07/27/2011 05:17 pm ET Updated Sep 26, 2011

'Suspended Somewhere Between': Pakistan in Verse

I grew up in a household that echoed to the poetry of Rumi, Ghalib and Iqbal. My mother loved Persian and Urdu poetry. Even as a young boy, when I could not fully understand what these poets were saying, I felt their impact in my heart because of my mother's love for them.

Later, in a boarding school up in the hills of north Pakistan run by Catholic priests, my favorite subject was English literature. I loved the romantic poets. I found the depth of feeling and beauty of expression in their work that I had experienced with the Persian and Urdu poets.

Later still, when I joined the civil service of Pakistan and was posted sometimes to remote districts and faced difficult situations, I could always come back for succor to the world of the poets. They became personal friends. I shared their pain, joys, fears and above all friendship.

Poetry helped me to express myself when other expressions failed. For example, in the poem "they are taking them away," which poured out of me complete in the early hours, I expressed my emotions about the terrible events that took place in East Pakistan in 1971. I was posted in that province then and was so traumatized by what I saw and heard that I could not speak about what took place. It was only a year later in the other part of the subcontinent, in Peshawar, when the poem came and with it the catharsis of release.

The poem "walking the streets with the Dahta" is about another aspect of Pakistani culture. It describes the sheer joy of participating in the rituals of the Sufi shrine which is so famous in Lahore. It tries to capture the colors and sounds of a typical visit. The shrine also elevates the visitor because ultimately the message of these great Sufi scholars like the Dahta is reduced to sulh e kul, or peace with all.

Suspended Somewhere Between: The Poetry of Akbar Ahmed