N. M. Rashed in the Art Gallery

A few people contacted me recently to tell me about a gallery show of Sabah Husain at the Koel Gallery in Karachi. The show was titled ʿPoetics of Memoryʾ, and engaged with the poetry of N. M. Rashed, particularly the long four-part poem Hasan Kuzahgar (Hasan the Potter).

This poem is central to Rashed's oeuvre and legacy. I have discussed it in extensively in the conclusion of my book, I Too Have Some Dreams, in relation to four major themes—embodiment, position without identity, allegory and collectivity, and temporality. There I describe it is as follows:

Many critics consider it to be one the greatest statements about love and creativity in Urdu poetry, the masterpiece of Rashed’s late period, and among the finest free-verse poems in the language. The poem is a monologue in which the potter Ḥasan addresses the mesmerizing Jahāñzād (literally “daughter of the world”). Each section is set in a different time and place, and each is a variation on a single theme. As such, it resembles a pot, being made and remade. Altogether, the poem narrates Hasan’s transformation.

As Sabah Husain‘s show attests, that poem remains a favorite of Urdu-speaking artists, potters and printmakers alike. Her work engages with selections of the poems text, as well its imagery. For The Friday Times the artist explained,

Rashid talks about Hassan’s inspiration from the rainbow and its seven colours, butterflies and his lover’s face. So I have these as almost pictographs. I want the text, the pictograph and the paper made from the plant fibre, warm and sensuous, to work in unison in these series […] And I have taken the liberty of using lines from all his four poems on Hassan Koozagar and combining them randomly, emphasising certain strains in the poem […] sometimes repeating a word to show its many literary and visual dimensions.

The show consisted of a paper collages called the “Baghdad Manuscripts”—Hasan Kuzahgar takes place in Baghdad and Allepo—as well as a series of paper boats evocative of both Lahore's Ravi River and the Tigris of Baghdad, another important site for Hasan's story. As Sabah Husain notes, the collages involve excerpts from the poem.

Sabah Husain picks up on some Rashed’s most memorable phrases in her artwork, such as my favorite, the shahr-e madfūn (buried city), which occurs a few times within this work with different significances.

It is exciting to see, once again, the interpenetration of literary and artistic circles in Pakistan.

Recent reviews of the show are by Amra Ali (Dawn) and Raza Rumi (The Friday Times).

The slideshow can be viewed below, but do click on the image to zoom in and see the details of the works.

3. Folios from the Baghdad Manuscript III

Printing Right-To-Left PDF Books

Today is the first day of Spring Break, and so I am enjoying some nice weather and not teaching.

I am working on a panel abstract about the poet Majeed Amjad for the Annual Conference on South Asia held in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin. I have applied to bring a certain professor from Pakistan to the event, and two amazing Urdu professors from University of Virginia have also signed on to the panel. I do hope it goes forward.

I found an interesting book on Majeed Amjad through my library. It is actually available as PDF through the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), of which my university library is a member.

It's wonderful to be able to download a PDF of the book. However, I love writing on books. Actually, I don't like writing on my own books but rather on photocopies of them, especially when doing research. I like to print pages double-sided and then keep the pages in a recycled report cover that I can put it in my file cabinet when I am done. That doesn't take much space, and I can see four pages at a time when reading/skimming.

When printing a PDF, you can print two pages a sheet. For left-to-right documents, that is not a problem.

Recto and verso.svg

However, for right-to-left books there is a problem as the verso and recto are reversed, meaning one reads the right page then the left page. It's rather disorienting to read them if they are not printed correctly. So I went about looking for a good solution.

Recto and verso RTL.svg

First, I explored a PDF-manipulation library for the Python language called PyPDF2. It is quite neat, but I had some trouble accomplishing the task of merging the pages.

I then stumbled upon a set of PDF shell scripts called PDFjam. I already had them installed on my computer, perhaps as part of the document preparation system LaTeX. (I use MacTex which is a distribution of Tex Live for OS X.)

There is a program in PDFjam called pdfnup which allows to "n-up the pages of pdf files." To n-up apparently means to combine multiple pages into one, so it was very close to what I was looking for. I was delighted to see the package also includes a program called pdfpun—a right-to-left version and exactly what I needed!

For all the other RTL PDF book printers out there, here is the command I used on the original file dds-85303.pdf to save it as gulaab_ke_phuul.pdf:

pdfpun dds-85303.pdf --outfile gulaab_ke_phuul.pdf

That was close. However, there was a problem in that the pages were two small. I tried messing around with the parameters. The CRL puts a cover page on its documents that is a different size then the rest of the pages. So I tried removing that by instead printing the book's cover page twice. pdfpun allows an optional page-range parameter. I opened up the original PDF and saw that it was 257 pages, so just plugged in the following to print the first page twice and then the rest of the pages:

pdfpun dds-85303.pdf 2,2,3-257 --outfile gulaab_ke_phuul.pdf

The pattern is here:


It worked perfectly. Now I'm off to read the book!

