He is a classicist, so I would say: understatement. Ghalib or Mir would wake him from his deep-seated restraint; give him Faiz’s ingrained feminine instinct of bearing the pain of someone else’s power projection rather than Allama Iqbal’s longing for power.
Give him classical Indian music and Shakespeare, and he would eat out of your hand. He is high culture, distant, and un-talkative with an ability to communicate in accents Alcibiades would envy. Zia is meiosis personified.
He was born in Faisalabad, a city that was cultured before 1947 because of its non-Muslim majority, but is brutally visceral today. He graduated from Government College (GC), Lahore and worked at Radio Pakistan before joining Radio Australia. He was a debater in Urdu at GC, but was finally drawn to the stage in England, to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Where did I read that he didn’t care too much for his father Khadim Mohyeddin? Reading his book, A Carrot is a Carrot (Ushba Publishing International, 2012), I realised he is nothing but what his father carefully nurtured him to become.
His father loved classical music and patronised the gifted practitioners of it. And he taught English and loved the stage. Out of this came Zia Mohyeddin. People who dote on him in Lahore every December while he reads his Urdu purple patches should know it is all a son’s payback time.
The book is full of people who made his life meaningful. Among them, you find maestros of Indian music, and if you follow him to England, then it is Peter Ustinov who took to him. For Zia, he was an embodiment of the ideal that only Athens and then Renaissance city states seriously pursued.
Can I quote something from the book? I will skip why he thought Shakespeare resisted Reformation, but I will focus on Zia’s sadness over the ideological brainwash of Pakistan.
He writes: “Give any organisation power to generate beliefs and it will make, within 20 years, the majority of the population believe that two and two make five. So much for an authoritarian state, but even in a democracy governments tend to control thought. (p.139)
“The power of authority over belief in the present day is vastly greater than before. No one can deny, in face of evidence, that it is easy to produce a population of fervent patriots. It ought to be equally easy to produce a population of sane, thinking people, but authorities do not wish to do so, since then it would be difficult to admire those in authority”. (p.140)
His father came from Kasur, which he thinks, rightly, is derived from the plural form of ‘qasr’, meaning ‘palace’ or ‘castles’. He lists a lot of kots, which is an ancient way of saying castle: Kot Ruknuddin Chan, Kot Fateh Din Khan, Kot Murad Khan and Kot Hakim Khan.
In Egypt, there is a place called Luxor, which everyone thought was a Greek name, but it was actually al-Qusur in Arabic, converted into Luxor by archaeologists. Kot obviously means ‘cut’, qasr also means to cut or shorten. At Hajj, when you cut your hair, it is called qasr. Taqseer is ‘shortcoming’.
Caesar is Qaiser in Arabic; Caesar comes from Latin ‘caedere’, to cut, because Caesar was cut from his mother’s womb. But Kasur is mentioned in Dasam Granth as being derived from Kush, the elder son of Ram. Kush means ‘grass’ and Muhammad Hussain Azad wrote in Sukhandan-e-Fars that ‘kush’ was Persian ‘khas’, meaning ‘grass’.
Let me guess: the title of the book is a classicist’s act of ultimate demystification.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2012.