For January 2021, my choice from the archives is a prose passage from poet Salman Tarik Kureshi’s heartfelt memoir of his fellow poet and close friend, Daud Kamal, and a poem by the latter. Read on to see how each uses the same line at different times and in different contexts.
- Ilona Yusuf
Excerpted from ‘Look, The Indus is Choked with Stars’ (Remembering Daud Kamal) by Salman Tarik Kureshi that first appeared in The Aleph Review, Vol. 3 (2019).
Just over the Attock bridge, we walked down to the river’s edge and sat there a while. The Indus at that point is newly emerged from the mountains and gorges of Kohistan and has then been poured through the sluice gates of the Tarbela Dam. The Abbasin, as it is called here, meets its great western tributary, the Kabul, which has been flowing for a considerable distance through the fertile Peshawar and Mardan valleys. The two waters, the clean blue of the Indus and the silt-laden brown of the Kabul, are clearly demarcated for many miles downstream of Attock, until they finally merge.
As we sat there, contemplating the mighty waters, dusk began to give way to evening and, before long, the stars had come out. The perfect black of the sky was completely transparent and as deep as space. It was crowded with stars. Stars of many colours, each clear and sharp, large ones and small ones, faint and bright. I looked up at great stellar whorls and spangles, seeing a meteor slide silently across. Looking down, I saw that the skies were reflected in the river, filling the stream with sparkles of light that broke, reformed, stretched, and multiplied with the flow.
“Look,” I said to Daud, “The river is full of stars.”
“Yes,” he said, “It’s almost choked with stars.”
“The river is choked with stars. That’s a good line,” I said. “Do you mind if I use it?”
“I thought of it first,” he said.
An Ancient Indian Coin
Gazelle embossed on a lopsided moon.
Vasanta had only been rendered insensible
by the outrage in the garden.
A sadhu watches his toenails grow
in his Himalayan cave.
Men create their own gods
and a learned Brahmin is exempt
from all taxation.
But a piece of gold
does not take one very far.
Out of the seven jade goblets
they dug up
only one was whole.
The king’s hunting dogs are better fed
than most of his subjects.
Look, the Indus is choked with stars
and the glaciers are beginning to melt.
I try to calm myself
but my tongue is smothered
by its own thickness.
Solitude, silence, stone.
Daud Kamal (1935-1987) was Professor of English at Peshawar University, where he became the head of the department. Educated at Islamia College, Peshawar, and Cambridge University, UK, he began writing poetry in his twenties. Some of these poems later formed part of his first volume of verse, Remote Beginnings. This publication was the first of several, including translations from Ghalib. Daud Kamal was a prolific writer who was able to build a considerable reputation for himself as a poet in English, both at home and abroad. He was the recipient of three gold medals under the aegis of Triton College, USA, the Faiz Award in 1987 and a posthumous Pride of Performance award in 1990. He is buried in the cemetery of the university where he taught. At the time of his death in December 1987, he remained unrecognised locally, as archived documents from his colleagues tell: “the crowning irony was a week later, a list of luminaries who had passed away that year was published and Daud was not amongst them.”
Salman Tarik Kureshi says: “Born in Lahore, I have lived most of my adult life in Karachi, except for three years in England. Retired from a lengthy corporate career, I now work part-time with a leading educational publishing house. My poems have appeared in anthologies (Pieces of Eight, Pakistan, 1971: Legacy of the Indus, USA, 1974; The Blue Wind, UK, 1984; Dragonfly in the Sun, Pakistan, 1997); as well as in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 2011, and occasional ‘little magazines’ in the US, Britain, India and Pakistan. A solo volume of my poems, Landscapes of the Mind, which received favourable critical comment, was published by Oxford University Press in 1998. I am also a regular op-ed columnist, writing on socio-political issues. My articles appear in The Friday Times, Daily Times, and Dawn.”