Poems of an Exile

Poems of an Exile

Hasan Mujtaba is a Pakistani journalist and poet living in self-exile in the US since 1999. His Urdu poetry collection “Koel Shehr Ki Katha” (The Tale of a Cuckoo City) is more of a treatise on his experience of exile and pangs of separation that he felt for his native land.

Like Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali who saw Calcutta in Ohio as described in his poem “When on Route 80 in Ohio,” Hasan Mujtaba also has similar feelings as he writes in his poem “Alan Ginsberg Kay Naam” when Avenue Fifth takes him to the streets of Sehwan Sharif and River Hudson appears the River Indus.

In the same poem, he talks of the cause of his exile with reference to the powers that be in Pakistan:


“O my motherland
Whenever I sing of separation from you
I get myself back
But they talk to me through bullets
They don’t read the writing on the wall
That a donkey pisses on the generals’ uniform.”

(Translation by the author)


hassan-mujtaba-poetry-book-koel-shehr-ki-katah

Title:
Koel Shehr Ki Katha

Author:
Hasan Mujtaba

Publisher:
Sanjh Publications

Pages: 160

Price: 360PKR

Talking about his exile, Hasan in one of his interviews says: “Pull and push factors between my country which I left behind and the new country where I arrived would really play buzkushi with me. It ripped me off every day and pieced me together in my dreams every night. That is why most of the poetry I wrote here revolves around exile. I think any poet and writer who has to say something which puts him into real hot waters must have a country of exile.”

Hasan, who spent most of his life in Sindh and working as a journalist in Karachi when he left, says at another place, “I have made my own kind of Sindh in America: Sindh in exile.

“I return every second or third night in my dreams in my sleep. I have made America my home but Sindh exists somewhere else. I want to return one day like Gabriel Garcia Marquez returns in his ‘Clandestine in Chile’. Or, only after my death, in the form of my ashes to be scattered onto Sindhu, the river Indus.”

In a poem on his friend Zafaryab Ahmed, Hasan Mujtaba defines exile considering it more of a torture than relief which renders one dreamless. He calls it a word of abuse, the poet’s beloved, stepsister of suicide, national anthem and old newspaper clipping.

His poems “Ik Koel Shehr Ki Katha” and “Ba Naam-i-Darya” has themes of his native country. While the first poem shows how the socio-political conditions in his homeland have gone from bad to worse, the second one presents the River Indus, the erstwhile life source which has turned poisonous.

In the whole collection, there are references to Hyderabad, Sindh, Jamshoro, Attock, Jhelum, Sehwan, Bhambore, Jhang, Jhelum, Sheikh Ayaz, Bhatai, Waris Shah, Amrita Pritam, Sultan Bahu and many other poets of the land of Pakistan which manifest the connection that Hasan felt with the land of its people.

Hasan has taken on the themes of terrorism, army as well as dictatorship in his poem on Ahmed Faraz, “Tareekh Ki Khooni Gali,” Khuda Kay Naam Par”, “Tum Kitnay Bhutto Maro Gay,” “December 16”, and “Ziaul Haq 99”. In the last poem he also takes on writers and journalists as he says, “Maliha Lodhi, Azhar Lodhi, Najam Sethi Aur Akbar S Ahmed / Teri Sarkar Mein Pahunchay to Sabhi Aik Huay” while referring to fatal nexus of journalists and dictatorship. Of the abovementioned poems, two of them are obituaries on Ahmed Faraz and Benazir Bhutto. There is a poem on missing persons also as many of the nationalists went missing in Balochistan and Sindh during the last one decade.

One of the best poems in the book is the sole Punjabi poem that Hasan Mujtaba wrote on the sale of the Amrita Pritam and Imroz’ house “K-25, Hauz Khas” in New Delhi for building a plaza there. The poem titled, “A Poem on the Sale of Amrita Pritam’s House” is a dirge on the unhindered commercialisation and capitalism which has devoured everything that’s worth saving.

What can be shocking for Urdu poetry readers is the use of cuss words that many poems carry like in the poem dedicated to his fried Zafaryab and in other poems like “Janay Walay Dost Kay Naam” and “December 16”. There is hypertextuality where Hasan refers to other poets and their lines.

The collection is a treat for the poetry readers as the poems are not diluted by the traditional techniques and themes that we find in most of the contemporary Urdu poets and many of them are like confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell. One such poem is “Yousif Naam Ka Larka” which also hints on the sexual proclivities of the poet.

Hasan Mujtaba defines exile considering it more of a torture than relief which renders one dreamless. He calls it a word of abuse, the poet’s beloved, stepsister of suicide, national anthem and old newspaper clipping.

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