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1 CONTEMPORARY POETRY FROM PAKISTAN POEMS OF AFZAL AHMED SYED : SPLINTERS THAT COULD BURN TYRANNICAL HANDS Nilanjan

Hajra Like so many other things that are common to India and Pakistan's shared past, the history of the rich heritage of Urdu poetry of India and Pakistan are also intricately interwoven. It is impossible to locate a fault line and mark it as the definitive point of divergence between the two. The fact that poetry denies and defeats all national borders, makes the task doubly difficult. Yet there is a remarkable difference between contemporary Urdu poetry written in the two countries. As noted Urdu scholar Prof. Shamim Hanfi points out, "The diction and the aesthetic mood of today's Pakistani Urdu poetry is totally different from today's Indian Urdu poetry. The use of modernism as a form in India's new Urdu poetry is just a fashion, not a deeply felt experience."1 Discussing the difference between the two, however, is not within the scope of this piece. Yet it would be interesting to note, as we flip through the calendar of Urdu literature over the past 150 years, how today's poets of Pakistan arrived at a lingo that is radically different from the finest examples of Urdu poetry which began its journey in undivided India. Urdu is a very young language. It is estimated to have emerged in India as late as the 13th century AD. Scholars generally credit Vali Dakkani, a late 17th and early 18th century poet for putting Urdu poetry on the literary map of India. It was, however, Mirza Asadulla Baig Khan writing under the takhallus or penname of Ghalib who took traditional Urdu literature to fascinating heights that have rarely been reached since. He was born in 1797 and died in 1869. Going by the calendar, Ghalib's Ishq se tabiyat-ne zist ka maza paya Dard ki dawa payi, dard-e-bedawa paye (In love my being got the zest of life got the cure for pain, got a pain panacea-less) took some 150 years to be transformed into the electrifying Muhabbat koi numayian nishan nahin Jis-se lash ki shanakhti men asani ho (Love is not a visible sign Which could help identify the dead)

Prof. Shamim Hanfi, Jamia Milia Islamia: Foreword to Contemporary Pakistani Poetry by Nilanjan Hjara, Urbi Publication, 2002.

2 in the hands of one of Pakistan's most important contemporary poets, Afzal Ahmed Syed.

As the two countries emerged out of the British colonial rule in 1947, politicians on both sides of the border created an unfathomable distance of mutual distrust between the two peoples to gratify their personal, political and class interests. Despite endless anecdotes of personal courage defying this sordid divide, the reality is that for a myriad reasons the division was far too deep and wide to be wished away by goodwill. The late 1940s in the Indian subcontinent were complicated times, difficult times. Even at such brutal times, however, the maverick Sadat Hasan Manto deeply embarrassed everyone by lampooning this division through his unforgettable stories such as Toba Tek Singh and Open Up. But he drunk himself to death within a few years of the partition. In 1955. Even before death silenced his pen, the Pakistan government had put a gag on his writings. This was just after he had settled in Lahore following the partition. Harsh it may sound, but many political and literary honchos on both sides of the border were quite relieved at Manto's departure. He dwelt too much on obscene themes, they started saying, it is better to bury him for good. In India even many of the "progressive" bigwigs were unable to digest Manto's vitriol. In fact, Manto remained buried till the 1980s. The great Urdu scholar and Leftist poet Ali Sardar Jaffri in his valuable piece on progressive movement and Urdu poetry has discussed story-tellers such as Munshi Premchand and Kishen Chander, but is totally silent about Manto.2 "Kishen Chander? That M.A. thinks he is a story writer. You don't become a story writer just by securing an M.A. degree. "3 Manto had rubbed the Leftists on the wrong side by such occasional lose talk. But that is immaterial, no discussion on modern Urdu literature can be considered complete without reference to Manto. Another person who tore down this curtain of hatred between India and Pakistan, at least within the hearts of millions of his admirers, was Faiz Ahmed Faiz. When the Bolsheviks captured power in Russia over 10 days that shook the world in 1917, Faiz was six years old. Like millions of young men and women across the globe of his times, Faiz also could not escape the Marxist-Leninist dreams of building a just society through class struggle. Some took up the gun, others the pen. It might sound a tad funny today, but in those years very few people in this subcontinent could declare with courage that they were Communists. Those who did most often ended up in dark prison cells.
2

Jafri, Ali Sardar. Progressive Movement and Its Influence on Urdu Poetry. The Urdu Society of Canada. 1st Urdu Conference. September 25 - 26, 1980 3 Mohyuddin, Zia: Sadat Hasan Manto: The Maverick. Baithak. November 1, 2005.

