I am both privileged and saddened to share that I was the one who bought one of the last books sold at London’s famous Al Saqi bookstore. The store closed permanently last summer. Fortunately, we’re told that their printing house will remain and most of their work will be done online.
The book I bought was an introduction to Arabic poetry by the Arab poet Adonis. In this slim but fascinating book, translated from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham, Adonis traces the origins of Arabic poetry to pre-Islamic (Jahiliyyah) oral practice, tracing the influence of the Holy Qur’an. , poetry and thought, and the advent of modernity in Arabic literature.
Tactfully addressing the challenges of oscillating between an age-old culture while dealing with the socio-political and economic problems of the day, Adonis concludes: “Modernity must be a creative vision, or else it cannot be just a fad. Fashion is old from birth, but creativity is ageless. So not all modernity is innovation, but innovation is always modern. Adonis has developed a standard that can be applied to all aspects of work in any language.
The Urdu language was born and raised in the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the Deccan Plateau. It is a descendant of Sanskrit and Prakrit, but it has grafted varieties from Arabic, Persian and Turkish. The main prosody of Ilm al-Aroz is Arabic and Persian. Later, it acquired many expressions and analytical categories from the West through its interaction with England.
Like parts of the Arab world, we have experienced Western colonization and domination. So we share the same challenge of an ongoing negotiation between our poetry and what we learn from the West. Like Arabic, we have seen such fads and fads in Urdu fiction and poetry in the 20th century, in the name of ‘creative experimentation’ in both form and content.
Writers and movements appeared with a shout, then either disappeared in whispers or soon lost touch. Readers began to lose interest, for example when, by the Symbolists, Ibham-Latif [subtle ambiguity] It was replaced by humorously ambiguous fiction and poetry.
Ironically, as readers, we are told that the meaning of a story or poem is left entirely to our own interpretation. To some extent, that’s true of any piece of art, but it’s also left to the readers to enjoy the absolute absurdity. In the same way that the literary classics were born out of the cognitive revolution under the influence of cognitive literary criticism, the classics pushed back and regained their stature not only on the literary horizon but also on the intellectual horizon.
Muhammad Izharul Haq Latest Urdu Poetry Collection, Aey Aasman Neechay Utar [O Sky, Come Join the Earth] It meets Adonis’ criteria for poetry. In fact, modernity comes as a creative vision, not as a fad. Urdu’s multicultural and inclusive poetic tradition paints an old canvas fluently, taking tradition as the canvas and mixing new colors with the brush and knife to create his art.
A beautiful love poem – or series of ghazals, as the form here is subject to the voices of the two lovers – is titled ‘Dilshad Nama’. First, the poet Dilshad, a woman, speaks in six gozas and conveys her deep sense of separation and loss. Then the man answered with seven ghazals.
From Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai to Waris Shah to Mirza Hadi Ruswa, masters who were men but could write effortlessly in a woman’s voice, the six ghazals written by Dilshad show a unique female poetic talent. All the 13 ghazals together reminded me in several parts of Fahmida Riaz’s classic poem, ‘Admi Ki Zindagi’. [Life of a Man]Life is a woman’s and a man’s companion.
For example, Dilshad says: “Mein roz-e-azal se janti tu/tu ayega soratetin badel kar.” [I knew from the day of beginning/ That you will appear in different forms and shapes]or, “Ankhon Pe Hain Jasai Paon Terai/ Kis Vehm Wana Parh Gai Terai Bin.” [I feel your feet on my eyes/ What illusions have engulfed me].
The man said to Dalshad, “Pat-jharh ne bagh ko ghaira ta/tli ka aakhri faira ta.” [The autumn had surrounded the garden/ The butterfly clapped her wings one last time]he also says: “Pehrai per pul banafshai ka/wo manzer terai darechai ka.” [Sweet violets stand guard/ Colour the scene of your window].
Apart from ‘Dilshad Nama’, there are 52 ghazals, 12 nazms and a few single couplets in Haq’s latest volume. The images are bright, delicate and restrained. Many motifs are derived from nature, but with this play of freshness, words gain new meaning.
When the poet reflects on politics and social values, he feels frustration and loss. But whether it is politics or devotional poetry, it all comes from expanding the boundaries of the ghazal. Haq nazms have a unique taste of modern style. I somehow find them more personal in nature than his ghazals. A touching poem given by his son when he went abroad for education is about the love of a parent and the experience of fatherhood.
Haq was born in 1948 to a family of literary and Islamic scholars in District Attock (formerly Campbellpur), Punjab, and retired from the Pakistan Civil Service. He has previously published five volumes of poetry – including the first four volumes of a collected work – and three books of prose. He also writes columns for national dailies.
It was his anxiety over the present state of the country and the uncivilized state of women that brought certain themes together in his poetry and prose.
The columnist is a poet and essayist. He recently edited Pakistan Here and Now: Perceptions of Society, Culture, Identity and Diaspora.
His latest collection of verse is Hairaan Sar-i-Bazaar.
Posted by Dawn, Books & Authors, June 18, 2023