An evening with a dreamer

I met Ahmad Habib, the young artist and poet, for the first time on a solo exhibition of his oil paintings titled ‘Splash of Life’ at Nomad Art Gallery, Saidpur village. While he seemed quite busy painting, strange objects, he didn’t seemed disturbed as I kept on asking him a hundred questions about his colour compositions, his brush strokes and different objects in his paintings. In his collection of 27 contemporary paintings, each painting had a different story. But one thing was common in all his stokes- a feeling of peace, beauty and above all ‘love’. Here is my account with a dreamer:

BN: We live in a period of one of the worst socio-political crisis? Can art touch us, reach us, in the same way it once did?
AH: It sure can. All forms of art depict its time and environment. The socio-political environment leaves an impact on an artist, be it a writer, poet, sculptor or a painter, in the same way, it affects a common man. It’s just that artists are the sensitive beings. What they see, listen or feel – they express it through their works.

BN: Talking about your latest body of work, in this painting titled ‘Down to the Valley’, I see some bridges, trees, and empty spaces – what does it indicate?
AH: For me, colours are what exist in my mind; and what I absorb from nature to constitute my own inner vocabulary. In this painting, the bridges, trees, and empty spaces indicates ups and downs in man’s life. Architecture of the dwellings offers a glimpse into creativity of villagers, who design houses to their own satisfaction, keeping them as close to nature as possible.

BN: Tell us about your series of painting titled ‘With My Self’?
AH: These four paintings are dedicated to the memory of Afghan sculptor Shabgard, who was killed during the Afghan war. ‘With My Self,’ portrays the fragility of the human beings versus the sturdiness and brutality of the environment in which they live.

BN: What are some of the influences behind your paintings?
AH: When I sit down to paint mostly, I only have a dot in my mind. I just nurture it, care for it like a seedling and wait for it to sprout. And when sometimes it does sprout like a dream - I try to make my dream come true in the shape of my painting.

BN: How do you decide upon your compositions? The colours you use?
AH: Often, the most difficult part for painters is choosing the colours but I don’t put myself into the problem of choosing the colours. I just recall my dream and pick the exact colour I dreamt about. My paintings are not the slave of formal compositions which are taught in school. Most of my canvas gives empty looks, some of my critics say that my paintings give an impression of being unfinished; I never gave them any reply because they were not there when I was dreaming. I would rather say that I don’t know much about colours, because the colour tubes are easy to buy from the market and this can be done by any one who has few rupees in his pocket. You just have to press the tubes to extract these colours on your pallet and spread around with the brush. The art is not in the colours, but in my humble opinion, it is the name of articulating your feelings. So I search for my feelings. That search is the most difficult time for me. I drown in myself and try to go through what I am feeling. Some times I am successful; and some times I just retreat without any success and just wait for another revelation.

Ahmad’s paintings leave quite an impression on common people, trapped in the anguishes of day-to-day life and the unruly environment. His paintings reflect the beauty of ordinary objects, things that many of us do not care to appreciate in everyday life. Seeing his paintings is just like reading a whole new story of love, with minimum words. This is exactly his style of painting; he paints - with minimum strokes – an entirely novel story of love.

Bushra Naz

A voice from the roots

I went to Mecca but I did not find the truth,
Even though I prostrated myself a hundred thousand times over,
I went to the Ganges but I did not find the truth,
Even though I bathed myself a hundred thousand times,
I held the rosary; I turned the beads in my hand,
But I did not turn the heart in my breast.
I went inside the mosques and the temples
But I did not go inside myself.

These heart throbbing lines by Bullah Shah were sung by Arieb Azhar in the most inspiring voice in his concert ‘A Melodic Expression of Spirituality’ last Thursday. His songs sat the audience on the edge of their seats, wrapped in mysticism. This concert was organised by Asian Study Group (ASG) in collaboration with Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) as a seasonal event with the theme ‘Peace and Tolerance’. Besides concert, the event also featured a painting exhibition of 10 oil paintings by Shafique Faruqi titled “Mysticism through Colours.

First impression can be deceiving as apparently Arieb Azhar is one cool dude, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and shaved head covered in a bandana. But when he played the first single from his album Wajj, ‘Husn-e-haqiqi’ he captured the hearts of audience through his magical voice. The single is set to the Sufi poem written about a hundred years ago. It ponders the beauty of truth and the nature of god. It's not unheard of for these poems to be sung, but never in quite this way.

