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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Mohammad Khalid Akhtar’s witty, pithy advice for the New Year

Mohammad Khalid Akhtar (1920-2002) was one of the greatest, albeit marginalised and neglected, Urdu satirists of the 20th century. Despite hailing from Bahawalpur, he broke the monopoly of the so-called ‘Urdu-wallahs’ over literature and wrote some memorable novels, short-stories and sketches to join the immortal writers of Urdu literature. Hence, the short and sharp extract on the New Year presented below, taken from his longer, satirical Scientific Primer: For Slightly Older Adults, which forms part of his 1968 Adamjee Prize-winning essay collection ‘Khoya Hua Ufaq’ (The Lost Horizon), is not only the perfect way to celebrate the arrival of yet another ...

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The enduring legacy of Parveen Shakir’s poetry

Parveen Shakir (1952-94) was a poet and a civil servant in Pakistan who enjoyed immense fame before her untimely death in an automobile accident, 25 years ago today. Her first book of poems, ‘Khushboo’ (Fragrance), was published when she was just 24. Yet it seems that her early death has only added to her mystique. Her use of feminine tropes in the ghazal tradition marked her as an innovator in the form; for example, she is considered t o be a pioneer for her usage of the term ‘khushboo’, and for referring to the protagonist of the ghazal as ‘larki’ (girl). ...

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Celebrating Qateel Shifai at 100: The ‘Captive of Life’s Womb’

“Write these words on the epitaph of my tomb, The deceased passed away, a captive of life’s womb.” The great Pakistani poet Qateel Shifai was born 100 years ago today in Haripur, in what is now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan. Shifai’s poem ‘Chakle’ (Brothels), from his 1964 Adamjee Literary Award-winning collection ‘Mutriba’ (Songstress), is lesser known than his comrade Sahir Ludhianvi’s 1949 poem of the same name; but, in my humble opinion, the former preserves its devastating impact by being descriptive rather than prescriptive, which is how Ludhianvi chooses to end his poem, thereby marring some of its beauty. In the ...

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Razia Sajjad Zaheer: The forgotten virtuoso of Urdu literature

Razia Sajjad Zaheer (1917-1979), who passed away in Delhi 40 years ago today, was one of Urdu’s most accomplished but least celebrated and acknowledged women writers. She was a novelist, short-story writer and translator, and a Communist activist and Progressive writer born in Ajmer in 1917. She won the Nehru Award in 1966. She had been contributing short stories to eminent journals like ‘Phool’, ‘Tehzib-e-Nisvaan’ and ‘Ismat’ since her childhood. Her other works include the Urdu novels ‘Sar-e-Shaam’ (1953), ‘Kaante’ (1954), ‘Suman’ (1963), and ‘Allah Megh De’ (1973), the short-story collections ‘Zard Gulaab’ (1981), ‘Allah De Banda Le’ (1984), ...

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Remembering Josh Malihabadi: The poet of revolution

Today marks the 121st birthday of one of the finest Urdu poets of the 20th century, Josh Malihabadi. The year 2018-2019 is thus being marked as the 120th birthday of Josh. The last days of Josh were spent in an atmosphere reminiscent of the final years of the Chilean socialist poet Pablo Neruda; both passed away under their respective countries’ worst military dictatorships. The difference being that while no one was allowed to attend Neruda’s funeral, about a hundred-odd people did attend Josh’s funeral, led by the great socialist poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Josh has been christened as the ...

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Islam’s mythopoetic conundrum

One of the unique traits of the Pakistani masses in general, and the ‘intellectuals’ in particular, is the arbitrary use of concepts without exploring their epistemological basis, resulting in a collective failure to explore the true depths of the different facets of life. It also explains our unwillingness to venture into domains which have thus remained unexplored. Though religion is the preferred topic of discussion for many, we remain largely ignorant about the topic because of a reluctance to truly engage with the religious corpus. For a clear understanding of religion, it is imperative to explain the nature of religious language and critically analyse different approaches, including theology, ...

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The mystery behind Sir James Abbott’s bizarre tribute to Abbottabad

If you were to take a stroll through Lady Garden Park in Abbottabad, you would eventually come across a marble plaque on which a rather infamous poem has been inscribed. Simply titled Abbottabad, the reason the poem has garnered a certain degree of notoriety is more to do with the man who penned the poem rather than the poetic styling of the piece itself. This poetic tribute to Abbottabad was written by the very man whose name the city and district still share – Sir James Abbott. It interesting to note that unlike certain other cities in Pakistan which were named after ...

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