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DAWN - Features; October 26, 2002

October 26, 2002

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Whatever makes a poet, but one here is full of possibilities

What makes a poet? Inspiration? Knowledge of the language and prosody? Or something else-apart from the psychological explanations propounded-that we don’t know?

These are age-old questions; discussed and debated by all and sundry.

This “creative mystery” was spoken of, and nuances thrashed out at a function to honour poet Rauf Amir (whose poetry has been described as full of possibilities by senior poet, writer and critic Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi in the foreword to the collection Dar-i-neem-wa (the door half-open, by the poet). Iftikhar Arif, of the Academy of Letters, who presided over the function, said that there were no formulae, no set syllabi where one could, as it were, get the certificate of being the real, good poet. He thought that there were poets with great knowledge, and mastery of prosody who had been writing without mistakes for the last decade or so, but their effort did not create poetry. Certainly one could chisel words with knowledge and make it better, poetry could not be learnt at a school. Poet Mohammad Izharul Haq who was the chief guest, spoke of the gift given to some by God to express in a way which penetrates deep into the heart of the reader or the listener.

But all those who spoke thought Rauf Amir writes good poetry; the senior ones among them, perhaps, seem to be agreeing with Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi when he said that there were so many possibilities in the poetic style of Amir that if he was not completely overtaken by the mundane issues (makroohat-e-zamana), he would be counted among the few top poets of the next ten to fifteen years.

The qualities of the poet as a literary critic — he has specially written on the ghazal; his books being Pakistani ghazal kay chand zaweyea, (some angles of Pakistani ghazal), and Urdu ghazal, mukhalifat and mudafiat ka tehqiqi wa tanqidi jaiza, (a survey of research on the criticism and defence of the Urdu ghazal) — were analyzed by critic and short-story writer Hameed Shahid. He said he always found Amir ready to defend the ghazal, but this would not deter him from keeping the standards of criticism intact. Hameed Shahid quoted from the poet-critic when he wrote that there were some poets appearing on the first page of every magazine who should stop writing ghazals.

Salman Basit, the caricaturist, brought serious atmosphere to a catharsis of laughter with his picture of the poet in his own, inimitable style. Poet Asghar Abid in his paper spoke of the layers and layers of depth that one finds in Rauf Amir’s ghazals written in a simple, easy style. Ayesha Masood Malik spoke of the literary sittings in Wah where she found the poet to be, the part of the naraaz (angry) group, which believed in the technique, but as she read her poetry she was greatly impressed his themes and style. Usman Naim and Saeed Doshi also read interesting papers on the poet.

Born in Gaon Amir Khan in Fatehjang, Attock, in 1961, Rauf Amir, whose real name is Abdur Rauf, is teaching at Government Degree College, Satellite Town in Rawalpindi. He spoke of the background to his work, both personal and literary leading to his present poetic development. He gave the welcome news to the audience that he would be receiving his PhD in December this year. The poet also recited his poetry Arrogance somehow associated with him also came under discussion, some thought to be a quality that gave his poetry strength. The word “ado” (enemy) which he often uses - even as the qafia (rhyming word) was also discussed. The poet referred to some of his real enemies who kept him in all sorts of difficulties and got him involved in court cases and so on, and whom he faced with courage. He would not say a wrong thing, and would accept none, but he was much milder man now than before, and was almost turning into a “hermit”.

The function was organized by the literary organization, Imkan, whose Anjum Khaliq thrilled the audience with his pithy sentences in announcements as stage secretary in between the speeches. All said the ghazals of Rauf are worth looking at, and his nazmain, as Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi says, may also make him unique if he gives as much attention to them as his ghazals. Some samples:

Wo rung rung meray ghar key rah say guzra,

To sang sang may sheesha jura nazar aaya

(He passed in so many different hues through my house/ That I saw each stone studded with crystal).

Yeh aaina mujhe kis rukh pada nazar aaya,

Main apnee umr say kitna bada nazar aaya

(From which angle have I seen this mirror lying, How older do I look from my age).

Wo aaina bana he nahin hai abhi Amir,

Jis mein ke dost dost lagea aur ado ado

(That mirror has not yet been manufactured, Which could distinguish between an enemy and a friend).

Terey firaq may mujh par jo sanihay guzray,

Agar wo din pay guzartay to raat ho jata

(The pangs and sorrows that I have suffered in separation/ Had the day gone through it, it would have turned into night).