Gulaab ke phuulGulaab ke phuul

Good Times in Pakistan

I received a travel grant from the American Institute of Pakistan Studies that brought me to Karachi and Lahore to give talks in February. This is a (late!) blog post about my rejuvenating visit.

On February 8–10, I attended the amazing Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) and participated in a panel launching my new book, I Too Have Some Dreams: N. M. Rashed and Modernism in Urdu Poetry. The panel was well attended, and the moderators, Asif Farrukhi and Sarah Humayun, both from Habib University, asked excellent questions, as did the audience.

In the photo below, I am with friends Naiza Khan, Asif Farrukhi, and Fahd Ali, and in the second with Kamran Asdar Ali.

Karachi Literature Festival 2015Karachi Literature Festival 2015

I did not know before arriving that there was an Art Section to the KLF! I was very happy to meet a number of artists, most for the first time. My book has a beautiful work by Zahoor ul Akhlaq on the cover, as does the new book by art historian Simone Wille, Modern Art in Pakistan. In part because of our mutual love of Zahoor's work, I was invited to the session launching her book, sponsored by Art Now, to discuss modernism in literature and art.

Zahoor Book Launches @ KLF!With Simone Wille

I was also invited to give a talk at the Indus Valley School of Art and Design (IVS) on Digital Humanities, and I enjoyed that very much. I am very interested in the design aspects of DH, and so it is wonderful for me to address some comments about DH to the IVS audience. I also enjoyed meeting members of the Vasl Artists’ Collective.

image001Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS)

I also had a chance to attend an art event organized by the Tentative Collective that involved a video projection by Naiza Khan of images of Manora on the side of building in Golimar, in an alley near the brass artisans that the artist worked with. My partner Karin Zitzewitz had curated Naiza Khan’s exhibit Karachi Elegies at the Eli and Edith Broad Museum at my university, so I had met her before, both in East Lansing and Karachi. Here are some pictures of that and an audio recording as well:

Manora ProjectionManora Project at Golimar

I also gave a well attended lecture entitled “A ‘Punjabi’ Critique of Sufi Idiom: N. M. Rashed and Urdu Literary Tradition” for the Department of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi. The poster for that talk was quite beautiful, and I am including it below. My (too) complicated talk was covered in the an article in Dawn. The article is good but misrepresents my characterization of the poets Faiz and Rashed, which I have discussed in this article. My talk was followed by recitations (lovely, of course) by Dr. Nomanul Haq, who has been a friend and colleague of mine for 10(!)+ years. His recitations start at ~52:00 in the audio recording below.

I also gave a talk at Habib University. That is an entirely new and lively university with an innovative curriculum. There I gave a talk entitled ‘The Digital Divan: Computation Approaches to Urdu Poetry.’ There was a beautiful poster for that as well, and another nice article in The Express Tribune.

YCSD Public Lecture Series Spring 2015 - Dr. Sean Pue from Habib University on Vimeo.

I later traveled to Lahore where I met with a number of people, including some literary critics and poets who had helped me with my book research. My friend the poet Ahmad Attarecited some of his poetry for me and also all four parts of N. M. Rashed’s Hasan Kuzagar. I hope to post those soon. Ahmad is on the left in the photo below next to M. Salimur Rahman, and with Abbas Tabish and myself in the next. I also made some new friends in Karachi and Lahore and had a very memorable time. I look forward to returning soon.

Ahamd Atta and M. Salimur Rahman With Abbas Tabish and Ahmad Atta

I have posted some of my photos from the trip in this photo album.

First Urdu Review of My Book

M. Salimur Rahman just wrote the first printed Urdu-language review of my book, I Too Have Some Dreams. His article is entitled امریکہ میں ن م راشد کے خوابوں کی بازگش (The Return of N M Rashed's Dreams in America) and appeared in the Lahore-based weeky Hum Shehri. Salim Sahab is a respected poet, critic, and translator. His review, on the whole, was generous and, for the most part, positive. He calls attention to both the form of the book as well as aspects of the argument.

Salim Sahab also states quite correctly that I do not address all of Rashed's poetry but rather focus on thirty poems. Rashed's poetry is quite rich, and there is a lot more to be said about it by others. There are a few aspects of Rashed's poetry I may still want to write about in the future. I am especially interested in his experience and descriptions of New York in the 1950s, for example. I also hope to write or show more about Rashed's uses of sound in comparison to other modern and classical poets. In the process of writing the book I also cut out quite a lot. I may post some of those excerpts here in my blog.

