Reflections / 10.05.2019

This collection of poems was published in hardback by Aakar Books, Delhi in 2019 with strong endorsement from Professor Harbans Mukhia, Professor Emeritus of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. December 23, 2018 · Some superb poetry of protest by Anjum Altaf who identifies himself as a South Asian living in Lahore. Poems inspired by Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Anjum Altaf was Professor of Sociology in Lahore and Karachi. First published in India by LG Publishers, a subsidiary of Aakar Books, Delhi. January 15, 2019 ·      A great poem inspired by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and triggered by "attacks on JNU students and faculty in 2016 and dedicated to them" by Anjum Altaf, Professor of Sociology and "A South Asian residing in Lahore." From his collection Transgressions, published by Aakar Books, Delhi, 2019. The collection is now available online from North America, India, and Pakistan. North America: https://www.amazon.com/Transgression-Poems-Ins…/…/938372336X India: https://www.ibpbooks.com/transgressions-poems-inspired-by-faiz-ahmed-faiz/p/37995 https://www.amazon.in/TRANSGRESSIONS-Poems-Ins…/…/938372336X Pakistan: https://www.libertybooks.com/TRANSGRESSIONS-Poems-Inspired-by-Faiz-Ahmed-Faiz Feedback and comments would be very welcome. Back...

Miscellaneous / 22.02.2018

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s The Sun That Rose From the Earth: Insights into the world of Urdu poetry in the Late Mughal Era By Kabir Altaf South Asians continue to be fascinated by the Mughal period. Whether one sees this period as the origin of North India’s high culture (the view of most Pakistanis and partisans of the Islamicate culture) or as hundreds of years of slavery under the Muslims (the view of the Hindu Right), it is clear that the Mughals remain central to India’s history and to the country’s conception of itself. This period was also the time when there was a great flourishing of the arts, including music and poetry. For example, it was during the reign of Muhammad Shah “Rangila” (r. 1719-1748) that khayal gaiyki—presently the main style of classical vocal music in North India—was developed. Some scholars also state that it was in...

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...

Reflections / 01.08.2014

By Ibn-e Eusuf Father was like that. Eager to have us learn everything, oblivious to details. Busy, busy. Shunting trains by day, learning French by night. Mother never said much, went along mostly. Handed over to a music teacher or somesuch. Eight or thereabouts. No Sa Re Ga. Right away on to aye maalik tere bandey ham tuu ne zarrey se keeRaa banaya or somesuch. Closet evolutionist. Wept. Mother gently requested change of tune. Merey maalik bulaa le madeenay mujhe. About death and dying. Final requests, etc. Nothing doing. End of music hall career. Still, thanks and all. Never forgot bulaa le madeenay bit. Coming in handy now. Understand all about politics. Aatey umrah jaatey umrah. Mountain of rye. Mice. Roared. Wind ke jhonkoN se. Pudeenay ke bagh. No offence. miaN khush raho ham dua kar chalay. Farsighted bastard. Somepeople know it all. Should have stayed with him....

Miscellaneous / 15.05.2012

By Hasan Altaf One of the few reliable characteristics of the institutions of the government of Pakistan is that they will only rarely stick to their mandates, that they will only occasionally consider themselves bound to fulfill their theoretical functions - the idea of the "public servant," for example, seems to have passed ours by entirely. Given that the results of this tendency are so frequently destructive, or at best neutral, we should look kindly on Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa's recent bout of poetic inspiration at the conviction of Prime Minister Gilani for contempt of court. It's easy to say, as the prime minister's lawyer did, that judges should refrain from adding poetry to their judgments ("especially" their own; maybe Iqbal would have been acceptable?) and just make their decisions and let that be that, but in a country where that is so rarely that, a little bit of riffing off Khalil Gibran is hardly the end of the world. "Pity the Nation," Justice Khosa's addendum to the court's decision, has struck quite a chord.
Language/Meaning / 21.02.2012

By Hannah Green Everything starts to look like Urdu if you spend enough time staring at Urdu words trying to get them into your head. The script is fluid. Some letters can squiggle tightly or stretch long, sometimes letters stack on top of one another and sometimes they go side by side. It is this fluidity that makes Urdu so enthralling to look at, but also very difficult to learn to read. I’ll find myself squinting at a word in one of the more artistic fonts, wondering if a dot should attach to the loop on its right or the notch on its left. Of course, the reason that I have these difficulties is that, for me, the language learning process is backward. Someone whose mother tongue is Urdu would have learned the vocabulary before trying to learn to read it, so they’ll know which interpretation of...

Language/Meaning / 20.11.2011

By Anjum Altaf ‘Urdu has changed from the Urdu of Mir and Ghalib but that simply proves it is a living language.’ That was one of the comments I received on earlier posts (here and here) about the past and future of the language. At one level, it is a statement of the obvious – nothing ever stays the same. At another, it invites a host of questions: What is the nature of the change? Who owns the language now? What functions is it serving? Such questions could be answered by survey of Urdu speakers. A canvassing of urban centers would suffice in Pakistan since Urdu is not a regional language and hence not spoken widely in rural areas. (The situation might differ in India.) An organization like the National Language Authority could design the exercise but is unlikely to do so for any number of reasons. The...

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? I am faced with that challenge from a reader: I would find it more interesting if...