Poetry is what is lost in translation, as has been said quite often; so pardon dear readers and the poet if the real meanings are lost.

—Mufti Jamiluddin Ahmad

A prolific author

A PERSON producing 70 books in a lifetime sounds incredible but that is what Syed Wahidul Hasan Hashmi is credited with. After spending 58 years in the service of Urdu literature, he is still active as I have just received another recently published book of his, titled, Idariey, a collection of the editorials written by him for different journals. Some of them have been written this year.

Hashmi was born in 1930 at Jaunpur (India) and received his early education at Machlishehr. After matriculation, he went to Lukhnow where he was accepted as a pupil by the famous poet, Arzoo Lukhnawi. He later went to Allahabad from where he graduated and befriended Mustafa Zaidi, who was then known as Tegh Allahabadi.

At independence, Hashmi was obliged to leave India and reach Karachi via Bombay (now Mumbai). He took up some minor jobs there for subsistence but at the same time submitted himself to the tutelage of Syed Aal-i-Raza who initiated him in the art of marsia writing. Today, Hashmi is considered an authority in the genre.

Hashmi finally moved to Lahore, took up permanent residence in the city, and went on to improve his educational qualifications. Obtaining a masters degree from the Oriental College, he took up teaching job in a school and retired as headmaster. However, he persisted with his literary pursuits. In fact, he was the first to bring out a book on salams in the country. Titled, Alsarat, it was published in 1948. He has, so far, produced many collections of marsias and other devotional poetry and books of literary criticism.

In fact, I was, and still am, highly appreciative of a book he produced, probably in 1995, under the title, Tanqeedi Jehatain, in which he had explained what was actually meant by literary criticism and what were its requirements. He almost had a dig at those critics who did not assess the merits and demerits of a creative work in an unbiased manner. He was, therefore, highly appreciative of Maulana Azad whom he termed ‘the Imam of Urdu critics.’

Although I read that book many years ago, I remember most of its contents. There were chapters on the critical appreciation of Dr Syed Abdullah and the thought processes of Allama Iqbal. There was also a detailed article in it under the heading, Mukhtasar Marsiya-nigari, in which he had said that just as a ghazal writer managed to say a lot in one verse, so did a short marsiya writer cover a wide range in just two lines. The examples he gave in that connection have stuck in my mind ever since. He quotes from Shaiq Zaidi who said:

Tum sey shadab shaheedon key janazey na utthey

Loag to sukhey huey phool utha laitey hein.

And then Shahid Naqvi was quoted:

Zaban khushk thi varna kalam kar leitey

Jo hotey haath, behen ko salam kar leitey

Coming to Hashmi’s present book, Idariye, I feel they do not fall under the category of editorials as the word is generally understood. I have gone through most of the book and find that they are stray articles on religious topics which he has contributed to various journals over the years. He has striven to clarify many misunderstood, and even controversial, issues. The main stress is on the need for national harmony and unity. In one article, Hashmi has given an excellent example.

***********

THE late Dr Syed Nazeer Hasnain Zaidi, apart from being an educationist, was also a research scholar and a writer of repute. His books about Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and Ghalib have been widely appreciated.

To make people aware of the achievements of the late professor, and to keep his memory alive, his family has set up an organization under the name, Majlis-i-Yadgar-i-Syed Nazeer Hasnain Zaidi. At the same time, it has started publishing a quarterly magazine, Navadir. It seems to have become quite popular as I see the names of prominent writers in the latest issue before me. The contributors include Dr Gauhar Naushahi, Dr Hasrat Kasganjvi, Dr Sabir Husain Jalesiri and Dr Rashid Amjad.

The journal carries many research articles as well. The one by Dr Mirza Hamid Baig goes to clarify as to who should be regarded as the first author of a short story in Urdu. Normally, Munshi Prem Chand is regarded as the pioneer in the field but Dr Mirza Hamid Baig has proved that it was Rashidul Khairi, the person who published the monthly Ismat from Delhi.

He says that the first story of Rashidul Khairi was published in the Makhzan in 1903. It was in 1906 that Sajjad Haider Yaldrum came up with Dost ka khat and then Sultan Haider Josh’s Nabeena Beevi was published in 1907. The first story by Munshi Prem Chand followed a year later.

