A defiant voice

Akbar Barakzai will be remembered for his contributions to Balochi literature and voicing resistance through poetry

A defiant voice

Akbar Barakzai, who passed away on March 8, was one of the most defiant progressive voices in Balochistan after Mir Gul Khan Naseer. He belonged to the generation of poets that witnessed the political and literary activism of Muhammad Hussain Unqa, Sher Mohammad Marri, Mir Gul Khan Naseer and Azat Jamaldini. They are known to be the political minds and architects of modern Balochi literature. Their art responds to social and political aspirations of their age. Profoundly influenced by progressive ethos and credentials, they raised their voice for a just and humane society.

Barakzai was no exception. He sought to reshape the prevailing socio-political and wrote for freedom and liberty, peace and prosperity and dignity of mankind. His unwavering love for human dignity transcends all geographical and cultural frontiers and becomes universal. His poem Ma Insanan (We are All Human) reminds us that despite the differences in creed and race, all human beings in the world share some common traits and ties on the basis of humanity:

Of blood and brotherhood

We share common traits and ties

Love is all we harvest

On freedom our faith does rest

Indeed the whole world is ours

We are all human

We are all human

Similarly, in poems like Man Viet Cong aan (I’m Viet Cong) and April 1978, he expresses solidarity with the people of Vietnam and Afghanistan. Both poems embody a shared sense of victory against the oppressive powers.

Rocha Kay Kosht Kanth? (Who Can Snuff Out the Sun?), written in the backdrop of Che Guevara’s execution, is not only Barakzai’s most quoted poem, but it is also one of the most remarkable Balochi poems touching the theme of resistance and defiance. In this poem, he employs the metaphor of the sun for Che Guevara. Moreover, he likens those who celebrate Che’s cold-blooded murder to blind night birds, afraid to face the light, the truth:

Who can snuff out the sun?

Who can suppress the light?

In the realm of the dark night

Proclaimed the night-birds

To have snuffed out the sun

They rejoiced and reveled in trance

With wine, songs and dance

The following culminating lines of this poem lend credence to its universality both in appeal and relevance:

Nobody can ever snuff out the sun

Or suppress the light

In the dark wilderness of the night

The blind night-birds celebrated in vain

The triumphant sun comes out every day

spreading its radiance throughout the world

The primordial struggle of humanity and its subsequent triumph over the forces of tyranny and darkness also resonate in the following lines of the poem titled Tareekh (History):

I’ll remain eternal, so will my light

Darkness will not last for long

Nor ever its progenies

The age of tyranny will not last forever

I’m the custodian of truth

I’m history

The ruthless history

Defiance is the crux of Barakzai’s poetry. He not only loathes submissiveness and docility but also urges the posterity to emulate the principles of defiance and dissent against the powers who seek to suppress the truth. The poem titled Innan (No) is addressed to the poet’s young daughter - though nonconformity is the very essence of the poem. It begins with the following lines:

I wish on your lips

Forever stay the word “No”

It’s the word

All glory and delight in life

Pour in from

He sought to reshape the prevailing socio-political order and wrote for freedom and liberty, peace and prosperity and dignity of mankind. His unwavering love for human dignity transcends all geographical and cultural frontiers and becomes universal.

The poet seeks to inculcate the ideals and values of defiance in the younger generation. Instead of maintaining silence, he urges them to uphold the glory of truth even at the cost of their lives:

Go ahead and embrace the tides

Which alter the course of life

But to the rule of death say “No”

Always raise aloft the banner of truth

But to lies and falsehood say “No”

Give a warm welcome to the light

But to the curse of darkness say “No”

Likewise, in the poem Labz (The Words), he insists that people voice their dissention against any kind of tyranny because their very voice will shape their destiny. In other words, he asserts that their salvation lies in their eloquence:

Don’t ever bury the word

In the chasm of your chest

Rather express the word

Yes, speak it out!

The word is freedom

End of oppression

Light and radiance

Beauty and bliss

Oppression is as old as the human race. Men, over centuries, have practiced oppression both overtly and covertly, individually as well as collectively. Barkazai’s poem Qudrat ay Qanoon (The Law of Nature) is a poignant description of oppression and subjugation. The poem is primarily a dialogue between two voices; the oppressor and the oppressed. The former addresses the latter with snide remarks and asks him to submit to his authority otherwise his survival will remain in danger:

Have you ever pondered?

On the law of nature

Always subdued in the world

Are the weak and the vulnerable

A shark preys on little herrings

A lion hunts the ibex

Birds and locust falcon’s catch prey

However, despite his meekness, he refuses to bow down before his authority. Rather he addresses him with a tone of defiance:

True you are the mighty overlord

I’m just a wretched slave

But listen you me

But I’m also a man, a descendent of Adam

No matter how much you oppress me

I wouldn’t accept your law of nature

A pretext for my subjugation

No matter how mighty you are

No matter how weak and frail I am

Barakzai not only celebrates the defeat of imperialist powers everywhere in the world but also extols mankind’s scientific achievements, especially those in the field of space science as a common legacy of humanity. He is convinced that humanity’s salvation lies in science, and its triumph over heavenly bodies will pave the way for a better world.

The flight of Sputnik in 1957 was heralded as one of the most remarkable marvels man had scored in history. Barakzai wrote a short poem celebrating this historic moment:

At last he ensnared the moon and stars

And subdued the heavens forever

The flight of Sputnik is indeed a marvel

No doubt man is the greatest of all.

Moreover, in Insan ay Kamal (Man’s Marvel) he also pays a poetic tribute to the successful flight of Luna-2.

Barakzai, who often called himself a part-time poet, was not a prolific writer. In a literary journey that spans around seven decades, he only brought out two anthologies of his poetry. However, the poems he wrote to celebrate humanity and its triumph over nature and its victory against imperialism will be hailed as a common legacy of humanity.

*All translations are by the writer

The writer is a translator. He also serves as an assistant professor at Atta Shad Degree College, Turbat. He tweets @FazalBaloc

A defiant voice