Qatre mein Dajla dikhai na de, aur juzv mein kul
Khel ladkon ka hua, deeda-e-eena na hua
(Not to to be able to see the ocean in a drop and the whole in a fragment
Would be a child’s play and not the feat of a seeing eye)
Sahibzada Riaz Noor fulfills all the criteria of a good poet.
I first met him when he was the Chief Secretary of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. He had invited me to discuss the position of the Vice Chancellor of Peshawar University, my alma matter. He was courteous, cultured and articulate. I did not know that he had read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford and had opted to return to Pakistan to join the elite civil service of the country.
He is a late bloomer in the sense that he did not write poetry until he retired from the civil service a number of years ago. The volume under review is his first volume of poetry. And what a delightful read it is!
His repertoire is vast and his canvas big. Like an artist of enormous dexterity he paints in words landscapes and portraits that may seem ordinary but he does justice to his subjects with sensitivity and tenderness. And he connects seemingly disparate issues into a coherent and enjoyable account.
In his poem “Three Piece Suit”, he sets the stage by referring to a few of the well-known English language poets of Pakistan. He goes on to express his own helplessness in the following words:
Trying to catch the fleeting music
Passing over cold abandoned hearths
Songs sung with mangled wings
Songs of those birds
Otherwise, most of the time
Just a decent line,
Is the like of the village tailor
Attempting a three piece suit
The metaphor of the village tailor trying his hand at sewing a three-piece gentleman’s suit is hilarious but carries a deeper meaning. The poem, however, is a perfect fit.
In “The Woman Brick Carrier” he identifies with the female brick carriers who not only eke out a meagre living carrying bricks but are at the same time carrying a baby on their backs:
Just twenty seven, perhaps
Black pepper vine
The smooth cinnamon skin turned to dusk
In the searing sun kiln of Rajasthan,
Thar or may be Multan
Here is mother life:
Bricks on her head
In mother’s care for the child below
To remain alive
Maureen Lines was an idealistic young English lady who came to Pakistan in in 1987 and devoted her life to serving the ancient tribes living in the Hindu Kush Mountains of northern Pakistan. It was an uphill battle to safeguard the interests of the indigenous tribal people in the face of religious and economic encroachment by the outsiders.
His poem “The Dragonfly”, which is also the title of the book, is about drones buzzing overhead in the Waziristan mountains
The author, as the top bureaucrat of the province and others before him, helped as much as they could in her mission. And he expresses his own helplessness:
My hand tried to reach out as I could
With my life’s best and most
Yet I could barely touch with my palm
A few drowning causes
Only some enemies to disarm what man
Has left, in beauty, to derelict
Of virtue and truth in past and present
His poem “The Dragonfly”, which is also the title of the book, is about drones buzzing overhead in the Waziristan mountains of Pakistan.
The American use of drones to hunt terrorists in Pakistan was controversial. The targets were hit based on secret information on the ground but far too many times, civilians including women and children bore the brunt. The human toll expressed in aseptic and sanitized words as “collateral damage” did not do justice to the devastation that the drones wreak. Play the best friv games website. Due to their shape the drones were called “dragonflies” - “Zanga” and “pirprak” in Pashto language:
How come the friendly coloured moth
Today only speaks and spews,
A language of fire
For me and you
Similar in sound yet so different, cruel
The dreaded fly
With its whir and whine
Bloodstained talons of a new eagle
We had not heard before
During the British Raj in India most of the British administrators were well read and well educated. They expressed themselves in prose and poetry and carried out research on these lands and the native people. Sir Olaf Caroe, the British governor of the North West Frontier Province of India (Now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan) did a scholarly study of the Pashtun people and published his monumental work The Pathans in 1958.
That breed of administrator has become extinct, except for a few precious examples. Sahibzada Riaz Noor is one such example.
Dr. Sayed Amjad Hussain holds Emeritus professorships in Humanities and cardiovascular surgery at the University of Toledo, USA. He is also an op-ed columnist for Toledo Blade and daily Aaj of Peshawar.