3 At such a time in the frontline of those who shocked traditional Urdu poetry through sharp slogans was a man named Syed Fazlul Hassan. Hasrat Mohani was his takhallus. He jarred the Urdu literary world, which then was largely a discourse on love and the almighty, with his: Gandhi ki tarah baitthke katenge kiyun charkha Lenin ki tarah denge duniya ko hila hum (Why must we keep spinning cotton like Gandhi Like Lenin we will shake the earth). Thus holding Mohani's hands the 10 days that shook the world entered the mehfil (party) of Urdu poetry. Urdu poetry, however, was in certain senses almost expecting this gusty new-comer. Primarily because two persons had turned the post-Ghalib mehfil of Urdu poetry into a milieu of intellectual exchange and experiments: Altaf Hussein Hali and Muhammad Iqbal. These were the first two major Urdu poets who were truly influenced by the West. Iqbal , spent a considerable time in England practicing as a barrister. He was eminently well versed with the latest of European philosophy, and was disgusted with the manner in which post-Ghalib Urdu poetry had metaphorically clasped itself like the proverbial ghoongru (anklet bells worn by dancers) to the ankles of the dilruba (beloved). Hind ke shayar-o-suratgar-o-afsana-nawis Hai, becharon ke aysab peh aurat hay sawar (The poets, novelists and artists of India Alas, how these poor guys are obsessed with women) He declared. On his part, he chose to turn much of his poetry into a deep philosophical discourse. Much like Ghalib he spent the most fertile period of his life writing in Persian. In his Javed Nama, poetry has reached astounding heights and depths. But then this magnum opus is in Persian. In terms of changing Urdu poetry, Hali just preceded Iqbal. Born in 1837, he was the all-important bridge between Ghalib and modern Urdu poetry. Musaddas-e-Hali, a long poem that critiqued contemporary Muslim society, was by far the most popular poem of his times. It ran six editions. Hali was among the first major Urdu poets to have a working knowledge of English and to have worked closely with the British. He transformed Urdu poetry with this new-found experience. According to Muhammad Sadiq, a leading scholar of Urdu literature, "He is virtually the founder of the new school... He taught poetry to speak its mind and thus inaugurated a revolution with far-reaching results."4 He passed away on December 31, 1914. The Russian revolution had still not seen its final chapter. Comrade Lenin was still in Switzerland.
4

Sadiq, Muhammad. 1984. A History of Urdu Literature (Second Edition). Oxford University Press.

Hence Urdu literature had to wait for Mohani for more radical expressions. He was born in 1875, only six years after Mirza's death. But Mohani had traversed a long distance. His poetry was as strange and straight forward as his life. He was staunchly anti-Gandhi, yet it was from him that the Mahatma learnt the latest of the Urdu literary world. He was one of the founder members of the Communist Party of India. A devout Muslim, he made the Hajj pilgrimage 13 times. Mohani was perhaps the first person to give a call for azadi-e-kamil (total freedom)from a Muslim League conference in 1921. He met Stalin and discussed possibilities of launching a guerilla assault on the British. Mohani was a courageous defender of the freedom of the press. From Aligarh he published a magazine titled "Urdu-e-Mualla" in 1904. When someone wrote an anti-British article about the colonial rule in Egypt using a pseudonym, an infuriated British administration ordered Mohani to reveal the name of the writer. Nonsense, said the poet, and went to prison. Not as an A class political prisoner, but just as a petty criminal. He had to grind a large amount of wheat into flour everyday. Failing to meet the target meant severe whipping. Nonchalant Mohani wrote as he ground: Hay Mushq-e-sukhan jari, chakki ki mushaqqat bhi Ek turfa tamasha hay Hasrat ke tabiyat bhi (Doodling with words is on, as is the toil on the grinder What a spectacle is Hasrat's disposition these days). During the last phase of the struggle for Independence he lent his valuable voice to the demand for Pakistan. After freedom, he refused to go to Pakistan and settled in Lucknow. Before he passed away on May 13, in 1951, Mohani had changed the diction of Urdu poetry. But there were others also, who were changing the course of Urdu poetry in the charged days of the freedom movement. In 1927 after a farcical trial the British had hanged a young man of 30 years on charges of taking part in the Kakori train robbery. He was Ramprasad Bismil. He was a poet. But his most favourite poem was written by another Bihari poet named Bismil Azimabadi. The first two lines of the poem is a living testament of how the deep commitment of the Urdu poets towards the freedom movement was changing the poetry itself: Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil men hay Dekhna hay zor kitna bazu-e-qatil men hay (Our heart demands freedom now, even if it means severing our head Time it is to test the strength of the murderer's hands)5

