Ours is a multilingual culture. Our sources of inspiration for writing poetry are various civilisations, cultures, religions and political processes. Mirza Ghalib wrote in Persian and Urdu and Muhammad Iqbal wrote in Persian, Urdu and English. Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote in Urdu and Punjabi. He talked about Palestine, Lebanon, Pakistani peasants and, also, interpreted Quranic eschatology as a socialist classless utopia.
The legacy of British colonialism, the influence of the Islamic sources, the geographical proximity with the former Soviet Union, our ideological and logistic support to American neo-colonialism, and the inclusion of British and American literatures in the syllabi at primary, secondary and tertiary levels have all contributed to a syncretic sensibility in which nothing is extraneous. From Chaucer to T. S. Eliot, from Avicenna to Rumi, from the oral narratives of Sinbad to the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and from Amir Khusro to Sara Shagufta, from Vedantic poetry to post-modernist musing of Ihab Hassan, all are our sources of inspiration.
Literati normally does not publish poetry because we can neither adequately deal with nor accommodate the volume of poetry we receive. But after receiving some very good poems, especially from Moez Surani, Janice Pariat, Ijlal Khan, and Helen Swain we decided to bring out a special issue on contemporary poetry. The poems we received clearly evince the arrival of a new poetic sensibility, which has been transformed by a sense of futility about idealism and the loss of faith in the redemptive power of words. All is disjointed in the external world and there may be some hope in narcissistic indulgence in sensual explorations. The logic of American drones flying above Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is not very conducive to hope in the external world; therefore some of the poets find beauty only in the mundane, lovelorn acts. In others, there is a stubborn celebration of self-destructive behaviour. Somehow the early years of the 21st century seem to corroborate, with a scary acuity, the essence of the 20th century discovered by Edwin Brock in "Five Ways to Kill a Man." For our readers, we are reproducing the poem here:
By Edwin Brock
There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
To the top of a hill and nail him to it.
To do this
Properly you require a crowd of people
Wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
To dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
Man to hammer the nails home.
Or you can take a length of steel,
Shaped and chased in a traditional way,
And attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
At least two flags, a prince and a
Castle to hold your banquet in.
Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
Allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
A mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
Not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
More mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
And some round hats made of steel.
In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
Miles above your victim and dispose of him by
Pressing one small switch. All you then
Require is an ocean to separate you, two
Systems of government, a nation's scientists,
Several factories, a psychopath and
Land that no one needs for several years.
These are, as I began, cumbersome ways
To kill a man. Simpler, direct, and much more neat
Is to see that he lives somewhere in the middle
Of the twentieth century, and leave him there.
So far the 21st century has been full of conflict, scarcity, and insecurity. Some poets, in our selection, choose not to engage with the political sphere at all while others are overtly political. Rinku Dutta shows the passion of an activist, Moez Surani embraces despair so ardently that it seems a cathartic activity and Helen Swain celebrates those who use words to keep hope alive. Janice Pariat, Ijlal Khan, Sidra Omer and Jayshree Menon describe personal and social ambiguities. All of these expressions of contemporary reality are valid ones because, it seems, there are no tenable arguments for human redemption left. So, here we affirm and celebrate the vanity of vanities all over again.
By Moez Surani
Since the death
of 500,000 Iraqis goes unmourned
so I will not mourn them
but will continue drinking to excess.
And though it has been written
that under the eternal threat of war
children gain anxiety disorders
and are found banging their head against floor and other available cement –
I will not mourn them.
I will not mourn the dying and deformed
because an idealist cannot be happy.
And I want to be happy.
So I will laugh and marry
and continue drinking to excess.
My day will come too
Let my rage surface
Hit me till you please
Bang the door as I cry
I'm sure it gives you delight
To see me weak and pathetic
Too upset for a fight
Though keep in mind will you
My day will come too
I cry not because I'm weak
But because my anger is subdued.
By Janice Pariat
if you take the shorter route
there are precisely 847 buildings
between your place and mine.
houses mostly, ugly biscuit stone
while nicer others in Mediterranean
white and green, warmest reds
or plain, pale beige.
2 coffee shops daytime-emptied,
except for a few wayward souls,
looking for something meaningful
among mocha swirls.
9 piles of construction sand,
darkly sullen in the midday heat,
some joined by wine bricks
that lie there in a drunken haze.
