What makes Zia Mohyeddin tick?

Published: July 4, 2012
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The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore
khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk

The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk

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.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • mr. righty rightist
    Jul 4, 2012 - 1:07AM

    God bless you sir.

    One of the very very few writers who are pure of heart.

    Every time I read your writing, I feel closer to divinity. No sarcasm, no hidden agenda.

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  • vasan
    Jul 4, 2012 - 6:42AM

    He was born in Faisalabad, a city that was cultured before 1947 because of its non-Muslim majority, but is brutally visceral today.
    I am amazed at the frankness of the author and the boldness of ET to publish these lines.
    What is good for the goose is good for the gander as well. What is about Faisalabad is about Pakistan as well.

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  • Ahmed sidduqui
    Jul 4, 2012 - 7:30AM

    Kot is thought to be Dravidian in origin. Example, kottai means fort in Tamil in the past 2000 years of literary record. Same root also found in other Dravidian tongues. Wonder if Brahui which is remnant of once widespread Dravidian languages in pakistan have this root as well.

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  • Dr Killjoy
    Jul 4, 2012 - 9:53AM

    …wait. Where’s the rest of this article?

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  • Raza Khan
    Jul 4, 2012 - 10:42AM

    Beautiful article! God bless you Khalid.

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  • unbeliever
    Jul 4, 2012 - 1:02PM

    @Ahmed sidduqui:
    there’s a huge body of literature on this aspect….
    a great many dravidians believe that brahui is indeed the remnant of dravadian language once lingua franca in this land…..
    and researchers are divided….some nod in the affirmative, while others propose that brahui seems to be a recent migrant form southern part of india, because of absence of avestan loanwords….the topic is quite close to my heart, and i indeed have tried to read as much as possible…

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  • Jul 4, 2012 - 1:04PM

    Yes true the article seems incomplete. It distracts in the end and leaves the reader confused.

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  • Jul 4, 2012 - 1:05PM

    Yes the article seems incomplete. It distracts in the end and leaves the reader confused.

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  • Zalim Singh
    Jul 4, 2012 - 3:17PM

    good article sir.

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  • Ashiq Hussain
    Jul 4, 2012 - 10:49PM

    Vasan…the culture is under attack these days. the only remnants are from non muslim majority areas. !

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  • Cynical
    Jul 5, 2012 - 7:01PM

    Khaled Ahmed is awesome.Every article leaves me more hungry for the next.
    A truly refined intellectual.I

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  • Zalmai
    Aug 9, 2012 - 7:03PM

    The Farsi language is vast and it has various words that can be utilized to express or define grass, mainly they are chaman, sabza and alaf but khas is not one of them. Farsi speakers never use the word Khas to describe grass or ghas.

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