Sunday, 27 May 2018

Mountaineering Training in Shimshaal: Some Reflections

            Recently, I challenged myself to be a part of a mountaineering course in Shimshaal. Being a part of this training afforded me a chance to observe closely the way market dynamics influence and change the people of the north in particular and ourselves in general. From what I observed, I concluded that commercialization has a dehumanizing effect on the culture of the people living in the northern areas. The way they deal with the tourists and even their own culture changes a lot in consequence of the extent to which these areas have been commercialized. 

              I heard many tales about how the increased levels of commercialized touring has led to the shrinking of the indigenous cultures of people living in Hunza and Chitral. The natives avoid putting their culture on display because of the offensive gaze of the cameras of the tourists that have no respect for privacy. Ironically, for the same tourists, the houses are demolished to make hotels and culture is sacrificed for profit. The place is seen as something that can be visited and photographed, not something that is to be conserved for the times and generations to come. With rampant tourism comes a lack of ability to meaningfully engage with the culture.  As a result, culture, which contains within it dynamic histories of the past generations, is eradicated in the name of getting profit from tourists. This has an influence on the psyche of the indigenous people who become more directed towards earning profit than being true to their culture and land. Everyone complains about how people of Naran Kaghan and Murree have become mean spirited over the years. The over commodification of these areas is largely to be blamed.  
             However, this is not to say that such dehumanizing effect is limited to the people living in northern areas. We see this dehumanizing effect everyday in our lives in the cities, where most of our interactions are meant to increase either profit or social prestige in our lives. It's no wonder that we escape our urban lives so readily to visit areas least affected by Capitalism. However, Capitalism is making roads there through us to these lands and eradicating culture or at least shrinking it by virtue of our reckless tourism.
             Our trainers told us about the intense pressure that is put on the mountaineers by their sponsors to summit a mountain at any cost. This pressure influences their decision even at the height of more than 8000m. When taking a decision about climbing to the summit despite exceedingly difficult circumstances, it is unfortunate that the reaction of the sponsors is an element that influences the decisions of the mountaineers even at such altitude. Such decisions often result in the death of the mountaineers. This is an indication of how our current economic system places profit above the lives of individuals. This has become normal. However, if something has been normalized, it does not mean that it is justified.

Picture Credits: Ghalib Hussein 

            This led me to a personal affirmation of the fact that Capitalism, the drive to maximize profit, is a system that dehumanizes our actions and our inner selves. It alienates us from our true selves in the name. It evaluates an action, not by how fulfilling or meaningful it is, but by how much profit it can generate. Searching for meaning in what you do and trying to know yourself is what makes you uniquely human. However, the system that we live in tries to take us away from that task in the name of making more profitable decision. In our current economic system, being human is an act of resistance against the maddening drive for profit. So the best things in life are likely to be not profitable, and the profitable things are not likely the best things in life. As the poet puts is so beautifully:
شہر کے دوکانداروں، کاروبارٍ الفت میں، سود کیا زیاں کیا ہے، تم نہ جان پاوؐ گے
دل کے دام کتنے ہیں ؟ خواب کتنے مہنگے ہیں ؟ اور نقدِ جاں کیا ہے ؟ تم نہ جان پاؤ گے

Picture Credits: Ayub Noor

Friday, 4 May 2018


Grief is the silent walk of tears
In your eyes, as your body silently,
And normally walks through daily life.
It’s not being able to make anything
Of the silent walk, and walking silently.
Grief is standing on the edge of the road
You have crossed a million times
And then not finding energy,
Or skill to cross it.
Grief is sitting on the edge of that road
For hours on end
Grief is wanting silent and empty roads.
Grief is staring at food
And not wanting to eat it
Despite being hungry
Grief is cancelling the order of chai
That you gave when you entered
The shop: Grief is closing your eyes
Sitting in the next shop
Waiting silently for the chai
Hoping the shopkeeper of the previous
Dhaba didn’t notice.
Grief is not knowing what to do
When faced with a sincere smile
Or compassion, Grief is
Shutting down and acting cold
Towards that person, while trembling inside
Grief is feeling guilty
For not accepting that compassion.
Grief is identifying with the tiredness
In eyes or in gestures
Of people ignoring their own sorrows
And miseries, for the sake of their livelihood
Grief is self-forgetting because of that empathy
Grief is finding belonging in tired eyes
And desperate gestures
And sweaty shirts in May afternoons,
Of others
Grief is the tear that clears the vision
Clouded by privilege or inertia.

