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The verse of freedom

In a powerful exploration of resistance poetry in indigenous languages, I discovered marginalized poets challenging mainstream Pakistani identity in moving verse.

 PoetsFaiz Ahmad Faiz

Much has been said about the literary and artistic revolution of Pakistan. Undoubtedly Pakistani writers, artists and musicians are now recognised globally for their work which engages with the world and brings forth perspectives which alter the unidimensional image of the country. At home, the new wave of literary and creative output is celebrated each year at the Karachi and Lahore literature festivals which have emerged as major venues for conversation and showcasing of what is being produced in the mainstream.

Away from the spotlight of international media and TV channels, Pakistan’s regional poets and writers are waging a far more perilous battle by engaging with their subaltern, marginalised audiences in the local idiom, thereby putting themselves at risk. The days of Faiz and Jalib are not over as we often moan. Instead they have deepened and regionalised. Our region has had a rich, ongoing folk tradition and it continues in myriad forms and expressions now. In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan poets and artists continue to challenge power and injustice. More so in Pakistan where instability, extremism and uncertainty have impacted people in a profound manner for the past few decades.

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Godless Bullets

Salman Taseer’s killing reflects the fight over Pakistan’s soul (OUTLOOK INDIA)
When Punjab governor Salman Taseer stepped out of the Table Talk restaurant after having lunch with hotelier Sheikh Waqas and walked to his car parked in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market on January 4, he must have been aware of the possibility of religious fanatics lurking around. Where in Pakistan haven’t the sinister, dark forces of militant Islam penetrated? But what Taseer couldn’t have foreseen perhaps is the precise visage of religious fanaticism—that it could come dressed in the uniform of the Elite Force of the Punjab police, one of those very men who were to protect him from the implacable Islamists forever sniffing around for enemies who don’t subscribe to their worldview.

As Taseer reached his car, a cry of Allah-o-Akbar echoed in the air. The voice was of his bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, who then calmly emptied the magazine of his AK-47 into the governor. As Taseer collapsed, Qadri reloaded the rifle and sprayed another 30 bullets. He then placed the rifle on the ground and surrendered before the other eleven bodyguards, nine of whom were from the Elite Force. The remorseless pumping of bullets into Taseer’s lifeless body reflected the depth of Qadri’s hatred. The inaction of other bodyguards speaks of a larger conspiracy, or at the very least a silent, tacit support for Qadri. For the dead Taseer, it could hardly be a recompense to recall what he told the Herald magazine two years ago, “I remember the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto saying that history is written in the blood of martyrs.” Continue reading

Developments around Taseer killing disturb liberal Pakistanis

Islamabad, Jan 5 (PTI) The emergence of Facebook pages eulogising the assassin of Governor Salmaan Taseer and praise from Islamic clerics for the killer have outraged liberal Pakistanis, who today said tolerance and space for discourse on religious and political issues was shrinking.

Taseer was gunned down in an upscale market in the heart of Islamabad yesterday by one of his guards who was angered by the outspoken Governor”s criticism of the blasphemy law.

Chilling footage aired on news channels showed Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the assassin, saying that the punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed was death.

Within hours of the assassination, several disrespectful pages popped up on social networking website Facebook, celebrating Taseer”s death and praising the action of Qadri.

One such page was titled: “Salute to the greatness of Ghazi Malik Mumtaz Qadri”. Continue reading

Another blow to Pakistan: Salmaan Taseer killed by extremism

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s brutal murder at the hands of a security personnel is a cruel reminder of where we have landed ourselves: in a dark morass of irrationality lorded over by pernicious ideologies.

He was a brave man and stood for a liberal, tolerant and progressive Pakistan where economic and political freedoms could be upheld. He has paid for his life for his bold stance on the blasphemy law and countering Talibanisation. He was our hope and without him Jinnah’s Pakistan – NOT a theocracy – is in grave danger.

His legacy will be remembered by history and he will go down in history as a major icon of progressivism.

May he rest in peace. PTH mourns his loss and condemns this attack. The federal and provincial government should immediately investigate this murder and punish the criminal as well as the network behind him.

The war against extremism will have continue – otherwise, we are headed towards anarchy, more sectarianism and utter chaos.

Long live Pakistan!

Rumi’s Poetry: ‘All Religions, All This Singing, One Song’

Coleman Barks is a great translator. His recent essay here is a great read especially in terms of debates on Islamophobia

Rumi: The Big Red Book collects all the work that I have done on The Shams (Rumi’s Divani Shamsi Tabriz, The Works of Shams Tabriz) over the last 34 years. As I put this book together, I felt drawn to revise slightly almost every poem, to relineate and reword. So I hope this is a refreshed collection.

I sent a copy to my friend, Robert Bly. He describes in a letter what I have done with these poems: “You have given them pats on the shirt, set them on some local horse, and given the horse a clap on the rear, and the poems are gone, well almost gone.” He should know. He got me started on this path, when in June of 1976, he handed me a copy of Arberry’s translation of Rumi and said, “These poems need to be released from their cages,” by which he meant they needed to be translated out of their scholarly idiom into the lively American free verse tradition of Whitman. Hence this book. It is not all that I have done the last three decades, but I did spend some time, almost every day, with Rumi’s poetry. I do not regret it. Something about the practice keeps unfolding.

The organization of this book is unique. The odes (ghazals) are divided into 27 sections, each a Name for the Mystery. I avoid, wherever I can, using the word God. It feels so freighted, to me, with doctrine and division and violence. I don’t necessarily recommend this avoidance to anyone else. Eighteen of the Names are taken from my teacher, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen‘s The 99 Beautiful Names of Allah (The Opener, The Gatherer, The Patient, The Kind, The Intricate, Majesty, Light, Peace, The Grateful, The Living, etc). Two of the Names for Mystery are people I have been fortunate enough to meet, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen and Osho. Two other Names are also human beings, the Indian saint, Ramana Maharshi, and Shams Tabriz. Three other Names are borrowed. Dissolving the Concept of “God” (I have heard this somewhere, but I don’t remember where), Playing (Plotinus), Tenderness Toward Existence (Galway Kinnell’s phrase) and then there’s the next to last, Everything and Everyone Else. The last Name is one that is implied in every Sufi list of the 99 Names, The Name That Cannot Be Spoken or Written. Continue reading

China: Braving the Storm

My piece which appeared in Southasia

The Chinese economy, it appears, has recovered from the recession in record time. According to the National Bureau of Statistics in Beijing, annual growth was unexpectedly strong at 11.9 percent in the first quarter of 2010. By achieving such high growth rates in times of global recession, many expect China to overtake Japan this year to become the second largest economy of the world. Strengthened by these economic gains, China has used its political leverage to facilitate regional integration, by engaging in a number of bilateral swap arrangements with countries around the world.

Given that China only has 10% arable land, it becomes imperative for the country purchase commodities from other nations to satisfy the country’s growing consumption demands, and to invest in countries producing such commodities. Such a process will reinforce new corridors of increasing trade and investment flows between China and Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Similarly, its gigantic market and related demand have led China to invest in natural resource supplies of different countries, especially those in Africa and the Middle East.

Read the full article here