The dirge Muneebur Rahman wrote after Gandhi’s assassination

It is generally regarded as one of Rahman’s best and most representative poems

Raza Naeem October 02, 2020

Today marks the International Day of Nonviolence, observed annually in honour of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Today also marks the fateful day when two years ago Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi embassy in Istanbul to his thoroughly undeserved death. To mark this occasion, as well to mark the end of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, I have chosen to translate a long poem by Muneebur Rahman (b. 1924), who is one of Urdu’s greatest living, though largely neglected, poets.

The poem is simply titled Mahatma Gandhi Ki Maut Par (On the Death of Mahatma Gandhi) and is an example of a poem upon which the imprint of Rahman’s progressive point of view is very clear. It is generally regarded as one of Rahman’s best and most representative poems. As the reader will also note, the poem can move anyone regardless of one’s political or ideological affiliations; it also forces us to resolve to say no to violence in all its forms.


‘Is the life of Man mere respiration

Is he imprisoned in the chains of a duration

Is he imprisoned by the dark place of destiny

And is his entity

Like a straw which flows on

Lashing its head in the enraged storms

Whose helplessness is unrelated to the pleasure of the destination

I, at the time of dawn

Put this question to the sinking stars and moon

And they remained silent as if they do not know

Life is an evident reality

Which can be determined by us possibly

We can evaluate on the stone of emotion the life’s worth

But when it is curtained by death

So our senses

Bow their heads with humility

Man-made values at that time begin to snap

What can we say to it, this is deception of sight

It is mere fancy, the extinction of reality

But still we scream with pain

When we do see

The scattered warp and woof of the lifeless body

Death gives us permission for mourning

And we are thinking

Why the children of existence, is this the spectacle’s novelty

When the deep clouds of sorrow and grief even today

Over one’s decayed houses have come tilting

Life living in dust is wandering

The ancient ruins of the ancestors are inclined towards mourning

And in every person’s chest an excitement is resounding

As if a wind rustles in the deserts

An idea comes in the hearts

Can death remove Man’s entity

Smoke rises when a flame is put out verily

Which flame was it which kept illuminated the palace of the earth

With constant anguish like a hearth

And which extinguished like a sudden spark

Lord of the world tell why are you silent

Mosques, for God’s sake, speak, be not reluctant

O churches till when will you look on into the firmament

That call of the gongs, just tell me temples

Why were they deprived of their rattles

You will not speak up, fine by me

Within this same human path maybe

The spark of love veiled itself in black

O sign of the greatness of my ancestors, O my country

He has departed today, that ascetic having qualities of royalty

For you a message of life was his every word

Who touched in your soiree such a musical chord

Heard by the whole land and it screamed aloud

This is the heartbeat of the beating heart of Nature

Which a man born of clay has given a tongue of stature

At every moment a message of love his lips were voicing

A love which was all-comprising

Which cannot be besieged within limits of sect, religion and nation

Which is present in the elements’ beautiful formation

Whose power is not needy of a spear or sword

On every particle of dust flows his every word

I have seen crying faces, full of grief

Hearing this good news brightens the battlefields

I have seen dragged humanity

On the echoing complicated roads of the city

Of hope he is used to giving them an invitation

And silent may those hearts be today beset with agitation

But the world with his call is decorated

Listen, upon love the system of life is established

And the heart which has no love is like it had never existed.’

Raza Naeem

The author is president of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and translator. His translations of Saadat Hasan Manto have been re-translated in both Bengali and Tamil, and he received a prestigious Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship in 2014-2015 for his translation and interpretive work on Manto. He is presently working on a book of translations of Manto's progressive writings, tentatively titled Comrade Manto.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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