A Few Days

Only a few days, dear one, a few days more.
Under oppression’s shadows condemned to breathe,
Still for a time we must bear them, and tears, and endure
What our forefathers, not our own faults, bequeath:
Fettered limbs, each impulse held on a chain,
Minds in bondage, our words all watched and set down
Courage still nerves us, or how should we still exist,
Now with existence only a beggar’s gown,
Tattered, and patched every hour with new rags of pain?
Yes, but to tyranny not many hours are left now;
Patience a little, few hours of lamenting remain.
In this parched air of an age that desert sands choke
We must stay now — not forever and ever stay!
Under this load beyond words of a foreign yoke
We must submit for a while — not for ever submit!
Dust of affliction that clings to your beauty today,
Crosses unnumbered that mar our few mornings of youth,
Torment of silver nights, a pain with no cure,
Heartache unanswered, the body’s long cry of despair —
Only a few days, dear one, a few days more.

— Faiz Ahmad Faiz
(Trans. by Victor Kiernan)

Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was a politically active leftist and member of the Communist Party. After Partition, he worked as the editor of the Pakistan Times, a socialist English-language newspaper. He was arrested on March 9, 1951, and charged with plotting a coup against the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan. Faiz was given the death penalty and spent four years in prison before his sentence was commuted by Prime Minister Huseyn Shurawardy. After his release, he lived in exile until 1964. Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated on October 16, 1951.

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They’ll Say: “She Must Be From Another Country”

When I can’t comprehend
why they’re burning books
or slashing paintings,
when they can’t bear to look
at god’s own nakedness,
when they ban the film
and gut the seats to stop the play
and I ask why
they just smile and say,
“She must be
from another country.”

When I speak on the phone
and the vowel sounds are off
when the consonants are hard
and they should be soft,
they’ll catch on at once
they’ll pin it down
they’ll explain it right away
to their own satisfaction,
they’ll cluck their tongues
and say,
“She must be
from another country.”

When my mouth goes up
instead of down,
when I wear a tablecloth
to go to town,
when they suspect I’m black
or hear I’m gay
they won’t be surprised,
they’ll purse their lips
and say,
“She must be
from another country.”

When I eat up the olives
and spit out the pits
when I yawn at the opera
in the tragic bits
when I pee in the vineyard
as if it were Bombay,
flaunting my bare ass
covering my face
laughing through my hands
they’ll turn away,
shake their heads quite sadly,
“She doesn’t know any better,”
they’ll say,
“She must be
from another country.”

Maybe there is a country
where all of us live,
all of us freaks
who aren’t able to give
our loyalty to fat old fools,
the crooks and thugs
who wear the uniform
that gives them the right
to wave a flag,
puff out their chests,
put their feet on our necks,
and break their own rules.

But from where we are
it doesn’t look like a country,
it’s more like the cracks
that grow between borders
behind their backs.
That’s where I live.
And I’ll be happy to say,
“I never learned your customs.
I don’t remember your language
or know your ways.
I must be
from another country.”

— Imtiaz Dharker

Poet, artist, and filmmaker Imtiaz Dharker was born in Lahore, Pakistan and raised in Glasgow, Scotland.

Makhi

The fly — unwanted by one and all
has such freedom to come sit on my nose
and it is free from the everyday which imprisons me

Sabke liye nā-pasandīda uḌtī makkhī
Kitnī āzādī se mere muñh aur mere hāthoñ par baiThtī hai
Aur is roz-marrase āzād hai jismeñ main qaid huuñ’

— Kishwar Naheed
(Trans. by Vaishnavi Mahurkar)

Urdu poet Kishwar Naheed was born in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1940. As a young child, she witnessed the aftermath of violence wrought against women during Partition. During the riots, Muslim girls from her community were kidnapped, raped, and abused. She has since said that seeing the injured girls who managed to crawl home marked the moment she stopped being “just a child and became a girl child.” Naheed’s family moved to Lahore, Pakistan, in 1949, where she fought to gain access to an education in a system that prohibited girls from attending school. She received her B.A. in 1959 and a Master’s in Economics in 1961 from Punjab University.

[Research note: Harris Khalique, “The phenomenal woman,” Herald (June 18, 2015).]

