Tag Archives: Omer Tarin

List of Pakistani Poets writing in English

31 Jan

List of Pakistani Poets writing in or who wrote in English *

1. H. Shaheed Sohrawardy
2. Taufiq Rafat
3. Daud Kamal
4. Alamgir Hashmi (Stll alive/writing)
5. Maki Kureshi
6. Kaleem Omar
7. R. Changez Sultan (Still alive/writing)
8. Ikram Azam (Still alive/writing)
9. Hina Faisal Imam (Still alive/writing)
10. Imtiaz Dharker
11. Jocelyn Ortt-Saeed (Stiil alive/writing)
12. M Athar Tahir
13. Shehryar Rashed
14. Waqas A Khwaja (Still alive/writing)
15. Omer Tarin (Still alive/writing)
16. Parveen Pasha (Still alive/writing)
17. Ejaz Rahim (Still alive/writing)
18.Ilona Yusuf
19 Haris Kahliq
20 Mehvish Amin

 ———-
* Some of them also wrote or are writing in languages of Pakistan other than, or in addition to, English. Those who are still alive and writing are thus indicated. Reviews and interviews of Omer Tarin, have already been given/shared here so his name is highlighted above. Other major, significant poets are also highlighted. This list does not contain some additional/other names of Pakistani-origin poets who now live full time abroad or dont identify themselves as Pakistani, primarily.
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An Early Review of Omer Tarin’s first collection, 1994

28 Jan

The Emotive Poetry of a Moved Soul *

by Luminita Kareem

Title: ‘A Sad Piper’
Poems by: Omar Tarin
Published by: Leo Books, Islamabad
Pages: 82
Price Pak Rs : 100

  This is a first volume of poetry by Omar Tarin and contains some very fine, highly-charged verse, with themes which are universal and appealing.

Normally, when a new writer emerges the media reacts over-effusively blowing up a talented person beyond all proportions, stifling any real future creativity with blankets of praise. This time, however, a prodigious talent definitely emerged and the result is a beautifully written book, excellently produced.

Omar Tarin is a fine poet and ‘A Sad Piper’ is a an outstanding first attempt by a refined and mature intelligence. In his Foreword, Tarin calls hyis work “”…the emotive poetry of a moved soul”. There is indeed an intense lyrical strain prevalent in his writing which emerges as the hallmark of his style, replete with powerful imagery and awash with the rich melodies and colours of both Pakistan’s native heritage and a unique, sensitive humanitarianism.

The poems in this slim collection sing out with sadness and joy, with life and death, transcending all the barriers and liimitations of our worldly beliefs, reachign out towards the skies and the limitless universe in awesome grandeur. They blend entire worlds of experience in rhythmic patterns, often full of music, soemwhat reminiscent of ancient choral rhymes and hymns of long ago, intemingling with the influence of Sufism freely, in glorious rhapsody.  

In the first, opening poem, ‘A Sad Piper’, a bizarre magical effect is created when a ghoslty piper sitting by the riverside plays his pipes ‘across’ the poet’s heart:

Playing the wind
Droning the bees
Rocking the river
Along those dark-spined banks, overgrown…

The intensity of Omar Tarin’s poetic experience and vision is reasserted in more subjective, personal poems such as ”Tree Lopping Time” when the trees of his youth are brutally cut down ‘by the executioner’s axe”.

At times, he approaches a grandeur beyond ordinary comprehension, as in ”The Quetzal in my Dreams” when he says

I had seen it in slow-motion
When men died in dreams
As they did in reality;
For the Quetzal is a secred bird …

And so on, as the spectacle of Tarin’s spirir unfolds itself, layer by layer, poem by poem, before us, stirring us in our own souls. We cannot fail to be inspired.

”A Sad Piper” augurs well for the future. It is rhe first, tentative step by a promising talent; the baptism of a poetic soul in the true tradition of great poetry.

