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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Twain Meet

Waiting for Professor Aslam Farrukhi to show up for what became, in his delightful retelling, a grand - almost visual - tour of Karachi, 1947, I was fortunate to be to be at the same table as Yusufi Sahab, who, with just 4 books pubished, is arguably the finest writer of Urdu prose today. 
Apologizing for a really pita hua question, I asked him whom he read and was influenced by. I am not sure what name[s] I expected ... but without a moment's pause he surprised me by saying "Mark Twain", which - in retrospect - doesn't seem so odd. He also went on (with almost childish awe) to describe his recent visit to Twain's hometown and the house he lived in.
I hope that T2F will, one day, be honoured by an evening of Yusufi Sahab's readings. How we'll accommodate the hundreds that will turn up, I don't know. Guess that's reason enough to increase the space, Sab ;-)
As a possible result of our colonization, older readers in this part of the world were traditionally more familiar with writers from Britain, as compared to those from the USA, a legacy they passed on via textbooks and home libraries to their young. Over the years, the one good thing to emerge from the Americanization of Everything, is that we have all become familiar with several new and powerful authors from the other side of the Atlantic. In fact, one has to look really hard for good British, non-desi authors in our bookshops!
However, Samuel Longhorn Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, is still not as commonly read in this part of the world as he should be. Here's a piece by him that is as relevant today (and to us) as when it was first published as part of a short story.
O Lord, Our Father
by Mark Twain
O Lord, our father, 
Our young patriots, idols of our hearts, 
Go forth to battle - be Thou near them! 
With them, in spirit, we also go forth 
From the sweet peace of our beloved firesides
To smite the foe.
O Lord, our God, 
Help us to tear their soldiers 
To bloody shreds with our shells; 
Help us to cover their smiling fields 
With the pale forms of their patriot dead;
Help us to drown the thunder of the guns
With the shrieks of their wounded, 
Writhing in pain.
Help us to lay waste their humble homes 
With a hurricane of fire; 
Help us to wring the hearts of their 
Unoffending widows with unavailing grief;
Help us to turn them out roofless 
With their little children to wander unfriended
The wastes of their desolated land 
In rags and hunger and thirst, 
Sports of the sun flames of summer 
And the icy winds of winter, 
Burdened in spirit, worn with travail, 
Imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -
For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, 
Blast their hopes, 
Blight their lives, 
Protract their bitter pilgrimage, 
Make heavy their steps, 
Water their way with their tears, 
Stain the white snow with the blood 
Of their wounded feet!
We ask it in the spirit of love - 
Of Him who is the source of love, 
And Who is the ever-faithful 
Refuge and Friend of all that are sore beset
And seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.

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Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at school and have to admit that it's the only piece of Mark Twain's writing that I've ever read.

Thanks for posting the poem! It should be mandatory reading for all war-mongers. :)

13 July, 2008 13:06

Blogger Zakintosh said...


We could start by introducing it into the Indo-Pak student mindsets. It doesn't have to be 'officially' incorporated into our syllabii: Publishers could print it behind all the History and Religious Studies text books.

13 July, 2008 15:22

Blogger Vic said...

Together with Mark Twain, we also had the incomparable PG Wodehouse. Delightful memories of a magic world, no less magical just because it was set in dreary England (the protagonists occasionally travel far distances, yea, even unto Scotland and Wales, but not to tarry, and not too often).

Best of all, you don't need PGW on the required reading list (or slip in his WMDs - words of mass demoniacal sniggering - on the backs of other books) to get young people to rofl them.

13 July, 2008 16:50

Anonymous Rabayl said...

My first encounter with the irreverent Huck Finn and all the essays I have read to date, Mark Twain remains one of my most beloved writers to have lived. He wasn't part of my curriculum in school but in retrospect, I wish he was.

13 July, 2008 17:15

Blogger Maleeha said...

He's one of my absolute favorites. He didn't have to be in my curriculum for me to have devoured him as I did, but I do remember being (properly) introduced to him through a teacher. 'Properly', because although I'd read Tom Sawyer at home earlier it hadn't really led to a discovery of Twain.

Maybe textbooks are a good idea, maybe not, but you can't go wrong with his inclusion in the learning environment in one form or the other. The reason I'm unsure about textbooks is that apart from a passage from Tolkien's The Hobbit, I can't remember any of the textbook material inspiring me to pick up the original text. Random stuff that entered classroom discussions, however, did. Perhaps because teachers who are inspired by something do a better job of introducing it to their students than mere textbooks do.

13 July, 2008 17:44

Blogger Irfan said...

A few days back, while talking to some friends from literary circle, I specifically said that it is extremely unfair to call Yusufi sahib a humorist, as in my opinion, he is the finest prose writer that contemporary literature has seen. I am so happy that ZAK used the term "Finest writer of Urdu Prose Today." Coming to Mark Twain, for me it all started with "Letters from the Earth" and "Adam & Eve's Diaries." Then I went on and on until I read all of Twain's work more than once. During my recent trip to Tornoto, I listened to Mark Twain's biography on my iPod for 10 hours at stretch, and what a pleasure it was! Giant of a man!
ZAK...may be some day you can read selected works of Mark Twain at T2F with Yusufi sahib in audiance?

15 July, 2008 11:22

Blogger Zakintosh said...

@rabayl: including him in the curriculum would have probably killed him for most :-) unless you, too, had a great teacher like maleeha did

@irfan: i wouldn't dare! but would it not be quite a 'scoop' if we could convince yusufi sahab to choose his favourite twain piece and read out an excerpt?

16 July, 2008 11:54

Blogger Irfan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

16 July, 2008 17:01

Blogger Irfan said...

I wouldn't dare either, so the project is effectively shelved :-)
However, we can surely request Yusufi sahib to share his views about Twain and if his own work is influenced in some way by his love for Twain? This can be followed up with selected readings.

16 July, 2008 17:04


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