Pablo Neruda – A Love Poem

The love poetry of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda continues to stir emotions and is complex and moving. His ‘Twenty Love Poems’ brought him to prominence and became a touchstone for many. Considered on par to Shakespeare, his work is known only by small percentage of the population in the English speaking world. Working as a diplomat, his postings in Spain, France and Indonesia gave his writing much scope, propelling his work to the world stage:

Sonnet XLIV

You must know that I do not love and that I love you,
because everything alive has its two sides;
a word is one wing of silence,
fire has its cold half.
I love you in order to begin to love you,
to start infinity again
and never to stop loving you:
that’s why I do not love you yet.
I love you, and I do not love you, as if I held
keys in my hand: to a future of joy-
a wretched, muddled fate-
My love has two lives, in order to love you:
that’s why I love you when I do not love you,
and also why I love you when I do.


Dogs – A Legacy for Pakistan

Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote ‘Dogs’ during the struggle against the British Raj,  but the words are as apt for the state of Pakistan  today. The feudal  system of the rule of the Bhutto’s  to the brutal regime of Musharraf exposes the lack of progress for a country created with a multitude of ambitions for its minorities.

These wandering unemployed gods of the streets,
On whom has been bestowed ardour for beggary,
The curses of the age their property,
The abuse of the whole world their earnings;
Neither rest at night nor comfort in the morning,
Dwellings in the dirt, night-lodgings in the drains;
If they rebel, make one fight another,
Just show them a piece of bread –
They who suffers the kicks of everyone,
Who will die worn out with starvation…

If these oppressed creatures lifted their head,
Mankind would forget all its insolence:
If they wished they would make the earth either own,
They would chew even the bones of the masters –
If only someone showed them consciousness of degradation,
If only someone shook their sleeping tails!

Extract from ‘Poems by Faiz’ Translated by Victor Kiernan published by Vanguard Books (PVT) Ltd , South Publications, London

Ground Hog Day in the Bazaar’s of Pakistan

Here is a beautiful rendition of poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz,  Aaj Bazaar Mein (Today in the Bazaar) being initially read by him, then continued by song which is sung to images  of the day to day life in Pakistan during the Zia-ul-Haq  era. It seems that Pakistan is trapped in a ground hog day.

A dedication to Kenya

As events continue to spiral out of hand in Kenya, the plight of many minorities in the country remains uncertain. Once a country on the road to recovery from it’s colonial past, Kenya looks like as if its on a journey of no return. The hopes and desires in this poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, written for Africa  now seem to lay in ruins. 

Come Africa by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Come, I have heard the ecstasy of your drum –
Come, the beating of my blood has become mad –
‘Come, Africa!’
Come, I have lifted my forehead from the dust –
Come, I have scraped from my eyes the skin of grief –
Come, I have released my arm from pain –
Come, I have clawed through the snare of helplessness –
‘Come, Africa!’

In my grasp a link of the manacle has become a mace,
I have broken the iron-collar on my neck and moulded it into a shield –
‘Come, Africa!’

The earth is throbbing along with me, Africa,
The river dances and the forest beats time;
I am Africa; I have taken your figure
I am you; my walk is your lion walk:
‘Come Africa!’
Come with lion walk –
‘Come, Africa!’

‘Come Africa’ appears in ‘Poems by Faiz’ translated by Victor Kiernan and published by Vanguard Books PVT Ltd, South Publication, London 1971. Copyright UNESCO 1971

Mehdi Hasan

When Lata Mangeshkar described Mehdi Hasan as perhaps one of the greatest singers, she was making a much needed recognition of an extraordinary talent. She further commented that she had much to learn from him, particularly his ability to take you to the place of the lyrics imparting from his lips.

Mehdi Hasan was born in India into a family which hailed from a great tradition north Indian classical music. Forced to move to Pakistan after the partition of India, Mehdi Hasan perhaps lost out on the global recognition for his extraordinary talent had he stayed in India.

Despite the limited audiences initially, he soon made the ghazal popular and inspired many to sing in a semi classical style and he had a major impact in the Urdu/Hindi speaking world with making ghazals popular in film per se.

Singing the works of Ahmed Faraz and Faiz Ahmed Faiz in Pakistani films, Mehdi Hasan reached international fame.

