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The majestic touch February 8, 2014

Publication: The Tribune Life + Style

By Nonika Singh

The Majestic Touch

Pakistans leading art historian Fakir Syed Aijazuddins rich ancestry speaks in the language of words. A master in the art of telling history, in Chandigarh for a slide lecture show organised by Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademy, he thinks of the reader first and foremost

Dont let the name Fakir befool you. Pakistan\'s foremost art historian Fakir Syed Aijazuddin, recipient of the Order of British Empire, is as regal as it can get. And not merely for he belongs to the illustrious family of Fakir Brothers of Lahore, who occupied positions of eminence in Maharaja Ranjit Singh\'s reign. If his ancestor Fakir Azizuddin was the Sikh ruler\'s spokesperson on matters relating to foreign affairs, two other Fakir brothers were an integral part of the Sikh Court of Lahore. Fakir Imamuddin was the Keeper of the Govindgarh Fort, Amritsar, and his younger brother Fakir Nuruddin was Member of the Regency Council for Maharaja Duleep Singh. Aijazuddin is the direct descendant of Fakir Nuruddin.
In Chandigarh for a slide lecture show organised by Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademy, Aijazuddin carries the air of majesty both in his bearing and ancestry minus the pomposity. About his rich legacy, he is undoubtedly proud. Rather he feels that the Maharaja Ranjit Singh\'s era, when for the first time in history Punjab emerged as a sovereign state, is something that every Punjabi, never mind which part or religion he belongs to, ought to take pride in. He of course was drawn to this phase of history of the Sikh court for more than one reason. Family lineage undeniably was the foremost catalyst for the man who otherwise trained to be a chartered accountant. Oscillating between the world of figures and the mystique of art, straddling both came naturally to him. Not having a degree in history of art became a blessing of sorts as he developed a tactile relationship with paintings. Writing from a vantage view of an insider, he admits, can be a double-edged sword. While the advantage is that one has access to rare insights and material, on the flip side, people do tend to dismiss you as someone who can\'t look beyond his own doorstep.
Of course, his incisive multilayered writings have been taken very seriously the world over. Eminent historian William Dalrymple, who has written the foreword of his book, Resourceful Fakirs, counts him as not only the most outstanding art historian of Pakistan but an extremely interesting one too. The key to making art history readable and enjoyable, according to Aijazuddin, is, "I think of the reader first, put myself in his shoes and write imagining what the reader wants to know rather than what I care to say." No wonder his books are peppered with amusing and rare anecdotes, many of which humanise both people and the period of which he is writing. Actually, his wit and humour not only manifests in his book but in person too. So quiz him on the skeptics refrain, \'history is best forgotten, dead and buried in past\' and he quips, "There is no cemetery large enough to bury it." The need for history, particularly collective heritage, to be cherished he agrees can never be undermined. Or questioned?
In the context of mercurial India Pakistan relations, he asserts it assumes even more significance. And yes, more and more people in Pakistan are waking up to shared history for there is no escaping it. Besides, as he says, "History has no borders." However, it\'s not merely the bygone era that engages him. The man who served as minister of culture between November 2007 and April 2008 delves into contemporary history too. His book From A Minister\'s Journal went down very well in India too and had men like Mani Shankar Aiyar gushing. Aiyar called it, "a wickedly perceptive account." Aijazuddin, however, is a trifle circumspect and says, "I was honest but discreet."
A regular columnist with Pakistan\'s leading newspaper Dawn, he seconds the general perception about Pakistan press being frank and fearless. But he believes that outspoken nature has to be tampered with responsibility and self-determined limits. Words whether imprinted in books or as part of newspaper articles, he deems, can\'t be taken lightly. Indeed, words are not ephemeral but like beacons that will continue to throw light on corridors of time and guide others. At least his would certainly shine through and pass the acid test of times.
nonika@tribunemail.com
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