IN our hauteur as a faux “Great Power” we underestimate the enormous soft power we enjoy in our neighbourhood. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was an admirer of Jawaharlal Nehru because of his espousal of non-alignment. Alliance with the United States was a matter of necessity. Non-alignment was the ideal. He also admired “the noise and chaos of Indian democracy”. Admired also was our secularism.
Now, all three are under threat—democracy, secularism and non-alignment. India’s prestige has suffered. The famous poet Fahmida Riaz loathed the religious fundamentalists in Pakistan. Like many others she was disenchanted when she saw in India that the secularism she admired was under threat from the Hindutva brigade. Hence, her lament: You turned out to be exactly like us.
The other poem is the anguished cry of a disappeared person. In Kashmir, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons has rendered high service in voicing their grievances. Punjab was also witness to this crime as a Report by Human Rights Watch and Ensaaf proves. Nor is it unknown to other parts of India.
Poems capture the reality more accurately and poignantly than prose can. At the 5th Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF) this year, hosted by Oxford University Press, Karachi, two Urdu poems were read out which moved me a lot. They described the ills that India and Pakistan share—the rise of religious fundamentalism and disappeared persons.
The first was by Fahmida Riaz, who spent some time in India. A spirited dissenter in Pakistan, she brought the house down when she recited her poem Naya Bharat (New India) at a mushaira in New Delhi. Anyone who reads it will understand why the audience responded as it did.
The second poem is a “vagabond” one; an awara nazm as it is called in Urdu. I owe the texts of both to Professor Asif Farrukhi, a co-founder of the ILF and the Karachi Literature Festival. The other co-founder is the internationally respected publisher Ameena Saiyid, managing director of Oxford University Press, Karachi.
Reproduced here are the poems in Urdu in the Roman script with imperfect English translations by this writer.