Grief is beautiful.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Preface to 'Dast e Saba' by Faiz Ahmad Faiz

An era has passed since Ghalib wrote that an eye that can’t see the river Tigris in a drop of water is not an eye that has sight but rather it is a children’s play. If Ghalib was our contemporary, then probably one of the critics would have called out that Ghalib had insulted the children’s play. Or that Ghalib appears to be a proponent of propaganda in literature. To urge a poet’s eye to see Tigris in a drop is utter propaganda. His eye is only interested in beauty and if beauty is seen in a drop then it should be of no concern to the poet if the drop belongs to either Tigris or a street. To show Tigris is the job of a sage, philosopher or a politician; this not the work of a poet.

If what these individuals said was right, then regardless of the fact that the honor of the ways of the skilled artists remained intact or not, their job would have become much easier. But fortunately or unfortunately, literary art (or any other art) is not children’s play. That’s why even Ghalib’s sight of the eyes is not enough; it’s not enough because not only a poet or a writer has to see Tigris in a drop of water but they also have to show it. Furthermore, if we consider Ghalib’s Tigris to be life and the system of existing realities, then it means that the writer himself is a drop of that Tigris. It means that the responsibility of uniting with the countless other drops in order to determine the river’s direction, flow, shape and it’s destination also falls squarely on the shoulders of the writer.

You can say that the job of the poet isn’t mere observation, rather struggle is also mandatory for him. Observing the perturbed drops in the Tigris of life depends on his sight. Showing it to others depends upon his literary prowess, but to intervene in its flow shows the strength of his passion and the heat of his blood.

All these three endeavors require unceasing effort and struggle.

The system of life is not a stagnant, stone-kissing, imprisoned water of a pond which can be comprehended by the faulty view of the observer. Between the treacherous ways of the distant mountains, snow melts, streams emerge and they tear apart the stones to meet each other. Then this cutting and growing water expands and contracts itself in the valleys, forests and plains. The perceiving sight that has not seen the stages and features of life’s ocean in human history won’t be able to see Tigris in a drop. Then, let’s say that the glimpse of the poet reached these distant and current places but if in their depiction, his speaking prowess didn’t support him, or that to reach the next destination, his life and body didn’t agree to do all the struggle then the poet is not vindicated by his art.

Probably it is not essential to explain this long and expanded metaphor in the language of daily day life. I just want to say that to be aware of the collective struggle of human life, to participate in that struggle to the extent that one can, is not only a requirement of life but also the demand of art.

Art is a part of life and artistic struggle is an aspect of that struggle. This demand always stays, therefore the struggle of a seeker of art has no nirvana. His art is an eternal struggle and an unceasing effort.

In this effort, success or failure depends upon one’s capacity and ability. But to be busy in that effort is nevertheless both possible and essential.

These few pages are also an effort of this kind. In showing the aspects of the effort of fulfilling the great responsibilities of art, it’s possible that the elements of showing off, bragging or narcissism might be observable. But no matter how minor the effort is, it’s better than one’s shame and escape from either life or art.


Central Jail Hyderabad
16th September 1956

Friday, 16 June 2017

Torn Pocket

The shirt pocket
That carries all the currency
And identity cards of the old man,
Is half torn, and hangs in mid air
As he cleans the dust
Around the fuel dispenser
At the petrol pump.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Random Travel Notes

The window next to me offers a unique view while travelling at night. I can look at a faint reflection of myself against the background of the dark roads and the semi-luminous inside of the bus. I have been trying to focus on my reflection. The way the outline of my face emerges on the glass window, the way my eyes seem to stare back at me, it's rather reassuring. It's better than looking in a mirror surrounded by adequate light. The abundant light and the spotless screen makes your appearance 'hyper-visible'. This makes a few minority features rather less visible to discern. There's something in the mirror that tells you what you ought to do and acquire. It also tells you what you don't have and what you don't look like. Conversely, that reflection will remind you of the places inside where the dawn of civilization has colonized the yearnings to create and expand; like the Universe above and below. In the anti-colonial imagination and stirrings, those parts only seem to regress and devolve. Your desire to know and help them only orientalizes the effort.

