Categories





Urdu

Home » Urdu

In memoriam: Writers like Intizar Husain never die, they live on in their words and ideas

In celebrating his pluralistic literary roots, Intizar Husain was a truly contemporary writer.

Intizar Husain, the last of great Urdu writers, passed away yesterday at the age of 92.

He’d been hospitalized for some time in Lahore. His ardent followers had been worried that the worst was likely to happen. But the truth is […]

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|4 Comments

‘Hum Bhatak bhi Gaye au Kia Hoga’

After a long time, I attempted to write a poem. Here it is – pretty raw and unpolished. Will translate it later for readers who may not understand the language. It is entitled —
(so what if I went astray..)

Tum apni dunya kay baasi

Hum apni chah kay aseer
Milay jo ik din
Anjani rah per
Dekhna yeh hai keh
Who […]

November 12th, 2014|Personal, Poetry, Urdu, Urdu Literature|2 Comments

‘You turned out to be just like us’ –

By Pakistani poet Fahmida Riaz.

The inimitable Fahmida Riaz, who is a favourite of mine, was disappointed during her stay in India (during the 1980s) with the growing trends of exclusion – an anathema to the plurality of India. The poem is also […]

August 20th, 2014|India, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, Poetry|0 Comments

Countless walls that divide the hearts – by Majeed Amjad

I had written about Majeed Amjad, a forgotten but outstanding Urdu poet of twentieth century. Today, a friend tagged me (on facebook) with another of his wistful poems. There is a translation along with the poem. I am posting both for readers here. Majeed Amjad’s style is difficult to render in any other language; however, the effort by Yasmeen Hameed (below) is quite competent. Once again this is a powerful, stark poem leaving you immensely moved. The hallmark of great poetry is that it has a unique impact on the reader/listener. Majeed Amjad leaves the reader standing in the ruins of the heart, he often writes about. I also found an audio archive of Amjad reciting his poems in a deep, soulful voice with a slight Punjabi accent.

Its a shame that Pakistan has not acknowledged this great poet. He died in oblivion and the literary establishment is divided about him. Amjad lived and died as an individual in a society that functions along groups, camps and clans. This is why he is so different from most of Urdu poets of his age.

Here is the poem:

These neighborhood dwellings, these little homes, these casements, these courtyards, even before us were as tranquil, as resplendent. 

Those who left did not deny the homes their love, were not so eager to leave. Who could have held them back, though, the stooping arches had no arms. 

Hordes, bound by the chain of fate, could have taken them along, but for the walls which had no feet. 

Their spirits now wail and sob, one with the echoing, dusty winds. To them belong these dwellings: biers burning on the debris of fallen eras. 

Moulded of a hot mixture of ashy bones and tears, only these bricks can recount the magnitude of our defeat. 

It changed us all: the distress of the fractured bricks; our own suffering we dismissed, entrapped in the mesh of stone and hay; we clashed with each other. 

These neighborhood dwellings, their edged roof-tops, the palatial houses, the tent-homes, but for the countless walls that divide the hearts. 


— Majeed Amjad (translated from Urdu by Yasmeen Hameed)

[…]

June 6th, 2014|Poetry|1 Comment

Displacement & Discontent – Basti by Intizar Husain

 

THE publication of Basti’s translation is an important literary milestone. The author, Intizar Husain, is perhaps the greatest living Urdu writer and his genius rightly deserves a wider audience than just readers of Urdu or Hindi fiction. Intizar Sahib’s stories have been translated earlier and they showcased his taut, lyrical, hauntingly evocative prose to those who were not familiar with the world of Urdu. However, the novel as a genre and as a kaleidoscope of society conveys a discreet vision of the world. This is why Basti’s publication by New York Review Books is a landmark with respect to globalising the beauty and intricacy of Urdu literature.Basti

Earlier, Qurratulain Hyder had translated her own novels (Aag ka Darya and Aakhir-i-Shab ke Hamsafar among others); her many admirers had been quick to point out that in the English translations she had been unfair, above all, to herself. The original Urdu novels are far more majestic than their translations. Except a few other novels, such as Abdullah Hussain’s Weary Generations (Udas Naslain), there is little that the world knows about Urdu literature. The Urdu short story has had a better deal in terms of translations, but the Urdu novel has largely been ignored.

Basti, at the outset, is the tale of a reminiscing Zakir, the novel’s protagonist who is a professor of history and a migrant to his new homeland from across the border. The novel primarily relates the various stages of his life.

Zakir lives in a dynamic, conflictual and contradictory world. There is no Hardyesque feeling of an individual pitted against the larger forces at work. Instead, throughout the novel, there are threads of nostalgia, displacement and ruptured continuities. The Partition of India in 1947 is the centre of the novel’s sombre, impressionistic landscape. That year turns everything topsy-turvy, and more so, it transforms the fate of the basti (settlement). Unlike other Partition literature, Basti avoids direct, graphic reportage on the psychological and physical violence inherent to Partition. The political chaos at one level is also interiorised by Zakir. There is, then, an intense feeling of alienation and emptiness that Zakir, as a migrant in a new country, feels. It should be remembered that Husain, now considered a torchbearer of progressive thought in Urdu language and literature, was never a firebrand revolutionary in the way that other luminaries in Urdu are known as. In fact, Zakir’s ambivalence towards politics and resistance is partly reflective of Intizar Sahib’s ideological moorings in the new discourse on jadeediyat or modernism.

Basti was criticised when it was first published in Urdu. Critics, often driven by ideological imperatives, considered it to be a lesser novel for its evident refusal to apportion blame or affix responsibility. However, the novel has proved to be a formidable work of art. Almost like “rocks beneath” (to borrow a phrase from Emily Bronte), it is a narrative that is neither noisy, nor voluminous or polemical. Its melancholy mood, layered plot and composite portrayal of human emotion ensure its timelessness and universal appeal. […]

March 6th, 2013|books, India-Pakistan History, Pakistan, published in DAWN|1 Comment

Mehdi Hasan: A bridge over the troubled divide

My tribute to Mehdi Hasan published here

He was the musical Midas who transcended borders with the same mastery that he transcended genres

Mehdi Hassan is gone. His devastated fans across the globe will mourn the loss of a voice that ruled their hearts for nearly half a century, a voice in which Lata Mangeshkar said she had found bhagwan.

Mehdi Hassan was born in a family of musicians in the town of Luna of district JhunJhunu in Rajasthan around 1927. Rajasthan is famous for its haunting melodies and the expanse of the desert, which celebrates man’s primal relationship with nature. Reshma is also from this region. Hassan’s father Ustad Azeem Khan and Uncle Ustad Ismail Khan were well known classical musicians and it is said that Mehdi Hassan’s first ever concert was at the Maharaja of Baroda’s darbar when he was just eight years old.

With Partition in 1947 this gharana moved to Pakistani Punjab. A young Mehdi Hassan took up the job of an automobile mechanic, something that he was supposed to have been quite adept at. But within a few years, it was his musical talent to which people began paying attention, and by 1952 he was singing at Radio Pakistan.

Mehdi Hassan remained a prized treasure of Radio Pakistan for nearly half a century. I remember growing up listening to his film songs, ghazals and thumris on radio. The launch of television in the 1960s provided an additional platform to Hassan and some of his memorable performances are from those black and white days of television programming.

Hassan proved to be a musical Midas. Whatever he touched turned to gold — from the poetry of famous Urdu poets to romantic film numbers. […]

July 22nd, 2012|Arts & Culture, Music, Published in The Hindu|5 Comments