Perhaps it was the fate of artists of that era who were given begrudging recognition in Pakistan. Unable to embrace its artists due to Pakistan’s Islamic heritage, shunning many and letting traditions such as Mehdi Hasan’s slip away will no doubt leave a deep crevasse in creative expression.


Save The Children Refugee Project

I conducted a one day workshop for Save The Children Workshop at the Coventry Refugee Centre young people who were refugees from Afghanistan and locals. The project was put together by the Birmingham Save The Children entitled Positive Press which aims to enable young people across three local refugee and non-refugee communities to learn about one another and work together using different media to challenge discrimination and reduce community tension.

Outcomes that relate to media work include:

  • Young people are empowered to speak out about issues that affect them and develop skills that enable them to engage with a variety of audiences using different types of media

  • Increased number of positive media stories about young people and refugees and a reduction in the number of negative or misleading stories in local and regional media

  • Local and regional media reporting adheres to better standards that protect and respect the rights of young people and refugees

Enabling children and young people to speak to the media is a key part of Save the Children’s objective of giving children and young people a voice on issues that affect them.

The workshop was highly successful where ten young people attended, four originally from Coventry and four escaping war from Afghanistan. Although the workshop was on a Sunday, the young people were enthusiastic and waiting to discuss and learn about film and cinema. Discussions using examples of directors they liked ranged from Tarantino to the actor Salman Khan. The young refugee’s from Afghanistan wanted to tell their stories and when the workshop was split into smaller groups to write stories, the refugee stories were both moving and heartbreaking.

Towards the end of the day, the young people clearly recognised the power of media and each were keen to follow it through towards a career or a way of life.

Rapture and Spirit – the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz

I return often to the poems by Faiz, the Pakistani poet writing Urdu – perhaps out of some romantic memory or a longing to be a particular way, I don’t know. I know my mother loved him – I know that he had a profound effect on the psyche of the nation of Pakistan. Despite his protests, very little progress occurred in a land created to protect minorities from persecution, religious or otherwise. Reading in-between his words, you sense a feeling of betrayal – like that of Sahir’s epic lyrics in Pyaasa: “Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Per Woh Kahan Hai?” (Those who have pride in India, where are they now?).

In Poems by Faiz, translated by Victor Kiernan (where I return to, as if a refuge), Kiernan writes about Faiz that:

“Love and religion shared besides a common emblem in wine, another refinement of gross fact into ideal essence. If in the feudal courts liquor forbidden to the faithful ran freely, and Ghalib might be a serious drinker, poetically wine stood for exaltation, inspiration, and the tavern was the abode of truly heart-felt spiritual experience as opposed to the formal creed of the mosque. Drunkenness and madness are near allied, and the later – junoon, ‘rapture’ in the literal sense of possession by a spirit (Jinn) – retain some of the aura that surrounds it among primitive people, it might be either the passion of the worshipper of beauty throwing the world away for love or the ecstasy of the acolyte despising material success in his heavenly quest. All this vogue of ‘madness’ was a recoil from the hard fixity of life, the rigid framework within which man as a social animal imprisons himself….”

Complex, genius, profound, provocative and revolutionary – Faiz Ahmed Faiz remains an enigma.


These wandering unemployed dogs of the streets,
On whom has been bestowed ardour for beggary,
The curses of the age their property,
The abuse of the whole world their earnings,
Neither rest at night nor comfort in the morning,
Dwellings in the dirt, night-lodgings in the drains:-
If they rebel, make one fight another,
Just show them a piece of bread –
They who suffer the kicks of everyone,
Who will die worn out with starvation.

If these oppressed creatures lifted their heads,
Mankind would forget all its insolence;
If they wished they would make the earth their own,
They would chew even the bone of the masters –
If only someone showed them consciousness of degradation,
If only someone shook their sleeping tails!

Poems by Faiz – translated by Victor Kiernan Vanguard Books (PVT) Ltd South Publications, London 1971

Faiz – Love, Do Not Ask

Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born in 1911 in Sialkot, in Pakistan. He spent many years in jail on political charges during Ayub Khan’s military regime in 1959. He was awarded the Lenin International Peace Prize in 1962.

A profound poet, political activist in the Marxist tradition, Faiz embodied the quintessential persona of the poets of the Indian sub-continent; from Ghalib to Iqbal  and may I add Sahir Ludihanvi here also. The unique feature of Urdu poetry was and still is the beloved – which is heavily influenced by Sufi thought – revolution, blood, love, god are a maelstrom that Faiz inhabited much like his predecessors and those that were to come after him, Ahmed Faraz, Fahmida Riaz, Saeeda Gazdar.

