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DAWN - Features; March 27, 2002

March 27, 2002

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Reflections on modern Marsia

AS one of the reasons for the launching of the prose-poem movement could be ascribed to the weakening of the support of the classical base — Persian, — the reason for the vogue of modern Marsia — in free verse, blank verse and prose-poem formats — is, perhaps, also the same.

Marsia writers in the Musaddas form are also on the scene: for example, Shahid Naqvi, both Senior and Junior, Dr Hilal Naqvi, Waheed-ul-Hasan Hashmi, Ummid Fazli, Khayal Amrohvi, Azim Amrohvi, Khumar Faruqi, Qasim Ibn Nasim, Kausar Naqvi and Ambar Naqvi, etc., etc. Hilal is, by far, the most prominent Marsia poet today and the reason which makes him so prominent among scores of Marsia poets is that he appears to be really well-equipped with the pre- requisites of the classical Marsia.

Among the Marsia poets who bade us adieu in the recent past are Saba Akbarabadi and Sardar Naqvi. Saba belonged to the old vintage. His first Marsia, Shakist-i-Yazid, had been composed, in 1936, in Agra and from that year onwards he kept on composing three or four Marsias a year until his death in 1971. Seven collections of his Marsias have been published so far — Sar Bakaf, Shahadat, Khonab, Qartas-i-Alam, Zikr-o-Fikr, Sar Buland and Dawam. Saba is truly the doyen of the Marsia poets of ours. Equally prominent as a classical ghazal poet, his status as a Marsia poet goes a long way to prove that it is well nigh impossible to employ the form of Musaddas without full command over the Urdu language. Only those poets have done justice to the Musaddas form of Marsia who have had intimate connection with the Persian tradition of Urdu poetry.

Saba’s latest collection of Marsias, Dawam, compiled by his son, Tajdar Adil, should leave no one in doubt that Saba has made it difficult for the younger generation to employ the form of Musaddas for the simple reason that it is difficult for them to surpass him. He is the master of the last two lines of the Musaddas and has set a tough standard to accomplish for the coming generation.

Sardar Naqvi was another Marsia poet who died two years ago in Karachi leaving behind a commendable corpus of Marsia. His success as a Marsia poet owed a great deal to his position as a Khateeb in the tradition of Karrar Husain. Being Karrar Sahib’s disciple, he also didn’t believe in the dichotomy of science and humanities. Striking a good balance between the compulsions of modernity and steadfastness to the unchanging belief, his Marsias were in the Persian tradition of Marsia-writing.

With the exit of Saba Akbarabadi, Nasim Amrohvi, Syed Aley Raza and other senior Marsia poets, the Mashal (torch) of Marsia has passed on to the modern poets, some of whom insists upon the fact that the Musaddas is no more relevant (perhaps, the appropriate expression would be that it is not possible for them to practise it in the present state of affairs). Hence the coinage of the term, Bukaiyyia, for Marsia. Khwaja Rais Ahmar has written some successful elegiac poems under the heading of Bukaiyyia; and Shabih Haider, son of Karrar Husain, has also employed non-conventional forms of Marsia. Let us admit that both of them are successful.

But I venture to come to a pertinent point. Why is it that Marsia — which attracted a critic of such stature as Allama Shibli — and before him a person of Shaifta’s calibre besides all the important historiographers of Urdu literature — is not attracting the modern critics? Only the critics can say what accounts for the indifference.

Mir Anis was known for his non-sectarian emphasis. He excelled in portraying the atmosphere (Manzar Nigari) as a vehicle of enhancing the appeal. Basically an outstanding performer with the skill of taking the entire audience along with him, his art of Marsia-writing could be compared with the latest histrionic technique, being employed in the West, that is, Dramatic Monologue. It appears that Anis is the pioneer of the art of portraying the entire personae dramatis. Karbala provided him with a perfect setting for his version of the passion plays in which the Dramatic Monologue plays an important role. It is not inconsequential to note that Anis was a contemporary of Browning who had perfected Dramatic Monologue in Britain at the same time. The Dramatic Monologue is a poem having a single person who utters the entire poem in a specific citation. The person, described above, addresses and interacts with one or more other people. What is Anis’s specific achievement is, perhaps, the underlying principle of selection of material he employs in his Marsias. He provides us access to the unintentional revelation of his temperament and character. This is done through the great power of choosing the right similes, metaphors, symbols and images. Shibli employed the indigenous methods of appreciation of Marsia in his monumental work Mawazna-i-Anis-o-Dabeer, and he never lets the Western canons come anywhere near him. Shibli has rightly said that Anis excelled not only in his use of the Rozmarrah and Mahawara but also in creating unparalleled photography of the landscapes and mental states.

The modern Marsia poets may be lacking their grounding in Persian. Is it for the fact that the modern Marsia poets have not been able to engender the experience of Karbala the way the poets of Anis’ generation did. Leaving aside Syed Aley Raza, Nasim Amrohvi and Saba Akbarabadi — the poets whom we had the good fortune of listening to — the majority of the poets writing Marsias today don’t have the tools and the audience which the Marsia poets of two or three generations before enjoyed.

With the young generation in India and the West using Devnagri and Roman for reading out Salams and Nohas, the days are not very far when only in Pakistan the Urdu Marsia could be read and appreciated in the Persian script.

Aussie Gilchrist possibly best wicket-keeper batsman ever

By Omar Kureishi


THE Australians are just as ruthless on the field as they are off it. The manner in which they ‘sacked’, Steve Waugh (as well as his brother Mark) from the one-day squad is an example. I first saw Steve Waugh play in 1987. This was in the World Cup semifinal at Lahore. He belted 16 runs in an over from Salim Jaffer, exactly the number of runs by which Pakistan lost. When the Australians were in Pakistan last, I asked Allan Border about that semifinal. He singled out Steve Waugh, he called him “the ice-man” as his Man-of-the-Match. Since then Steve Waugh has gone on to greater things and perhaps, after Bradman, has been Australia’s best captain. But he is 36 years old and the Australians feel that this is over the hill for the one-day game.

I do not entirely agree. Steve Waugh may not be the liveliest of fielders in a team of superb fielders but he is no slouch and in the World Cup 2003, Australia could have done with his leadership skills and his experience. Steve Waugh does not have the charisma of an Imran Khan nor does one see him as a Nasser Hussain, leading a cavalry charge. Steve Waugh goes about his job quietly. When the Australians take the field, it is plainly evident that the homework has been done but he is an observant captain. In the third Test match against South Africa in Durban, he started Brett Lee with only a slip and a gully. After bowling only one ball which was a wide, he changed the field, bringing in two more slips because that first ball had swung.

Steve Waugh is confident that he will continue to lead Australia in Test matches and there is a series against Zimbabwe coming up. Even if he is retained as captain for that series, I can’t help feeling it will be his last. The Waugh brothers have been an integral part of the Australian team for many years, Steve as the Rock of Gibraltar and Mark as an elegant batsman, poetry in motion, who, at one time was rated as the world’s best batsman. But, in the end, everyone has to pack his kit-bag and move on to doing other things.

The more lucky ones become television commentators and are able to pontificate about the game and if, you are a Geoff Boycott, you can read the riot act to batsmen who are plodding rather than playing exciting shots. This is not meant to be a cricket obituary of Steve Waugh for he has resolved to win back his place in the one-day squad, easier said than done and even if Ricky Ponting is a resounding flop, there is Adam Gilchrist waiting in the wings.

Suddenly wicketkeepers seem to be among the runs. There is Pakistan’s Rashid Latif, good enough one feels to get in the Pakistan team as a batsman, given his dependability and there is Andy Flower who keeps on making runs for Zimbabwe. But at the head of the class is Adam Gilchrist. I am trying to think hard but he is possibly the best wicketkeeper batsman ever. There is, of course, Imtiaz Ahmed but he was not as good a keeper as Gilchrist and there is Alan Knott who was not as good a batsman. Adam Gilchrist is an unique find for Australia and he is still young and will be there for years, chirping away behind the stumps and belting the bowlers all over the park. I rate him as the danger man in the World Cup 2003 and Australia’s opponents would do well to do some homework on how he can be stopped.

Moin Khan has been asked to join the training camp in Lahore and this has raised some eye-brow though I do not understand why it should. I don’t think there is any suggestion that he will replace Rashid Latif but in the event of an injury to Rashid, it makes sense to have a competent wicketkeeper as a standby. A case could be made for playing Moin Khan as a batsman, possibly to open the innings in the one-day games.

I would still opt for specialist openers. Saeed Anwar is still unfit but hopefully he will be available when New Zealand comes to Pakistan. Mudassar Nazar has expressed some surprise that there should have been so much criticism when Pakistan lost to Sri Lanka in the Asian Test Championship. Surely, he did not expect to receive bouquets. Obviously, Pakistan lost to a better team but that is not the only reason why Pakistan lost. Dropping Saqlain Mushtaq was a blunder and the team’s think-tank misread the Gadaffi Stadium wicket and the bowlers were all over the place and the shot selection of the batsmen were poor.

Cricket is a tough game and the media has every right to call it as it sees it. The team management must accept responsibility when the team loses just as it accepts praise when it wins. The Sri Lankans have named their squad for Sharjah and at the time of writing, Pakistan and New Zealand have not. New Zealand has been plagued with injuries and none more serious than the injury to Chris Cairns whose absence would seriously weaken their team both for Sharjah and the tough tour of Pakistan. And it will deprive Pakistan crickets fans the chance to see one of the most exciting players of the present times. Too much cricket means too many injuries. It’s almost axiomatic.