Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Obama Into Urdu Poetry !

If you want to make high-brow small talk at one of President Barack Obama’s cocktail parties, don’t bother brushing up your Shakespeare. Try reading Urdu poetry.

As POLITICO’s Ben Smith points out in his blog, Obama showed off his intellectual flair by evoking a standard of Pakistani culture in a recent interview with Dawn, a popular English-language newspaper in Pakistan.

“‘I would love to visit. As you know, I had Pakistani roommates in college who were very close friends of mine. I went to visit them when I was still in college; was in Karachi and went to Hyderabad. Their mothers taught me to cook,’ said Mr Obama.

‘What can you cook?’

‘Oh, keema ... daal ... You name it, I can cook it. And so I have a great affinity for Pakistani culture and the great Urdu poets.’

‘You read Urdu poetry?’

‘Absolutely. So my hope is that I’m going to have an opportunity at some point to visit Pakistan,’ said Mr Obama.”

It may sound somewhat esoteric, but this ancient form of mystical and oft-times philosophical love poetry has been popular in Pakistan and parts of India for centuries. And there are a few things to know before you try to impress the poetry-lover-in-chief.

One of the most popular poets was Mirza Ghalib, whose work dates from the mid-19th century. The still-popular art form usually features the story of a lover scorned by his beloved. And there is almost never a happy ending. “Often the beloved is often a total witch,” says Gwen Kirk, a University of Texas master’s candidate in the subject of Urdu poetry. “She breaks the lover’s heart all the time; she neglects him. It’s all about the process of trying to get closer to the beloved, and it’s got a lot of Sufi and mystical elements as well.”

The ghazal is the most common form of Urdu poetry, and, like sonnets, it follows strict rules of form: four to 12 couplets with a meter and rhyme scheme. But the similarities end there. Couplets in an Urdu poem can sometimes be completely unrelated to each other, each delving into themes that range from unrequited love to the meaning of life.

Fear not if your Urdu — one of two official languages in Pakistan — is a little rusty. Obama likely reads one of the many translated compilations of the texts, according to Kirk. Or if he is a truly savvy Urdu poetry enthusiast, he may choose to listen to the poems recited or sung, as it is commonly performed in the region.

Obama’s admission that he shares an affinity with the “great Urdu poets” may get him further in the region than most think. The language and poetry are commonly associated with Pakistan’s and India’s Muslim population, according to Kirk, and it remains intensely popular in the region — poetry recitals sometimes attract gatherings of thousands of people.

“It does show a willingness to understand that part of the world,” says Kirk.

And in general, it gives Obama further credibility as a supporter of the arts. Not only is he one of three American presidents to have poetry read at their Inaugurations, but he reads the stuff, too!

Want to dig into Urdu poetry? Here’s an example of what awaits you:

To hell with all hindering walls and doors!

Love’s eye sees as feather and wing, walls and doors.

My flooded eyes blur the house

Doors and walls becoming walls and doors.

There is no shelter: my love is on her way,

They’ve gone ahead in greeting, walls and doors.

The wine of your splendor floods

Your street, intoxicating walls and doors.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Focus on India : Anarchy in West Bengal as Maoists capture Lalgarh

-Please click on the map to get a larger view-
Maoists take control Of the West Lalgarh block of the Midnapore District.

Usually brushed aside as a 'non issue' the news of the ever growing Maoists insurgency finally make to the Indian Headlines. The situation is similar to what is happening in Pakistan. Maoists are in a Taliban type advance in West Bengal is about to cause an uproar in India. The Maoists already control 200 of the 602 districts of India and will be a major headache to the New Congress government.

There is anarchy in West Bengal, as less than 140 miles away from the Kolkata, the Maoists have virtually taken over the Lalgarh block in West Midnapore district.

Their targets are the police and Communist Party Marxists (CPM) supporters, both of whom have fled the area. And they have declared that their main target is Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

The Maoists and their supporters are now ransacking every symbol of political and administrative authority in Lalgarh.

The mood in Lalgarh was celebratory, almost as if a Puja was being held. The drums were beating a slow rhythm.

And to the beat, as some danced and hundreds of others looked on, a demolition squad smashed the home of Anuj Pandey, CPM zonal secretary of Dharampur.

All this was done under the leadership of a man named Bikash who stood there with an AK 47 slung on his shoulder. Bikash is a member of the Maoist People's Liberation Guerilla Army.

"The ground here is already ready and waiting for us. A child is about to be born and we are playing the role of the nurse who will deliver it," said Bikash.

Bikash is one of 400 Maoists who apparently entered Lalgarh on June 6 for the current operation, according to police sources. Of the 400, at least 100 are armed with automatic weapons. This very group was responsible for the landmine blast on November 2 that narrowly missed the Chief Minister's convoy.

"On November 2, our plan was to execute Buddhadeb Babu. If West Bengal wants Buddhadeb hanged, who will hang him. It will be us of the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army," said Bikash.

There were more demolitions. The CPM's Dharampur local committee office was also demolished by the squad, bringing down the building brick by brick and setting it on fire.

Just a few metres away from the party office that is being demolished, there was a grisly sight. The body of Shalku Soren was lying there since Sunday. Shalku Soren was apparently a CPM worker. He was killed in a clash with Maoists.

CPM fellowmen brought him here but the situation became so tense after his body was brought here on Sunday, that they have just left the body here and run away.

In the middle of the anarchy, there was no sign of the police as they have been withdrawn by the government. The CRPF was asked to go in but refused unless given permission to open fire if necessary. That permission has apparently not been given yet but may come soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Post Musharraf Pakistan External debt Increases by $12.9 billion !

Pakistan’s external debt and liabilities surge to $50.9 billion.from $38 billion.

Islamabad, 03 April, (Asiantribune.com): Pakistan’s external debt and liabilities (EDL) surged to $50.9 billion in the first six months of current fiscal year (July-December) from $46.3 billion in end-June 2008, reveals “Review of Economic Situation”, released by the Finance Ministry.

The EDL has gone up to 31.2 percent of projected Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of current fiscal year that was 27.6 percent by end-June 2008.

According to the review, foreign investment saw a decline of 34.2 percent in first eight months (July-February) from $2.873 billion to $1.89 billion.

A negative growth of 5.4 percent was recorded in the Large Scale Manufacturing (LSM) during the period under review against a positive growth of 5.2 percent for the same period of last year.

The LSM is victims of energy shortage along with rising cost of doing business and deteriorating law and order situation in the country. The review said that LSM growth was hit hard by sharp reduction in demand from both domestic and external sectors.

The further demand compression in the export sector is estimated at 5 percent. The inflation surged to 23.5 percent with food inflation touching as high as 28.9 percent during the period. The non-food inflation was recorded 19.3 percent and core inflation 17.8 percent.

An increase of 4.3 and 0.5 percent was witnessed both in exports and imports respectively. The exports went up from $12.482 billion a year ago to $13.015 billion while imports increased to $21.878 billion from $21.776 billion during the said period. Trade and current accounts deficits recorded a marginal decline. The current account deficit declined to $7.5 billion from $8.6 billion of July-February last year.

The review said that Pakistan witnessed major disruption in its normal economic activities as the fallout of the war on terror spread into settled areas of Pakistan. The outlook for economic growth more pessimistic, imports demand shriveled, tax collection declined and inflow of foreign investment and privatization dampened.

Pakistan economy still faces pressure from higher inflation, driven by spike in food prices, the acute power shortage, bewildering stock market, a perceptible slowdown in the manufacturing and services sectors; lower than anticipated inflows and growing financing requirements.