If they are any weaknesses in this volume, they are adequately covered up by the fine presentation. One only wishes that the collection had been a little larger, perhaps. Yet, who am I to cavil? Tarin’s maiden effort has afforded  me hours of pleasurable reading. And I hope they shall continuing doing so, in years to come.

——————

* From the Weekly Review of books and poetry section of daily ” The Muslim”, Islamabad, Pakistan, 24th October 1994Image

Comments on Omer Tarin Poem by Shahid Ali

25 Jan

Given below are some excerpts from a review on the poem ”Gandhara, at the Taxila Museum” by noted Pakistani poet Omer Tarin. This review was made in 1996 by the late Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001). It expresses very well the essential and basic elements of this fine poem.

REVIEW
A very significant recent poem …[is] Omer Tarin’s ”Gandhara, at the Taxila Museum”…
Taxila was the historical center of the ancient Gandhara Civilization that once staddled much of North-West Pakistan and neighbouring areas of both Kashmir and Afghanistan. It was a richly complex and elaborate civilization, especially in its later half (circa 185 to 100 BC) after the influx of Greco-Bactrian influences enriched it further…
For a very long, long time, after the Islamic conquest of North-Western India, the signs of this ancient civilization were mostly lost; only to be rediscovered amidst great fanfare and public wonderment, by Sir John Marshall, the British historian and archaeologist, in around 1913-1923 . The British government in (then) India, established a fine little museum near modern Taxila, in fact close to the Sirkap and Sirsukh excavations that were part of ‘old Gandharan Taxila’, which still exists in Pakistan, today. And it is this fine museum, containing wondrous relics of the Gandharan Civilization…[that] Omer Tarin writes about in this rather melancholic poem, teeming with plentiful historical-cultural allusions hearkening back to ancient Gandhara and the Greco-Bactrian heritage in particular: we are reminded of the earlier phase of Gandhara, first of all, in the ‘terracotta soul/of ochre and bronze’ and old, old fertility rites symbolized by the statuette of the ‘mother-godess/with her ample bosom'; and then we move on to the images…[of] the Greeks…[and] the Buddhist sculpture of the time which thus evolved with Alexandrine features transplanted unto the Buddha, or Siddharata’s face…an example of cross-cultural ‘fertilization’.
Yet, as Tarin abruptly reminds us, this wonderful treasure trove to be seen at Taxila, has lost much of its splendour in contemporary Pakistan–it has been all destroyed, and belittled, at various levels. Firstly, by the defacement of much of this cultural heritage by the ultra-religious mullahs which have crept out of their little rat-holes and literally taken over the supposedly ‘Islamic’ and ‘Pakistani’ national-cultural discourse under the Zia military regime and which have thence entrenched themselves, along with their narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy, unto the Pakistani national psyche. . . one elemental and basic omen of this is how {symbolically) women have been generally relegated to a lower sphere of existance in ‘theocratic Pakistan’, as evinced by the ‘hiding away’ of their very femininity…a challenge to the mullahs, who would ‘doom’ the ample-bosomed mother-goddess to a forced ‘chastity’ behind small display windows that hide and cover, rather than reveal her many charms. Ironically, whilst the mullahs on the one hand suffocate the goddess in this manner, at the same time they also brutalze and abuse her, or encourage her abuse, by ‘hirsute’ (brutish) men who come to visit the museum and this sorry ‘exhibit’ , ‘dirty old men’ who ‘rent and ravish/with lecherous looks,/probably pious’. The so-called ‘moral brigade’ is at once revealed in all its shocking pseudo-piety and true and ugly hypocrisy, for they have, significantly, ‘little pig’s eyes’, in stark contrast to their ostensibly Islamic moral role, they are deemed to be themselves haram (illicit/unlawful) creatures beyond the pale of the Din (Faith/Islam).
Another ironic and even pathetic dimension, is when we are shown the victory of a shallow materialisam over all that Gandhara, at its very best, represented; and ‘insult is added to injury/as hawkers sell postcards and Pepsi,/under the Siddharta tree’ , outside the Taxila Museum. The reference here is to an ancient banyan tree there, which many scholars and historians believe was one of the locations or places where Siddharta/Buddha once meditated. This was a divine and truly sincere meditation that unmasked the ‘immaterial’ nature of all ‘material existence’. or being. The tree itself symbolises the anti-material philosophy that the Buddha taught and which once flourished in this land, this soil– but sadly, tragically, it seems to have lost out, has been ultimately defeated by the ‘hawkers’ hawking their cheap wares, their crass, materialistic goods.
On a basic level, the poem says a great deal that informs us about the present state of such ancient heritage in a negative environment that detracts from and in a sense ‘reduces’ the cultural value of the relics at Taxila, those that in effect ‘represent’ Ghandaran Buddhism…[but at the same time] the poem is also an indictment of the whole Pakistani system and society in the post-Zia era, with its extremism, narrowness and sheer hypocrtical materialiam, that cheapens both people (women, for example) and all work of art.