The Tyrant

This is the festival; we will inter hope
with appropriate mourning. Come, my people.
We will celebrate the massacre of the multitudes.
Come, my people.
I have caused the ghost city known as Limbo
to be inhabited. I have liberated you
from night and from day.

You desire something from dawn’s first brushstrokes?
You make a wish on your bed of dreams?
I have decreed death to vision;
all eyes have been excised.
I have sent all dreams to the gibbet.

No bough will display its wealth of blossoms.
The spring that is near will not bring
the embers of Nimrod’s fire.
This season’s beads of rain will not shimmer
like pearl drops; its clouds
will cover you in dust and ashes.

Mine is the new religion, the new morality.
Mine are the new laws, and a new dogma.
From now on the priests in God’s temple
will touch their lips to the hands of idols.
Proud men, as tall as Cypress trees, will bend
to lick the dwarves’ feet, and taste the clay.

On this day all over the earth the door
         of beneficent deeds is bolted.
Every gate of prayer throughout heaven
         is slammed shut today.

— Faiz Ahmad Faiz
(Trans. by Naomi Lazard)

Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was a politically active leftist and member of the Communist Party. After Partition, he worked as the editor of the Pakistan Times, a socialist English-language newspaper. He was arrested on March 9, 1951, and charged with plotting a coup against the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan. Faiz was given the death penalty and spent four years in prison before his sentence was commuted by Prime Minister Huseyn Shurawardy. After his release, he lived in exile until 1964. Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated on October 16, 1951.

(couplet)

This is the season of passion, this is the season of the chain and noose
This is the season of repression, this too the season of resistance.

— Faiz Ahmad Faiz
(Trans. by Ali Husain Mir and Raza Mir)

Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was a politically active leftist and member of the Communist Party. After Partition, he worked as the editor of The Pakistan Times, a English-language socialist newspaper. He was arrested on March 9, 1951, charged with plotting a coup against Liaquat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Faiz was given the death penalty and spent four years in prison before his sentence was commuted by Prime Minister Huseyn Shurawardy. After his release, he lived in exile until 1964. (Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated on October 16, 1951.)

First Poem of My Life

Move it cautiously in the land of those who speak no Arabic!
Even if they gave you oaths bound by oaths.

Their aim is to worship petty cash,
And for it they break all vows.

I came to their land to pursue an education,
And saw such malice among them.

They surrounded the mosque, weapons drawn,
As if they were in a field of war.

They said to us, “Come out peacefully,
And don’t utter a single word.”

Into a transport truck they lifted us,
And in shackles of injustice they bound us.

For sixteen hours we walked;
For the entire time we remained in shackles.

All of us wanted to evacuate our bowels,
But they insisted on denying us.

The soldier struck with his boot;
He said we were all equally subjects.

In the prison’s darkness they spread us out;
In the cold’s bitterness we sat.

— Mohammed el Gharani

Mohammed el Gharani, a citizen of Chad, traveled to Pakistan as a teenager to study English and Information Technology. In 2001, when he was fourteen years old, he was arrested, beaten, and tortured by the Pakistani police. Gharani was then transferred to U.S. custody in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was kept naked and beaten for two months. In 2002, he was moved to Guantánamo Bay, where he was tortured so severely that he twice attempted suicide. A paucity of evidence supporting U.S. claims that Gharani was an al-Qaeda affiliate led to his release after seven years of imprisonment.

The Right to Resistance

The light that shines only in palaces
Burns up the joy of the people in the shadows
Derives its strength from others’ weakness
That kind of system,
like dawn without light
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
I am not afraid of execution,
Tell the world that I am the martyr
How can you frighten me with prison walls?
This overhanging doom,
this night of ignorance,
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
“Flowers are budding on branches,” that’s what you say,
“Every cup overflows,” that’s what you say,
“Wounds are healing themselves,” that’s what you say,
These bare-faces lies,
this insult to the intelligence,
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
For centuries you have all stolen our peace of mind
But your power over us is coming to an end
Why do you pretend you can cure pain?
Even if some claim that you’ve healed them,
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept.

— Habib Jalib

Writer and poet Habib Jalib was imprisoned several times — his poetry banned — for his protests against the military coups and authoritarian governments of General Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan.