By Intizar Husain 

Released on the solemn occasion of Muharram are the two volumes of poetry, Marsiay Ki Nayab Awazain, a compilation by Dr Hilal Naqvi published by Alfaz Foundation, Karachi, and Dr Hilal Naqvi Kay Muntakhib Marsiay, a collection of three full length marsiyas by Naqvi compiled by Professor Sahar Ansari and published by Saif Ali Educational Complex, Islamabad.

Both volumes speak of the genre of marsiya in Urdu, which had developed and flourished during the classical age of Urdu poetry and reached its culmination in the hands of Dabir and Anees. The end of this glorious age served as the death-knell for different genres in general. However, the ghazal and marsiya were two fortunate exceptions. Of course, post-Anees the marsiya remained in a state of limbo for a while. Like ghazal, it slowly and gradually developed the capability to respond to the demands of changing times. This process has helped new marsiya writers gain confidence and claim that the new marsiya stands distinguished from that of the classical age and hence deserves to be called modern marsiya. Ansari says that “modern Urdu marsiya has succeeded in gaining a distinctive character stylistically as well as thematically”.

Naqvi, while compiling Marsiay Ki Nayab Awazain, aimed at showing that marsiya is in no way an outdated form of expression. It still retains the charm to attract modern minds and tempt poets known for their progressive thinking and non-traditional expression to experiment in this form.

The collection starts with a short marsiya written by Faiz. Next to him comes the leading progressive poet Kaifi Azmi, who has written the marsiya in his typically progressive style.

The book also contains a marsiya by Sadeqain who, after a visit to his birthplace, Amroha, wrote under the spell of memories of Muharram rituals he had experienced in his early years. It is written in a non-traditional style.

Professor Karrar Husain’s marsiya carries the stamp of a great mind steeped deep in Islamic studies. Raees Ahmar says that Husain’s marsiya had in fact inspired him to write a marsiya in free verse. This list of marsiya writers also includes Syed Mohammad Jaffri and Shaukat Thanvi, who have chosen to suspend their humour for a while and write somber verses.

None of these were professional marsiya writers. And yet, what they have written has rightly been rated by the compiler as rare pieces of “rasai” poetry that carries something new.

Dr Hilal Naqvi Kay Muntakhib Marsiay includes the marsiyas “Hath”, “Chiragh” and “Awaz” along with a foreword from Sahar Ansari. Naqvi stands apart from among contemporary marsiya writers. His modernism appears to be more genuine than that of some senior marsiya writers who in general command more respect on the basis of their innovations. As pointed out by Ansari in the preface, Naqvi pays attention to the ongoing global changes with particular reference to the sociopolitical and cultural factors at work in today’s world. At the same time, he has studied deeply the history of Urdu marsiya.

Kaifi Azmi has rightly called him the second Maulana Shibli. As is well-known, Shibli with his “Mawazna-e-Anees-au-Dabir” played a historic role in helping Mir Anees and Urdu marsiya cross the threshold of the Imambara and enter the mainstream of Urdu poetry. The same kind of role has been played by Naqvi in respect to jadeed Urdu marsiya. He studied in detail the marsiyas of the classical age and with that background explained the significance of jadeed Urdu marsiya. But he was not content being merely a scholar of Urdu marsiya. With a deep awareness of the old and the new he himself wrote marsiyas and soon grew into a role model for those marsiya writers who were aspiring to write modern marsiya in the true sense of the term.

In Naqvi we see a synthesis of the classical and the modern. The three marsiyas selected by Ansari for this collection contain this quality in a very refined way.

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