Poetry and politics

Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Mujh se pehli si muhabbat mere mehbub na mang (“Don’t ask me for that first love, my beloved”) is often read as a call to political consciousness — couched in the traditional ghazal language of romantic love yet rejecting the central importance of that love. Here is Noor Jehan’s rendition from a 1962 film starring Shamim Ara.

The following video is another interesting interpretation:

Iqbal Bano’s live performance of the more overtly political Ham dekhenge (“We shall see”) resonated with an audience living under Zia ul-Haq’s dictatorship. Calls of inqilab zindabad! (long live the revolution!) rang out.

While dictatorship and oppression keep returning in different guises, a new generation reiterates the poetical challenge. Here the youthful group Laal (“Red”, get it?) performs Mushir (“Advisor”), a satirical poem by the famous leftist poet Habib Jalib. Jalib wrote it in response to a conversation he had with Hafiz Jalandhari during the time of Ayub Khan’s dictatorship.

The guys provided a translation with their YouTube upload:
I said this to him
These hundred million
Are the epitome of ignorance
Their conscience has gone to sleep
Every ray of hope
Is lost in the darkness
This news is true
They are the living dead
Completely mindless
A disease of life
And you hold in your hands
The cure for their ills

You are the light of God
Wisdom and knowledge personified
The nation is with you
It is only through your grace
That the nation can be saved
You are the light of a new morning
After you there is only night
The few who speak out
Are all mischief makers
You should tear out their tongues
You should throttle their throats

Those proud of their eloquence
Their tongues are completely silent
There is calm in the land
There is an unexampled difference
Between yesterday and today
Only at their own expense
Are people in prison, under your rule

China is our friend
We’d give our lives for her
But the system that they have
Steer well clear of that
From far away say “salaam”
These hundred million asses
That are named the masses
Could surely never become rulers
You are the truth; they’re an illusion
My prayer is that
You remain President forever

One of my favorite musical video responses to the crises in Pakistan is the Punjabi Chacha, wardi launda kyun nain? (“Uncle, why don’t you take off the uniform?”).


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