The other day, at a friend’s place I was on the same table as a sixth grader doing her Urdu homework. She was asking about the tashreeh (interpretation) of various verses. I said to her that if you want to put someone off poetry start testing them on tashreeh. Something that the Pakistani educational system has used to good effect to turn away generations from our sublime poetic traditions. It took your scribe more than 3 decades to recover from the trauma of tashreeh to finally start enjoying poetry. But even that too is at 10 percent of the emotional power than perhaps I would have had without the intellectual abuse. But to my friends, who happen to be-let’s just say on the right side of the political spectrum-tashreeh was the essence of understanding poetry. To them, how do you enjoy something that you can’t understand, and hence poetry like any art is to be understood [rationally]. And when I talked about feelings, emotions, exploration, sensibility, they promptly shot me down. I was left to wonder, could there be a bigger punishment for someone to constantly want to understand, say a Rodin sculpture, or a raag, or a verse by Mir. Surely, our modernist right wingers live a very diminished and terrifying life. I also recently went to my hometown Muzaffarabad, only to witness the pearl of Kashmir, Neelum River no more. It is diverted a few kilometres upstream of Muzaffarabad, and runs through a tunnel to 42 km downstream of Muzaffarabad to run the turbines that generate electricity for Rs 20 per unit. The installed capacity of the project is 969 MW. The almost catastrophic collapse of the hydrologic, esthetic and ecosystem services that the river provided for a millenia to the city of Muzaffarabad and the Neelum valley overall are collateral damages on the road to development. Again, the right wing modernist engineers-in my experience most civil engineers in the water bureaucracy of Pakistan are votaries of the political right- and consider concerns about ecology, esthetics or ecosystem services to be irrelevant if not downright outrageous distractions from the good work they have done. To their modernist mind, lakes behind dams are beautiful, grid stations are pretty and poor people who benefited from the drying springs or the hydrology of a free flowing river are invisible. Surely, our modernist developers live a very diminished and terrifying life, where the destruction of Neelum is the price of progress. The same tone deaf and colour blind sensibility that asks for the correct tashreeh of poetry or the construction of Neelum-Jhelum is at work here. A 700 foot high concrete faced dam in again a seismically active zone is something that only Pakistani engineers could come up with. In California and Japan they would lock up anyone in Fountain House, who would suggest a dam of those dimensions in a zone with the seismic profile of Mohmand Agency Now we are setting off to inaugurate Mohmand Dam besides the much celebrated Bhasha Dam. The same tone deaf and colour blind sensibility that asks for the correct tashreeh of poetry or the construction of Neelum-Jhelum is at work here. A 700 foot high concrete faced dam in again a seismically active zone is something that only Pakistani engineers could come up with. In California and Japan they would lock up anyone in Fountain House, who would suggest a dam of those dimensions in a zone with the seismic profile of Mohmand Agency. One could countenance a 100-200 foot dam, but 700ft? The consequences of dam failure are so unthinkable enough that no one has even thought about them. They say that it could store the peak floods-which is patently absurd. Flood control dams need to be kept empty. Hydro-electric and irrigation dams need to be full around the same time as the peak floods occur. Again, anywhere else such propositions would be laughed out of town, but not here. From poetry to dams, the underlying worldview is the same, with comparable consequences. My friend James Caron at SOAS who works on Pashto poetry, especially the work of Pir Mohammad Karwan points to how Karwan’s poetry incorporates the forest, animals and landmines in a poetic register. Karwan pleads through his poetry that the web and hierarchies of things implied in modernist thinking lead to the type of perversities that Afghanistan is suffering. He convincingly argues that we have to revert to a life where the world and all the things in it are celebrated such that all human and even non-human voices are heard. Our modernist friends are keen to hear the non-human voices of cars, money, dams, and Ghori missiles. But they are not willing to listen to the voice of the rivers, the forests, the animals and least of all poor humans. To enjoy a verse for itself instead of its one ‘true’ meaning, is not irrelevant to tuning in to the cacophony of voices that caution us to imagine different worlds. In those worlds the voices of the Neelum and Swat rivers, forests, springs, and the poor are felt and heard before they are understood. The dam poetics of that world would be very different. The writer is a researcher in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London Published in Daily Times, January 30th 2019.