(Agha Shahid Ali, 1996)

Interview with Poet Omer Tarin 2011

28 Nov

Of Heaven and Earth: A Short Interview with Omer Tarin

 

By Dr. Ilyas Khan

 

 

On October 10th 2011, renowned Pakistani poet, scholar and mystic, Omer Tarin, was Special Guest Speaker at a literary seminar arranged by the Abbottabad chapter of the English Literary Forum (ELF), under the auspices of the TSI forum. This short interview took place after a reading of his poetry at this venue. Dr. Ilyas Khan, a research scholar in literary studies and a member of ELF, conducted it. The abbreviation IK is used throughout the text for Ilyas Khan/the Interviewer and OT for Omer Tarin/interviewee, All the questions are italicized.

 

Omer Tarin (pen-name) was born inPeshawar,Pakistan, in 1967. Since 1994 he has been well-known as an increasingly important voice in Pakistani and South Asian literature, especially poetry, writing mostly in English and also occasionally in Urdu (official/national language) and Hindko/Northern Punjabi (native/regional dialects) and has written around 9-10 books, including five volumes of published poetry as well as hundreds of articles and essays over a very wide range of subjects. He is a member of several learned bodies inPakistan and abroad. He is also the founding director of a small non-profit research institute inAbbottabad,Pakistan, and a teacher, social and environmental activist and a recognized Sufi mystic.

 

Interview Text

 

IK: Could you please tell us a little more about yourself, please, as I believe you are from a traditional ‘feudal’ background, with a typically ‘English’ colonial education?

 

OT: Thank you. Well, to quite an extent, that’s true. My paternal family are Tarin Afghans or ‘Pakhtuns’ settled and assimilated into the cultural setting of the Hazara region of the North-West Frontier of (now) Pakistansince the 17th-18th centuries. They have in the past been important clan and tribal chiefs, who resisted the British/colonial rule well into the 1860s. Later on, they became colonial soldiers, administrators, legislators and jurists. Perhaps, the best known amongst them was my great-grandfather, Khan Sahib Abdul Majid Khan Tarin, OBE, Barrister (1877-1939), who remained a magistrate, judge and Deputy Commissioner and later one of the first MPs from his native region and an early supporter of the All-India Muslim League here in the struggle for Independence.

 

From my maternal side, my family are from the Northern Punjab elite, the Hyats of Wah, proper ‘feudals’ with a long tradition of service to the ‘British Raj’ from the 1840s onwards. They were not only amongst undividedIndia’s biggest landowners but also distinguished soldiers and administrators in their own right. My maternal great-grandfather, Sardar Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, KCSI, KB (1892-1942) scarcely needs an introduction, he is a notable figure in South Asian/Indian history.

