Haleem Brohi: The non-conformist

By Amar Sindhu

As a result, none of his work was taken seriously by local critics except for Fahmida Riaz who cited his novel Odah (Inferno) in her book Pakistan: Literature and Society as a landmark in Pakistani literature. This novel was based on the Freudian concepts of male sexuality. “We have this fantastic short Sindhi novel Odah/ Orrah by Haleem Brohi,” Riaz wrote. “It is a minor classic about male sexuality and about the sexual act turning into a terrible mental torture. It has unforgettable sentences such as, ‘I am walking, endlessly, in this thick white marsh, under a mercilessly blazing sun.’” Riaz also mentioned this novel in her recent interview with Herald magazine.

Unlike his serious writings, Brohi’s humourous writings were widely read with the same interest by both his lovers and haters. He often laughed over the fact that he has been read more by those who dislike him.

Brohi’s articles on the history of South Asia, its languages, ethnicities and races often appeared in English newspapers but went unnoticed by scholars. In his view, the Indus Valley civilisation is not from the north originally, or have roots in the Arab civilisation, but is actually an extension of the south. For him, the present map of South Asia is a political one, whereas culturally it is a single entity, a land with undefined borders. “The history of South Asia is enchanting, with a touch of mystery. It requires the nose of a detective to sniff out the history from the manipulation by the bigots who settled in South Asia. It was not South Asia but Mahabharata.” What is now known as SAARC Brohi called the seven limbs of the same culture. He believed that the academics and scholars who are influenced by the theory of cultural connections between Sindh and Arabs are simply fooling people and spreading lies about the history of Sindh.

Brohi found himself unfit in the society where he was destined to live. “I find myself placed in society which is dedicated to the purpose of eliminating merit, talent, creativity, efficiency, honesty and labour, and to do it once and for all,” he said. “Where the will of the mediocre and outright duffers prevails and every whim of the libertines is carried through; where plebeian public relations counts as the single quality for survival as a human being.” He also wrote that “It is a society that can rightfully boast of having to its credit the cultivation and promotion of a culture that has produced truckloads of pseudo scholars, pseudo literati, pseudo teachers and pseudo administrators.”

Brohi was an extraordinary person living in the age of mediocrity. Due to his unconventional attitude he suffered both in his personal and professional lives. “With our playful hands we often break the toys we adore the most but it is irrelevant that I broke all my toys long ago and my playful hands have seen no more since,” he described painfully. To explain himself he often said, “I am a writer by habit not by design. I have not mattered much to myself. I have no other words to explain my idiosyncrasies.”

Brohi touched the heights of great humour in Sindhi literature. “The humour of any humourist sustains only for 10 years, therefore you should count the life of a satirist as 10 years only. And those who prolong their humour for more than 10 years have readers laughing at them rather than at their writings.”

Deeply influenced by American humour writer James Thurber, Brohi also worked on the texts of old fables with the tools of the social values of modern times. His stories of kings and queens were about the miseries of common people. In fact, the king and queen of his stories were none other than him and his wife; their relationship always remained troubled. “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humourist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people — that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature,” said Thurber.

There is a very thin line between tragedy and humour but in Brohi’s case, this line disappears. The man who dared to laugh at every folly of the heavens, society and even himself is now resting in a graveyard. He has left behind no literary corner, his birth or death are not marked. But countless bundles of files with hundreds of written pages are left for those who loved him, with all his faults and follies.

In the end, let me confess that I too was one of those to whom Brohi handed over the files of his published and unpublished work but I am still waiting for an official literary authority, be it the Sindhi language authority or the Sindhi Adabi Board, to come forward to publish his work. Some of his unpublished work is on the history of the language and literature of Sindh. But they will never step forward because his entire remaining work is not in Sindhi but in English and they would have the excuse that they have nothing to do with any language other than Sindhi. Brohi would be the only who can laugh at this level of mediocrity which he had always faced when he was alive.

