Stories about poetry

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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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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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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Has contemporary Urdu poetry lost its essence?

In Urdu literature, traditionally two concepts have remained dominant with regards to where creativity emanates from. The first is amad (spontaneity) and second is awrad (contrived). For a long time, the majority of Urdu writers, and the socio-cultural ethos in general, tilted more towards the amad theory, with Mirza Ghalib writing, “Aate hain ghaib se ye mazaameen khayaal mein Ghalib  sareer-e-Khaama nawaa-e-sarosh hai…” (The subjects (for my poetry) come to me from divine hidden sources, The scratching sound my pen makes resonates like the sound of angels) There were several writers who grappled with these ideas in Urdu literature, however they were not formally conceptualised until Muhammad Hussain Azad, ...

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A searing jeremiad from Zehra Nigah to mark the Global Climate Strike

The Global Climate Strike from September 20 to 27 led to massive marches for climate justice around the world last Friday, including one in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the fiery and moving address of the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York earlier this week took the global elite by storm. Yet, in countries like Pakistan, which could face massive droughts by 2025, possibly leading to water scarcity and water wars with our neighbour India, climate change is rarely seen as a pressing matter. It is worrying that in a country like Pakistan, which is massively dependent ...

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The indivisible relationship of Urdu and Karbala

Karbala is an event that carries no parallels and transcends beyond time and space. There have been several incidents where people have lost lives and families have been destroyed. However, Karbala is different; the events of Karbala are categorised as a climax of collective spatial and temporal oppression. At one time, in one location, all the violence that can possibly take place came together. The tale of this tragedy is never ending. Translated in different languages, it has inspired many people all over the world. However, the relationship of Karbala with Urdu is unique. As soon as Muharram starts, we ...

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Snows of good intentions

There is a cross on the ground I walk, There is a cross in this snow. There are footsteps of God knows who, Tire tracks of Old Chevy Malibu’s. There’s a horizon I can’t really see, Except for what the headlights show. There are moody storms with patches of snow, But it just always seems there’s more and more and more — snow. There is blood in the snow and it shines bright and red, There are people who walk past me, behind me, In front of me — but no one notices. There is a cross on the ground, There is a cross in this snow, There is a trail of ...

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A teacher’s response

No, beta, the trees can’t talk and sing, Nature doesn’t invite you in, And the wind certainly doesn’t give you wings! No, no, colours don’t melt, Transcendental emotions you pen aren’t felt, Word in your poems, Are sounds, lines, and curves, Not pillows, crutches and memory reserves. And please, people are people, Can’t see a rose in a person and person in a rose, A void exists only in space, Not in her eyes! Her hair, how can it be like a fall? Her smile like a fresh stream, And laughter like a heart’s somersault? Sorry, beta, but the dead are dead. Their love and laughter, you can’t store, And their memories, time will ...

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Green Town

Where the church bells don’t ring, Where the billboards don’t shine, Where there are no street walkers, Or hints of the divine. Green Town, Green Town, Green Town. The mosques are out of order, The synagogues flooded to the brim. Where the clothes have no glitter, And the bracelets no gold. Green Town, Green Town, Green Town. Where the karma is tipped, Where the shore is no more. Where the sex has no pleasure, No guilt or no pain. Where the people are selfish, So utterly vain. Green Town, Green Town, Green Town. Where the sky is shining, And it’s raining too. Where the earth is so tilted, Titled to the moon. Where the ordered disorder, Is always so true. Green Town, ...

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The dream that could never be – part 1: She thought God had come for her

O’ sweet mother, don’t send me away, I am but so young; it is late in the day. Dogs on the street shall pick me apart, They’ll chew on my bones and tear out my heart. Then he shall come to claim pieces of me, My soul in tatters, my dreams and debris. But his smile is what I fear the most, His touch, his stench, his breath I loathe. Just let me stay in your warm embrace, Silent as death, I’ll quietly stay. In your lap I’ll sleep a dreamless sleep, No dogs, no wolves shall come to steal. In your sweet grasp, I shall gladly stay, Till it’s time to ...

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