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How Kishwar Naheed Sums Up 2020 For The Third World?

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Kishwar Naheed who turned 80 this past June is a leading Urdu poet of our times. She symbolises feminism with the valiant women of South Asia in general, and Pakistan in particular. Despite turning 80, and being diagnosed with COVID–19 soon, she continues to dazzle with one poetic collection after another. Therefore, it was a privilege to read her latest collection of poetry, titled Darya Ki Tishnagi  (The Thirst of the River, Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2020), published just last week. Many of the poems in this slim volume deal with the ravages of COVID-19, but none more so than the last poem in the collection titled Do Hazar Bees Ka Alamiya: Teesri Duniya Mein (The Tragedy of 2020: In the Third World). Here, she masterfully contrasts the ravages of COVID – 19 in the West and the global South, and the eternal contest between hope and despair.

Naheed of course is on the side of the poor and underprivileged, and her acerbic but empathetic pen does not fail to note that it is in Pakistan where exorbitant amounts of wealth are being displayed. But at the same time, there is the poverty of life. Her frequent refrain – Kisi Ke Saamne Haath Nahi Phailaa Sakte (We Cannot Beg From Just Anyone) – is not only a comment on poverty but a critique of the so-called self-respect of middle-class and indigent families. This self-respect does not let them approach other kindred spirits for solidarity and sustenance in bad times. Our poet is forced to admit at the end:

Karona badh raha hai

Insaniyat mar rahi hai

Saal guzar chuka hai!

The poem is being presented in my humble original English translation on the occasion of New Year’s Eve in the hope that it will stimulate and provoke us to take stock of the annus horribilis that 2020 was and the hope the next year of 2021 may bring.

(This year Corona

Has trampled upon every economy

Neither is there a street vendor nor a bar that is occupied

To leave home out of compulsion is allowed

But when there is no work or duty

Why come out unnecessarily

In Europe people standing in the balcony

Are playing the guitars merrily.

 

In countries like ours

Whether it is the media or the mosque sermons

All of them are agents of terror.

 

“Do not touch anybody

Keep social distancing”

Despite all this prohibition

Every evening kebabs are skewered in preparation

Every morning pooris and parathas being made for consumption

Every day from homes and hospitals

Hundreds of funerals rise in lamentation

Weddings, birthdays, offerings

Go on with abandon.

 

The middle class selling its cars

Has started riding bicycles

Dearness too is spreading like Corona

People in the whole world

Are asked to work from homes

These are those lands where electricity and other privileges are available

In countries like ours people wearing masks

Carry lunch in hand like railway workers’ tasks

Children remaining in their homes do plead

For something or the other to fulfil their need

All the saved rice, flour, treacle

Even after using little by little

Looking at the empty boxes

They cannot beg before anybody

Cannot even ask for a matchstick

How to amuse the children crying in the courtyards

The man with the crisp rice and the monkey show

Too does not come in the street anymore

The husband and wife are sick of each other

While settling the home accounts

Fight with each other

They cannot beg before anybody

The aged father and mother locked up at home

Are afflicted with dementia

They say something with a scream

Beyond understanding’s realm.

 

Listening to the media, one feels asphyxiation

All countries are covered in the dust of humiliation.

 

 

But within the same year

The world’s most expensive car

Is bought in Pakistan

And in a wedding conducted in old age

The groom arrives with one kilo of gold

Over there families are being broken

To lift and bury the corpses

One cannot find four people.

 

Melodies of union and songs of separation

Instead of malhaar in homes there is lamentation

A wall stands joined with a wall

But even to talk to a neighbour

Is to be in fear’s thrall

Lest they borrow something

 

A long line of people buried worldwide

Seem like the Great Wall of China

When seen from a plane

The folks of the old peoples’ homes verily

Have passed away silently

Suicides have risen heavily

Funerals too are rising gradually

But the times of rush are ascending quickly

 

In Western countries the Red Cross

Is distributing ration among people standing in a line

The tradition of poor countries

They cannot beg before anybody.

 

In the West, people eat food from the dustbin

In the East, holding the head high

Is indeed the culture, the tradition.

 

Corona is advancing

Humanity is dying

The year has passed!)

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