Salim Sahab noted that I mistransliterated the name of Mughni Tabbasum as Mughanni Tabbasum in my book. I say Mughni when I speak, so I am not sure what happened there. I have created a list of errata and added those instances to it—all eighteen of them! There are some other minor (so far!) errors in the book that I have noted, and I am sure there will be more. There may be a revised edition in the future, so I hope readers will let me know if they see anything else.

I do hope my book can be released in India and Pakistan in a revised (and less expensive!) form. I would also be happy if it were one day translated into Urdu and Hindi as well.

Now a Certified Data/Software Carpentry Trainer

A few weeks ago, just before the start of the Spring semester here, I attended a "train the trainers" session of Software Carpentry held on the beautiful campus of the University of California, Davis (#t3davis). The training session was led by Greg Wilson, the head of Software Carpentry, which advocates for proper computational techniques and using educational psychology to teach them. The trainers are all volunteers, and there was a nice group there. Software Carpentry focuses primarily on teaching good computational skills to scientists. It was a great experience, and I learned quite a lot about pedagogy that is applicable to many different domains. There was a lot of videotaping of teaching and some great discussions about lesson design. I haven't done much work on pedagogy outside of language teaching so it was quite useful for me. I am teaching a Digital Humanities Seminar (the topic of my next blog post?) so it is quite relevant to what I am doing right now.

I attended a session of Software Carpentry at Michigan State University a few years ago and found it quite useful. The greatest thing I learned, from my friend Tracy K. Teal, a microbial biologist and current director of Data Carpentry, is what is called tab completion—a way to complete a command on the command line by hitting the tab key. I wish I had known that years before.

From my perspective, there is a huge amount overlap in what scientists and humanists like myself need in terms of computational training, and Software Carpentry and the new Data Carpentry workshops are a great way to teach a lot very quickly.

We are going to be hosting a simultaneous Data Carpentry and Software Carpentry session at/after the HASTAC 2015 conference held at my university, Michigan State. (It's apparently pronounced 'hay stack' and stands for Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory.) The conference will run from May 27–29, 2015, and the workshop will be on May 29 and 30 (Saturday and Sunday, until 3pm). There are a number of humanists and librarians, in particular, who have gotten involved with Software/Data Carpentry projects, so we should have a great group of volunteers running those bootcamps. We are still finalizing the trainers. I will volunteer there, too.

There is some work that needs to be done to tweak the content of the Data/Software Carpentry lessons for humanists, but there is not too much to do.

I have also been thinking about trying to teach my current DH students a little bit of Javascript, which is the language used in most web programming and, as I learned at the Davis session, can even run a full-fledged server in four lines of code using the MEAN stack. (Insane!) I haven't tried that out yet. Since the goal of Software Carpentry, which uses the languages Python and R, is to teach proper programming technique, there is no reason some of the lessons can't be adjusted to use Javascript, too. It's useful for DH people as there are quite a number of neat mapping and visualization tools that work primarily through Javascript. It's also everywhere and difficult to avoid, even if you want to.

Long Time No Blog

I have not updated my blog in such a long time! I hope to fix that, starting now. So watch out for a slew of new posts, until I run out of steam.

I should note, since I mentioned it in an earlier post, that I did get promoted with tenure. So I am now an associate professor. It's an interesting feeling. I want to write more about that in the near future and also think more about the whole university tenure process. All in good time, I suppose.

I Too Have Some Dreams Published!

My book, I Too Have Some Dreams: N. M. Rashed and Modernism in Urdu Poetry, has just been published!

I have created a resource page for it here, http://seanpue.com/itoohavesomedreams. On that page, I will make the thirty poems in the book’s appendix available in transliteration, Urdu script, and (eventually) devanagari for those of you want to read along.

Book Description

I Too Have Some Dreams explores the work of N. M. Rashed, Urdu's renowned modernist poet, whose career spans the last years of British India and the early decades of postcolonial South Asia. A. Sean Pue argues that Rashed’s poetry carved out a distinct role for literature in the maintenance of doubt, providing a platform for challenging the certainty of collective ideologies and opposing the evolving forms of empire and domination. This finely crafted study offers a timely contribution to global modernist studies and to modern South Asian literary history.

Who Was Ghalib?

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I am looking forward to attending a workshop this coming weekend on “Who Was Ghalib?” at Columbia University. It is also a retirement party for Frances Pritchett, so I have designed the poster above. It contains the 150 most common words in Ghalib’s poetry displayed using Columbia’s palette. I have more to say about word clouds in Urdu and Hindi, but the poster will have to suffice for now.

You can download it here: PDF PNG.