As a result, none of his work was taken seriously by local critics except for Fahmida Riaz who cited his novel Odah (Inferno) in her book Pakistan: Literature and Society as a landmark in Pakistani literature. This novel was based on the Freudian concepts of male sexuality. “We have this fantastic short Sindhi novel Odah by Haleem Brohi,” Riaz wrote. “It is a minor classic about male sexuality and about the sexual act turning into a terrible mental torture. It has unforgettable sentences such as, ‘I am walking, endlessly, in this thick white marsh, under a mercilessly blazing sun.’” Riaz also mentioned this novel in her recent interview with Herald magazine.

Unlike his serious writings, Brohi’s humourous writings were widely read with the same interest by both his lovers and haters. He often laughed over the fact that he has been read more by those who dislike him.

Brohi’s articles on the history of South Asia, its languages, ethnicities and races often appeared in English newspapers but went unnoticed by scholars. In his view, the Indus Valley civilisation is not from the north originally, or have roots in the Arab civilisation, but is actually an extension of the south. For him, the present map of South Asia is a political one, whereas culturally it is a single entity, a land with undefined borders. “The history of South Asia is enchanting, with a touch of mystery. It requires the nose of a detective to sniff out the history from the manipulation by the bigots who settled in South Asia. It was not South Asia but Mahabharata.” What is now known as SAARC Brohi called the seven limbs of the same culture. He believed that the academics and scholars who are influenced by the theory of cultural connections between Sindh and Arabs are simply fooling people and spreading lies about the history of Sindh.

Brohi found himself unfit in the society where he was destined to live. “I find myself placed in society which is dedicated to the purpose of eliminating merit, talent, creativity, efficiency, honesty and labour, and to do it once and for all,” he said. “Where the will of the mediocre and outright duffers prevails and every whim of the libertines is carried through; where plebeian public relations counts as the single quality for survival as a human being.” He also wrote that “It is a society that can rightfully boast of having to its credit the cultivation and promotion of a culture that has produced truckloads of pseudo scholars, pseudo literati, pseudo teachers and pseudo administrators.”

Brohi was an extraordinary person living in the age of mediocrity. Due to his unconventional attitude he suffered both in his personal and professional lives. “With our playful hands we often break the toys we adore the most but it is irrelevant that I broke all my toys long ago and my playful hands have seen no more since,” he described painfully. To explain himself he often said, “I am a writer by habit not by design. I have not mattered much to myself. I have no other words to explain my idiosyncrasies.”

Brohi touched the heights of great humour in Sindhi literature. “The humour of any humourist sustains only for 10 years, therefore you should count the life of a satirist as 10 years only. And those who prolong their humour for more than 10 years have readers laughing at them rather than at their writings.”

Deeply influenced by American humour writer James Thurber, Brohi also worked on the texts of old fables with the tools of the social values of modern times. His stories of kings and queens were about the miseries of common people. In fact, the king and queen of his stories were none other than him and his wife; their relationship always remained troubled. “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humourist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people — that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature,” said Thurber.

There is a very thin line between tragedy and humour but in Brohi’s case, this line disappears. The man who dared to laugh at every folly of the heavens, society and even himself is now resting in a graveyard. He has left behind no literary corner, his birth or death are not marked. But countless bundles of files with hundreds of written pages are left for those who loved him, with all his faults and follies.

In the end, let me confess that I too was one of those to whom Brohi handed over the files of his published and unpublished work but I am still waiting for an official literary authority, be it the Sindhi language authority or the Sindhi Adabi Board, to come forward to publish his work. Some of his unpublished work is on the history of the language and literature of Sindh. But they will never step forward because his entire remaining work is not in Sindhi but in English and they would have the excuse that they have nothing to do with any language other than Sindhi. Brohi would be the only who can laugh at this level of mediocrity which he had always faced when he was alive.

Courtesy: DAWN
http://www.dawn.com/news/1075486/column-haleem-brohi-the-non-conformist/1

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