In early 2007 in London, there was a sombre evening when Prof Amin Mughal and I met, a few months after my father’s passing in 2006 in Karachi. Mughal had moved to Lahore after my father had left but my father’s memoirs, published by Rahat Saeed in Irtiqa magazine, and then my father’s singular trip to London — when they would meet every day from morning until evening — had brought them closer.

It was partly because both were Marxists through and through in their analysis and understanding of how the oppressive capitalist world works, and partly because of their sharp criticism of how problematically things had unfolded in the Eastern Bloc countries in the times of the totalitarian socialist experience. Also, when it came to the recent history of the Indian Subcontinent, their ideas about Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Subhash Chandre Bose and Sardar Patel pretty much converged.

After we spent some time remembering my father’s last meeting with Mughal, he asked me cheekily: “What bothers me is that you never rebelled against your father like any intelligent son would. Why?”

I replied: “One, that I am not intelligent enough and, two, my father was a sophisticated rebel but always a rebel. He had never raised his voice beyond a certain decibel level but had never changed his words looking towards the gallery. Therefore, all my attempts of rebelling against him failed — I being crass and inconsistent.”

In our culture, perhaps like many other cultures in the world, it is primarily the mother who is celebrated. The child grows in her womb, she gives birth, she nurtures the child, she rears her, she loves her and then tries to make the child the person that she wishes her to be. Although, the father figure is used to instil fear in children’s heart so that they behave themselves, the moment they grow older, the father is somehow there only for ancillary purposes.

The poetic prose in You Died on Me turns it into one of the finest elegies written for a parent. The author visits his village and the ancestral home where his father lived and he himself grew up. The emotions and feelings of the author are intertwined with seasons, colours, harvests and meals that his father lived and breathed.

In our culture, we are told since we are young that paradise is beneath our mother’s soles. In our folklore and our poetry, mothers are the embodiment of affection, care and love for a child. Even today, in a regular mushaira, a couplet in your mother’s praise will bring you instant applause. Expressing love for your mother has almost become a cliché.

No doubt that there is a lot of responsibility the mother, and only the mother, can shoulder. Particularly in our society, mothers have to go out of their way to raise and support their children. But, in the case of so many of us, the father was also always there, along with the mother, to take care of us, love us and shape our minds and souls.

The experience of deep mourning and an irreversible sense of loss after a father’s death — while at the same time quietly celebrating fatherhood — is so very well captured by the Portuguese fiction writer, poet and playwright Jose Luis Peixoto. A much celebrated literary figure from Portugal, he is not only known in his country and other parts of Europe, but has made a name for himself across continents in countries where Portuguese is spoken and understood.

Peixoto’s work has been translated into more than 30 languages. His work has been translated into English from Portuguese by Robin Patterson and an Urdu translation is underway.

One can appreciate that translating a work from a European language or an East Asian language into Urdu or any of our other South Asian languages is a challenge both in linguistic as well as cultural terms. Agha Imran Hameed was grappling with this challenge of translating a European work into Urdu when he rang a few of his friends some time ago to discuss the meanings of certain phrases and words he came across in a piece of creative writing by Peixoto, made available to him in English.

That was my first introduction to You Died on Me by Peixoto — the poetic prose in You Died on Me turns it into one of the finest elegies written for a parent. The author visits his village and the ancestral home where his father lived and he himself grew up. The emotions and feelings of the author are intertwined with seasons, colours, harvests and meals that his father lived and breathed.

In one place, Peixoto writes: “I feel stranded in my pain when the morning sweeps across the sky, across the whole world. The morning you longed for and which came without you. The morning we went to fetch you from the hospital, so that at last you could leave it, as you had longed for so many times. Dad, I see the nomadic singing of the sparrows and I know; I see the newborn day and I know; I see the pureness of the dew on the green earth and I know. I know and still I wait.”

On the back cover of this small book, there is a simple yet powerful poem about Peixoto’s parents and siblings. He ends it by saying: “At the time to set the table, we will always be five/as long as one of us is alive, we will always be five.”

The writer is a poet and essayist. He has recently edited Pakistan Here and Now: Insights into society, culture, identity, and diaspora.

His latest collection of verse is Hairaa’n Sar-i-Bazaar.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 17th, 2024

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