Culture

Watch: Seeing the Universe in the Sands of Fifth Avenue

An exiled Pakistani poet finds fresh inspiration in his new home, while reflecting on the tragedy of partition that has left a legacy of war and strife in his beloved land. Fragments of a globalised world seem to coalesce here on Fifth Avenue, strung together in the poet’s mind.


Directed by Sofian Khan 
Cinenmatography – Bob Blankemeier / Original Score – Joshua Green / Sound + Mix – Evan Manners / Animation – Will Clark / Makeup – Jackie Push / Starring – Arik Hartman/ capitalkpictures.com

About the poet

Hasan Mujtaba is a poet of Urdu, Punjabi and his native language Sindhi, who wrote extensively as a journalist for the English language publication Newsline in Pakistan during the 1990’s.  His hard-hitting investigative reporting took an unflinching look at the urban sprawl of Karachi and the politics of the Sindh province.  His political writing got him in trouble with the regime, and in the late 1990’s — feeling that he and his family were in danger — they left for the United States.

The following years were spent in obscurity, seeking asylum in New York City.  While journalism remained part of his soul, poetry became his salvation.  His recently published collection of poetry is a product of these difficult years in New York, including ‘Fifth Avenue’, originally titled “For Allen Ginsberg”, which recounts a key moment of inspiration that spurred him to write about his new home in New York.

About the poem

The poem “Fifth Avenue” is part of Hasan’s recently published collection of  Urdu and Punjabi poetry. Koel Shehr Ki Katha, released this year by Saanjh Publications Lahore, Pakistan.

The poem recounts one summer day when, sitting on 5th avenue in Manhattan, Hasan witnessed a parade of Hare Krishna devotees making their way down the avenue.  Amongst them, he saw a man who looked like Allen Ginsberg — one of Hasan’s favorite American poets.  Though it was not him, the sight of this lookalike gave Hasan an important thought.  If this American poet once journeyed to India in search of inspiration, why could Hasan, a Pakistani, not come to America and likewise find some spark of beauty to write from.  Hence began his journey to create this singular collection of poetry that fuses his new home with images of that which he left behind.

About the filmmaker

Sofian Khan is the founder of Capital K Pictures. His documentaries have played at festivals around the world and been aired on PBS and The Documentary Channel.  His work has also been featured online at The Atlantic and Huffington Post.  You can learn more about his work at www.capitalkpictures.com


On Fifth Avenue

By Hasan Mujtaba
English translation by Manan Ahmed

Amid the crowd of Hare Krishnas,

an old man who looked like Allen Ginsberg

Amid the riot of saffron color

the cymbals, the drums

whites, blacks, and rainbow colors

in June’s silvery light

silent, alone,

unique

as if he was the exclamation point of this whole philosophy

In the walking crowds of Fifth Avenue

I, a lost child

He, an old man who looked like Allen Ginsberg

Holding his thought’s fingers,

I walked far away

far to the lanes of Sehwan

“in public, I dance”

It seems a vision from a dream.

I take Fifth Avenue

I take the lane of Sehwan

Written on the shores of Indus, I take all of Rig Veda

I take Qur’an

I reject Chagai

I refute Pokhran

I deny the whole of Aurangzeb’s creations.

Home.

when I sing

songs of my exile

I return to my self

But they speak back to me

in the language of bullets

they do not read

what is written on the walls

“A donkey pisses on the General’s Uniform”

Those blood soaked lanes of Delhi

that naked Sarmad

Now your Gaze

Soils the purity of the Holiest, the Righteous

That woman inside me

These vines of grapes

That moon over Hudson

This silvery dusk over Indus

descends like revelation on a Prophet.

ایوینیوففتھپر

راماکرشناکےجلوسوںمیں

وہایلنگنسبرگ٭کاہمشکلبوڑھا

وہگیرویرنگوںجلترنگاوردھمالوں

گوروںکالوںاورکئيساترنگوںمیں

روپہلیجونمیں

چپچاپتنہااوریگانہاسطرح

جیسےوہاسسارےفلسفےکاہوبساکآخرینقطہ

ایونیوففتھپرچلتےہجوموںمیں

میںاککھویاہوابچہ

وہایلنگنسبرگکاہمشکلبوڑھا

میںاسکےخیالکیانگلیپکڑکر

دورجانکلا

کہیںسیوھنکیگلیوںمیں

سر بازار می رقصم

یہسبکچھخوابمیںدیکھاہواپہلےسالگتاہے

ایوینیوففتھبھیمیرا

اورسیوھنکیگلیمیری

سندھوتیرےکناروںپرلکھےرگویدکیسارےشبدمیرے

قرآنیآیتیںمیری

وہیچاغیکاباغیمیں

وہیپوکھرانکامنکر

منکرہوںمیںاورنگزیبکیساریخدائیکا

وطنتیریجدائیکا

میںجببھیگیتگاتاہوں

میںخودمیںلوٹآتاہوں

مگرگولیکیبولیمیں

وہمجھسےباتکرتےہیں

وہدیواروںپہتحریریںنہیںپڑھتے

کہجنریلوںکیوردیپرگدھاپیشابکرتاہے

وہیدلیکیخوںآلودگلیاں

ننگدھڑنگسرمد

ابھیچندتیریآنکھوںپرقطباقطابولیوںکےوضوٹوٹیں

میرےاندرکیعورت

اوریہانگورکیبیلیں

وہیہےچاندہڈسنپر

روپہلیشامسندھوپر

اترے اسطرح جیسے وحی اترے محمد پر