Two Poems by Arif Shah

by  Arif Shah

The Cricket Match

They have fooled us, friends, got us all to gaze night and day at the television,
Entrusted us with the cricket match,
While they go and steal the country’s resources, we watch the match,
They steal away food from our plate, we watch the match,
So, don’t look perplexed about your hunger, friends,
why so fixated with cricket, our match is with “bread,” against hunger?
With every 100 scored and every match we watch they get stronger and richer,
While their dogs eat imported biscuits we can’t get unadulterated bread,
Just give us lentils and vegetables, keep the meat but give us something for our plates,
They are getting new imported suits, shiny and blue, while we spend Eid* in the same rags,
friends, why so fixated with cricket, our match is with “bread,” against hunger?
They go touring, paying for friends and family, to the US and Europe,
why, I can’t even get to my ancestral village,
I can’t afford my travel, let alone take a companion,
They have no feeling for the people, their speeches and oaths are a sham,
Their love is lust of all things Western, friends,
why so fixated with cricket, our match is with “bread,” against hunger? 

Translation from the Punjabi
By Zeeshan Yousaf & Qalandar Bux Memon

* Eid-ul-Azha Day, a holiday to mark the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the hours of daylight.


A Poor Man's Prayer 

God grant me mercy,

Oh God, grant the end to the poverty of my people, 

From you I can’t hide anything,
From you nothing can be hidden 

so, let my children also go to school,
and let them wear beautiful clothes (as do the children of the rich),
Let them go laughing also, happy also, and dancing,
Let them go to school,
And let their poor parents see them going – so they too can gain a laugh and some happiness. 

God, let us get a full plate of food – for once, without searching all day for it, without bargaining and bartering our labour for it, our souls for it. Let it come to us . . . a full plate of food . . .

Let us sing songs and have everyone appreciate them and let us also own a house and if not a steady job then grant us a shop – let us see if we have any luck in this capitalist business . . . 

Grant us also peace

and new clothes so that we may exchange our secondhand ones – for something shiny and new without the sweat or stains of previous owners.

Grant us joys in life

and take us off these gallows and take this noose from our necks – we have had it since birth, grant that we breathe without it . . .

Grant us money also so that we too may look pious and give some to charity – and let us too have time for prayer . . .

Grant that the darkness (poverty) ends so that we the poor may also go on the right path . . .

Let us, the poor, also fight for seats in assemblies and let us also become members of parliaments, let us too travel in airplanes, grant us the admiration of our friends that power begets . . . 

And, if you allow me to become a minister,

I will go to India and end the clashes between our two countries.

Let us the poor also have a car,
Let it not be too small – go on, let it be big,
And grant that I ride it on the Mall Road,
And with me let there be Arif Shah,

Oh God,
Grant the end to the poverty of my people.


Translation from the Punjabi
By Iqbal Qaiser & Qalandar Bux Memon

Arif Shah was born in Faisalabad pre-Partition. He is a Punjabi poet with a published volume of poetry. His poetry regularly appears in left-leaning political magazines, and he is often found reciting his poetry at political rallies.

Iqbal Qaisar is a historian and Punjabi poet. He has published two books of poetry and six nonfiction books in Punjabi and two books of history in Urdu. He is the director of Punjabi Kohj Garh, an institute promoting research in Punjabi history and culture.

Qalandar Bux Memon lives in Lahore, where he is assistant professor in the political science department of Forman Christian College. He is editor of Naked Punch Review, an interdisciplinary poetry, art, politics, and philosophy magazine run by a collective of activists and writers, and founding member of Cafe Bol, an intellectual café based in Lahore that holds regular political, poetic, and philosophical gatherings.