Faiz is famous for his poem “Love, Do Ask” – dedicated to Beirut and the Palestine issue. The legendary singer Noor Jehan embraced the poem and composed music to it, propelling the poem into the world arena. Noor Jehan sang the poem at a public function whilst Faiz was in prison, winning many fans in her defiance of the martial law – she of course did this not out of political conviction but the sheer fact of the beauty of the poem and saw no danger from its words. Subsequently – Faiz bestowed the poem onto her – the poem appears as a film song in the film Qaidi (Prisoner) – with Noor Jehan as the playback singer.

An extract from Love, Do Not Ask translated by Victor Kiernan

Woven into silk and satin and brocade,
Bodies sold everywhere in alley and market,
Smeared with dust, washed in blood,
Bodies that have emerged from the ovens of diseases,
Pus flowing from rotten ulcers-
My gales come back that way too; what is to be done?
Your beauty is still charming, but what is to be done?
There are other sufferings in the world beside love,
There are other pleasures besides the pleasures of union;
Do not ask from me, my beloved, live like that former one.

Faiz’s poetry highlighted the betrayal of the founding of Pakistan, the persecution of minorities, martial laws, public floggings, public executions changed the nature of its creation. The vulnerable were no longer safe in the land created to protect them.  Aj Bazar Mein (today in the city) is a shocking and revelaroty poem encapculating the brutality of the regimes in Paksitan since its creation.

We Sinful Women

Rukhsana Ahmed’s superb translations and compilation of contemporary Urdu feminist poetry published in 1990 requires a revisit.

The collection includes works by Kishwar NaheedFahmida Riaz, Sara Shagufta, Zehra Nigah, Ishrat Aafreen, Saeeda Gazdar and Neelma Sarwar.

Titles such as Stoning, The Girl by the Lamp-post, My Crime: A Promise, Dialogue with an Incomplete Man and Prison bring to the reader a profoundly unique collection of a highly evolved women’s Urdu writing culture.

The title of the book is taken from a poem by Kishwar Naheed; it sets the scene to what the reader can only describe as being on the edge of your seat. Rukhsana’s editorial choices has made this collection powerful, intelligent and beyond gender.

Perhaps the most moving poem in the collection is Who Am I? by Kishwar Naheed:

Who Am I?

I am not that woman selling socks and shoes

I am the one you needed to bury alive
To feel fearless as the wind again
For you never knew
That stones can never suppress a voice.

I am the one you hid beneath
The weight of traditions
For you never knew
That light can never fear pitch darkness.

I am the one from whose lap you picked flowers
And then poured flames and thorns instead
For you never knew
That chains cannot hide the fragrance of flowers.

In the name of modesty
You bought and sold me
For you never knew
That Sohni cannot die braving the river on a fragile pot of clay.

I am the one you gave away in marriage
So you could be rid of me
For you never knew
That a nation cannot emerge if the mind is enslaved.

For a long time you have profited by my shyness and modesty
Traded so well on my motherhood and fidelity,
Now the season for flowers to bloom in our laps and minds is here.

Semi-naked on the posters –
I am not that woman – selling socks and shoes.

We Sinful Women is published by The Women’s Press Ltd, 34 Great Sutton Street, London EC1V 0DX. Published in 1991 – ISBN 0-7043-4262-6

Bulleh Shah

The poetry of Bulleh Shah is both profound and mesmerising. A Sufi poet living in 17th century Sindh, which is now in Pakistan, followed the teaching of great Sufi poets like Shah Hussain. Bulleh Shah’s life and work is well documented, from his love for his teacher to suffering banishment. The tyrannical reign of the Mogul emperor Aurengzeb profoundly shaped the thoughts of Bulleh Shah and he remains an original thinker. His writing is timeless, touching on the realms of truth and reality. A profound critic of the establishment, including religious leaders his work continues to be relevant today. Crevasses, fault-lines, fissures of the human soul are the points of discussion in much of this great Sufi poet’s work. His most famous being “Bulleh! To me I am not known”. Enjoy.

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharaoh

Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard’s intoxicated craze
Neither awake, nor in a sleeping daze

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?

Bulleh! to me, I am not known