A Treat for Those Who Seek Sublimity in Poetry
By Z.G. Muhammad
Srinagar
Kashmir

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

Hyderabad, Deccan

Crumble into

those mosaic

tiles of my floral

incubus. The

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

Over me

But

Yet awhile

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

 

Notwithstanding

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

In Europe,

The gas chambers

Of the Nazis.

Will Afghans

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

But proud

Peoples of two

Muslim nations.

……….

Future military adventures

And the American’s sheer exhaustion

Combined with failure to see

Its predicament

All the while,

he Russian bear

and Chinese dragon

Watched in glee

….and waited.

The collection is a treat for all those who look for sublimity in poetry.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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