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.

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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‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’: Revisiting Sahir Ludhianvi’s ode to women on his 99th birthday

The legendary progressive poet Sahir Ludhianvi (1921-1980) was born 99 years ago today in Ludhiana, in what is now Indian Punjab. I have dealt with elsewhere why his circumstances and upbringing made him into a feminist even before he became a communist and progressive writer, but he has given Urdu literature four or five very powerful feminist poems (whether he is talking about women or about his concept of love). We can detect traces of his feminism in one of his earliest poems Taj Mahal, which is about how there is a class element to love; the love between ...

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Revisiting Josh Malihabadi’s tribute to Urdu on his 38th death anniversary

Shabbir Hasan Khan ‘Josh’ Malihabadi (1898-1982), who passed away 38 years ago today, was the patron saint of the Progressives, who conferred upon him the fond honorific Shaayar-e-Inquilab – the poet of revolution. And he returned the compliment in his own way by summing up the agenda of the Progressives pithily: “Kaam hai mera taghayyur, naam mera hai shabaab Mera naara inquilaab-o-inquilaab-o-inquilaab” (My name is youth, and upheaval is my mission My slogan: Revolution. Revolution. Revolution.) Josh was a freedom-fighter and was part of the movement which called for the end of British rule in India. Despite being close friends with Jawaharlal Nehru, and being awarded the ...

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Celebrating the work of Ghulam Muhammad Qasir: The poet of continuity

“Failing in love, what to do, I ask In life, I have learnt, no other task.” Today marks the 21st anniversary of the untimely passing away of Ghulam Muhammad Qasir (1941-1999), one of the great but relatively unsung poets from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) who chose to write in Urdu. In fact, Ghulam Muhammad Qasir wrote such exquisite ghazals that it is almost impossible to believe that he was not a native speaker but rather a Pashtun from the sleepy town of Paharpur in Dera Ismail Khan, who grew up speaking Pashto. Like his iconic fellow-Pashtun contemporary Ahmad Faraz, he was one of ...

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Revisiting Ghalib’s “Thousands of Desires” on his 151st death anniversary

Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869) is unique in the annals of Urdu literature. Not for nothing is he referred to as the bard of Urdu literature, to be compared with a universal tradition of literary figures representative of any national culture. Therefore he is the closest in our subcontinental tradition to what William Shakespeare is in the English, albeit dramatic, tradition. His works in both Urdu and Persian have left an indelible impact on the region, which is why his writings continue to be celebrated and widely read, not just in the subcontinent but across the globe. Today marks the 151st ...

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Celebrating Faiz’s 109th birthday by remembering his defiant political anthem

The great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-84), whose 109th birthday is being celebrated today, was a staunch communist. He had written his famous poem “Hum Dekhenge” (We Will See) in January, 1979 during a time of great political upheaval in Pakistan. With the rise of General Ziaul Haq and the sweeping changes which his regime would bring to the social fabric of the country, the poem served as a potent challenge to the years of dictatorial rule which were to follow. However, the poem remains just as prescient today as it was back in 1979, not just in Pakistan but perhaps for the ...

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Kishwar Naheed’s moving tribute to Asma Jahangir: “Asma! You are immortal”

Today marks the second death anniversary of arch-feminist and champion of human rights, Asma Jahangir. Her staunch commitment to the ideals which she believed in won her many admirers but also many detractors. Even after her passing, she continues to be deified around the world yet demonised by many in her native country. However, the truth is that we in this nation have never needed her more than we do now because intolerance, bigotry, censorship, and creeping authoritarianism are rife in Pakistan. Hence, not only is it important to remember her steadfast contributions to the country but it is equally important to ensure that we continue ...

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Revisiting Mohammad Khalid Akhtar’s writings on his 100th birthday

Today marks the 100th birth anniversary of one of the great Urdu satirists and novelists, Mohammad Khalid Akhtar (1920-2002). Ideally, his birthday should have been celebrated and acknowledged across the nation, perhaps even commemorated in the form of a Google doodle. Nonetheless, here I have humbly presented this original translation of his Informational Primer for Children, with an accompanying audio recitation, as my own small tribute to this great writer. A series of Akhtar’s comic writings were published in the 1950s in literary journals under the title of Maloomati Qaeda (Informational Primer). Two essays of series were also published in his ...

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Revisiting Manto’s biting ‘Letters to Uncle Sam’ – Part 2

In this two part series, Raza Naeem translates passages from Manto’s nine Letters to Uncle Sam and discusses their enduring legacy. Read Part 1 here.  ~ Fifth letter In his fifth letter, Manto brilliantly exposes America’s pretensions about maintaining world peace even after acquiring the capability to make hydrogen bombs: “I have heard that you have made the hydrogen bomb just so that there should be absolute world peace. Although God knows better, but I am sure of what you say because I have eaten your wheat and, after all, I’m your nephew. Although the young should readily obey the elderly, but I ask ...

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Revisiting Manto’s biting ‘Letters to Uncle Sam’ – Part 1

In this two part series, Raza Naeem translates passages from Manto’s nine Letters to Uncle Sam and discusses their enduring legacy. Read Part 2 here. ~ Saadat Hasan Manto passed away on a foggy morning today, 65 years ago in my native city of Lahore. A few months shy of his 43rd birthday, his frail body had been consumed by alcohol and his spirit was exhausted by the many battles he fought in independent Pakistan against the state’s courts and critics, who shunned, marginalised and victimised him. Among the victims of his acerbic pen in his final years were Uncle Sam and the ...

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