Returning to the reflection in the glass window. I can see my eyes staring back at me. I can also see the outline of my face. I watch the dark fields go by, with an occasional distant light. On the edges of my face, I can see something appearing and disappearing. I can see a strand of white hairs making their way down gracefully. I can see eyes that are old and wise. I can see centuries traversed in those eyes. Then all of it blurs out. It starts raining. Streaks of water come down the window, as if separating me from the time that lay ahead through a symbol of time: water. Symbols separate man from essence. Symbols are only signifiers. I pray for a life that goes beyond symbols.


The reflection of sunset

On the advertisement board

And in my eyes

Scatters around in the Universe.

How liberating would it be

To leave whatever you associated

With your existence

In the form of differently colored shadows

To leave and sacrifice that

On the altar of a glance

From the eyes fashioned by centuries

Of recognizing after forgetting

Then remembering the recognized instant

Before drowning in a thin edge

Of a limited infinity: Then recognizing

Bereavement, without knowing

Why and when it happened.


Thursday, 11 August 2016

'Silhouettes': A Translation of 'Parchayan' by Sahir Ludhianvi (Part 3)

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2

You, a thousand miles away from here, somewhere in solitude
Or in a musical salon
Will be casting dreams about me, sitting in a stranger’s lap

And I, with a grief in my chest, work hard day and night
Dying for the sake of living
By humiliating my art, I fill the coffers of strangers

I am helpless, you are helpless, helpless is the whole world
The suffering of the body is heavier than heart’s
In this era, the price of living is either crucifixion or estrangement

I couldn’t rise to the cross, neither could you reach the threshold of industriousness
You loved me, but couldn’t embrace me
You and I are such souls, who couldn’t reach the destination of fulfillment

We live for the sake of living, but the chitas* burn in breaths
Silent loyalties burn
In the grave realms of facts, the shawls of dreams burn

And today, under these trees, two shadows have swayed again


Again, two hearts have come to meet
The tempest of death has risen again, the clouds of war have come over
I am thinking that they too, might (not) suffer the same end as ours
That their passion too, might (not) fail

Written in their fortunes too, there might (not) be an evening drenched in blood
The evening drenched in the blood of sun, I remember still
The end of the golden dreams of desire, I remember still.

Our love couldn’t bear the stroke of catastrophes
But at least they should get the night of (culmination of) desires

We only inherited the strife of homeless death
But at least they should get the ecstatic, singing life

For many days, it has been a hobby of politicians
That when kids grow up, they are murdered

For many days, it has been an obsession of rulers
That in faraway countries, famine may be sowed

For many days, the dreams of youth have been deserted
For many days, love searches for a refuge

For many days, on the highways witnessing oppression
The honor of the statue of existence searches for a refuge

Let’s go, to all the downtrodden souls
and tell them to give voice to each of their wounds

Our secret, is not ours alone, but belongs to everyone else
Let’s go and make the whole world our confidant

Let’s go to the political gamblers and tell them
That we abhor the tradition of conflict and war

The one that is not compatible with any color except (that of) blood
We abhor that mantle of existence

Say that if a murderer ever comes here
Then on every step, the land will keep becoming narrower

Every wave of the air would change its course to pounce
Every branch will become a vein of stone

Let’s stand and say today, to every warrior
That we need acres for the sake of work

We are not fond of snatching away anyone’s land
We only need ploughs on our lands

Say that no merchant should ever turn towards here
No maid shall be sold in this place

These fields have woken, these crops have revolted
No flower bed shall be sold here

This is the land of Gotham, and Nanak
Barbarians shall not walk on this pure land

Our blood is the heirloom for the new generation
On our blood, armies shall never be fed

Say_ _ _ that if we remain silent even today
Then this glowing soil is bound to be doomed

From the atomic monsters, shaped by madness
The Earth is threatened, the sky is threatened

In the previous war, only homes burnt, but this time
There’s no wonder if even these solitudes incinerate

In the previous war, only bodies burnt, but this time
There’s no wonder if even these silhouettes incinerate

Silhouettes of imaginations emerge


*chita: Woods that Hindus use to burn the dead corpses. 

Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Fahad Mehmood Sokhta for his help. Visit his blog here.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

'Silhouettes": A Translation of 'Parchayan' by Sahir Ludhianvi (Part 2)

How delightful were those times, how beautiful were those moments
How delicate were those sehrey*, how beautiful were those garlands

Every bloomed street of the hamlet was like an island of dreams
Every wave of the self, every stream of the morning breeze was like a reservoir of symphonies

Out of nowhere, from the lush fields, started coming the sounds of trots
Carrying the heavy odor of the gun powder, started coming the winds from the West

On the radiant face of Modernity, spread the clouds of exploitation
Savageness danced in every village, forests spread in to every city

From the civilized countries of the West, came a few uniformed men
Came the arrogant pompously, the intoxicated (who were) swaying

In the silent chest of the Earth, the tent poles were being rooted
On the ways soft like butter, boot scratches started making their marks

Beneath the horrific (sound of the) band of the armies, the sounds of the spinning wheels drowned
Beneath the sweltering dust of the jeeps, the robes of the flowers drowned

The price of humans started falling, the worth of commodities started rising
The stir of the chaupaul*** started decreasing, the conscription offices started increasing

The sturdy, gregarious men of the hamlet started going as soldiers
The trail from which few return, travelers started going on that path

With these departing batches, departed honor, departed youth
Departed also the young sons of mothers, the adored brothers of sisters

Melancholy started coming over hamlets, the springs of the galas ended
From the supple branches of Mango trees, the rows of swings vanished

Dust started flying in the markets, hunger started growing in the field
The impoverishment of the impoverished houses, grew in to a plight

Inflation grew in to shortage, the whole hamlet became bankrupt

The shepherdesses lost their way, the maidens left the panghat **
So many virgin maidens, left the doorstep of their mothers and fathers

Of the poverty stricken peasants, the plough and ox was sold, the fields were sold
From the hands of the desire to live, all the means to live were sold

When there remained nothing to sell, then the trading of bodies started happening
The thing that was forbidden even in solitude, started being dared in company

The silhouettes of imaginations emerge
You are coming at dusk, (your hair) hair scattered

Carrying the weight of a thousand unsaid accusations 
Silhouettes of imaginations emerge 

From the tearing apart of lust worshiping eyes
(You are) Hiding the reluctant nudity of the body

I have gone to the city and returned after peeking in to every door
Nowhere the worth of my labor was found

In the political casinos of the oppressors
Nowhere was the worth of the wisdom acquired by ill-luck found

Silhouettes of imaginations emerge

In your house reigns the doomsday’s noise
The messenger has brought a ‘telegraph’ from the battle field

The rendition of whom you held dearer than life,
That brother got killed in the ‘line of fire’

Silhouettes of imaginations emerge

On every footstep is a cluster of ignominies
On every corner are carnivals of disgraces 

Neither friendship, nor formality, nor whole-heartedness, nor sincerity
No one is of anyone else, today all are alone

Silhouettes of imaginations emerge

That pathway which is as deserted as my heart
Who knows where it is about to take you

The murderers of conscience are buying you
On the horizons is the redness of the blood of heart’s craving

Silhouettes of imaginations emerge

The evening drenched in the blood of sun, I remember still
The end of the golden dreams of desire, I remember still

That evening I realized that in this world, like fields
The smile of the scared maidens is also sold

That evening I realized, that in this world driven by wealth
The identity of two naive souls is also sold

That evening I realized, that when the parents’ harvest is snatched away
The priceless mark of the mother’s love is also sold

That evening I realized, that when brothers are killed in war
The youth of the sisters is sold in the taverns of capital

The evening drenched in the blood of sun, I remember still
The end of the golden dreams of desire, I remember still.


*sehrey: A traditional head dress worn by the groom on his wedding. It covers his face.

**panghat: A small water fountain in homes in rural subcontinent.

***chaupal: A gathering place in the village 

Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Fahad Mehmood Sokhta for his help. Visit his blog here.

Update: 12-08-2016

Click here to read Part 3