Born in Ghazipur in 1946, trained as an entomologist and now resident in Karachi, the reclusive poet Afzal Ahmed Syed is a master of the classical and contemporary Urdu poetic forms. His translator Musharraf Ali Farooqi calls him “the best Urdu poet of his generation".

The poems in Rococo and Other Worlds explore the myths and realities of South Asia and West Asia. “Their bold imagery creates narratives of voluptuous perfection, which remain inseparable from the political realities that Syed witnessed as a young observer of the violent separation of East Pakistan and emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 and of the Lebanese civil war in 1976," Farooqi writes.

Our National Tree

Instead of the white jasmine

we proclaim the acacia as our national tree

It does not line the campuses of US colleges

is nowhere to be found in tropical gardens

remains untouched by the ikebana practitioners

Biologists do not classify acacia as a tree

because it does not support hangings

Acacia is the shrub

with which our cities, our deserts

and our poetry is replete

We are much taken with

the spinous acacia

that kept our soil from being washed away into the Arabian Sea.

Rococo and Other Worlds: By Afzal Ahmed Syed, Translated from the Urdu by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Wesleyan University Press, 108 pages, $22.95 (around Rs1,190).

Elias Canetti maintains

Goya was a partisan

The one who made the Maja Nude

the Maja Clothed, and

the Majas on a Balcony

His Rococo world disappeared

in Third of May in a dark Madrid alley

He became oblivious

that parasol carriers had adorned his canvas and his bed

The source of light

in his canvas is a floor lantern

troops whose faces remain hidden

discharge fire on unresisting civilians

everyone resolves death in his own manner

the white shirt has his chest thrust out

in defiance

Successive generations of painters

shall revisit the theme

The subject of his last oil

the Milkmaid of Bordeaux

would have been claimed by some revolution

In the passing it may be mentioned

Goya sided against Napoleon

with the people of Spain

Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author and translator.

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