There seems to be a confusion over the authorship of this poem. While Ali Sardar Jafri believes it was penned by Bismil Azimabadi, Urdu scholar K.C. Kanda opines it was written by Ramprasad Bismil

5 Here is a wonderful example of multiple implications of the same word, which is the hallmark of Urdu language: Sarfaroshi means freedom. But it also literally means cutting off the head, with a spiritual suggestion that the soul attains true freedom in death, when it is released from the "cage" of the body! Thus the freedom movement was elementarily changing Urdu literature. And in a severely cold evening on November 24 in 1934 a group of adventurous young men were huddled up in London's Nanking Hotel trying to decide what should be the course of this literature in future. Those who attended the meeting were Sajjad Zahir, Jyotirmoy Ghosh, Mulk Raj Anand and Muhammad Din Tasir. Also present as their friend, philosopher and guide was British author Ralph Fox.6 Such an effort to decide the course of future Indian literature was certainly adventurous but not at all accidental. Only two years ago Zahir had burnt his fingers, along with Rashid Jahan, Muhammad UzZafar and Ahmed Ali by publishing a collection titled "Angare" (Fire). The conservative Muslims were rattled beyond their wits' ends. In 1933 the All India Shia Conference passed a resolution that said, "The heart-rending and filthy pamphlet called Angaare .... has wounded the feelings of the entire Muslim community by ridiculing God and His prophets and... is extremely objectionable from the standpoint of both religion and morality.

A worried British government banned the book under 295/A of the Indian Penal Code. But the youths refused to backtrack. On April 15, 1933, Zafar wrote in the Leader, published from Allahabad, "The writers of this book do not wish to make an apology for it. They leave it to float or sink of itself. They only wish to defend the right of launching it and all other vessels like it ... Our practical purpose is the formation immediately of a league of progressive authors, which should bring forth similar collections from time to time, both in English and the various vernaculars of our country."
Faster the better. And hence that Nanking Hotel meeting. In 1935 the All India Progressive Writer's Association (PWA) was formed. A new chapter in the history of modern Indian literature began. It had a deep influence on Urdu literature. And it was in such a scenario that the OBE (Order of British Empire)decorated Lieutenant Colonel Faiz Ahmed Faiz began his literary career. Cut to March 9, 1951. Lahore. 6:30 a.m. It was still dark. Alys Faiz was suddenly awakened by the noise of some commotion around her house. She could hear footfalls of heavy military boots. Then some people started shouting her husband's name. "I could see armed police -- plenty of them -- they had surrounded the house," Mrs. Faiz was to recall many years later.7 By that time Faiz was up as well. In the mean time the armed police had entered his home prying open the front door. Faiz went down to meet the officers. But no one could tell him what exactly were the charges against him. At that point of time Faiz was the editor of the Pakistan Times, which was founded by Mia Iftikaruddin at the behest of
6

Mir, Ali Hussein, Mir, Raja: A celebration of Progressive Urdu Poetry: Anthems of Resistance. Indiink/Roli Books. Pvt. 7 Faiz, Alys. 1993. Lahore. Over my Shoulder.

