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"The Traveler" Return to Pakistan

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Mustafa Zaidi, his German wife and their children
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The Urdu poet Mustafa Zaidi died today in 1970. What might he have written had he lived to witness the floods that have devastated his homeland?

Today in 1970, Pakistan lost one of their great modern Urdu poets when Mustafa Zaidi passed away. He was just 39 years old.

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The year before he died, Zaidi wrote the poem "The Traveler" in Singapore as he made his way back to Pakistan by traveling west. "He had just spent some months in London on a fellowship given to members of the Civil Service of Pakistan," writes Laurel Steele of the University of Chicago in the Annual of Urdu Studies.

"'The Traveler' is a tour de force of longing -- a longing for place, for recognition, and for love," Steele writes.

"As he returns, the poet addresses his 'homeland' (vatan) giving impressions of other countries. Yet, the imprint of art and culture that he has within him and that he has received from foreign places is met by the rude trappings of consumerism and the market."

If Zaidi returned today, what might he see?

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He might see more than 21 million in his homeland injured or homeless due to the floods that began in July. He might see the estimated 10 million people that the World Health Organization reports have been forced to drink unsafe water.

He might see that Pakistan had received only about 20% of the U.N.'s international appeal for $460 million for emergency relief (as of August 15).

He might see destroyed standing crops. He might see the loss of billions of dollars worth of food storages. He might see what Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called a "colossal loss to national economy."

He might also see aid being delivered. He might see the food rations that the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP) has supplied for more than 6 million flood victims. And he might have seen the daily peak of 440,000 individuals fed on September 27.

He might see 30,000 children from worst affected districts of Sindh given high-energy biscuits and milk through Plan International's child-friendly spaces program.

He might see, at any one time, at least 600 WFP trucks moving food around the country.

If he returned today, he might say the same thing he wrote in "The Traveler":

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My homeland, there is nothing in my luggage
Just a dream and the ramparts of a dream
Accept the gift of my dirty shirt
For in its dirt are the lands of prayers.


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Reynard Loki is a New York-based artist, writer and editor. He is the environment and food editor at AlterNet.org, a progressive news website. He is also the co-founder of MomenTech, a New York-based experimental production studio whose projects (more...)

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