazneen, being Muslim is only part of their larger identities which are based on culture and nationality. The Bradford riots and 9/11, however, make Karim and Yasmin themselves and whether they’re different after all. Whereas Nazneen takes her religion for granted, for Karim and Yasmin, the Muslim part of their identity is something that won’t let them be.

 

Previews:

The Muslims I Know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PPBbIzq_0E

Yasmin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjzg1PC0QjM

Bradford Riots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJYBX64PdV8

Brick Lane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbd7m00oW6c

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Filed under Cinema, Diaspora, Islam, Randeep Singh, Religion, Uncategorized

Urdu Poetry: Khwaja Mir Dard

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Written by Randeep Purewall

Khwaja Mir Dard was born in Delhi in 1720. The son of a well-known Sufi, Dard was schooled in theology, philosophy and Arabic and Persian. After serving briefly in the Mughal army, he joined his father’s Sufi order in Delhi around 1748.

It wasn’t the best of times for Delhi. The city was sacked by Nadir Shah in 1739 and marauded repeatedly by Ahmed Shah Abdali and the Marathas. Dard stayed on in the city however, even as his contemporaries Mir Taqi Mir and Sauda fled to Lucknow.

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At his home in Delhi, Dard held poetry recitals which attracted Mir, Sauda and Soz as well as the emperor, Shah Alam (r. 1759-1806). A gifted musician, Dard also composed khayals, thumris and dhrupads:

The high and low are equal in my eyes
As the high and low notes on the harp

In addition to his Urdu deewaan, Dard wrote eight Persian works on Sufism. He remained a Sufi in Delhi until his death in 1785.

Dard’s poems are sensual, erotic and, most famously, mystical. As a mystical poet, however, he seeks to live peacefully in the world, not to renounce it. He does not flee from life, but seeks its deeper meaning.

His poems concern the unity of existence, the greatness of man, the mystery of God and the nature of the self. His Urdu is simple and his verse spontaneous and intuitive, carrying both a personal depth and a touch of transcendence.

Dard is widely acknowledged today as one of the “three pillars” of Urdu poetry, along with Mir and Sauda.

If someone has not seen you here on earth
It makes no difference if he sees the world or not

Make the best of your time for life will not come back to you
If some of your life remains, youth will not come back to you

As long as I seek, it’s you I seek
As long as I speak, it’s of you I speak
The longing I feel is longing for you
And when I yearn, it’s for you I yearn

Time moves and soon
We shall be gone
So fill the cup
Let wine flow on

I crossed the garden of the world
And found the hue and scent of friendship’s rose

These flowering fields you love so much
And which receive
Such tender care from you, relate
A different tale to me
For when the flowers fade, the buds
Contemplate
And say: Like them we too one day
Shall wilt away

Give up talk with men and quiet be
Desire only the soul’s serenity
Seek joys of union in a state of wonder
Look for guidance in your heart’s own mirror

Though man was not given wings
He soared higher than the angels

Whom would the preacher
Frighten with his day of doom?
The scroll of deeds I washed clean with my tears

Don’t judge me, O Sheikh, by my drenched cloak
The angels would seek ablutions were I to wring it

Nor heaven nor earth can Thy expanse contain
Tis but my heart that enfolds Thy grace

Roses and greenery
Aren’t worth that inner joy
That place is grove and garden
Which gladdens the heart

Trans. Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition: An  Anthology of Urdu Poetry; K.C. Kanda, Urdu Ghazals: An Anthology from the 17th to the 20th Century; additional translation, Randeep Purewall

 

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