6 Muhammad Ali Jinnah himself, the father of the nation. Faiz told the officers that he won't budge until he could speak to his colleague Mazhar Ali Khan. By the time Khan arrived, there also appeared another bunch of police officers. They carried with them an arrest warrant, which warranted that the accused could be imprisoned indefinitely without trial according to the 1818 Bengal Regulations !! Thus began the most important day in Pakistan's modern Urdu literature. Faiz was picked up by a huge armed force. And then began the real farce. The police had been instructed to dump the prisoner at Sargodha jail. On reaching the spot, they discovered it was meant only for women prisoners. The jail superintendant had received no orders, and just didn't know what to do with this calm, soft-spoken journalist poet. Even as the poor man was desperately dialing his bosses to find out what should be done with this new prisoner, and why indeed was he there, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan himself came on the radio and put an end to all speculations: a seditionist group had planned an armed coup against the government, but the ever-alert espionage network had exposed the plot. Finally, he told the stunned nation the names of the plotters of the coup: Army chief Major General Akbar Khan, his wife Nasim Akbar Khan, Commander of the 52nd Brigade, Brigadier Muhammad Abdul Latif Khan and poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The poet was put under solitary imprisonment for the first three months, first at Sargodha then at Layalpur jails, until the trial began. According to eyewitnesses' accounts since he was not given any reading material, Faiz used to spend time by reciting at the top of his voice poems of two of his favourite poets: Mirza Ghalib and Muhammad Iqbal. In his own poetry, however, Faiz refused to scream. He had no pen or paper. So on the prison walls he scribbled with charcoal pieces: Mata-e-lauh-o-qalam chhin gayi to keya gham hay Ke dubo li hay khoon-e-dil men ungliyan may ne Zuban pe muhar lagi hay to keya ke rakh di hay Harek halqah-e-zanjeer pe zuban may ne (What if they have taken away all my papers and pen Have I not dabbed my fingers in my heart's blood What if they have sealed my lips I have made each lock of the chain eloquent) In other words he was saying that tyranny wouldn't be able to shut him up. So much like Mohani. But his diction was far removed. Faiz refused to let the sharp metallic echo of the prison bars enter into his poetry. But that was predictable. A student and teacher of English literature, and that too an ardent Marxist, Faiz uncharacteristically borrowed the title of his first book -- Naqsh-i-Fariyadi (Imprints of the complainant)-- straight from Mirza: Naqsh fariyadi hay kis ki shokhi-e-tahrir ka Kaghazi hay payrahan har paykar-e-tasveer ka (Against whose playful writing are the imprints complainants? Made of paper is the attire of the countenance of every image.)

The essence of Faiz's poetry was the "taghazzul", the ghazal-ness as one might say in the absence of a better English term. But beyond the personal realizations about love and philosophy , Faiz had a far larger social dream. Like millions across nations in the 1950s and the '60s, Faiz too had a clear, specific dream. A dream for a just, socialist society. As had Iqbal, even if in a different form. But by this time cracks had already started to appear within another dream -- Jinnah's dream of a separate secular state for the Muslims. But being severely ill he could not provide solid policy-specific directions to the nation of his dreams. Within five years of its independence Pakistan had begun to be held hostage to the greed of a bunch of senior army officers, rich landlords and conservative Mullahs. The reality is that the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had banned the Communist Party in India in 1948, even before it was banned in Pakistan. But somewhere he and his colleagues had drawn a bottom line, and had taken care to let the multi-party democracy flourish. The ban was revoked within a year. Liaquat Ali, Pakistan's first prime minister, failed precisely here. Post-Jinnah Pakistan moved headlong towards dictatorship. In June 1951 prisoner No. 13 Faiz's trial began. But before that in April the Pakistan government had the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Act, 1951, passed. Some of the main tenets of the Act were like this: 1. The accused will be tried by a special tribunal, 2. Whether the accused is guilty or not, would be decided by the tribunal, not by a jury 3. The trial would be held behind closed doors, no third party would be allowed to watch the trial. The accused could not speak to any one about the cases except their lawyers. 4. The verdict of the tribunal would be final, no appeals would be allowed. Even as the trial continued, on October 16, 1951 Liaquat Ali was shot by a person named Sad Akbar as Ali was about to deliver an address at Rawalpindi's Municipal Park. Akbar's body was charred with bullets within moments by Ali's security guards. Skeptics lamented whatever might be the outcome of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, the real Rawalpindi conspiracy would never be solved. Deputy PM Khwaja Nizamuddin immediately grabbed the chair. The Rawalpindi Conspiracy verdict was delivered soon. According to many sources, Liaquat Ali actually wanted a death sentence. But since he himself was killed, and since international pressure was mounting, with intellectuals ranging from Paul Robeson to Howard Fast demanding Faiz's immediate release, he escaped death with a light sentence: four years rigorous imprisonment. Pakistani Urdu poetry took a new turn. Even in Naqsh-i-Fariyadi, in which the poet drew heavily from the rich traditions of Urdu literature, Faiz broke the tradition to raise his voice in verses such as Kutte (Dogs) and particularly Bol (Speak). After being thrown into prison, the poet became much more introvert and lonely in his parlance. All the commotion of the street outside was simply banished from his poetry for good. Instead a deep anguish and all the perceptible images of prison life -- the huge walls, the dark tiny cell, the clanking of chains,

