Stirs the spirit and fires the mind
Humra Quraishi

A Celebration Of Progressive Urdu Poetry Anthems of resistance
by Ali Husain Mir & Raza Mir
IndiaInk, Roli Books, Delhi. Pages 248. Rs 295

A Celebration Of Progressive Urdu Poetry Anthems of resistanceONLY after being associated with the Jamia Millia Islamia did one became familiar with the Progressive Writers Movement. This volume on their poetry has been put together by brothers, Ali Husain Mir and Raza Mir. If one were to pick up this book, one can’t put it down till each verse has been read and re-read. The poems have been elaborately and painstakingly translated from Urdu to English after being placed in the right context.

The lines by Faiz Ahmad Faiz inscribed over the red-stained cover say: So what if my pen has been snatched away from me / I have dipped my fingers in the blood of my heart /So what if my mouth has been sealed;I have turned /Every link of my chain into a speaking tongue.

This duo has brought back to life the verse of Josh Malihabadi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Israr-ul Haq Majaz, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Makhdoom Mohiuddin and Ali Sardar Jafri. The present too is in focus with poet Javed Akhtar’s "quiver of poetic arrows." The flowing verse of these poets has been placed in the political, cultural and social context with the emotional overtone intact.

They have also focused on verse relevant to the African continent. This volume includes the poems of Ali Sardar Jafri written in 1960s which indicate a developing bond between Indians and Africans: This African, my brother /Picks flowers , in forest after forest / My brother, whose feet are red /Red as roses. Or these lines of Sahir Ludhianvi written when Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of Congo and who was also a "staunch anti–imperialist," was deposed from office and then murdered. Sahir wrote: Tyranny has no caste, no community, no status nor dignity /Tyranny is simply tyranny , from its beginning to its end /Blood however is blood, it becomes a hundred things /Shapes that cannot be obliterated /Flames that can never be extinguished /Chants that can never be suppressed.

As to what motivated Ali Husain Mir and Raza Mir to delve so deeply into progressive Udru poetry, despite the fact that both are US-based professors, the answer lies in their growing-up years in Hyderabad. Their home was replete with an atmosphere of couplets being rendered spontaneously. There were couplets for each and every occasion, even while being woken up for school. This little couplet was uttered by their father to awaken them: Arise, and join the moving caravans /That have left several destinations in their wake...

Besides their traditional upbringing, recent events of the changing world order left an imprint on their psyche. As they state in the preface, the Faiz poem Lahu Ka Suraagh ( Trace of Blood ) came to mind after the focus on September 11, 2001. "According to an estimate by the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization, on the day when the twin towers of the World Trade Center came crashing down in our adopted city of New York, around 35,615 children starved to death across the world. This tragedy bypasses the world’s consciousness. No editorials were written denouncing it, no flags flew at half-mast, no impassioned speeches were made, no war was declared on poverty and hunger." Faiz’s poem compellingly drew our attention to this ‘banality of evil’`85With a sensitive grasp of the happenings in the world, these two brothers immersed themselves in the Urdu verse of those turbulent years of our country’s history when verse was written with tremendous passion.

These two young men have done a great service not just to lovers of Urdu poetry but to the nation as well because they have made available poetry written with passion. It is important that such books are made available in each school and college of our land so that verse steeped in nationalism and liberal humanism can touch us.

As Ali Husain Mir signed Zindabad in my copy, I wished the deadened spirit in us rises and gets moving. Zindabad! Well done.