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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

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