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  • Lines of Fire: Poetry of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Movement

    “It is unclear when ‘Lotus’, a literary magazine of progressive Afro-Asian writers largely funded by the USSR, published its last issue after a successful run spanning two decades (1968-1991); but it was certainly a voice of the Palestinian people.

    Professor Tariq Mehmood Ali teaches English at the American University of Beirut and is an award-winning novelist and a documentary filmmaker. A few years ago, he launched a project to restore the magazine’s legacy. The project involves curating, saving, preserving, and digitizing old issues, offering historical depth to the Palestine movement and potentially making the magazine accessible to a new generation of readers from Palestine and the rest of the Global South.

    “‘Lotus’ resolutely opposed Zionism, seeing it as a racist tool of imperialism,” says Prof Ali, who has pored over innumerable issues of the magazine. He suggests that Palestinians would not have had such a raw deal if the publication was still in circulation.

    ‘Lotus’ championed the cause of the Palestinian Liberation Operation (PLO) and even passed a resolution on Palestine at its third Afro-Asian conference held in Beirut (1970-71). These and other details find mention in Prof Ali’s book ‘Afro-Asian Poetry that Changed the World, scheduled for a spring 2024 release.

    ‘Lotus’ was a trilingual quarterly magazine published in Arabic, English and French – and then translated into numerous languages of formerly colonized countries.

    “The writers of ‘Lotus’ as well as the journal itself had a huge cultural impact at the time, affecting tens of millions of people. This was the first time writers of Africa and Asia were able to talk to each other, across their vast continents, outside the prism of their colonial and imperial usurpers,” says Prof Ali, who is currently busy digitizing and archiving the magazine. …

    Some of the prominent writers who contributed to ‘Lotus’ included Youssef El Sebai, Abdel Aziz Sadek, Edward El Kharrat (Egypt), Mouloud Mammeri (Algeria), Mulk Raj Anand (India), Hiroshi Noma, (Japan), Dr Soheil Idriss (Lebanon), Sononym Udval (Mongolia), Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Pakistan), Mario De Andrade (Portuguese Colonies), Mohamed Soleinian (Sudan), Alex La Guma (South Africa), Anatoly Sofronov (USSR), Adonis (Lebanon) and Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine).

    The magazine instituted the Lotus Prize and among its recipients were Pakistan’s Faiz Ahmed Faiz and India’s Harivansh Rai Bachchan (whose son Amitabh is a well-known actor). Translation bureaus were launched in many countries of the two continents – so that people could read each other’s works.

    By Lamat Hasan, an independent journalist based in Delhi.