Raza Naeem

Raza Naeem

The author is president of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and translator. His translations of Saadat Hasan Manto have been re-translated in both Bengali and Tamil, and he received a prestigious Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship in 2014-2015 for his translation and interpretive work on Manto. He is presently working on a book of translations of Manto's progressive writings, tentatively titled Comrade Manto.

Revisiting Syed Mohammad Jafri’s biting poem ‘Ruet-e-Hilal Committee’

The moon – even the Eid version of it – is a recurrent theme in world literature, signifying beauty and joy. However, in countries like ours, it can also become a divisive issue, especially when politicised. Pakistan’s minister for Science and Technology has repeatedly called for the dissolution of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, the body responsible for the sighting of the new moon. In the past there have been repeated clashes between the clerics in Peshawar and the central committee in Islamabad, and recently between the government and the committee itself. Notwithstanding the controversies and politics over the sighting of the moon ...

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The Mao of Sindh: Remembering Hyder Bux Jatoi 50 years on

Hyder Bux Jatoi, who passed away 50 years ago today, was one of the great people who lived and worked in Sindh during the last century. Jatoi joined the Sindh Hari Committee after resigning from his government service in 1945. He remained the leader of the struggle of the peasants for a quarter of a century, thus making the Hari Committee one of the most powerful social movements in the Indian subcontinent in the 20th century. He kept struggling for the national, democratic, social, cultural and economic rights of the people. From the period of studentship to his death in 1970, ...

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“The people’s poet is your balladeer”: Revisiting Habib Jalib’s tribute to Ho Chi Minh on his 130th birthday

In 1954 Vietnamese rebels gave the French army a tremendous beating at their supposedly invulnerable base in Dien Bien Phu. After a century of conquering colonies, France had to exit Vietnam in a hurry, and it was then the United States’ turn to enter the region. It is indeed quite unbelievable that the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world” also suffered a humiliating defeat in this tiny, poorly armed country populated by many who lived below the poverty line at the time. A peasant of slow gait and few words led both of these exploits. His name was Ho Chi Minh, born 130 years ...

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Revisiting Manto’s ‘Last Letter to Uncle Sam’ on his 108th birthday           

Today is Saadat Hasan Manto’s 108th birthday. In the last years of his life, he achieved notoriety –  and also immortality – due to his biting satires and his series of Letters to Uncle Sam. More than a decade after his untimely demise, his friend and contemporary Mohammad Khalid Akhtar paid the ultimate tribute to his deceased friend by writing a ‘Last Letter to Uncle Sam’, a fictional letter written on Manto’s pattern, which is a very successful imitation of Manto’s style and was sent to the addressee from Heaven a few days after Manto’s passing away. In it, Akhtar talks about the ...

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“What a man was born”: Reading Fahmida Riaz’s heartfelt tribute to Karl Marx on his 202nd birthday

Karl Marx was born on May 5th, 1818 – 202 years ago today – in the German city of Trier located along the bank of the Moselle stream, a tributary of the river Rhine. In 1883, a crowd gathered for Marx’s funeral in a London cemetery – a crowd of eleven, counting the undertaker. His great friend Friedrich Engels had been quite right while speaking at Marx’s funeral, “Marx was above all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which ...

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“Go bid the wretched of my earth to awake”: Celebrating Iqbal’s Lenin on his 150th birthday

The figure of Vladimir Lenin – born 150 years ago today –  continues to exercise a talismanic hold on revolutionaries across the world. The year 2017 was celebrated as the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution, leading to the establishment of the first socialist state presided over by Lenin, and marking an important moment in history. Likewise, Urdu literature is also rich in writings about the Bolshevik Revolution. However, writings on Lenin, whether poems or fiction, are few and far between. Readers may be surprised to know that despite a long progressive tradition in Urdu literature inspired by the events of 1917, ...

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Revisiting the work of Shakeel Badayuni on his 50th death anniversary

At 4pm, on April 20th, 50 years ago today, the poet and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni (1916-1970) passed away from complications arising from diabetes at his home in Bombay. He was merely 53 years of age at the time. In a short period of time, news of his death spread far and wide. Whoever heard this tragic news rushed to Badayuni’s residence in a state of shock, even those who themselves were ill. In fact, when the news of his passing away was broadcast during the evening bulletin of the All India Radio, people couldn’t understand whether the news was true or not. Badayuni ...

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Remembering Habib Jalib on his 92nd birthday with his iconic poem ‘Dastoor’

Habib Jalib, who was born 92 years ago today, was a Pakistani resistance poet par excellence. I have written elsewhere on the themes of resistance and revolution in his poetry and also about why his work has an urgent appeal even in the 21st century, despite most of it having been written in the middle of the last century. Instead, I want to focus today on Jalib’s iconic poem Dastoor (Constitution) which not only became an anthem of protest for a whole generation during Pakistan’s first military dictatorship of Ayub Khan in the 1960s, but gained a new lease of life ...

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The sad tale of Delhi: As narrated by its bards – Part 2

Read Part 1 in this series here. ~ Dagh Dehlavi witnessed all this while sitting in some corner of the city, and it is surprising that despite being closely connected to the fort, he was saved from the cruelty of the British. Perhaps to mourn Delhi, today we can say with great pride that despite his comfort-demanding nature, his sensitive heart was affected deeply by this incident. He had wept at the destruction of a once flourishing world. Hence, Dagh’s work is riddled with the cruelties and savageries which the British perpetrated on the residents of Delhi. There is great anger, irritation ...

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The sad tale of Delhi: As narrated by its bards – Part 1

Bad times have befallen Delhi again. The capital of India has been in the news lately because of the widespread protests by citizens and students across the communal, linguistic, cultural and religious divides which have come to the forefront ever since the promulgation of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Narendra Modi government. Delhi has been the site of protests, most of them congregating in and around the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh. Interestingly, the protest poems of Pakistani resistance poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib have become very popular ...

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