Stories about Urdu

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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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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“Udhar tum, idhar hum”: When Bhutto pushed Bangladesh to the edge of Pakistan

The fall of Dhaka is one of those events in our history that we’d rather forget. No one talks about it nowadays, because it was the result of our own follies. But those who are still alive will never be able to forget TV newscaster Shaista Jabeen’s tearful announcement that dreadful night in December:  “According to an agreement, Indian soldiers have now taken control of Dhaka.” The people in what remained of Pakistan were shocked beyond belief. For days they had been told that everything was normal in the eastern wing, despite the BBC giving a contrasting picture. As always, ...

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Happy 84th Birthday to Gulzar: 5 short poems for the 21st century revoluntionary

Gulzar remains one of the most influential, intellectual and cultural figures in the Indian subcontinent. His towering contributions as a poet, short-story writer, filmmaker, scriptwriter, lyricist and a story-writer for children are well-known. What is less well-known is the fact that he was born in the city of Dina, near Jhelum in Punjab, 13 years before the Partition. Today marks his 84th birthday, and thus the month of August is synonymous with the Partition of India as well as the birthday of Gulzar. Equally well-known is Gulzar’s love for both the Urdu language and Pakistan. As a birthday tribute, I have ...

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Remembering Saghar Siddiqui: The maverick who poetically bared corruption and opportunism

Today marks the 44th death anniversary of maverick Pakistani poet Saghar Siddiqui, who died from an overdose of morphine on the streets of Lahore, the city where he found a home after migrating from India to Pakistan in 1947. He was only six years short of turning 50, joining the ranks of legends such as Asrarul Haq Majaz, Saadat Hasan Manto, Miraji and Mustafa Zaidi, who were equally consumed by the callousness and opportunism of a predatory system. Had Saghar lived longer, I have no doubt he would have been as popular among the youth of Pakistan as Jaun Elia ...

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Dear Shehbaz Sharif, what makes you think “Karanchi” wants to be like Lahore?

Shehbaz Sharif’s pre-election visit and recent comments regarding “Kiranchi”, stereotyping an entire community, seem to have created some ripples in an already charged up political environment in Karachi.  At a time when Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is badly fragmented; Pak Sarzameen party (PSP) is cementing its position in the upcoming elections; Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is an utter failure even after two consecutive terms in Sindh; Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is suffering from several in-house ticket issuance problems, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is trying to fill up the current void by Shehbaz’s visit to Karachi and quite recently, a jalsa in ...

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A Sindhi living in Sindh, yet ashamed of their own “tacky” language

I am one of those lucky few who got to spend her childhood with her grandparents. My grandfather would tell me stories of the days of Partition. He was quite young at the time, but seemed to remember every single detail about how everyone in his village would prepare for the people coming to live in Sindh from across the border. He told me how the women would prepare and bring food to the railway platforms, and how some people would even vacate their homes to welcome the refugees. I would often ask him why they had to do ...

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Only in Pakistan can your child get an ‘A’ without learning anything

Over the past few years, the policy on education has taken centre stage in Pakistan. There is now debate over reforming the curriculum of madrassas, as they have failed millions of students who have, and continue to receive, their education in these religious seminaries. However, it is not just the madrassas that need reform, but also the ‘elite’ private school system. I have been teaching part-time in Karachi’s private sector for almost a decade, and it is blatantly clear that the current system has failed miserably. Be it private universities or schools, few understand or are interested in the purpose of education itself. The ...

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