With scintillating voice, he then sang “Allah Hoo- Alif Allah Noor Paay” and continued with mystic poetry of Bullah Shah, Sultan Bahu, Sarmad Sehbai, Khawaja Ghulam Farid and Guru Nanak. By the time, he sang the Rajhistani folk song ‘Kesarani Balam (Long haired beloved), the audience was completely overwhelmed. At the concert, Arieb Azhar was accompanied by Zeeshan Mansur on guitars, Akmal Qadri on flute, Amir Azhar Rubab on Bass and Ajmal Khan on ‘tabla’, all of them truly did justice to their instrument playing.

Arieb said ‘True music is the union between the individual and the universe - a release, rapture, celebration, quest, and lament of the human spirit. If I am able to touch that in the moments of my life, I will consider myself fortunate’. He continued, ‘Some of my earliest memories are of Shaukat Ali singing Saif-ul-Muluk, and later of Abida Parveen’. He added that he found the ‘feel’ he was looking for but the task of interpreting it in songs was far from over!

Fascinated with music for as long as he can remember, Arieb Azhar grew up listening to Eastern and Western classical and folk music that influenced his love for ‘roots’ music, and has always used the guitar as an accompanying instrument. The artist went to Croatia and Yugoslavia at the age of 19 for his studies and spent the subsequent 13 years there. In 2003, he moved back to Pakistan with the aim of immersing himself in the music of the Subcontinent. According to him, “I felt I needed to return to my roots in order to rediscover the genuineness of my music.” He has performed and been involved in leading music festivals of the country, such as the Rafi Peer World Performing Arts Festival and Sufi Festival, and more recently, the Coke Studio Projects.

Hats off to Asian Study Group and Pakistan National Council of Arts for organising a truly scintillating event - that was a relief for people watching violence on their TV screens. Events like this demonstrate the world that we are a land with our roots in the powerful ideology and life long struggle of great people rather than a country of terrorists. Love, peace and divine knowledge through direct experience of God are some of these powerful messages.

Bushra Naz
Published on: 14 October 2009, Daily Mail
(The e-paper)
For my other writings, see the archives.

My God, you’re still whining!

Mostly, everybody I know, my colleagues, friends, acquaintances…they all have to talk about their worries regarding either their jobs, family lives, love lives and if not this then this country and politics. Seeing them often makes me feel that everybody is trapped in a life they are not much happy with, since they are always whining and complaining about it. I’m getting fat, I’m overworked, my boss is such a freak, I’m going to be jobless soon, I am hopeless of this country and its people, and most of all I don’t have enough money. Why do we always have to complain?

We all have lost our real selves in the day to day things going around us. We are trapped in a routine life. Therefore, we cannot hear our selves. We fail to hear the sweet songs of chirping birds because we’re too busy to hear our whining boss. We can’t laugh with the laughing trees as the breeze rustles through their leaves; or smile with the warm sun that smiles on us everyday - all because we have too many worries to care about. We can’t see the love of God for us as we glance over freshly grown flowers, for one gives flowers to show his/her love to other. But we can’t spot it because we are too busy chasing the other love pursuits of our life.

Our day starts with all the worries that revolve around us, and so does it end. At the end of the day, when we go to bed, we don’t have much in our hands, except of a new worry, a new concern that has everything to do with us and only us. We fail to notice that the whole world is made out of a purpose – ‘love’, the love of God for us, the love of us for each other. Why do we have that much wrinkles on our foreheads then? Is that how a person to whom God and His whole universe love, should look like?

In our crazy lives, have we ever stopped for a moment just to ask ourselves ‘what is the purpose of our lives’? When everything around us has a higher purpose, why don’t we have one? Till when we’ll remain on the receiving end of this universe, taking its favours for granted and not giving anything in return? This is the only reason why most of us are not happy with our lives. Have we ever thought of anything above ourselves, our worries, our day to day chores and desires? What about others - the underprivileged, sick or needy - in whose lives we could make a difference by one simple deed of kindness, by one tender expression of love or by one gentle gesture of support?

I always love these lines from Helen Keller, ‘If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain: If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin, Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain’.

Managing your anger

Anger is one of the most misunderstood and overused of human emotions. It is a normal healthy human emotion though. It only becomes unhealthy when it is too long, frequent or intense. When it is person-directed and destroys interpersonal relationships and reputation.

