Afzal Ahmed Syed is a poet and translator. A translation of his selected poems by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Rococo and Other Worlds, was recently published in the US. His four poetry collections include Chheeni Hoi Tareekh, Do Zabanon main Saza-i-Maut, Khaima-i-Siyah and Rococo Aur Doosri Dunyayen. His collected works have been published under the title Matti Ki Kan.
What are you reading these days?
The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness, Adam Zagajewski’s New and Selected Poems, and Tomas Tranströmer’s The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems.
Which books are on your bedside table?
Ghulam Bagh by Mirza Athar Baig, Secret Son by Laila Lalami, An Anthology of Chinese Short Short Stories, Hepburn Shoes on the Double-decker, which is a collection of China’s new urban novels, and Poisoned Bread — an anthology of the modern Marathi-Dalit literature in translation.
Which titles are on your bucket list of books?
I would like to read as much poetry as possible. The list of books include poetic collections — George Szirtes’s New Order: Hungarian Poets of Post 1989 Generation, Liliana Ursu’s Lightwall, Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki’s Peregrinary, Marin Sorescu’s Hands Behind My Back, Herman de Coninck’s The Plural of Happiness and Inge Pedersen’s The Thirteenth Month.
What is the one book/author you feel everyone must read?
Ismail Kadare. Kardare writes with a Kafkaesque pessimism. He is unique in his ability to relate the particular to the universal and the personal to the political, and his writings challenge political authoritarianism and cosmic determinism. His experience of the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha in Albania gives him great insight into tyranny, and he connects this to different epochs and places like the Pharaoh’s Egypt and the Ottomans’ Turkey. His is a tragic sensibility that focuses on the ruthlessness of the powerful and the forever doomed dissent of the powerless.
What are you planning to reread?
Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat. It is an account of the plunders and atrocities committed by the Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo and his collaborators. The helplessness of their victims made me very depressed at my first reading of the novel, making it difficult to concentrate, so I plan to read it again with a calm and composed mind.
What is the one book you read because you thought it would make you appear smarter?
Maybe Orhan Pamuk’s impossibly beautiful novel, The Museum of Innocence, which is basically a story about obsessive love.
I did not begin reading it because it would make me appear smarter, but it celebrates love in a way that is rare even in the world of fiction. If I see someone reading it now, I surely think they are enriching themselves. So, it is the kind of book that will make you appear smarter to those who have read it.
What is the one book you started reading but could not finish?
Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! by Kenzaburo Oe.
What is your favourite childhood book or story?
Shehzadi Husn Bano. I still remember how happy I was the day I received the packet by post containing this and other story books.