Politics and poetry

Everyone who reads poetry seriously realises at some level that poetry is much like playing a game.

Bilal Tanweer May 27, 2011
I love talking about politics. It’s the easiest way to feel productive.

So, in view of the political happenings in the past couple of weeks — the OBL raidKate and William hitch, conspiracy fairytales, etc — I have decided to dump poetry. I will, for once, give you what you really, really want from a real commentator, an analyst who understands the world, who can, in a matter of 600 words, decode and crack the world open with his razor sharp insight. I will give you a stump of knowledge so hard, so firm that you could use it to whack anybody into submission or deference, as the case may be.

But… well, no. To be honest, I don’t have an opinion on politics that’s different from every other nathu on the street and in the media. I don’t have a scoop on the next big media news à la Café Pyala, absolutely nothing on what Hafeez Sheikh’s been whispering to the PM lately, or what Gen K’s been up to — and to be perfectly honest, I am utterly clueless why half of Lahore is convinced that President Zardari has been calling up rich Lahori businessmen asking for dough (200 crores, from what I last heard).

But you still want politics, right? Well, how about a poem? Okay, a political poem? Here, another one by Harris Khalique.
I was raised in Karachi

When young I always asked my mother:
“Why can’t we give names to numbers and numbers to names?”
It took her twenty-five years to come up with a reply.
“Son, we name the streets and count the people.”
Three Unknown Men Killed on M.A. Jinnah Road
read the morning’s newspaper

Names-to-numbers and numbers-to-names is a smart question for children of all ages. It’s also an innocent question, a language game that children play. It conveys a sense of the kind of things children are trying to lasso in their heads and, on rare instances such as the one in this poem, even bumble into articulation. The question here is one of that sort — both charming and revelatory.

However, the really terrific thing in this poem is not the question, but the mother’s reply. It lifts the perfectly horrific (three unknown men killed on MA Jinnah Road) and makes it into a rounded toy — something to fit the child’s little hands. Suddenly, the absurd question has a beautiful and grotesque answer. Beautiful because it perfectly answers an innocent question with mathematical precision and grotesque because murder is not what you’d like to let your child play with — even in her head.

Here’s a question: think about what kind of knowledge one gains from poetry? What does a poem reveal to you about the world?

The real answer: it reveals nothing. It offers you no positive knowledge about the world that you’d expect from, say, a piece of analysis or information. If it reveals anything at all, it is about yourself, in your interaction with the poem. Everyone who reads poetry seriously realises at some level, conscious or subliminal, that poetry is much like playing a game. You discover things about yourself and about how you engage with the world in the act of playing.

So this was all I had to say, really. No opinion, you’ll agree, just a poem and some thoughts. You may return to productive things.

Published in The Express Tribune.


Isayaloo | 12 years ago | Reply I can relate to this. There are so many people around me constantly yapping on about politics. Sometimes people need a healthy dose of something different, like poetry. And what a beautiful and thought provoking poem you shared.
parvez | 12 years ago | Reply One feels a little intimidated after reading stuff like this that floats around and then comes at you obliquely.
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