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‘But The earth Is Not A Square, Rather It Is Round’: Mustafa Zaidi’s Poetic Critique Of The UN

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UN Day today marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter. With the ratification of this founding document by the majority of its signatories, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, the United Nations officially came into being. 24 October has been celebrated as United Nations Day since 1948. In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly recommended that the day be observed by Member States as a public holiday. The year 2020 thus marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and its founding Charter.

Likewise October is the month of Mustafa Zaidi, one of Urdu’s hugely talented but relatively unsung poets who died young. This October marks his 90th birthday as well as the 50th anniversary of his untimely death. In his short life, lived fully as a poet and civil servant, Zaidi has given us some memorable, original poetic collections, ghazals and poems. One of these is simply titled Aqvaam-e-Muttahida (United Nations), part of his third collection of poetry titled Shehr-e-Azar (City of Idolaters), published in 1958, on the cusp of General Ayub Khan’s first military coup in Pakistan. This collection includes other poems on ‘purely social topics’ including one of the greatest poems written on the subject of world peace, the longer Main Aman Chahta Hoon (I Want Peace).

Zaidi’s poem on the United Nations presented here in my original translation is also among the few poems written on the workings of the UN in Urdu. It was written when the UN was just thirteen years old, and the contours of the modern world system as we know it were being molded by imperialist powers, which had already set off the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Nevertheless, Zaidi’s brief poem invites us to re-read the world situation vis-à-vis the role of the United Nations as it is today, in its 75th year.

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Zaidi’s observations are important because even back in 1958, a sensitive resident of a small, non-aligned Third World nation caught in the Cold War could wonder aloud, as he does in the opening couplet, that the attributes which the UN was expected to exhibit in its inaugural decades were already beginning to dissipate. The hopes and promises associated with it gradually began to disappear, so much so that our poet is forced to acknowledge in the latter part of the poem that the equality and neutrality of every nation professed to by the UN Charter is actually a sham and a cover for the domination of the strong over the weak!

‘Tum mein kya kuchh nahin? Ehsas, sharaafat, Tehzeeb

Mujh mein kya hai? Na baseerat, na farasat, na shaoor.

 

Tum jo guzre ba-sad andaaz -o-hazaaraan khoobi

Sab ne samjha ke chalo raat katti, din aaya.

 

Mein to un teera naseebon mein pala hoon

Tum se voh rabt tha jo bhook ko akhlaaq se hai.

 

Aisi duzdeeda nigaahon se hamein mat dekho

Hum to pehle hi bichhe bethe hein ae jaan-e-bahaar.

 

Mor ka pankh lagate hi thirakne lage paon

Saada lauhi pe koi shart, koi zor nahin.

 

Tum ne kis pyaar se yeh baat hamein samjhai

Keh yahan to koi zaalim, koi kamzor nahin.

 

Mukhtalif nuqton se chalte to hain duniya vale

Kurra-e-arz magar gol hai chaukor nahin.’

 

(What don’t you possess? Feeling, nobility, civilization

What do I possess? Neither consciousness nor wisdom nor perception.

 

You passed with a hundred shooters and the virtues of a nightingale

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Everyone thought let’s go, the night has passed, morning arrives in its trail.

 

I have been raised among those with dark destiny

Who are connected with you like hunger is to morality.

 

Do not look at us with such stolen glances

We are already laid low, O life of the spring.

 

When the peacock’s wing was attached, the feet began to wriggle

Stupidity is unconditional, unforced, without a quibble.

 

With such love you made us understand

That here indeed there is no oppressor, nor any damned.

 

The people of the world do travel by various dots to go around

But the earth is not a square, rather it is round.)

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