Progressive Writers Movement

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Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi (1916-2006)

Ab aik baar to qudrat javaabdeh thehre

hazaar baar ham insaan aazmaaye gaye

Now Nature must be held accountable at least once

We humans have been held answerable a thousand times

Few men evoke such awe and respect as the departed poet and writer Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi who breathed his last on July 10 2006. His mastery over poetry – he has been equally prolific in traditional ghazal and nazm – and prose – as a short story writer, journalist and literary critic – stand at the pinnacle of Urdu literature and he has contributed to the language over 50 titles.

Born in 1916 amidst the scenic Soon-Sekasar valley in district Khushab, nature influenced the evolution of Qasmi’s poetic sensibilities. Exposure to the grim realities of rural India’s inequities also played their part in his development as a writer; the underlying theme of his poetry is human dignity and his short stories – regarded as next in line to another master, Munshi Prem Chand, for their directness and simplicity – portrayed the woes of the Punjabi peasantry and their interaction with power structures. Following his matriculation from Campbellpur in 1931, around the time when he wrote his first poem, he moved to the Sadiq Egerton College in Bahawalpur and graduated in 1935.

Qasmi’s early short stories such as “Hiroshima say pehle, Hiroshima Kay Ba’ad” narrated the devastating effects of the Hiroshima bombing on a small Punjabi village which fed recruits to the British army. His other stories “Lawrence of Thalaibia” and “Rais Khana” attacked pirs and feudal lords for their relentless exploitation of peasants.

ai Khudaa ab tere firdaus pe meraa haq hai

tuune is daur ke dozakh mein jalaayaa hai mujhe

My Lord! Now, I can rightfully claim thine paradise

You have burnt me in the hell of my times

Yet another field that benefited with Qasmi’s presence was journalism, both from his own writing and his work as an editor.

By the late 1930s Qasmi was editing reformist magazines such as Phool and Taleem-i-Niswan . In the next two decades he edited renowned publications such as Adab-e-Latif , Sawera , Naqoosh, and daily Imroze – a leading Urdu daily which he left when Ayub Khan’s Progressive Papers Limited took over in 1959, despite encouragement to stay on – and finally a journal he set up himself, Fanoon.

Qasmi’s writings in Imroze and later in the daily Jang have been noted as progressive critiques on social and political issues. His journalistic writing was terse and often bold compared to his peers and he never compromised on the principles he held close to his heart. His Imroze editorials opposing Ayub Khan’s martial law landed him four months of incarceration in 1958-9. Qasmi’s last column for Jang in 2006 argued that the Constitution of 1973 was a consensus document and should not have been amended time and again. […]

February 12th, 2009|Poetry, Published in The Friday Times, Urdu|2 Comments

Two poems by Ali Sardar Jafri

Two poems of Ali Sardar Jafri found here


Such a day will arrive again
[when] the lamps of the eyes will get extinguished;
the lotus of the hands will get withered
and each butterfly of speech and voice
will flee from the leaf of the tongue.
All faces that blossom like buds,
chuckle like flowers,
the circling of blood, the beats of heart,
all [such] symphonies will go to sleep
on the bed of a dark ocean.
And, this grinning diamond particle,
this paradise of mine, this earth
that is laid out on the velvet of the blue environ,
its morns, its evenings
will, unwittingly, unconsciously,
pass on shedding the tears of dew
[on the demise of] a handful of dust of a man.
Everything will be forgotten;
everything will be removed
from the exquisite idol-house of memories.
Then no one will ask:
Where is Sardar in the congregation?
Yet, I’ll come here again;
[I] will talk with the mouths of the tots;
will sing in the tongue of the birds.
When seeds will grin beneath earth
and the sapling, with its fingers,
will vex the crusts of earth,
I’ll open my eyes
in leaves and buds;
will take, in [my] verdant palm,
the dew drops.
I’ll turn into the colour of henna, the tune of ghazal
[and] the style of poetry.
[I], like the hue of the cheek of a bride,
will filter from every stole.
When the winds of winter
will bring along with them
the season of autumn’
my laughter will be heard
from the dry leaves that will
be trampled under the robust feet of the passerby.
All the golden rivers of the earth;
all the azure lakes of the sky
will get filled with my being.
And the world will see
[that] every tale is [in fact] my tale;
here every lover is Sardar
[and] every beloved is Sultaanaa […]

July 17th, 2008|Poetry, South Asian Literature, Translations, Urdu|1 Comment

Pakistan’s rich dissident literary tradition

Himal Magazine had published this article on the resistance poetry in Pakistan. I had uploaded it on the Pak Tea House some time back. However, I just realised that it should be published here as well..

The long spells of authoritarian rule in Pakistan have nurtured a rich dissident literary tradition. This tradition has its roots in the Progressive Writers’ Movement, which originated in colonial India with major Urdu poets and writers as its vanguards. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was, of course, the best-known torchbearer of this tradition, while other luminaries included Sajjad Zaheer, M D Taseer, Rashid Jahan, Kaifi Azmi, Ismat Chughtai, Sahir Ludhianvi and Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, to name only a few.

With the post-Independence Pakistani state continuing the old-style approach to ruling over the masses, the progressive movement too carried on its dissent long after 1947. Those who had migrated to Pakistan faced a new reality, which, in the words of Faiz, was far from the dawn for which they had hoped. “This blemished light, this dawn by night half-devoured,” Faiz wrote ruefully. “surely not the dawn for which we were waiting.” […]