Reflections / 24.02.2017

By Anjum Altaf   For Sheema Kermani - because she went   Go(After Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Aaj Bazaar meiN Pa ba JaullaN Chalo) Unwept tears, inner tormentsEnoughHidden desires, silent accusationsEnough GoFlaunt your fetters in the streetArms aloft, enraptured, intoxicatedDisheveled, blood stainedGoLovers are yearning for your loveGo Tyrant and crowdAwaitSlings and stonesAwaitSorrows and failuresAwait Who else is left to loveBut youWho else is left to fightBut youWho else is left to dieBut you Arise and goFor love’s honorGo   Note Sehwan is home to the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a major sufi saint in Sindh, where a suicide bombing killed 88 devotees on February 16, 2017. Sheema Kermani is a symbol of defiance in Pakistan as a dancer who has continued to perform in public all through the rise of fundamentalism and suppression. She went to the shrine to join the devotees on February 20. The news story is here. This poem appeared first on 3 Quarks Daily  on February 23,...

Politics / 06.03.2016

By Anjum Altaf Speak (After Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Bol) Now is the time to speak Lips not sealed Body unbroken Blood coursing still Through your veins Now is the time to speak Look The iron glows red Like your blood The chain lies open Like your lips Now is the time to speak Speak For the tide of life runs out Speak For truth and honor shall not wait Speak Say all that needs be said this day Faiz Ahmed Faiz's poem can be accessed in Urdu, Hindi and Roman here. Back to Main Page...

Politics / 30.12.2015

By Anjum Altaf My interpretation of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Kuttey was published on 3 Quarks Daily on December 30, 2015 (here). Why Not even dogs Go as quietly as these men Battered and bruised Idle and begging Homeless and hearthless Stabbing each other o'er scraps Starving in silence Why What myth is it That keeps you Divided Amongst yourselves That keeps you Blind To your strength The original (in Urdu, Hindi, and Roman) can be seen here. Over the course of a life there are many who nudge you in one direction or another but very few who entirely alter its trajectory. In my experience I can count four, all encountered between the last two years at school and the first two years in college. Faiz Ahmed Faiz made me see the world beyond myself in a manner at once appealing and hopeful. Since then, Faiz has become a kind of Bible-substitute in all the manifestations of sight and sound. Three poems – Kuttey, Bol, and...

Language/Meaning / 19.12.2015

By Anjum Altaf Remembering is one thing; not forgetting another. One of the dates we should not forget is December 16, 1971. My contribution to not forgetting is an attempt to capture the spirit of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Dhaka se Waapsii par, a poem Faiz wrote a few years after the event. As I have written before (Faiz – 1: The City), I am not attempting a translation, something virtually impossible to manage from Urdu into English. Faiz Sahib’s words in this regard provide the best counsel (in Faiz Ahmed Faiz on Daud Kamal): "Translating poetry, even when confined to a cognate language with some formal and idiomatic affinities with the original compositions, is an exacting task, but this task is obviously far more formidable when the languages involved are far removed from each other in cultural background, rhythmic and formal patterns, and the vocabulary of symbol and allusion...

Cities/Urban / 30.11.2015

By Anjum Altaf I ‘wrote’ a poem, The City, which appeared on 3 Quarks Daily on Monday, 30 November, 2015. The poem is reproduced below followed by comments on its genesis, connections with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and some reflections on translating poetry. The City Look My city bedecks itself in fetters The carefree walk The careless talk No more The head held high The feet unbound No more No more I trust Light from dark Wine from blood Joy from mourning Flowers in my city Wilt into the dust After the Paris attacks, Brussels went into a lock-down that continued for a number of days. Faiz’s poem Yahan se Sheher ko Dekho (Look at the City from Here) came to mind and seemed to speak to the situation. But how could one convey the sense of the poem in English? This brought forth the dilemma of translating poetry. Personally, I am skeptical it can be done especially if it were intended for an audience unfamiliar...

Language/Meaning / 16.11.2014

By Anjum Altaf Urdu hai jis ka naam hamiiN jantey haiN Daagh Saarey jahaaN meiN dhuum hamaarii zubaaN ki hai Daagh, we know, the language, Urdu is its name Celebrated over the entire world is its fame A Hindi speaker, fond of Urdu, came across the following text in a letter by Premchand (dated 22 February 1925): "Priy Shivapujan Sahay ji, Vande. Mujhe to aap bhool hi gaye. Leejiye, jis pustak par aapne kaii maheene dimagh-rezi kee thi vah aapka ahsaan ada karti hui aapki khidmat men jaati hai aur aapse vinti karti hai ki mujhe do-chaar ghanton ke liye ekaant ka samay deejiye aur tab aap meri nisbat jo rai qayam karen vah apni manohar bhasha men kah deejiye...

Language/Meaning / 06.03.2011

By Anjum Altaf In response to a question asking why Faiz Ahmad Faiz was so much more popular then other, clearly ‘better,’ poets, I had argued (here and here) that we should enjoy poets on their own terms and not bother overmuch with ranking them. Comparisons being difficult, I used a metaphor from music to suggest some of the ways in which poets differ – while Faiz could be considered a poet of the vilambit, Ghalib was one of the drut, and it makes as little sense to compare Faiz and Ghalib as it does to compare a vilambit to a drut. I am aware that the argument can be pushed: Can we not compare poets of the vilambit or of the drut to elucidate what might be involved in such comparisons?
Music / 25.01.2011

By Anjum Altaf For many years, I sat with a teacher of Hindustani classical music, not learning myself, but watching him explain the complexities of the art to others. When guiding a student through the vilambit phase of a raga, the teacher instructed him to envision a child asleep: the singer should aspire to pouring honey into the child’s ear, to give it the sweetest possible dreams without waking it up. (Translating this instruction into English deprives it of much of its charm, unfortunately.) Once the student began the drut phase, the instructions underwent a dramatic change. In the drut, the listener must be kept awake and engaged, unable to turn away from the music. Instead of vilambit-style vistaars, the singer was told to use sargams and taans, to be like a firecracker. The two parts of the raga are completely different, as are the pleasures they offer the listener.
Miscellaneous / 11.02.2010

This is going to be a long explanation for why we will be posting something that is more than eighteen months out of date. Some of you who have been with us for a while might remember A Modern Fable by Ibn-e Eusuf. We posted that in June 2008. We discovered Ibn-e, thought he was a good satirist, in the tradition of Manto and Ibn-e Insha, and gave him his first break in print (digital or otherwise) with A Modern Fable. We had hoped Ibn-e would continue writing for us but we were right that he was good, with a razor sharp pen. He was immediately picked up by the Herald with an offer to reproduce A Modern Fable in their forthcoming issue (which they did). When Ibn-e asked our permission we were torn – Herald paid and we didn’t and Ibn-e needed the money.
Pakistan / 17.03.2009

By Anjum Altaf Let us begin when everything was as it was supposed to be. Before you came, Things were as they should be: The sky was the dead-end of sight, The road was just a road, wine merely wine. It was November 2006. The sun was in the sky, everything was alright with the world, the Enlightened Moderate, everyone’s favorite, was firmly ensconced on the throne, the Chief Justice was still the Chief Justice, and the lawyers were beyond the dead-end of sight. This is what we recommended, based on our analysis of the situation, in a paper presented in Islamabad: So what is to be done beyond the struggle for civilian rule? In the absence of a political coalition to support the demand for improvements in human rights, civil society groups at the present juncture in Pakistan should look for mechanisms to strengthen the instruments of social control over governments, to...


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