8 the farce of the trial, the nightly banging of a window-pane unfastened by the wind, the bark of the sentries, the small skylight -- populated all his poetry right from Dast-e-Saba (Hands of the morning breeze), his second publication. Soon to all this would be added the agony of exile. But even as the poet kept drawing heavily from Urdu's traditional masters, he peppered his poems with new metaphors, which gave his pure political poems a charm and a pang hitherto not experienced by poetry-lovers. Many years later barely six months before his death, in a lecture at the Lahore British Council, Faiz revealed for the first time how he had to galvanise this new diction primarily to evade censorship. In this address he provided invaluable keys that could open the doors of his innocuous love poetry and lead the reader to a passionate political discourse.8 When he wrote: Abhi girani-e-shab me kami nahi ayi Najat-e-deedah-o-dil ki ghari nahi ayi Chale chalo ke woh manzil nahi ayi (The tyranny of night is yet to subside Nor has arrived the moment of the heart and the vision's liberty Keep trudging, our destination is still afar) Basically he was just reiterating the Communist Party's call -- Yeh azadi jhuti hay (This freedom is false). But that could be expected of Faiz. He was a Communist, and really made no bones about it. He had the courage to be one, in those days in Pakistan. As Khalid Hassan wrote, "When there was this eerie silence of the military rule all over Pakistan, one could hear only Faiz's voice." For a long time this voice had an innate confidence in it, by which it could make a light banter of the worst tyrannies: Dast-e-sayyad bhi aajiz hay, aur qaf-e-gulchin bhi Boo-e-gul thahri, na bulbul ki zuban thahri hay (How helpless are the hands of the hunter and the flower-plucking grip Neither could they break-off the aroma of the rose nor shut up the bulbul's tongue) But as decades rolled by, we will notice, this confidence was shaken somewhere deep inside. Not in his personal life, though. He had repeated requests from the highest echelons of powers to come and settle in India. That was beyond his wildest nightmares. Each time he refused politely. But chinks were appearing on his poems. He knew his lifelong dreams had gone horribly wrong. With great agony he had seen Pakistan lumber along from one dictatorship to another.

Genways, Ted."Let them snuff out the moon": Faiz Ahmed Faiz's prison lyrics in Dast-e-Saba. Annual of Urdu Studies. Vol 19. 2004. Department of language and cultures of Asia, University of Wisconsin - Madison.