 

Interestingly, my mother’s mother was from yet another historical background—a daughter of Hakim Ahmad Shuja (1893-1969), the famous poet, playwright, scholar and mystic of Lahore, an important figure in Urdu literature, a contemporary and friend of Iqbal, and writers and theatrical associates such as Imtiaz Ali Taj, Rafi Peer and Agha Hashr. I’ve always had a special affinity for this side of the family and spent a lot of time with them.

 

I suppose all these ‘influences’ in my family background went into the making of me! In terms of formal education, you might say that I had a ‘colonial style’ public school education at Burn Hall (now Army Burn Hall) school, Abbottabad,  then the Aitchison College, Lahore, moving on to the Government College, Lahore (then part of the Punjab University), later again to Britain/the United Kingdom. Thus, my special passion for English literature, for English as the chief linguistic vehicle for most of my work. But it would be too simple to just label me as an Anglophile, or from an elite, feudal, colonial background. My family roots go back a long, long way. They are deeply rooted in several cultural/historical traditions that are combined here—Afghan/Central Asian, Hazarewal and North Punjabi, Lahori and Central Punjabi and so on. So I have also imbibed a great deal of ‘culture’ at the interfaces of the South Asian subcontinent and Central Asia, even the Near and Middle East. This constitutes my ‘informal education’ at home, my earliest education in childhood. Apart from a liberal, mystic Islamic influence there are several cultural and linguistic forces and traditions involved. You see? It’s not easy to ‘define’ me, nor any other writer or artist, really, in generalized black and white terms.

 

IK: Indeed. With this balance, or interfacing of East and West in your background and art, with all this cultural diversity, you especially insist on your recognition as a ‘South Asian’ writer. Why? What does this signify?

 

OT: Yes. As you say, there is a lot of ‘diversity’ in my cultural background. I’d say, many layers and levels of my personality and art and I do believe, honestly, that you cannot ultimately separate these into neat compartments. But if you must ‘label’ me, if this sort of categorization is necessary, then I insist on a South Asian identity.Pakistanis a country withinSouth Asia, what was once termed as the ‘Indo-Pakistan subcontinent’, right? And the historical, cultural, ethnic terrain orterritoryofSouthAsiais in itself of a vast, complex magnitude, full of richness and depth and variety. Just think for a minute. You can move from the East (Burma,Bangladesh) to the West (the Punjab, North-West Frontier andAfghanistan); and from North (the Himalayas and Karakorams, Kashmir, Ladakh andTibet) to South (the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, from Sindh to Bombay/Mumbai toTrivandrum)—South Asian magnitude is overwhelming, isn’t it? Can you make simple racial, cultural, linguistic judgments about it? So many people, so many cultures and languages. We have evolved over thousands of years from out of so many threads into a vast, loosely-knit tapestry, or carpet, of such intricate beauty. We are all enriched. I am personally and deeply enriched, my very being, my mind and soul and senses are all enriched every day, every minute, by the overwhelming experience(s) of my ‘South Asianness’. All the ‘threads’ of my ‘self’ are inextricably enmeshed and intermingled within this vastness, over hundreds of years.

 

IK: So, you don’t feel alienated, choosing to write mostly in elitist English, a colonial imported language in South Asia?

 

OT: Not at all! I am what I am, a South Asian writer. My themes, topics and archetypes and symbols are mostly South Asian, aboutSouth Asia. A simple delving, a reading of my work amply ratifies this. And many people here read my work for this reason. Yes, I write mostly in English by choice and inclination.

 

‘English’ might have been initially a colonial language, an importation, but as I see it, it has long been ‘naturalized’ as yet another of the many languages ofSouth Asia, absorbed and adapted within the diversity of this subcontinent. We ‘own’ our special sort of English, with its own idiom and vocabulary and contextual relevance, we possess it and use it and create some of the world’s best literature in it.

