Karamatullah Ghori’s Book-Launch Event in the San Francisco Bay Area
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Urdu Academy of Northern California held an event on May 17 th at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark, California continuing a series of promotion of the book Baar-e-Shanasaai in Canada and America over the past few months. The book’s author Karamatullah Khan Ghori is a former diplomat who has been Ambassador of Pakistan to several countries including Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait and Turkey during his over three decades long career in the Foreign Service. He now lives in Canada. The book is his collection of thoughts on some very prominent personalities who have impacted Pakistan’s short and tumultuous history.
But before we get to the book itself, its author and the event, two interesting observations: 1) The Urdu Academy is usually not the venue to launch a political work, and 2) Baar-e-Shanasaai has been not been published in Pakistan first, but India (Ghori frequently writes columns in the Indian mainstream media along with his regular contributions in both English and Urdu in Pakistan and North America). One has to admit now that we received convincing explanations for both here. First, Ghori Sahib is an exception to the often anglicized Foreign Service club where English rules. Without a doubt his command of Urdu is amazing and the Urdu Academy is certainly the right place for him to be. All we can add is “Lutf aa giya” (it was a pleasure) listening to him here. But for us who have trouble with advanced or saqueel Urdu, even the title of the book remains complex enough. Second, one can understand why this work was not originally published in Pakistan. It is not too flattering for some of the nine personalities that he has focused on, and the ones praised already generate controversy in the country.
Since the event was held entirely in Urdu, a literal translation is not possible here, and this report should be read keeping that fact in mind. The program itself was introduced by Tashie Zaheer, one of the local luminaries of the Urdu Academy and the formalities were conducted by Ali Hasan Cemendtaur, a very talented panelist and journalist from the San Francisco Bay area who is equally comfortable in speaking, reading and writing in both Urdu and English. Ghori Sahib’s longtime friend Ahmed Kaleem Hashmi, who has lived in this region for quite some time, introduced him to the audience. Kaleem said that the book reflects what some leaders have done to Pakistan and what people there have done to those who were sincere and genuinely devoted to the country.
Ali Hasan Cemendtaur read several excerpts from Baar-e-Shanasaai. He explained that the book is divided into nine segments, each focusing on a particular personality, out of which six are or have been heads of state namely General Zia ul Haq, Z.A. Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Junejo Sahib, Nawaz Sharif and General Pervez Musharraf. The other three sections are on Pakistan’s only individual Nobel Prize winner to date Dr Abdus Salam, Hakeem Saeed of Hamdard fame who was killed in Karachi and poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Besides two (Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf) the rest have left this world, said Ali. He added that yes, the book has nine formal segments but there are actually ten, the last one being Karamatullah Ghori himself!
A keen observer of the present who has seen a great deal of this world, Ghori Sahib had the opportunity to observe and/or work with some of these people close up. Through works like his we get to know them. His book is the story of the human being behind every leader, said Ali. He read excerpts from the sections on General Zia (Momin ya Munafiq?). The General’s humility was highlighted. His visit to (unknown to him) a Red Light district in Thailand was most entertaining. In the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto section (Aik Moamma) he writes that the leader received his genius from his mother but a feudal mentality from his father. In the end the feudal won in the battle inside. Sections on Prime Minister Junejo, Nawaz Sharif and Faiz Sahib are also very interesting.
Karamatullah Khan Ghori demonstrated his wonderful command of Urdu on stage here. He said that this was the third in the series of his book launch events. He reflected back on his childhood, playing marbles in Pakistan, during which the third try was considered blessed, just like this event. The first launch of Baar-e- Shanasaai was held in Toronto where he now resides. The second was in Los Angeles (sponsored by Pakistan Link), a week before this one. He said that some have told him that he purposely stopped his pen in this book, not divulging all and that he somewhat agreed that this was a trailer. The full movie might follow later. He said that he was working on that project and that Rozgaar-e-Safeer would be the title of his next book, one which we can look forward to reading next year. Ambassador Ghori explained the importance of education and writing in his early family life and shared some interesting anecdotes with the audience. He said that he was always a “pen warrior” and will remain so as long as he is physically able to write.
Ghori said that he started writing the book on a request from his friend Asif Noorani. He added that for several years he wrote a column in the Dawn newspaper anonymously - under another name and the only persons who knew that reality were the newspaper’s editor of the time Ahmad Ali Khan (whom he held in very high esteem) and the accountant who used to send him his monthly check! He also explained why he wrote the book in Urdu even though he has not made any money writing in his mother tongue.