the dialectics of poetic confusion

The great unwashed in the park – what is it that makes it so easy to classify the classes? women, children, some veiled, some garish, a festive group visiting this tiny walkpark of mine in this far off city nook     love imagines lives a little different from what privilege has taught from the pulpit     imagines lives of care, of concern for their sisters, brothers, younguns     yuN na tha maiN ne faqat chaaha tha yuN hojaae? 1     no stretch of imagination to immortalize the beaming smiles – under duress too – of my park lot

meanwhile my lot festers unabashed in connivances of convenience, contempt for the sake of bile     the unparked ones are the ones that worry me, the platitudes of concern, the beatific biles

the driver happily blocking the road with his car while talking to a friend     entitled shout: baap ka road hai? 2     I see joyful camaraderie that cares not a whit for a car or two stacked up behind     the pulpit snivels civility     love shakes her head     tao is good to the good as well as bad, lao tzu sages, so shall I accommodate the pulpit, the snivel?

or shall I retreat to my khanqah while the mongols of the day bludgeon away?     our great master prescribed nothing but – this much history teaches about rumi3, trying to spirit away solidarity by trivializing the mundane, the unwashed     easier perhaps to be a holy ostrich than to imagine lives of care, concern, sister, brother

yuN na tha maiN ne faqat chaaha tha yuN hojaae

1. “Wasn’t thus, I merely wished it so” – a line from Faiz, iconic Pakistani revolutionary poet who made no secret of his admiration for another “great poet of the east”, Iqbal, who in turn made no secret of his admiration for Nietzche’s superman: the dialectics of poetic confusion.

2. “Is this your father’s road?” A common phrase that like so many others can never be adequately translated.

3. Point raised by the Iranian revolutionary, Ali Shariati. A valid point echoed so many times in history when the gatekeepers of culture/morality/civility/whatnot have been hands-in-glove with despots.

Decree of refusal

A necessarily clumsy translation of the last four lines of Faiz’s 1966 poem, sar-e-waadi-e-seena, written after the Arab Israeli war would go thus:

As the chosen few have ritualized oppression
And the preacher exhorts holy surrender to servitude
Reversing centuries of acquiescence to injustice
Mandates an urgent decree of refusal.

Here are the last four lines in transcribed Urdu:
ab rasm-e-sitam hikmat-e-Khaasaan-e-zameeN hai
taeed-e-sitam maslihat-e-mufti-e-deeN hai
ab sadyoN ke iqraar-e-ataa’at ko badalnay
laazim hai ke inkaar ka farmaaN koi utray

Here now is my own rendition of those four lines, taking the spirit of what Faiz says and transfiguring it, correcting it even, to fit the spirit of our times. The self-love imagery – and the line from Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” – comes from my visit to the gym earlier today where I saw a man continually admiring himself in the mirror. On my way back home, the line on sewage was decreed.

Narcissus is want is need is
Me and I, I, I -
The flex of an inflexible memory, the creed of
Muscle and
Harm - The stench of sewage will overpower
The lord of mercy as he pleads, "Man, what are you doing here?"


Faiz III: re(dis)membered


as morning breaks night is withheld and it is tempting
to call it true for a while

hope lies not in redemption by idiot sunlight for it lies
in claiming the night the hurt the sunk

hope lies not in the solace given by the withheld smile for it lies
in owning the frown the sunk the thud

the morning breeze consoles the thud the sunk the night but it lies

صبا نے پھر در زنداں پہ آ کے دی دستک
سحر قریب ہے، دل سے کہو نہ گھبراۓ

Faiz I – reinterpreted/re(de)constructed

(Mujh se pehli si muhabbat meray mehboob na maang)

To expect me to keep pining for you. To be blind
to the sludge that ornamented tradition has left behind.

Yes, I equated your fate with mine. And it felt nice
up to a point. Up to a point.

Your breath still commands mine. But to
breathe in this and this alone. Sorry.

There are other grievances, other indulgences besides you:
machinations that bleed, history that sullies flesh with dirt.

1. Original Urdu
2. A young Noor Jehan sings it