poetry

‘The Death of Stella D’Cruz’ and other poems

By Afzal Ahmed Syed | 1 December 2014

About The Poems Afzal Ahmed Syed is one of modern Urdu literature’s most highly regarded poets, and certainly its most original one. As the poems here show, he animates and variegates lyric feeling with splashes of narrative zest; to the traditional motifs and themes of Urdu poetry he adds a cosmopolitan irony and a range of unusual and beautifully worked allusions (consider the exquisite reference to Herodotus in ‘On The Way Home From Empress Market’); and, in contrast to the conventional poetic musings and murmurs of the self, he loves to dive into the vivid worlds of a range of protagonists—often women—who under the light of his attention come to seem both plebeian and mythic. We infer the nature of the lyric speaker from what he says about others.

These poems are all taken from Syed’s collection Rococo aur Doosri Dunyaen (Rococo and Other Worlds), a major work recently translated into English by the writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi, and published in India this month by Yoda Press.

 

The Death of Stella D’Cruz

On Anklesaria Hospital’s fourth floor
Stella D’Cruz
died
leaving over ten thousand unpaid in bills
Proceedings were initiated
for her last rites at Our Lady of Fatima Church
for the overdraft at Allied Bank

A few days ago
these two institutions had declared her persona non-grata
for kissing in public,
and passing a bad cheque,
respectively

With professional skill
everything was settled
Around the black coffin
pews in Our Lady of Fatima filled up

Poorly recorded dirges filled up the church
for
the melodious Stella D’Cruz

 

On the Way Home From Empress Market

Every weekend
dutiful Porochista Dastur
must needs visit
the hideous Empress Market’s
beef section

In her gypsy blouse and drab skirt
Porochista Dastur
could be considered immune
to Tetrapodic and other loves
One could readily believe
she wouldn’t set foot
in shabby hotels, estate agencies,
or wet dreams
nor take the elevator
alone with another man

Carrying the load of beef
Porochista Dastur
before she boards the bus
at the approach of the half-deserted Somerset Street
steps up to the first floor
of the crumbling Duarte Building
and makes water standing—
as the girls of Egypt did,
on the authority of Herodotus

 

A Picture on Page 163

She has no occasion
to remember her city
sitting by a foreign river’s bank

She is perfectly happy in the Mahakhali settlement
which is the subject of discussion
in a lecture delivered in Copenhagen

She could even swim
to the garment factory
where she had started work
after finishing her matriculation

Every week, on a shared VCR
she watches three movies in succession
And on the first of every month
buys a whole kilo of hilsa fish for home

She has no sick father,
reprobate brother,
or an unknown enemy

And it is not that
she is fated to remain a spinster
There is a boy
He teaches in a school
And has no mind to become a driver in New York
or a cook in Karachi

She is happy
under her tin roof
in her house of bamboo walls

When she was not chosen for a role
in the community theatre
she felt no regrets

Just today she was included
in a contingent of girls
protesting outside the office of the water supply authority

Nobody taught her how to be happy
She knew it by instinct
She does not know where the poverty line
crosses her body

Her poor country
has become independent twice

She is freer and happier
than the rest of the world

 

On the Way Home From Empress Market

Every weekend
dutiful Porochista Dastur
must needs visit
the hideous Empress Market’s
beef section

In her gypsy blouse and drab skirt
Porochista Dastur
could be considered immune
to Tetrapodic and other loves
One could readily believe
she wouldn’t set foot
in shabby hotels, estate agencies,
or wet dreams
nor take the elevator
alone with another man

Carrying the load of beef
Porochista Dastur
before she boards the bus
at the approach of the half-deserted Somerset Street
steps up to the first floor
of the crumbling Duarte Building
and makes water standing—
as the girls of Egypt did,
on the authority of Herodotus

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Afzal Ahmed Syed has published three collections in Urdu of the modern nazm genre—titled Chheni Hoi Tareekh (An Arrogated Past, 1984), Do Zubanon Mein Saza-e Maut (Death Sentence in Two Languages, 1990), and Rococo Aur Doosri Duniyaen (Rococo and Other Worlds, 2000)—and one ghazal collection, Khaima-e Siyah (The Dark Pavilion, 1988). His latest work was the first Urdu translation of Mir Taqi Mir’s Persian divan.

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