There is a branch of poetry known to the Urdu world as mazahiya shairi, humorous poetry. But this branch of poetry flourished only in mushairas, where it drew much applause from the audience. But when put to print, it seemed to lose its charm. So this kind of poetry grew as a part of mushaira culture rather than as serious poetry.
The serious readers of poetry and the critics were content to have one lone poet in this domain — Akbar Allahabadi. He employed satire and humour in his verses with a certain purpose in view. It was an attempt on his part to show the ridiculous situation created by the odd mixture of things belonging to two cultures unfamiliar with each other — the fast growing western culture and the local Indo-Muslim culture. Serious readers of poetry observed a clash of the two cultures in his poetry.
But now Sang-i-Meel Publications has picked out a poet who flourished during the post-Akbarian period. They have published his collected works under the title Majmooa, Syed Mohammad Jafri. This volume, spread over seven hundred pages, has an exhaustive preface by the distinguished researcher and critic, Farman Fatehpuri. He has made a survey of all that has been written in this domain of Urdu poetry right from the times of Jafar Zatalli and has singled out Akbar Allahabadi as a poet with a stature.
From among post-Partition mushaira poets, he picked out Syed Mohammad Jafri, who appears to him a poet with the intent to say serious things in the garb of humour. Quoting extensively from Jafri’s verses, he discovered a few qualities common to both Akbar Allahabadi and Jafri. On that basis, he chooses to call Jafri the Akbar Allahabadi of our times.
Let us first see how Jafri stands distinguished from his contemporaries. One fine distinction lies in the relationship between his verses and the poetic tradition of Urdu, not only with the tradition of poetry of humour and satire alone, but with the classics as well. His expression is indicative of the fact that he has drunk deep from the classics of Urdu as well as Persian, and has assimilated from them, on different levels, including the level of expression.
So he borrows freely from the vast treasure of finely carved expressions and literary devices of great masters. All that the great masters such as Nazir, Sauda, Insha, Mir, Ghalib, and Iqbal have achieved in terms of poetic expression is at his disposal. While writing on the socio-political situation of his time, he with ease borrows from any of them, and so aptly employs them in his verses to add charm to his expression.
This practice has imparted sophistication to his expression. It has saved him from falling prey to cheap jokes and vulgarised expressions, which are easy tools to earn popularity.
Jafri’s concerns are mainly socio-political. His concern for Pakistan compels him to turn, time after time, to the political situation in the country. His poems engage with the political scenario in the early decades of Pakistan. What a depressing scenario he paints! How truly he portrays the new political class engaged head long in the race for power.
Jafri’s concern for social problems allows him to join the idealistic world of Iqbal. He seems very much under the spell of Iqbal, whose verses act as a treasure house for him. He has borrowed far more from him than from any other poet. But his acute sense of ground realities is hardly in tune with the idealism of Iqbal. The outcome of the clash of these two sensibilities may be seen in many of his couplets.
Such couplets gradually develop an interesting but meaningful relationship between the two poets, the one who enjoys the status of poet-philosopher and the other whose domain is humour and satire. In developing dialogue between the two, the humourist is in awe of the great poet, but at the same time takes liberty to present his own point of view in a humble way. Most significant is his poem, Hooran-i-Bahisht aur Iqbal. In this poem Jafri widely quotes Iqbal’s verses, in which he is seen commenting on the problem of female emancipation in Muslim society. A host of hoors plead the case of Muslim women against male chauvinism. Their arguments seem to echo the pleadings of the advocates of feminism. Jafri here suspends his usual way of saying things in a humourous way and presents it as a serious dialogue on the problems of women in Muslim society.
That goes to show that Mohammad Jafri stands apart from those mushaira poets, who, with their humour, just try to entertain their audience. He is more in line with Akbar Allahabadi. His own views of the social and political problems of the times he lives in find expression in his verses through humour and satire. That means that humour and satire are, for him, a means to an end, rather than an end unto itself.