Celebrated poet and journalist Kaleem Omar died in Pakistan on Thursday, June 25 of heart failure at the age of 72. He had undergone a bypass only a month before.
Omar was born in India in 1937 to an affluent family that owned the vast construction firm, Omar Sons. He went to school in Nainital, India, and then to England. After completing his studies, he came back to Pakistan to work for the family company and then for Cessna. He became a journalist in 1982 with The Star and then joined The News.
Kaleem Omar was known for his investigative reporting and was also ranked amongst the top 150 English poets of the world and his work was published by Oxford University Press in 1975, under the title Wordfall. His poems also appear in an anthology titled Pieces of Eight.
The poem that follows is from Wordfall.
By first light we are at the river’s edge,
Unsnarling tackle. Hands, with a new day’s life in them,
Choose favourite spoons and pocket sweets
For the thirst that will come later. Spacing out
Along the boulder-strewn bank,
We agree to meet for lunch sharp at noon
And leave the libations in a safe place underwater.
I head for Cunningham’s Pool,
Eager for the big one that got away last year.
The rock that marks the place is wet and huge.
Grass, too rough to lie back on,
Surrounds three sides;
The fourth juts darkly against the water.
Giving it the right degree of wrist,
I test my preparations and make a cast.
The line snaps out, sings thinly in coniferous air
And curves down short
Of the far side. My arm feels good;
And breath steams with anticipation. The eyes
Jump to the swirl where the sink goes in.
I wonder how big the big trout will look
In a photograph. Will it
Be a record for the valley? Will I be the only one
Who does not have to lie? I reel in empty
And sense no presence deeper than this morning.
Sunlight creeps down the face
Of the mountain opposite, tips the water
With the stirrings of a wispy sky. A fast cloud
Darkens the river’s surface,
Cancels my shadow, moves away. A moment happens.
O loose a spoon, replace it with a fly
And watch the line more carefully.
It tugs – once, twice, again. I have a bite.
A good beginning. Hours later,
I am still.doing alright. It is something to know
The hand retains its skill from other times.
I came here first with father. He is dead now.
The worms that hooked his flesh
No longer smell. He thought I was lost once,
On that first trip, and I heard his large voice
Echo and call till I was safe. I have carried
The sound of those words for twenty years.
But I am blank now,
Oblivious to everything except the need
To maintain silence, keep the rod at the right angle
And wait, never knowing when the next one will come,
For the heart-stopping pull
That signals something alive at the other end.
It is time. The sun is overhead and the brown beauty
From last year has escaped again.
But there are others. I heft my catch
And trudge upstream, thinking of nothing much –
Not a bad morning’s work and a lazy blue
Afternoon of love to look forward to.
For more poems by Kaleem Omar, go here.
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