9 Within eight years of Jinnah's death Pakistan was turned into an Islamic republic in 1956. Within two years Gen. Ayub Khan declared Pakistan's first martial law, which continued for the next 15 years. In 1971 after a violent freedom struggle, supported by India, East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh. Faiz, like a large number of people in Pakistan, could not accept the inhuman brutalities let lose on the Bengalis by Pakistan's "Khan Sena". He was devastated, for he knew that the murderous waves of hatred that was generated between the two peoples would take ages to subside: Hum ke thehre ajnabi itni mulaqaton ke bad Kab banenge ashna kitni madaraton ke bad Kab nazar men ayegi be-dagh sabze ki bahar Khun ke dhabbe dhulenge kitni barsaton ke bad (Now that we are strangers having met so many times What sweet-talk could make us friends again when shall we see a spring, pristine and green How many monsoons will it take to erase the stains of blood) Even if there was a brief moment of joy as some sort of civilian rule returned under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's Awami League in 1973, within five years Gen. Zia Ul Haq decimated all democratic institutions, hanged Bhutto and clamped military rule. And within a year of Zia's usurpation of power, he promulgated the Hudood Ordinances on February 10, 1979. The conservative Mullah's stranglehold over the Pakistani society was complete. That's how Faiz last saw his beloved Pakistan. His dreams, in defense of which he had spent a whole lifetime, were shattered. Muqabil-e-saf-e'ada jise kiya aghaz Woh jung apnehi dil me tamam hoti rahi (Started in the face of enemy battalions The battle keeps ending within my heart) This realization of Sham-e-shar-e-yaran (Evening in Beloveds' City) became deeper and crystallized in his last book Ghubar-e-aiyam. Those poignant lines of Aaj Shab Koi Nahi Hay: Aaj Shab dil ke Karin koi nahi hay Aankh se door tilasmat ke dar wa hai kai Khwab-dar-khwab muhallat ke dar wa hay kai Aur makin koi nahi hay (This night not a soul is near my heart At a distance I see ajar so many magical doors From dream to dream are ajar so many palatial doors Yet not a resident inside) 1984. Exactly 50 years after that Nanking Hotel meeting, departed Faiz. The citadel of his grand socialist dreams had turned into a deserted palace with no takers.

10 And it may not be just co-incidence that Afzal Ahmed Syed published his first collection of poetry Chhini Hui Tarikh (History Arrogated) also in 1984. Even before Chhini Hui Tarikh, however, Pakistani Urdu poetry had witnessed a gender rebellion. A group of women poets had brought the Ismat Chughtai-challenge to Urdu poetry. They were determined to tear out of the "male gaze" limitations. To my mind, the fiercest voice among them was of Sara Shagufta, who committed suicide when she was just 37 on June 4, 1984. But Sara was not alone. She had seniors. Courageous Fahmida Riaz and Kiswar Naheed were among the first women writers of Pakistan who chose not to emulate the male voice. And then followed a whole lot of them including Azra Abbas and Zehra Nigah.Yet I personally just don't seem to be able to get over Sara Shagufta's desperate, pure poetry. Between Ghubar-e-Ayam and Chhini Hui Tarikh Pakistan's Urdu poetry turned a new page. The whole connotation of Muhabbat, love, experienced a chemical change in the hands of Afazal Ahmed Syed. This entomologist poet, who was born in 1946 in undivided India, spent his early youth in Bangladesh and witnessed from close quarters the violent freedom of the country from Pakistan, moved on to Beirut and experienced relentless Israeli bombardment of the city, before finally settling in Karachi, Pakistan. Unlike Faiz or his great predecessors including Iqbal, Syed had no opportunity to be part of any grand dream. He had no determined destination that could be reached through a set of prescribed paths, dialectically or otherwise. No dreams/ To identify love. On the contrary he was apprehending Even before you could touch love with those hands/Perhaps the corpse delivery van had left/the van that takes away those dreams which have no claimants. Be it Iqbals dream of a just, egalitarian, pan-Islamic society, or Faizs dream of a socialist society, none of them has any remnants left in todays Pakistan. Yet it is a nation no less talented than any in the world. From science, to economics to sports, literature and culture Pakistan has produced exceptional talents in every imaginable field. And such a nation, the world has already started to brand as a "failed state". One of the finest Bengali journalists of our times Jyotirmoy Dutta had once sternly reminded me that "every state is a failed state". So I am not certain that Pakistan is particularly more failed a state than any other. But todays poets of Pakistan, Syed to take the finest example, steadfastly refuse to dream or encourage others to dream false dreams. Hence todays poetry from Pakistan doesnt provide me with all the right answers. Nor does it profess grand causes, or utter heroic memorable rhetoric. Yet I would argue that their poetry is still essentially the poetry of resistance. Not so much like the grand resistance of the progressive vanguard army, but more like guerilla camps scattered across an unending consumerist dazzle, which masquerades as a new dawn but is essentially a dark sordid night. Remember Farhat Shahzad: "Silte hi to sil jayen, kise fiqr labon ki /Khush-rang andheron ko kahunga may sahar kyun?"

