Translated from Urdu by Riyaz Latif
just this I remember
_____ there was a flower with petals scarlet
that vanished cutting through a dust-filled ocean
oh! girl with beautiful eyes
_____ come closer,
that flower is ablaze in you —
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Phool ki Hikayat,” from Aadhe Sayyare Par in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 36.
Displeasure of Old Friends
the sun stared scathingly
_____ the leaves made ruckus
the breeze reached out and gathered up the brook’s ballads
stars growing in the greenery
_____ did not talk to me
I came back —
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Purane Dostoñ Ki Naaraazgi,” from Aadhe Sayyare Par in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 38.
On the Quarter-Fragment of the Century
on the quarter-fragment of the century; thousands of pouncing springing moons and suns, or just a day hot clamorous, forging its way through the cluster of prayers and girls…winds, verandahs and enclosures; civilization crawling in books beyond chapatis buttered with ghee…
water’s life or water’s death; girls’ laughter white non-venomous as a water-snake…both the rudders saw the moon turn ruddy from the same ark, and inscribed the first graft on water…
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Sadi Ke Chauthai Tukde Par,” from Aadhe Sayyare Par in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 43.
blue rain in your eyes
_____ this vista as if
_____ I had seen it before
in the mirror’s heart or in the portal
_____ which opens into the netherworlds of black earth
netherworlds of black earth, our childhood
childhood and sparrows of paradise
everything is getting wet in the blue rain
with wet colors I make a portrait
_____ on your body
I, blue rain; you, black earth
your lips are ablaze
_____ as if flames
had begun to rage in the mirror of blue rain
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Neeli Baarish,” from Aadhe Sayyare Par in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 71.
I Wish To Die a Human Death
raising myself, I have come away from their midst; the fact is that my knowledge is awfully limited and idiomatic terms sow a dread in me; I do not know on which earthly terrain my city rests but I know a boy whose fingers embroider flowers on rugs and the fluffy wool flying from the rugs inscribes flowers on his lungs
my sorrows are quite ordinary; I am dejected for the infirm whose bullock-cart will not be able to reach the hospital’s entrance; I am sorrowful for the woman who sees this bullock-cart fading away into a distance; I am unhappy for the spade that is getting wet in the rains; I am crestfallen for the trunk of instruments which is my deceased father’s relic
they harass me for a few crumbs of bread and turn a father into a beast; transform a poet into raging fire….
I wish to die the death of a beast
I wish to die the death of a raging fire
I wish to die a human death
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Meiñ Ek Admi Ki Maut Marna Chahta Huñ,” from KhaakDan in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 202.
Dawn Descends Onto The City
dawn, clinking silver bells,
descends onto the city
from the curtain of the fountain
the dripping wet rider
a yellow golden horizon
as if an angel
were scattering gold-leaves on earth
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Subh Utarti Hai Shehr Meiñ,” from KhaakDan in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 211.
Fire, Make Me Verdant
fire, make me verdant
in a mode
that the cedars of the forest forget their beauty
do not keep me mournful for long
on the breakfast table
put a glass of milk
do not scald the baker’s hands
spread over the fields of tyrants
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Aag Mujh Ko Sabz Kar,” from KhaakDan in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 214.
The Flower of Presence
the flower of my presence has blossomed on water, empire
of spring’s dawn calls out from intimate quarters
swift-paced wheels turning incessantly, woke up
from momentous dreams, the arc of the solar vestment caressing the walls
making love, dancing, ah! the sun has come out!
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Maujudgi Ka Phool,” from KhaakDan in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 242.
when I first opened my eyes
I discovered two seeing eyes
heard a sweet word of love before the call to prayer
it was my mother’s voice
then I slipped into deep sleep
when I woke up, in front of me
were two beautiful eyes
unfathomable like sea
and greatly proximate like stars
I saw my face in those eyes
then those eyes faded away from me
I stepped out far in search of sustenance
and in mirrors, ponds, and rivers
kept on looking for those eyes that had been mislaid by me
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Aankheñ,” from Ek Katora Paani Ka in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 335.
She Stands There
_____ she stands there
her feet planted resolutely
on a high boulder
that only I can see
like a child, breath-abated…incessantly
how did she reach there
not a stone-edge, not a pebble, gave away from anywhere
on grass and wet earth there is no mark of her arrival
she must have landed from some other sphere
right on this boulder, gently, and with poise
like a hovering feather that spirals down onto water
she will spring from there
someday she will spring from there
on an unsuspecting prey…
on a lilac star which she has singled out
on a beating heart which has been created for her
an eternal clamor or hush
_____ or some other sea in-between
and a wading lioness…
(Original Urdu Poem titled, “Wo Wahañ Khadi Hai,” from Ek Katora Paani Ka in Sarwat Hussain, Kulliyat (Karachi: Aaj ki Kitabeiñ, 2015), 345.
Sarwat Hussain (1949 – 1996) was born and brought up in Karachi. He taught Urdu literature at various government colleges. His control over Urdu language, as well as the modernity of his ideas, made him one of the most distinguished poets of his time. Two collections of his work have been published so far, Aadhe Sayyare Par (1987) and Khakdaan which was published posthumously after his tragic death in a train accident Riyaz Latif is a Urdu poet and Riyaz Latif holds a doctoral degree in art history with a primary concentration on premodern Maghrib (North Africa), and the Mediterranean basin. After a postdoctoral fellowship with the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the MIT, he taught at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, USA. After his return to India in the summer of 2017. He is currently Associate Professor of Art History at FLAME University, Pune, India. He emerged as a noteworthy voice in Urdu poetry during the last decade of the twentieth century, and his poems have been published in reputed Urdu literary journals of India & Pakistan. Along with two collections of Urdu poetry, Hindasa Be-Khwaab Raton Ka (2006) and ‘Adam Taraash (2016), as well as a book of translations into Urdu from European poetry, titled Mera Khoya Awazah (2014), he has published a number of articles, and has translated Urdu poetry and prose into English, most of which can be found in the Annual of Urdu Studies. His works in progress – academic essays, personal reflections, poems, translations – center on composite dimensions of literature and culture, as well as art and architectural history. His book manuscript, titled Ornate Visions of Knowledge and Power: the Formation of Marinid Madrasas in Maghrib al-Aqsa, is under review for publication.