According to George Anderson, an anger management coach, ‘Anger is not a planned action rather a reaction to an inner emotion. It is the energy that serves a purpose, by giving people the drive and determination to cope with difficult situations. Anger helps release tension. If handled well, anger can help resolve conflicts and improve relationships with others. Anger is an easy emotion to show; everyone gets angry’.
So basically anger serves two purposes: it tells you that something is wrong, and it gives you the energy to do something about it. However, anger can’t tell you how to handle a situation. That’s where anger styles come in.

The other day I came across a book ‘Letting Go of Anger’ by Ron Potter-Effron and Patricia Potter-Effron. They identified the following anger styles which are adopted by most people. Your anger style is the habitual, predictable way in which you handle angry situations.
Anger Avoidance. Anger avoiders don’t like anger, and in many cases they fear anger in themselves and others. They think they’ll lose control if they get mad, or that getting angry is a bad thing. They feel that they’re a good person because they don’t get mad. The problem with those that avoid anger is that they often fail to heed the signs that something is wrong, they fail to act assertively, and they often feel like others are walking all over them.
Sneaky Anger. Anger sneaks don’t let others know they’re angry. Often, they themselves don’t know that they’re angry. However, their anger manifests in sneaky ways, such as “forgetting” to do things they’ve committed themselves to do. When an anger sneak resents some demand from another, they keep from meeting the other’s demands through avoidance, and this can lead to frustrating relationships with those around them.
Anger Turned Inward. Some people feel that it’s safer to get mad at themselves, rather than getting mad at others. Therefore, when something goes wrong they blame themselves, even if the other person is at fault. Although it’s important to ask ourselves how we may have contributed to a situation that has gone wrong, too much anger turned inward can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Sudden Anger. People with sudden anger let all of their feelings “hang out”, for better or for worse. Their anger is like a sudden thunderstorm. They yell and make a big show of force, maybe even throwing things against the wall, and then it’s over. These people often lose control when they’re angry, and they often say and do things in the heat of the moment that they later regret.

Shame-Based Anger. These people feel ashamed by even the slightest criticism. They don’t like themselves very much and often feel worthless. When someone else ignores them or says something negative to them, they take it as proof that they’re not good enough. However, these feelings of shame make them feel bad, so they lash out the other person. Their anger strategy is the following: “You made me feel bad, so now I’m hurt you back”.

Deliberate Anger. Some people use anger deliberately to get what they want. They’ve discovered that they can control others and get what they want from them with their anger. Deliberate anger may work for awhile, but people usually get tired of being bullied around and they figure out a way to get back at the bully.

Excitatory Anger. Some people like the adrenaline rush that comes from anger. Their anger gives them emotional excitement, and their lives feel dull without these sudden “rushes” of intensity and emotional power. If they haven’t gotten their anger “fix” for awhile, they deliberately provoke a fight. Anger may not be a pleasant emotion, but for these people it’s better than feeling bored.
Habitual Hostility. Habitually angry people get trapped in their anger: anger is a constant, background emotion. They wake up grumpy, they’re usually complaining about something, they immediately look for the bad in others, and so on. Anger runs these people’s lives.

Fear-based anger. Fear based anger occurs when someone feels irrationally threatened by others. These people see aggression everywhere: people talking about them behind their back, plotting to take things away from them, and getting ready to attack them physically or verbally. Because of this irrational fear, they spend a lot of time “defending” what they feel is theirs, from their possessions to their relationships with others.

Moral Anger. Morally angry people feel that their anger is for a good cause. These people are always fighting for one cause or another, and whoever isn’t with them, is against them. They feel that their anger is fully justified since they’re on the side of righteousness, morality, and justice. These people suffer from black and white thinking, are intolerant of the opinions of others, and often have rigid ways of thinking and acting.
Resentment/Hate. Hate occurs when someone decides that another person is completely evil or bad. Hate starts off as unresolved anger; this anger turns into resentment, and then it hardens into hate. Hatred makes people bitter and frustrated, and it prevents them from moving on with their lives.

The idea is to recognise your habitual anger style and avoid falling into its trap next time. You need to realise that anger is a good emotion as far as it is healthy yet it needs to be managed properly. There could be several ways people can mange anger. They could work on creating self-awareness through developing certain skills like empathy, conflict management, good interpersonal skills, diplomacy, flexibility, personal accountability and sensitivity to others. They could learn to evaluate candidly what is said and then make a balanced decision. They could relate to others, to persuade or correct them in a nice manner. And most importantly, they could surrender the need to control others.

2 October 2009
Published in Daily Mail, 05 October 2009