11 (Sealed it will be, if you so want, who cares for the tongue/ Why must I call dawn what really is dazzling darkness) In many ways today's poets of Pakistan are shockingly different. Their poems you traverse with care, for you never know which word will explode at which turn, or from which lines will the bullets fly. And in the mean time sounds of a sudden firing at a distance or that of a rushing ambulance-hooter mingled with laughter of beautiful girls going to college keep you company all the time. In brief, Afzal Ahmed Syed's poetry opens up before us a thrilling, new and danger-ridden world. ----------------------------------------------------

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POEMS OF AFZAL AHMED SYED (Translated from Urdu into English by Nilanjan Hajra) 1. IF I COULD REMAIN IN ANYONES MEMORY Winter has arrived The notice to supply woolen blankets to the prisoners is out again Nights have changed Their length, breadth and weight But every night I keep dreaming Of being caught while slipping through the bars During the change of seasons The time that couldnt be caught in any measurement I read a poem This poem was penned by my brother as he went to a war He didnt return But then I am more responsible than he was I want to live till my time runs out I know The machines are hungry And the dogs unfed I know How nave are the snow and the clouds And the hills So helpless I know Those who live in the hills Are very poor And winter makes them poorer Very few words can be written on the walls in monsoon But then the winter is here If I could have remained in someones memory In the memory of that girl, for example, Who cries reading my poems Something could have been written on the wall about releasing me I know My poems will remain unheard

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I know My heart Imprisoned within floors and walls far cooler than this place Will never be released on bail by anyone I know By the time the woolen blankets are supplied The winter would have gone.

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2. ITS NOT THAT THIS MATTER IS NOT INSIGNIFICANT I was frisked And my heart was snatched Its not that this matter is not insignificant Nor is this That to bring me out My home was set on fire Nor is this That my waist was clasped with dog-catching scissors And I was dumped in a truck Nor is this That I hid in my grip A burning coal and asked you Whats in my hand? And you didnt have an answer

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3. I DON'T CARE FOR THAT WHITE FLOWER I don't care for that white flower Which with a kiss you could turn red A star falling apart in the sky Or a boat sinking in the sea With which one of these Should I keep company Your eyes or your heart Didn't give me a hint Mingling the din of the city With the silence of my heart Why did you compose your music Why did you try to etch on fire Your name When your fingers are not made of diamonds After the fire breaks out It sinks in What a stranger is the rain And how distant is the sea It becomes difficult to dream That far away Near our home It must be snowing I don't care for that dream Which breaks while changing sides I don't care for that snow Which, dancing barefoot, We can't turn red --------------------------------------

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4. LOVE Love is not a visible sign Which could help identify the dead By the time you could detect love The van must have left The van which carries those bodies Over which no one has any claim Perhaps on the way It went past your vehicle Or perhaps you didn't take that road By which Those killed in love are usually taken Perhaps the time required To detect love You had spent over some unavoidable chores Time was laid on a stone slab And the white linen Drawn up to limit of waiting Must have been changed before you could finish your chores Perhaps you didn't have Any casual leave Nor any dream To identify love By the time You could touch love with your hands That van must have left Which carries away those dreams Over which no one has any claim --------------------------------------------------------

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5. YOUR FINGERS Your fingers Didn't throw flying kisses To the person sinking in the swamp Nor did they shut the eyes Of the dying man The knots That your fingers could have so easily untied You cut them With a dagger That was used for human sacrifices Wherever your fingers pass by A shade remains Of what was once a tree Your fingers Look beautiful in the shade And you In darkness In darkness There is a wounded bird Whose cage Your fingers will never open --------------------------------------

