A Treat for Those Who Seek Sublimity in Poetry
By Z.G. Muhammad
I have read and reviewed some of Ambassador Akbar S Ahmed’s books, including his latest one ‘Journey into America.’ Reading his latest collection of poems, “Suspended somewhere between - a book of verse’ published in 2011 by Busboys and Poets, Washington, was an amazing experience to discover the scholar known for “changing the face of anthropology’ as a poet- with same piquancy as that of Allama:
“Then, one day my head high again, I will rise
pure Muslim, Marxist-Malinonwski-Mawdoodi wise,
one day I will no longer sweat-fear to dream,
then, I will posses the key to alif-lam mim”
Akbar is a profound and prolific writer as very rightly put by Dan Futterman in his foreword to the verse collection: “His writings to this day have been like a sea - rich and full of life and well exploring… now with this collection we get the ocean”. The book of verse contains seventy smaller poems mostly in blank verses. The collection as very well said by the poet, is a ‘call from inside’. The poems written over a period of fifty years continue to cascade with their freshness. Every verse is an echo from the depths of the heart. Nostalgia permeates in many poems and ‘Diaspora’ is one such example.
“Lal Killa and
tiles of my floral
awakening in the
actuality of parched Sindh.
Karachi the harlot
Of ethnic hungers
sucks me in.’
In his poem ‘Will ever be’ with his bruised psyche he talks about some ancient Sanskrit curse hanging over him but he believes that he can brave it and come out of its spell.
There must seems be
An ancient Sanskrit curse
That great heart of Umar
Beats in me
And Ali’s hand holds my sword.
Perhaps that day will never be.
The poet has divided his anthology into five broad chapters, Pakistan, Love, Islam, Echoes of History and Pense’es. The influences of Rumi, Iqbal, Ghalibs and English romantic poets on Akbar are quite discernable. Living in America the poet is pained about the situation in his own country. In ‘Pukhtun landscape a mood,’ that I see as one of major poems in the collection the poet laments about the land where he had served as a young officer. He believes that foreign ferringhee is not the enemy but the enemy is within:
“I don’t hear singing in the fields any more,
I don’t hear the reed by riverside
The sounds of laughter seem to have gone evermore
Even the tears have almost dried…
Nothing grows from barrel of gun
Save fever and fire and fear
What for one man is game and fun
For another is injustice without peer.”
In poem titled I, Saracen, like Iqbal he takes pride in his past, rising a ‘colossus’ from shimmering sands’ and not only conquering the world but immensely contributing to it but also craves for return of that glorious past:
“Thundering ‘ism crash about me,
I gasp, I wake, I see
around me fragments of Suez fall
Muhammad Mustapha (SAW) I hear you call
disappointments Akbar exudes with optimism and a firm resolve:
I hear you in muezzin’s calling
I vow again to revive within me your song
to sing it forever, sweet and long”
The scholar in Akbar, like Iqbal, very subtly creeps in his poetry. The poem titled ‘The Passing of an Empire’ to me is his voluminous book ‘Journey into America’ encapsulated. He sees American politicians speaking about bringing democracy and civilization to the world as a sick joke to the occupied people.
And how will conquered
Recall their masters?
In Asia they remember
The pyramids of skulls
Left by the Mongols
The gas chambers
Of the Nazis.
Remember anything else
Besides the Abu Gharib?
The anger and ignorance
Around Islam remained dangerously high.
An outstanding presidential candidate,
Bursting with charisma,
Loudly and repeatedly
Was attacked simply
Because his middle name was Hussein,”
Akbar’s voice is not in wilderness. It is not a cry in desperation. Like Iqbal he challenges those harboring the idea of neo-colonization in twenty first century.
“History will record
The empire was halted
By the impoverished
Peoples of two
Future military adventures
And the American’s sheer exhaustion
Combined with failure to see
All the while,
he Russian bear
and Chinese dragon
Watched in glee
The collection is a treat for all those who look for sublimity in poetry.