Harris Khalique on the Wide Scope of Politically Motivated Urdu Poetry
By A.H. Cemendtaur
Fourteen years ago when Harris Khalique visited the Bay Area he was already a well-known poet in Pakistan. His debut collection of poems was published when he was still a student at an engineering university. Khalique’s first book made strong waves in the literary circles as it was the most powerful and sane voice from the young generation of writers and poets, in the hateful and bigoted Pakistani 80s.
Fast forward to today, Harris Khalique still carries the tone of a fervent poet, but seems to have negotiated with the realities of his times.
On Thursday, October 8, Harris Khalique spoke on ‘Political Poetry in Contemporary Pakistan,’ at UC Berkeley. At Berkeley Khalique was hosted by the Institute for South Asia Studies, the Berkeley Pakistan Initiative, and the Townsend Center for the Humanities, with the familiar team of Munis Faruqui, Puneeta Kala, and Saba Mahmood working in the background.
In his talk Harris Khalique claimed that works of all major Urdu poets have had political themes in their poetry. Khalique thought any work by a woman poet in that region should be considered political as a woman raising her voice in that culture is in itself an act of defiance and a political statement.
He said most educated people of South Asia were bilinguals and were strongly influenced by the English language; thus it was not surprising that many contemporary writers of Pakistan write in two languages -- he, Harris Khalique, being a good example of this bilingualism; he writes poetry in both Urdu and English, and writes social commentary in English.
After his talk Harris Khalique was interviewed by Saba Mahmood, Associate Professor in Anthropology at UC Berkeley.