Project Description

Rizwan Akhtar


Rizwan Akhtar was born in Lahore, Pakistan. He came to England in October, 2008 to pursue a PhD in English at the University of Essex. His PhD thesis is about Postcolonial literature and theory by women writers. His poems have appeared in Poetry Salzburg, Poetry NZ, decanto, Wasifri, Postcolonial Text (forthcoming), Poesia, Pakistaniat and quite a few have been anthologised by Poetry Forward press, UK.

His poetry deals mainly with his homeland, cross-cultural conflicts, space, exile, human suffering and nature.

Lahore, I am coming

My voice in a dusty evening of Lahore
echoes from the chipped roof

of grandfather’s grave,
inside the Mochi Gate.

The map of my life is all wrinkled.
The dust cloaks the stubbles on my face

sleeves upturned into a muddy pouch,
my alphabets singlehandedly sown in this city.

A new language emerges from my silence
a sound wades through the clogs of time
and my fingers dance to a dervish’s manuscript.

I return to Lahore
Riding on the tonga,

hurled by emaciated horses
and the decked rickshaws,
the rides of passion and jolt.
The metaphors like me
also return after ten years
to search for themes squandered in alleys

for the Lahorites burry their dreams with grace…

The barber in my Mohalla circumcised me,
for those days doctors were atheists

so that groggy old man lapped

as if I was a sacrificial goat

a little spurt of water and the fleshy other

regained a new form, the poetry

took many a slashing…
The barber left our house
On that day December 1971,
His hands were stained with blood.

I return to the tree in which I was branched,
to the first verses I churned with my tongue,
to that first Molbi who taught me
the first man who corrected my geography,
and those women, hidden behind black veils.

I return
after my hands have been dipped in all the wells
of some amazing perfumes…
I have found no other graveyard to sleep on…
And after the evening azan at the threshold
he used to clean for me, where I played balls
No longer did any other “child”

in the world stayed behind,
after the spinach steaming in globs of ghee

mother rolled dough into granular
(I am still excited about meals)

the bitter gourd with milky lasi
and the carrot drink that she would pour—
now other foods have claimed my palate.

I enter the courtyard of the Baadshahi Mosque
see Moghuls sleeping on pillows made of Ghazals
neck deep . . . drenched
brick upon brick, a sea of marble
pigeons cooing to pigeon ,vibrations
I wander in the streets of Urdu script
And chose images stetting in a basket of words
And see with my eye the white marbles thinning in dust
And the mumbling mouths holding beads
An aperture swallows me and I am lost
So I sit near the pond of water
” Hayya ‘ala ‘l-falah”

” Hayya ‘ala ‘l-falah”
Returning to you
submerged in the monsoons of my childhood
returning to sneak more coins from father’s pockets
buying candy floss, chopped guava in plate,

peanuts skinned in smoky pots of the vendors
Returning to my favourite fountain
For the pigeons at Trafalgar
Are no compensation to the Lawrence Gardens

where we peeled mangoes like an event in history
(Anarkali ogled at the colonial admirers)
but Tesco and Iceland are no distant cousins

to that noisy Friday Bazaar,
but Westminster Abbey in London
is like the torn dream from Lahore fort…
pigeons coded during call for prayers
and more more fortunate

than those ash-grey ones,
on Marx’s monument in Highgate Cemetery.

I wander in the squeezed alleys of Lahore
behind the torn curtains wheatish girls
wink… letters hidden in diaries,
their smiles struggle for contours
and spare me…
the pigeons curve unexpectedly
And greet me
And the fluttering kites
become queens of that sky
patched into legends
beloveds of an air choked with dust,
greet me.

I croon Ghailb’s ghazals

sitting in the Devana Khas
bedewed in ponderous gems
clouds of saffron
and betel leaf aroma dazes me,
a rain of cinnamon and aniseeds fall
I do my silent prayers in the sequestered garden,
and in the straw-gliding water see reflections

of chipped minarets
recalling Faiz’ last couplets—

the exaggerated hoardings

encroach upon the footnotes of history . . .
Lahore I am in love with you
How have you subdued my images?

For I have been made

to recall the Rubiayat of Omar Khyiuam
amidst the wedding drums in the outskirts

and anklets-wearing saints patched and dusted

dancing wildly on the Fair of Lamps
How do the gardens of Shalimar resonate?

I have come to recollect you

from the trunk of neglect
that corrodes furtively

like a loveless bride,

so is that Mall Road sprawled

in silent dissent, tempered with compromises,

spooled in barbed wires,
I have come to you to embrace you,
the cypresses and mulberries ,

and the Punjabi folk tales.
And the “spontaneous wit”
That you taught me
I have come to you for the shy smiles of women
That first taught me restraints
unvented , I carried in European winters

I beamed at you, a Ghazal ripening…
And from my father’s tasbih

I shed off the reluctance

and argued with my creator.

I unbutton the clammy shirt
one by one it exudes beads of sweat…
I remember my father’s muslin Kurta

drenched in June’s heat
behind a vendor yelling for a spicy Alo Chat . . .

And the sellers praising white cauliflower
And the rickety Chai walla

pouring in miscoloured cups of tea

like histories; slow anodynes

it works and the mind opens…
I remember the towels
hanging outside the saloons

the massage men sprawling on straw mats
As if celebrating the bodies,
I remember the houses tucked in alleys
With their iron doorknobs
And their thresholds decorated with glazed tiles
And their cold red and white floors
That remind you of an oasis.

The Lahore Fort
shaped into the rolling tears,
posied on staggering imagination
for every brick is chipped
And every balcony is lighted with lamp
Lahore pours oil
Lahore claims dark alleys
They meet one another behind curtains
And exchange money
Secretly-at night, the arms dangle.

When I was Shakespeare buff
ten years ago
My father would send letters
crisp and well crafted
unflodig a smell of betel-leaf and turmeric
And when the English doubted the alphabets
They took them to the scanner
they sensed mutiny in Urdu alphabets
espionage in metaphoric flourishes
And when they found nothing
They made stories worst than mine
What is the aroma that you put in Paulo
Is it a coded smell?
a plot like mangoes chutney
much is lost in the cheap translation
I said to them: It’s difficult for me to interpret
For betel-leaf is a tongue
It is our way of making love
Our dancing lilts
And if your great poet

Wordsworth had known of beatle-leaf
must have left Windermere and Cocker mouth
a brief a revolt against cartography and poetry…
My father loves Persian, he quotes Hafiz
And whenever he missed me
He would send me a letter,

a poultice of green pan
Because for him, it is the seal
upon the envelope: my address
And when the English didn’t understand

they shifted into another paradigm.

The betel leaf was sent for a forensic

the dossier is now closed.

I put on the warm chaddar on my shoulders
Lahore descends with its smells
carrying for my children stories of mangoes,
peaches ,pomegranates and street junk food
women wearing etched bangles
and slobbering like ghazlas
I enter into them
An alcove of lust
gillyflowers ,hibiscus
clustered jasmine join their wrists
And I speak in perfume
but my passport is dank English
And the black brief case is full of explanations.

I am yours, also a box
stuffed and lipped into compromise
I am yours, Lahore
let me take an autograph from time
before I claim for more indemnity.
I am your prisoner
So be among you that punished me into life
Let me donate this
Because I haven’t given charity for years.