Lahore – extracts

by Ramisha Rafique

Ramisha Rafique is a poet and postgraduate researcher at Nottingham Trent University in the English department. Her research is on contemporary Pakistani and British Pakistani poetry and literature.

These poems are part of a collection of poetry titled: Lahore. Lahore is a collection of poetry inspired by the city of Lahore, engaging with postcolonial themes such as poetry of place to explore identity and displacement. Initially this collection was intended to explore the identity of place, people and Pakistan’s fashion industry. Further inspiration came from a personal journal written during the trip, public transport websites, and Google maps. These were used to pin down routes, find names and other public transport information. Drawing on postcolonialism, the main theme for this research revolved around writing poetry on place. Reading Henry Bergson’s Matter and Memory also influenced the writing process: his reflection on memory and the senses was particularly influential when drawing on smells and sounds from Lahore to develop the poems.

Alama Iqbal Airport

Fried street food and burning petrol

linger when the tea bag is cold,

spinning stopped.

The after taste of masala,

from the last sip –

paces the tips of my lips.

Green smudges.

White cotton –

blur against the coats of

gloss over white porcelain.

Tea cup clinking against the saucer.

Commentary:

Alama Iqbal Airport engages with the qawwali form. When researching into qawwalis I realised there were many different styles of qawwalis, and the pattern that was common amongst them was that they would repeat a phrase or word at the end of every couplet, like a ghazal. During the drafting process I found the poem moving away from the traditional rhyme scheme, and as the drafts progressed I wasn’t able to maintain the rhymed couplets as the line lengths were uneven which affected the rhythm of the poem. The half rhyme of ‘sip’, ‘tips’ and ‘lips’ in stanza two worked really well for drawing attention to the taste and movement of the lips. The longest line is the last line, which has nine syllables. This was placed apart from the others for dramatic effect.

Commentary: In LTC: Lahore Transport Company I aimed to capture the poor infrastructure of Lahore. I took into consideration the comparison to England’s infrastructure and why Pakistan’s public transport quality contributed to its label as a ‘developing country’. I researched into the LCT bus routes and providers, using my hotel, the international expo-centre and the airport as pinpoints. I found bus stops and names of bus stops and routes and buses. I realised buses route were split and they did not cross each other. I used this disconnection as a metaphor for how disconnected an individual can feel from place. I wrote the poem in free verse, however the physical form of the poem grew during drafting. In draft four I was inspired by the journalistic tone of the poem. Drawing on the idea of writing ‘to inform’ I presented the poem in the form of newspaper article.

Main Boulevard Gulberg

‘Kala Chashma’ is playing through someone’s speakers,

flowing into streets and shops, heads bobbing and necks moving right,

left, right.

A rickshaw is humming, skidding its ways through traffic.

Painted neon green, covered in orange patterns that look

like henna. Silver borders mark its edges and

hold in the swirls of red and blue paint.

Its driver is wearing white shalwaar kameez and balancing a hankee

on his left shoulder, he uses it to wipe the sweat –

from his forehead and the back of his neck.

To its left there is another rickshaw beeping constantly.

It is covered in a painting of Noor Jahan

and a song lyric I don’t recognise.

Commentary:Main Boulevard Gulberg is a visual and auditory poem, written in free verse.  The poem was inspired by the traffic of Lahore. I wanted to capture the sounds in the city using the rickshaws and car radios.  I tried to capture specific characteristics of the city and relied on factors like the sounds, colours, flavours and smells of things to do this. Taking Smith’s notes into account, my research began with reading the article ‘How to write about Pakistan’[1] in the Granta online Pakistan edition. The article highlights the stereotypes and clichés that are used in poetry and literature about Pakistan, such as: “Pakistan is just like India, except when it’s like Afghanistan” and “it will be clear if whether the Pakistan of our work is Indo-Pak or Af-Pak depending on whether the cover has paisley designs or bombs and minarets /menacing men in shalwaar kameez.” I was pleasantly surprised to read that these writers were acknowledging how Pakistan was being both depicted and perceived. Interested in the relationship between language and identity of place, Robert Mcfarlane comments that language structures are inseparable from the feelings we create in relation to situations, others and places[2]. Thus language becomes an understanding of place and creating it. Mirtha Michelle’s poem ‘People are like cities’[3] engages with the theme of place, using the metaphor of the city for identity. In personifying the city she implies that the city is a part of the individual as much as the individual is a part of the city.          


[1] Mohsin Hamid, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Kamila Shamsie , How to write about Pakistan (2017) <https://granta.com/how-to-write-about-pakistan/ > [accessed 8 May 2017].

[2]Robert Macfarlane, Towards re-enchantment place and its meanings (London: Artevents, 2010), p. 107-130.

[3] Mirtha Michelle Castro Marmol, Elusive Lovers (Colorado: Outskirts Press , 2015), p. 97.

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