By Syed Kashif Raza
When a new movement of Urdu poetry began in the 1930s, it had three big proponents: Fazi Ahmed Faiz, Noon Meem Rashid and Miraji. Faiz attempted criticism but mostly left the theorising to the progressive and left-leaning critics; Rashid and Miraji decided to fight their case.
Miraji, born in 1912, had a far less accomplished academic career than either Rashid or Faiz. But he was an avid reader. When it came to writing literary criticism, Miraji focused more on applied criticism and chose to write small pieces, mostly assessing poems written by his contemporaries. These literary pieces were collected in the book Is Nazm Main. These pieces are helpful in understanding his method of deciphering a poem as well as helpful in assessing his own poetry.
In an atmosphere in which the ghazal was the primary mode of poetic expression, Miraji chose to write on nazm, a modern genre reminiscent of western influences on our literature. Miraji explains in the foreword to Is Nazm Main that he had read the French poet Mallarme, with explanatory notes by Charles Mauron, and that he was impressed by Mauron’s method of evaluating and explaining a poem. Miraji was also interested in Freud’s theories and so adopted the method of trying to grasp the psychological demeanor and process of a poet first and foremost. He was more concerned with the thematic design of a poem than its aesthetic and creative elements. The theme of a poem was for him a matter of greatest concern. “If there is no new element in the theme of a poem, for me its expression is useless,” said Miraji.
The poet Miraji has assessed the most in his book is Rashid, his contemporary whom he could easily have considered his rival. Assessing Rashid’s poem “Zanjeer”, Miraji suggests a new arrangement of lines in order to straighten out the poem’s theme. But he isn’t content with doing just that; he also tries to explain the views of different characters of the poem in the form of a dialogue between them. This is quite a unique method and shows that a creative critic always finds new ways of explaining a poem and getting to the essence of its theme.
Evaluating a poem by Mukhtar Siddiqui, Miraji quotes Paul Valery who, according to him, had said that “a literary creation is not worthwhile which offers no resistance to a reader’s attempt at understanding”. This suggests that Miraji liked poems which offered some challenge to his understanding and curiosity.
Another interesting piece is on his own poem “Sahara”, which has two characters. The male character indulges in autoeroticism and the female in regretting her “spoilt life”. The poet suggests that the two should seek happiness through some common arrangement. The theme may seem simple but Miraji creates a web of symbols to narrate his ideas. The juxtaposition of his symbols reminds one of John Donne. Now the critic Miraji steps in to unravel the poet Miraji, and what follows is an interesting read. The critic Miraji discusses some traits of the female character which the poet Miraji had not described in the poem at all. This extratextual explanation is a luxury that the critic Miraji could only afford with his own poem. In explaining and evaluating all other poems, Miraji had to restrict himself to the text of the poems.
The psychological demeanor of a poet, which the critic Miraji tries to grasp, is more often his sexual demeanor. Miraji is so interested in discovering the sexual basis of a poem that he even tries to locate it in poems about nature. At one point he even suggests studying Maulana Hali’s poetry in the light of Freudian criticism. I wonder what the revered Maulana would have made of this suggestion.
Miraji’s obsession with sex is now more known than his poetry. The critic Miraji is also excited by sexual themes. When Makhmoor Jalandhari describes the sensuous details of a “farangi aurat” and when Shad Aarifi, in his turn, goes to a “dasehra ashnan”, they get generous applause from Miraji. He fails to find racist elements in poems where a poet is excited by the sexual appeal of women belonging to a race or religion different from his own. This theme was elaborated with more poetic vigour by Rashid in his poem “Intiqaam”.
In evaluating another poem by Rashid, “Khudkushi”, Miraji delves deep in the character of the narrator of the poem. He says that new poets are more interested in building multi-dimensional characters and praises Rashid for studying his character deeply. Later we see more of Rashid’s poems in which characters are developed. “Hasan Koozagar” is the best example of that.
When a creative writer attempts criticism, one of his foremost tasks is to create a space for his own kind of writings. We should read Miraji’s criticism in this light as well. While Miraji the poet seems impulsive, Miraji the critic knows well what he wants to do and what he wants others to do with literature.
The writer is a poet, author and translator