A cultural fortnight

KARACHI: The last fortnight, closely following Eid, came with a chain of cultural events — book launches, receptions for senior poets and, above all, a literary evening hosted by ‘Pen for Peace’ to welcome visiting writers and poets from India.

The Indians came for the Pakistan-India Peace Forum Convention held in the city from Dec 12 to 14.

Because of the efforts of peace activists and the recent thaw in icy relations between India and Pakistan, nearly, 250 delegates came for the convention from across the Wagha-Atari border. They first went to Lahore and left a day later for Karachi by train. Among them were politicians, academics, trade unionists, film personalities and businessmen. Apart from the general meetings of the forum, they decided to meet separately with their counterparts — doctors met doctors, journalists met journalists, and so on.

Irfan Ahmed from Lucknow, Iqbal Badar from Bhopal and Anand Raj from the South were among the Urdu poets in the Indian delegation. Qadeer Zaman, a scholar of Iqbaliat, and Nepal Singh Verma were also there. At a literary gathering, Qamar Shahbaz and Taj Baloch introduced Sindhi Language poets from India, Hermoj Waali, Luxman Bhoja, and Ilholalvarni.

There were also many Punjabi language poets and writers. They briefly recounted their contribution to literature based on liberalism and human values.

Dr Manzoor Ahmad from Pakistan and Prof Nirmal Kumar Chandra, a university professor and ex-finance minister of West Bengal, were co-chairpersons of the meeting. They approved several resolutions, one of which called for opening up exchanges of books and periodicals between the two countries. The writers complained that books as well as other printed material were extremely costly in Pakistan.

Brief speeches and poems to promote peace in South Asia were read out, but a composition in free verse (as much in Hindi as in Urdu) by Anshu Malvia, a young poet from Allahabad, brought tears to many eyes. He lamented the killing of a pregnant mother Kauser Bano in the Gujarat carnage and exposed the savagery of communalists, with the establishment itself a co-sponsor in the holocaust. The unborn child was torn out of its mother’s womb and thrown into a blazing fire. The concluding lines of Malvia’s poem are:

Mein kabhi nahin janami, amman Mein iss tarah kabhi nahin mari Haspatal mein rangeen pani mein rakhey huey Ajnabi bacchon ki tarah mein amar ho gayee hoon Leikin yeh rangeen pani nahin, chubti hui aag hey Mujhey kab tak jalna hoga, amman?

I was never born, mother I never died in this way Lying in (bottles of) coloured water in the hospital I have become immortal like aborted babies But this is not coloured water, this is a piercing fire For how long shall I have to burn in this fire, mother?

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Raghib Moradabadi was the senior most among the poets, who were recently honoured at Arts Council. The poets included Afaq Siddiqui and Ejaz Rahmani. Separate functions were held in their honour. They were praised for their poetry and also their commitment for staying the course.

Besides being a poet, Afaq Siddiqui is also a teacher, who started his career from a primary school and then rose to teach at college level. Education for him has always remained a social commitment, and literary activism has also been ever close to his heart.

* * * *

The poetry collection Shaam Ka Tanha Sitara by Gulnar Afreen was launched last week with Governor Ishratul Ibad as the chief guest. It is devoted entirely to the memory of Afreen’s husband, Nasir Hussain Zaidi, who died last year.

Speaking on the occasion, a speaker said it was the first and so far the only volume of its kind— a widowed poet paying compliments to her departed companion. Another speaker, who came soon after, promptly corrected the previous one by pointing towards Rasheeda Ayan, a senior poet from New York, author of around six volumes of verses, who compiled her collection of verses, ‘Shamim Ke Naam’, a couple of years ago after the death of her husband.

Women’s devotion for their husbands was proverbial, another speaker said, and asked: Has any male poet ever compiled a volume of verses in memory of his departed wife? In the sombre mood that prevailed at the meeting, the question seemed inappropriate to most people.

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