India-Pakistan Peace Process: When in Doubt, Turn to Poets Faiz, Ghalib

When in Doubt, Turn to Poets Faiz, Ghalib
By Tripti Lahiri, Wall Street Journal blog, May 19, 2010

At a gathering of Indian and Pakistani businessmen in New Delhi that came to a close Wednesday, industry leaders from both countries mostly spoke to each other in English as they suggested ways to increase economic ties between the two countries.
But every now and then, when searching for the mot juste, they turned to Urdu and Hindi, and particularly to the couplets of famous Urdu poets like the 20th century’s Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the 19th century’s Mirza Ghalib, whose work is part of the courtly tradition of mushaira, a form of competitive but friendly spoken word shared by Pakistan and northern India.

Former Pakistani finance minister Shahid Javed Burki drew many laughs with an Urdu colloquialism about fools that he used when speaking about the difficulties that Indian and Pakistani leaders face in taking steps towards each other that might play badly in the news at home.

Wajid Jawad, managing director of Pakistani garment manufacturer Associated Industries, quoted not one but two couplets during his talk on the textile trade, repeating what he had said to a Pakistani journalist about his feelings just ahead of his upcoming trip to New Delhi.

“I recited a couplet from Ghalib who’s buried here in Delhi, the great poet and that was ‘dekhiyen paate hain ushaaq buton se kya faiz, ek brahman ne kaha hai ki ye saal acha hai‘,” said Mr. Jawad.

Loosely, the two lines translate to:

“Let’s see what blessings lovers will get from the beloved,
A wise man has said this year will be a good one.”

He closed by quoting from the Faiz Ahmed Faiz poem “We Who Remain Strangers”:“Khoon ke dhabbe dhulenge kitni barasaaton ke baad?”

The line asks, “How many rains will it take to wash away these blood stains?”

The Indians were slightly less prone to poetry than their Pakistani counterparts but Rakesh Bharti Mittal, vice-chair of Bharti Enterprises, gamely offered a bit of verse from another 20th century Urdu poet after a speech on the “low-hanging fruit” in agricultural ties (the mango, if you must know).

“Since my friend talked about a couplet, and I remember at an Indo-Pak mushaira I heard about one. I just got an SMS so I’ll take the liberty of reading it. It was Ali Sardar Jafri, this was at Ludhiana, he recited a poem and I just have a line of that, ‘Lo hum haath baratein hain, tum bhi haath barao‘,” said Mr. Mittal, “We are extending our hand…I think the time has come for you to extend your hand.”


Tilsim said…
Hasan, this use of poetry is interesting in Indo- Pak dialogue. I have always been amazed how knowledgeable Indians seem to be about Faiz, Bulleh and Iqbal's poetry. I wish I had the same learnings of Tagore or Kabir. We definitely need to broaden our minds on this side of the border with a study of old and modern Indian poets. It's sad to think that with globalisation, our future discourse may lose this bon homie. Perhaps in the future Indians will be more and more just comfortable to quote from English novelists and poets as the common culture dies out. I hope not.

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