Scene of words (Urdu Poetry in Pakistan)

19th May 2015

An appreciation for truck poetry from Ali Kamran, editor from Sang-e-meel bookshop and publishing house, the largest publisher of Urdu literature in Pakistan, and partner with Highlight Arts on the Glasgow to Lahore poetry project.



Poetry, has many definitions of what it is, I choose to define it as ‘smart choices of words which say something in a beautiful manner’. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that poetry is considerably popular in Pakistan.Verses and couplets of well-known poets are often used in normal conversation by regular people, and it is interesting to note that some of the famous poetry lines are taken from common aphorisms,  colloquial expressions or idioms. Well known poets are widely read in Pakistan and it seems shocking to notice people recalling  whole poems by heart. I often stumble upon individuals who while seeking a particular book of poetry, or mentioning a favourite poet, and as a token of appreciation, they recall and recite verse upon verse, as if  it has been intoxicated in their minds.

Although truck art from Pakistan is quite famed,  not many outsiders know about  truck poetry. Not just trucks but most Pakistani taxis, rickshaws, and buses etc.   have verses written on the back which I would label as quick, quirky and funny. The poetry on colorful vehicles is mostly about general life, love, self and is  frequently funny. For example they may address  road conditions, habitual honking, and one’s locality. There was this unique funny verse  I located on  the outskirts of Lahore,  on the back of a very ordinary looking van, not brandishing any commercial label, and which was carrying milk containers: “Oh baby, do not cry …. I am going to get you milk in a flash”. It is a sad fact that most of the drivers/owners of trucks, buses, taxis and rickshaws are not educated in schools, but fortunately they are sensible and tasteful enough to choose poetry as their medium of expression.

Contrary to well-known poets, a new generation of Pakistani poets are not privileged enough to enjoy a large readership  and earning fame or notoriety is even harder for them. Yet, it is astonishing to see the number of poetry books published each year, as this surpasses all other forms of literature. It seems there are more poets than poetry readers in Pakistan. This situation is making it very difficult for brilliant poets to stand out from the crowd and prove themselves. Even though every university and college in Pakistan holds poetry recital events (mushaira) on a yearly basis,  providing a a bright platform for the new poets.

In this situation, “Glasgow to Lahore” launched its first phase in at Lahore, in which there were two poets from Lahore and two from Glasgow to translate poems from different languages and cultures.The outcomes of the translation exercises were astonishing and the translated poems do not appear to belong to some other culture at all. The project is now turning into phase 2, adding   two additional poets from Lahore as well as two musicians.

One of them is Kishwar Naheed, well known as a poet, writer and social worker. Engaged at government jobs at various literary organization and, since retiring, she takes care of “Hawwa” a social organization that  caters to the  needs of female self-workers from rural areas. Her choice of writing poetry is often to address serious social issues.

The other poet is Ali Akbar Natiq, an emerging poet and fiction writer who interestingly started off his life career as a mason of minarets and domes and then as  a small clerk and  a school teacher. His works and translations were initially published in many Urdu and English literary magazines from where people started acclaiming him. His writings show that he has  a very good eye as an observer and his selection of words points to a strong hold of regional language.


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Ali Kamran, book publisher and hobbyist photographer, lives in Lahore. He is Director at Sang-e-Meel Publications, a publishing house from Pakistan. Photography came as an aspiring activity over the years while working in his field. Ali studied for an MBA in marketing from Lahore and an MA in book publishing from London during which he started working part-time at the family business during his early college days.

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