 

In many respects, if you think about it, the process is very similar to that by which Turki, Persian and Arabic came into (earlier) contact with Hindi and other local languages and dialects and developed into a camp argot and then, into a language called ‘Urdu’. If you have any objections to the term ‘English’ as the language of Anglo-Saxon colonizers in the 18th-19th centuries, then by all means don’t call it ‘English’ here! The language that we possess here, in its own uniquely adaptable, flexible form, can be re-named anything you please—‘Inglish’ or ‘Pakish’ or ‘XYZ’ or whatever. But more and more people here will continue to use it, I know, and more and more people here shall come to write literature in it, or translate other South Asian literature(s) in it and it will be increasingly useful as our chief means of communication with the rest of the world. It is rather a narrow view to (still) consider it as an ‘elitist’ language used by only a few, that might have been right 60, 50 or even 40 years ago but anyone who still believes this in AD 2011 is hopelessly out of touch with social reality here.

 

 

IK: So, you don’t subscribe to ideological beliefs, of strengthening and moulding a post-colonial national identity on the basis of a national language like Urdu, in Pakistan?

 

OT: Look. In theoretical, academic terms we can say that we live in a ‘postcolonial’ Pakistan. In physical, historical terms I know, perhaps better than most people in Pakistan today, the hardships and suffering that were faced in making this nation-state, many of my elders were very much part of the freedom struggle and lived through the traumas of Partition in 1947; and I also accept that Pakistan was created on a definite ideological basis. I also accept that there was, and is, a need for a common national language such as Urdu, to bind together the ethnic and socio-linguistic diversity of Pakistan. But all this doesn’t imply that English as a language and as a means of creating literature, can’t exist, doesn’t have the right to exist in present-dayPakistan, too. Why not? Why can’t we have Urdu literature here, as well as Punjabi and Pushto and Baluchi and Sindhi and Brahvi and a dozen other literatures in as many languages? Why link literature(s) to political/ideological contexts only? Isn’t that a very narrow way of thinking? How can anyone’s patriotism or ‘loyalty’ to country and society be construed in terms of whether he/she writes in English, Punjabi, Pushto, or for that matter, in Swahili, or French or Ancient Greek—instead of  Urdu? This sort of thinking with regard to creativity, art and literature, smacks of fascism. As I have already written somewhere, in a similar vein, it was the very ‘Orwellian’ psyche of some of our past rulers in Pakistan that in a twisted way linked the exclusive use of Urdu, the national/official language, to the creation of literature by ‘good Pakistanis’. The creative arts are not bound thus. It’s like forcing a painter or artist who prefers to use oil paints as a medium, to make sculptures in stone! Rather ridiculous, actually.

 

 

IK: I see. You are right. But what about our Pakistani (or South Asian) ‘diaspora’, Sir? What are your views on their writings in English or other languages abroad? Some of their writings are controversial, even anti-Pakistani/South Asian, written away from our culture and land?

 

OT: I think that some good writings have been coming from the Pakistani/South Asian ‘diaspora’ as you say, for quite some time. Indeed, in the case of Pakistan, except for our poetry in English, which has been recognized for some time, it’s been expatriate Pakistani writers in genres such as fiction and drama, who have been representing us so well in different parts of the world for so long. To the best of my knowledge, most of them write in English. They certainly have more exposure, more access to the best means of literary production in places like theUK andUSA. They also get a fair amount of media coverage and critical notice out there, which is good. It’s only very recently now, since the late-1990s in fact, that there’s been a proper recognition abroad of some good new writers, especially fiction writers, living in Pakistan—like Muhammad Hanif or Mohsin Hamid for example. Before that, for 2-3 decades, we had expatriate writers like Bapsi Sidhwa, Zulfikar Ghose, Hanif Koreshi, Waqas Khawaja, Moneeza Alvi, and some others, who were really ‘representing’ Pakistan/Pakistani literature there.

