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Remembering Parveen Shakir (1952-1994)

My 2009 article published in The Friday Times.

parveen-shakir-the-bold-brilliant-and-the-beautifulParveen Shakir (1952-1994) has defined the sensibilities of several generations and beyond. At the relatively young age of 42 years, Parveen Shakir died on an empty Islamabad boulevard, as if this was an essential part of her romantic persona. But she had lived a full life where poetry and tragedy intersected each other and became inseparable from her being.

As a young student in high school, I was introduced to Shakir’s romantic poetry, which was best represented by her first collection of poetry ‘Khushbu’ . I had won an essay writing competition in Urdu and a delightful award came in the form of this tender volume of poetry. Since then I have always returned to bits and pieces of Khushbu . It may not be ‘great’ according to the cannons of literary theory, but it is spontaneous, fresh and almost dreamlike. Shakir was bearly 24 years old when Khushbu was published and since its first edition, this book has been a best seller wherever Urdu poetry is read or appreciated.

CXHeqSFWQAAri4VKhushbu turned Shakir into a celebrity. Aside from mushairas, newspapers and public fora, she was ever-present on the Pakistan television, perhaps as its only saving grace during the rigid years of Zia-ul-Haq’s Martial Law. Shakir had a natural talent for public speaking, reciting poetry and just being herself. I remember one monsoon evening in Murree when we were hooked to her presentation on Pakistan’s Independence Day. There was a distinct tenderness in her voice that was in sharp contrast to the platitudes being churned out. Above all she was beautiful. I remember she would read verses from her own work and from the great masters of Urdu poetry with complete ease and immense refinement. In the short period of time that she lived as a poet, Parveen did rather well and was quite prolific. Her later collections comprised Sad Barg (marsh merrygold), Khud Kalami (conversing with one’self), Inkaar (refusal), Maah-e-Tamaam (full moon) and Kaf-e-Aaina (edge of the mirror).
Her raw romanticism runs through her poetry. For instance, ye haseen shaam apni is a love poem of rare beauty; and has always been a favourite of mine. It is composite, taut and melodic; and here is my translation. […]

December 26th, 2015|Published in The Friday Times|3 Comments

More on the Urdu poet Mustafa Zaidi

Mustafa zaidiI wrote a piece on Urdu poet Mustafa Zaidi six years ago. Since then I have received immense feedback. Zaidi’s relatives, friends and admirers across the globe have contacted me and provided documents, information and related anecdotes. It is all turning into a book […]

December 4th, 2011|Arts & Culture, Poetry|8 Comments

My session with Intizar Husain: Karachi Literature Festival 2011

Huma Imitiaz has summed up the session I moderated at the KLF. Huma has been kind to me but I am just a humble student of literature and facing Intizar Saheb in this session would remain a milestone in my imagined literary journeys, yet to start…

“There are two forces that have risen in Pakistan: women and mullahs,” said writer and journalist extraordinaire Intizar Husain, at the Karachi Literature Festival. The crowd roared in approval, and Husain smiled. At his session, held on the second day, the room was nowhere near full capacity, but those in attendance were hanging on to his every word. In a one on one discussion with writer Raza Rumi, Husain talked about a variety of subjects, from writing techniques to the Lahore that once was.

February 19th, 2011|Pakistan, Pakistani Literature, Personal, published in DAWN|7 Comments

Manmohan Singh’s ignorance

Manmohan Singh whom I have always held in high regard, disappointed millions in South Asia with his distastefully ill-timed hard talk during his Independence day address. As if Pakistan’s current misery was a time to blow India’s trumpet. He surely was also unaware of what his patriotic Indian poet, Ali Sardar Jafri had written years ago –Dialogue Souldn’t Cease. Here is an Urdu version with a full translation. Perhaps, someone should pass a copy of this poem to the exalted Prime Minister of India.


Iqbal Bano sings Nizami Ganjavi (Persian Sufi poet, 1141-1209)

Iqbal Bano sings Nizami Ganjavi-Mara ba ghamza… by razarumi1

Mara ba ghamza kusht o qaza ra bahana sakht
Khud sooy e ma na deed o haya ra bahana sakht […]

March 20th, 2010|Arts & Culture, Music, Sufi poetry, video, World Artists|7 Comments

Lovers have nothing to do with existence

The lover’s food is the love of the bread;
no bread need be at hand:
no one who is sincere in his love is a slave to existence.
Lovers have nothing to do with existence;
lovers have the interest without the capital.
Without wings they fly around the world;
without hands they carry the polo ball from the field.
That dervish who caught the scent of Reality
used to weave baskets even though his hands had been cut off.
Lovers have pitched their tents in nonexistence;
they are of one quality and one essence, as nonexistence is.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ […]
March 3rd, 2010|Love, Poetry, Rumi, Sufi poetry, Sufism|3 Comments

Kaifi & I

Shabana Azmi reads from her mother Shaukat Kaifi’s memoirs at the Jaipur literary festival. The segment was introduced by Urvashi Butalia
Presented by DNA

Jaipur Literature Festival 2010 from Dreamcast India on Vimeo.