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

01 December 2014
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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

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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