Mirza Hamid Baig goes on to clarify that while Muhammad Ali Rodolvi started writing short stories at the same time as Yaldrum and Prem Chand, they appeared much later in print. — Ashfaque Naqvi

Banning cable television

SEVERAL newly-elected legislators of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal have said the first thing they intend on doing after forming a government in the NWFP will be to ban cable television. Apparently, this was one of their key election promises to their voters, the others being banning coed schools and universities, reverting the weekly holiday to Friday and ending interest from the economy.

Unfortunately, especially for those who live in the NWFP (and the writer must be thankful that he doesn’t), things like providing clean drinking water, sanitation facilities, basic health units, primary schools or building roads seem to feature nowhere among the MMA’s election promises and if they did, we certainly don’t hear their leaders talking about them.

However, coming back to the issue of banning cable, the MMA’s premise is that this spreads “vulgarity” and hence is considered inherently un-Islamic. Perhaps, the MMA does not know or has conveniently overlooked the fact that channels like National Geographic, Discovery, all the major sports networks, several Pakistani channels and children’s networks like Nickieodeon and the Cartoon Network do not really show any kind of “vulgar” programming. If some foreign-based entertainment channels do show programmes that might be a bit out of synch with popular felling in Bannu or Tank then that doesn’t mean that the whole of the NWFP population be barred from watching them. There is something called parental responsibility and it’s been emphasized in faiths worldwide, that parents have and should exercise their authority over children so that they are not exposed to, say, pornographic material. However, the MMA isn’t talking about keeping cable TV — which can hardly be called pornographic by any stretch of the imagination — away from minors, it even warns adults not to watch television. Adults, though, hardly need to be told by others what to do especially if its in the privacy of their own homes and something as straightforward as deciding what TV channel to watch.

In any case, what is the MMA so scared of when it comes to cable television? Is it afraid that the people will be led astray by this handmaiden of the devil and are corrupted so much that they fall out of the MMA’s influence? Surely, if there was some way that they could utilize cable TV’s ability to reach out to people, they would have done so, and hence would be in two minds about banning it. That’s probably why Islamic parties in Pakistan have never advocated a ban on the internet, because they use the medium — and quite effectively — to propagate their views. As for the charge that cable TV is ‘vulgar’, well there are many things in Pakistan that are vulgar and television, or cinema, is not the only place you can see them.

For example, what’s more vulgar than being sanctimonious and hypocritical about trying to lead a pious life? And not to make a joke out of it, but even people can be vulgar and obscene in their mannerisms and the way they conduct themselves. Should they, too, be banned? How many of us actually practice what we preach? If some people think cable is so bad, well they don’t have to subscribe to it. What’s this business of forcing others not to do something just because you think it’s wrong? I suppose such arguments do not make much sense to the MMA since it feels it is the keeper of everyone’s morality. Surely, religions all over the world also talk about being good to others, about being polite, about keeping the environment clean, and about respecting the wishes of others who live around you. They also talk about the rights of the weak and the infirm and how one should always try and do the right thing, and how good governance means caring for such people. It would be much better and advisable if the MMA government that gets elected in the NWFP thinks about these more important priorities.

AS for their last argument that this is what the people, their electorate, want. Well again, the MMA did get many seats in the NWFP assembly but that by no means it got the higher number of all registered voters. In fact, non-MMA parties got a higher proportion of all votes cast, and if one takes into account the fact that the alliance did manage to mobilize much of its available vote-bank while the mainstream parties — for various reasons some of which were beyond their control — could not, then by no means is it proven that the majority of people in the NWFP want cable to be banned. (In fact, according to an article in The News on Oct 22, the MMA got 13.7 per cent of the popular vote in the NWFP). Also, a ban would probably cause thousands of people associated with the business all over the province to lose their jobs. The MMA’s election stand was virulently anti-American and anti-Western and, like the MMA leaders say themselves, that’s why they got all these votes. So, how is banning cable — which would surely cause many local people to become jobless — a way of standing up to the Americans? If the idea is to, again as the MMA says, to stand up to the “cultural invasion” coming from foreign networks, then banning them is at best a short-sighted solution. It would be better if those excessively worried about this onslaught on their culture (as if there was a monolithic and uniform perception of it among all Pakistanis) actually tried instead to spread their cultural values to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the more cynical among us might say at this point that this is precisely what the MMA might end up doing if it succeeds in banning cable TV in the NWFP. (Readers should also note that the legal arguments to this debate haven’t even been touched upon, since cable licences were issued to operators all over the country after a policy directive from the federal government.)—OMAR R. QURAISHI

(email:omarq@cyber.net.pk)