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6. IF WE DIDN'T SING We know the meaning Of the life That we are living We know the weight of those stones Which because of our carelessness Have changed into things To whose beauty Our lives have added nothing We felt our hearts In flowers meant for decking the altar At a time When we Were walking in a procession of wounded horses Defeat is our god We will worship it after death We will die like a person Who died in great pain Life would have never known What we expect from it If we didn't sing -------------------------------------------

19 7. WE LIVE WITHOUT SEEKING ANYONE'S PERMISSION On one side of the dagger's blade Is carved your name And mine on the other Those who can read Tell us We will be killed He who grows trees Gives us an apple With the dagger We slice the apple into two We live without seeking anyone's permission And without telling anyone We love I have learnt to count And have remembered How many stairs I must climb To reach you One day keeping all those stairs In book of poems You will send it to me One day I will tell you "There begins the sea From where nothing dry is visible any more" And then whenever we wish We will tear off a page from the book of poems To make a boat And Another page To make a sea And then whenever we wish Stopping the rotation of the earth

20 We will start dancing Taking aim at a dancing person's heart Is very difficult --------------------------------------------------------

21 8. THE LAST DATE OF BEING ALIVE Our breath doesn't have Any signature tune And our blood Can easily be washed with liquid soap Without taking prior permission We can change Our raincoats Or our shoes' colours We are not censured For gifting a girl a carved lampshade Or a ship with two masts On an empty step of a spiral staircase We have the facility To wait for a kiss The last date of our being alive is gone ---------------------------------------------------

22 9. WE ARE KILLED IN OUR DREAMS We are killed in our dreams At first it rains And then it becomes slushy And then we are killed With those weapons Whose targets Have been set for ever In the penal codes In our dreams we move towards the lamp room Where a thief Bites off a piece of night And throws before us Which we chew And wake up Our dream tells us Water this tree In it is your night Our dream tells us Get into that see On its bed is a sunken ship In which your night was travelling Our night has been stolen For arranging a different constellation Standing at the gates of a flower show a girl asks: Where's your night? And the rain begins The sea rocks And we are dragged to the shooting range A girl travelling in a horse-wagon puts her head out and looks at me She gets drenched in the rain If my hands Were not tied at the back I would have surely waved her good bye Yesterday I had kissed this girl in my dream

23 Just once And it rained It rains So much that half of the shooting range wall is submerged The wet rope Sinks tighter into our skin In the rain We walk barefoot on the ground As if The ground has been made for those who walk bare feet It is raining We are getting drenched Now we will never change our dresses Our dream tells us You must be having another set For another set We have to burgle Our own or other people's homes Yet our hands are tightly tied Our dream tells us Why did you not buy raincoats? Now That the shooting range wall is right in front of us Our dream tells us Why did you not buy raincoats? We tell our dream It's pouring now Go And sleep in the attic of a raincoat shop A man in a raincoat Barks out my name even as he gets drenched Someone pushes me forward Now I will be killed In this thick rain I will be killed At last I wish to dream

24

To the girl sitting by the lamp Someone says Only if you had shut the windows of the wagon At last I wish to dream Someone Wraps her in a beautiful shawl and says You shouldn't have gone out in this rain -----------------------------------------------------------------------

25 10. I INVENTED POETRY Moroccans had invented paper Phoenicians alphabets I invented poetry Grave-diggers invented the Tandoor oven Those who captured the ovens made tokens for bread People coming to procure breads invented the queue And learnt to sing in chorus When ants joined the queue for breads Hunger was invented Mulberry traders invented silk-worms Poetry wove silken dresses for girls Madams invented harems for silk-clad-lasses Who divulged the silk-worm's address the moment they reached there Distance invented four legs of the horse Pace invented the chariot And when defeat was invented I was laid on the speeding chariot's path But by then poetry had invented love Love invented hearts Hearts invented camps and canoes And travelled afar The palace-eunuch invented the fishing hook Stuck it into a sleeping heart and fled Who now shall hold the line of the hook stuck in the heart So was invented the auction And Tyranny invented the final bid I sold all my poems, bought fire And burnt down tyranny's hands ----------------

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