30 August, 2014 / Ziqa'ad 3, 1435

Intizar Husain at the conference -- Photo by Faisal Mujeeb/ White Star

By Intizar Husain 

“Rashid, Faiz and Miraji seemed to be forming a trinity of modern Urdu poetry in their times. And it was in this continuity that their poetry appeared more meaningful to us, as each one complimented the other two. Now this trinity is no longer intact. It has disintegrated.” This observation came from Shamim Hanafi at the discussion on Miraji at the Urdu conference.

But what caused the breakdown of this trinity? Shamin Sahib held the admirers of these three poets responsible for this tragedy. “The admirers of Faiz, enamored of his name and fame, portrayed him as the sole spokesman of his times, ignoring his poetic relationship with the other two. The admirers of the other two also adopted the same attitude. The worst sufferer was Miraji, who, in due course, was ignored by the admirers of Faiz as well as of Rashid.”

But would I be wrong to say that the same has happened in the case of another such combination which emerged during the same period in the world of Urdu’s short story? Krishan Chandr, Bedi, Ismat and Manto had come to be known as the big fours of the modern short story in Urdu. But they could not last long. They disintegrated in the tumultuous years of Partition. Krishan Chandr and Ismat lagged behind. Slowly and gradually Bedi too receded in the background. Eventually the bracket enclosing the big fours faded.

During the Manto year, our emphasis in general was on Manto of the post-Partition years. We didn’t care to see Manto in the perspective of the age he was born in and in the company of his pre-Partition contemporaries. Even in cases of ‘obscenity’, none of us cared to trace how this trend originated and developed during the thirties and forties, culminating in three short stories which in particular were condemned after being charged as obscene. The first two were Manto’s Boo and Ismat’s Lihaf. The third is now forgotten. It was Mohammad Hasan Askari’s Phislan.

Coming back to the Miraji discussion, I would like to mention the talk by Professor Nasir Abbas Nayyar. He chose to discuss Miraji as a translator of poetry. As surveyed by him, Miraji appeared as a translator covering a vast land of poetry ranging from poetic traditions of a variety of western languages and also those of the Far East. He talked briefly about each tradition and for our benefit translated select pieces of poetry from each language.

While talking about Miraji’s Nigar Khana, a translation from a Sanskrit katha written in verse by Damodar Gupt, Nayyar referred to Manto’s foreword to the book in which he branded Miraji a pervert. Nayyar wondered at this charge coming from Manto and vehemently contradicted it. He insisted that neither the Sanskrit katha is the outcome of some perversion, nor Miraji appears here to be one. He had chosen in all seriousness to translate this katha in Urdu for our benefit.

If I have chosen to discuss Miraji’s session from the conference in this column, there is a reason for it. While we celebrate birth centenaries of the noted writers belonging to the modern literary tradition, those possessed with a better sense of modernism have felt that due attention has not been paid to Miraji, who in fact deserves it the most. Hanafi, coming all the way from India, expressively pointed out this injustice.

However, the fact is that Miraji from his early years had been attracting the attention of those young poets who were eager to embrace a modern sensibility and aspired to be known as modern poets. It was this aspiration which prompted a whole group of young poets in Lahore to gather around him, treating him as their guru. Again, when a new group of young poets staged their appearance on the literary scene in Lahore, asserting that they were the modern poets in the true sense of the term, they too chose Miraji as their role model.

Other sessions too provided much food for thought. So I feel tempted to revisit this conference in my next column.

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