5 traffic lights that stop
and start life on the roads.
a florist who is always present
eternal blossoms surround him.
i have never tried walking all the way,
so steps aren't counted, numbered.
probably there is much distance,
between us. too much in fact.
unmet at bookshops in hidden streets,
uncrossed ditches after the rain.
the path from yours to mine,
A trace of my desire
By Ijlal Khan
Her sleeve slithers off her shoulder into the unseen dark
The moon shows in its silhouettes what the night allows
Mystique of the folds of her sheet seethes the night sand
What is beyond the glance that sinks in her is the lost
Strings that yearn in her tresses play to her heart
Her eyes disturb the chords and her fingers stay
She frowns not considering that her contempt pours
Into the music of the night that sets the night darker
The sun slaves surrendering to her will till she lifts her
She slings a trail of light as her tiresome body weighs
And with the labor of each night she makes another dawn
To what crevasses of her frayed heart her songs yearn
Why I who have paid her nights with my absent sleep not
In her slight smiles reflections on a shivering pond
My soul to her ankles bleeds the palms it does not
Nor it leaves a trace of my desire on her open scar
Some do say some days she asks is not the turk here yet
those days through my absence I imagine her silent
For me that wait in the chafing gale of the moonless sky
Do I make my self present to see her or to live by that
By Moez Surani
By Moez Surani
'no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel'
Our life together will, I think, have a chasm.
10 years. 20 years. An insignificant chasm.
Our feet will visit countries
that haven't yet graced us.
My innocent feet.
You will send me your long letters
and I will phone you
each other in old age and fence
timidly with our canes.
We may age into reticence. And endure
the grieving of someone we love
And may begin measuring
our conversations. As though
what we have in us has, by the years,
through black rocks--
griefs, joys, the hundreds
and hundreds of morning reflections
that our life affords us--and through those rocks
like this one
when you shared your ritual coffee with me
the coffee that you made each morning before
sitting down to your hyphenated and rhapsodic writing
crushing the heated milk into cream.
Or we may not become reticent.
And may leave
Spilling our words and thoughts and cares haphazard and with joy.
We spoke through all of this
this morning after you woke me
from dream into that guest bedroom of yours
that was absurd with sunlight.
If what we are doing is practicing life
we are making headway here.
By Moez Surani
2001. My mother and sister
travelling India together
gain reduced museum admission
by passing as citizens.
A guard stops them
and asks who the Prime Minister is.
Vajpayee! my sister answers.
And the Finance Minister?
Vajpayee, my mother tells him.
Name anyone in local politics.
The three of them laughing now.
Vajpayee, she insists.
By Janice Pariat
It used to be here,
I'm sure it was.
The bus stand
I waited at everyday.
Just around the corner
from the cigarette store,
some 14 steps,
no less, no more.
I suppose it changed,
the route or me.
Open your mouth so I can dive in
eat your words
crawl upwards into your cavities,
and see the world through your eyes
I listen to how
results are pegged out in human form
and think about action not taken
while bullets lash out and rocks fall.
I cannot feel the heat of your back
inert against chrome fittings
and I am glad of your shades in the glare.
Having one rib more
your carapace is harder older wiser than mine,
more used perhaps.
I like the smoke meandering
through your story
and while I wait for your tongue and teeth
to bite at corruption
my gums recede.
I have a moment
I 'm making a hat
I tend to make a few mistakes with colour
I get too excited
Now i'm working up slowly
i've got a bright car
By Rinku Dutta
Even a rock responds
Warming to the touch
Of the hand holding it.
You remain frigid.
Even as I expose
Shots of half-burned babies
Bleeding from shrapnel wounds;
You merely shrug.
In God You trust
And in The State.
They are doing
What is best.
And ALL you care
And is your concern:
YOUR life must go on
YOUR car should run.
Language of hands
By Jayshree Menon
Her mehndi-filled hands lay open
Like a butterfly's wings
She was a bride, I knew
Intricate designs on her palms
Hid her own long lines of fate
The hands next to her
Kneaded her hands into her palms
Wonder what bothered her so much
That she kneaded so hard into her hands
The girls next to her hid their hands
In each other's hands
Their laugh tickled their playing fingers
Disappearing into their clothes…
The old women sitting next to me
Their wrinkled hands are not on their laps
Their fingers are dancing in the air
A young woman on the other side
Clenched her fists
While the one next to her
Broke her knuckles.
Another one searched her palms
For missing answers and stumbling questions
The hands next to her
Just closed and prayed.
All their hands
Lay open and closed
Kneaded and twisted
Wrinkled and rough
All these women
Their hands searched and found
Some hid, revealed some
Intertwined fingers and interlinked fates
But the bride's hands before me
In this train
Just snapped shut
And hid more…