The National Language

Posted on October 24, 2010

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Urdu alphabet

An interview with Uzma Aslam Khan and Aamer Hussein by Ollie Brock from Granta

Who, in your view, is the single greatest writer in Urdu (living or dead)?

It’s Urdu poetry that I love best, more than Urdu prose. (And more than poetry in English, which, with a few exceptions, lacks the immediacy with which I feel poetry in Urdu.) If I had to single out one poet, it would have to be Faiz Ahmad Faiz. There’s no other artist who’s captured the range of human emotion more beautifully and heart-wrenchingly than Faiz. I still remember my first experience of not only listening to his poetry but actually understanding it, and this was while hearing his two oft-quoted poems ‘Hum dekhainge’ ‘(‘We will see ‘) and ‘Dashte tanhai me’ (‘In the Desert of Loneliness’) sung by the amazing Iqbal Bano. The songs were playing in our home in the 1980s, during General Zia’s military rule, and many of those present who were singing with Iqbal Bano were also crying. Later, my father asked if I understood the poems, the first of which was a fiery and optimistic call to change, the second of which was a lament of loss and separation. I felt I did understand them, but I let him explain that celebration and mourning, love and despair, in Pakistan, are two things that are never separated. If that was true in the eighties, it’s no less true today, possibly, it’s even truer, which is why Faiz continues to matter, continues to be remembered, and continues to make us sing and cry.

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Picture credit: Goldsztajn (wikipedia)

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