Poetry event links Pakistanis to their homeland

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Countering the attention often given to Pakistan for terrorism, militancy, poverty or lack of human rights, local Pakistanis held a poetry symposium in Ross on Sunday to highlight the beauty of their culture.

The featured speaker was Anwar Masood, one of Pakistan's most well-known poets, visiting Pittsburgh for the first time. Noted for his humor, he entertained listeners with his readings on corruption, bad governance, relationships and humanity.

He was delighted to see that the crowd at the Holiday Inn Pittsburgh North was good-humored and that most could understand the verses he recited. "I felt that [Pakistanis] are still related to the values, culture and traditions of Pakistan while living here in Pittsburgh," Mr. Masood said.

Sessions called Mushaira in Urdu are popular events in Pakistan and in parts of India in which poets gather to share their works.

Another Pakistani poet at the event, Khalid Masood, said he believes poetry shows the love of one's own culture and provides a bridge between Pakistanis living in America and their countrymen back home.

He urged those of Pakistani descent in Pittsburgh to teach their children Urdu so they can better relate to their native language and homeland.

The political nature of poetry can be understood with his words reflecting on the recent arrest of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf: "If someone is a loafer without being rogue; or December is passing without cold. And if an egg is without yolk in it; he is similarly stuck without the khaki uniform."

For generations poetry has been a symbol of free expression in Pakistan's history.

Its national poet, Allama Iqbal, helped spur the idea of a separate state for Muslims, which ultimately led to the formation of Pakistan in 1947.

Poetry also has played an important role in Pakistani politics, culture and social life. Poets often speak freely about taboo topics, challenging governments, religious leaders or even the customs and values -- a practice that sometimes got them arrested in the past.

Furqan Khattak, a doctor who recently settled in Pittsburgh, isn't a fan of poetry but attended the gathering Sunday to learn about this form of expression.

"It was a very enjoyable experience because I've never been to a poetic symposium in Pakistan, but I could see my culture over here," Dr. Khattak said.

Anwar Masood, in his readings, joked about the troubles Pakistanis have learning English. "English is must; there should also be a subject one should fail." A number of Pakistani students fail in the subject and even leave schools because they find it too difficult.

One of his works criticizes the practices of medical professionals who prescribe countless medications. "Take one capsule before dawn, take two tablets before sleeping, take a dose of syrup early in the morning, then take this tablet immediately after breakfast. Take this medication before this; you have to take this medicine after this. And if it gets the stomach disturbed, then you must take this mixture. Then it's necessary to take this course of injections, if your hands even do not move after this," he recited.

He also had a message for the autocratic rulers around the world: "If my people are not satisfied with me; here I leave my crown, here I leave my royalty."

Not all in attendance embraced the event. Manal Paracha, 16, said, "We understand Urdu, but we don't understand the aspects of humor in the poetry."

Another young Pakistani, Usman Saleem, 17, preferred to stay out in the hotel lobby during the poetry session. "It's a good thing but it's hard to understand. We're just here to make our parents happy," he acknowledged.

On the other hand, Qamar Baloch, 70, believed the poetry session was a wonderful opportunity to let the younger generation of Pakistanis see their traditions, culture and history even when they are away from their country. "They do not see their own culture or activities very often, and if there aren't such activities, these Pakistanis will be alienated from their own people," she said.

Fareeda Qureshi, vice president of the Pakistan American Association of Greater Pittsburgh, which arranged the event, agreed.

"We are living thousands of miles away, and it is a way to stay linked to our values and culture."


Waqas Banoori: wbanoori@post-gazette.com or 412-694-4978.


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