 

As to controversial views and such. Again, how can we simplify and label and condemn art and literature in narrow terms? The societies these writers live in are much more open regarding what people can say and do. Also, distance i.e. being ‘away’ from a ‘homeland’ or ‘culture’ or ‘community’ or ‘society’ isn’t any sort of real gauge or measure, of the merits or demerits of a writer and his/her works. Literature is imaginative, creative, who can say what it ends up creating and imagining? It’s useless trying to politicize such things.

 

 

IK: Do you believe in a moral basis for literature and art?

 

OT: Yes and no. Some writings have such a basis, others don’t. It’s the same old argument about ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ or art/literature for didactic purposes.

 

 

 

IK: Coming to a somewhat different topic—you have certain mystic/spiritual inclinations? How and when did you develop this interest? How far is it relevant to your writing?

 

OT: Yes (smiles), inclinations and practice. I don’t usually talk very much about these matters, if it’s ok. I’ve always been interested in ‘matters of the spirit’. Early childhood and familial influences, in addition to a personal quest, had a definite role in leading me towards Tassawuf (Sufic practice/path) and of course! These dimensions inform all facets of my life/existence. Especially my writing, my poetry. Anyone reading my work can immediately sense or notice this.

 

 

IK: Here in Pakistan, many people have an idea about some of the native literary influences on your work, from local cultural traditions. Would you please like some other influences from world literature?

 

OT: These would be too many to list here. I like a great deal of literature and read a lot, works by writers from many places. It’s difficult to say what ‘influences’ one, directly or indirectly. But some of the world’s great writers whose work I really admire include Hazrat-i-Mevlana Rumi, Shakespeare, Tolstoy—others, too. At certain times in my intellectual development, PG Wodehouse, Sheikh Saadi, JRR Tolkien, Rudyard Kipling, Rabindranath Tagore, Dickens, Gorky, Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, Sartre, Hemingway, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, Robert Frost, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Naguib Mahfouz had quite an impact on me. Among later English poets, I like the poetry of Philip Larkin, WH Auden, Stephen Spender, Edward Thomas and Ted Hughes a lot. I also enjoy much of what has been written by Lorca, Pablo Neruda, WB Yeats, Derek Walcott, Sorley MacLean and Maya Angelou.

 

In addition, there are some excellent works by people who generally wouldn’t be classified as ‘professional writers’, people who write have written wonderfully well and given me a lot of pleasure and thought—like Winston Churchill or TE Lawrence or Eric Newby. And some of the Chinese and Japanese masters of Tao and Zen, whose writings are in a way ‘incidental’ to their other practices. The list is endless.

 

 

IK: What is great literature? What makes it truly immortal or special?

 

OT: Well, that’s a very difficult one to answer! I suppose there’s a certain indefinable ‘universality’ to such great works of literature. Something you sense, that reaches out to you. This is indeed a timeless quality.

 

All the same, it’s not easy to express this ‘greatness’. How can we set up a set standard? Ultimately, I think time is the real judge, it sorts out the gold from the dross. What is ‘famous’ or ‘fashionable’ or ‘trendy’ at any given time, in a certain era or epoch, too can fade away; so can all the judgments of critics, scholars, the media. Sometimes, works—and writers—who have been long unnoticed, or neglected, emerge as potent and universal and ‘great’, and make a lasting mark in the long run. Look at William Blake, for example, considered a crank in his own time but recognized by later ages for his genius and now a permanent part of the world’s canon; or Emily Dickinson, who whiled away her life in comparative obscurity and only later generations ‘discovered’ her. I always say to my students, if you are really keen to write, then write as well as you can, read a lot, and don’t have one eye on fame and public acclaim. If you really deserve it, if you have it in you, then no matter how long it takes, centuries even, you will surely emerge and be amongst the great ones.

 

Literature, finally, is a limitless, unfathomable ocean. It is all Heaven and Earth. And writers and poets, are poor, inadequate creatures, seeking to express it all. The journey goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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