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DAWN - Features; May 08, 2008

May 08, 2008

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Marsia is a non-sectarian genre — Dr Hilal Naqvi

By Naseer Ahmad


As a first-year student of Sirajuddaula College, Syed Hilal Raza Naqvi accompanied his teacher, Syed Mujtaba Hussain, to the residence of Josh Maleehabadi, who lived a kilometre or so from the college. He was mesmerized by the poet’s personality and his way of reciting poetry.

The first visit was followed by a series of visits that strengthened his bond with Josh. Inspired by the great poet, the teenager soon began to write poetry under his guidance. Earlier he had embarked on his literary journey through a sort of college newspaper, whose title Mehr-i-Neem Roz was also suggested by Josh Sahib.

Josh, whom Dr Naqvi describes as the greatest Urdu poet of the 20th century after Iqbal, had made successful attempts to gain notoriety through his autobiography Yadon ki barat. He had many shagirds (students) who made him proud in his own lifetime.

Dr Hilal Naqvi must have been among the youngest of the lot that got a chance to learn the art of poetic composition direct from Josh as another Josh disciple Mustafa Zaidi was 20 years senior to him. He is still so indebted to Josh that he continues paying homage to Josh Sahib through his writings. Whatever he has already done on Josh is a remarkable job. He has written as many as six books on him, the latest being Josh: shakhsiat aur fun, published by Pakistan Academy of Letters. He has had access to some of Josh’s rare and unpublished works.

Dr Naqvi’s 1,000-page PhD thesis was on the subject of Beesween sadi aur jadeed marsia. Now he is preparing a DLitt (Doctor of Letters) thesis. The head of the Urdu department of Gulistan-i-Jauhar government college and a member of the visiting faculty of Karachi University, he is also supervising many students of MPhil and PhD at Karachi University’s Urdu department and Pakistan Study Centre.

Renowned poets and critics such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ali Sardar Jafri and Kaifi Azmi have hailed Hilal Naqvi as a distinct voice in marsia writing. Dr Naqvi also admits that poetry is his basic identity. But it is not his only attribute. He excels in research also. His 16-odd books on various topics, besides his poetry collections, testify to it.

Talking about the contribution of marsia to Urdu literature, he says the elegiac genre has evolved over the centuries and has kept pace with changing times. “Although Mir Anees’ marsia is still relevant, if we write that kind of marsia today, people will not appreciate it. Now marsias have varied topics. Our topics are mostly current issues,” he says.

“A poet may praise Nelson Mandela, discuss the Kashmir issue or the role of the sole superpower in current world politics.”

He says marsia is a genre of literature and it should not always be taken in religious terms. “It is not sectarian in nature and may be written by a Sunni, Shia and even an atheist, in accordance with their own ideologies and beliefs without compromising the basic ingredients of marsia.

“I admire Allama Shibli Naumani, a conservative scholar, for his book on marsia titiled Muazna-i-Anees-o-Dabeer. There has been no book on the topic that could surpass Shibli’s work.”

Josh Maleehabadi, Sadequain and Naseem Amrohvi were not traditional religious persons. Their marsias had topics which discussed everyday problems and the poets wrote in their own way the necessary ingredients of the genre.

Even people like Faiz Ahmed Faiz have written marsia, which they considered as a means to raise their voice against oppression and in favour of right.

“Now shorter marsias are also gaining popularity though there are poets who write as many as 2,000 stanzas in a single marsia. But one cannot shorten marsia only because people don’t have the time for it. In that case it may also be argued that since people don’t have the time, literature’s ‘bisat’ (chessboard) should be folded up.”

He is a staunch supporter of nazm (poem), which he says has far greater potential than ghazal to present an idea. It was poem that enabled him to present Haath (hand) and its physical and metaphorical usages in as many as 600 lines. Another of his elegiac poem titled Chiragh, or lamp, takes one on an journey back to the beginning of the universe and the caverns where the prehistoric man was supposed to live.

Marsia is no longer confined to the musaddas pattern. It is being written in free verse also.

He, however, deplores that although numerous marsias being churned out across Pakistan and in some foreign centres, the writers’ motivation and motive is religion and thus no big name has emerged during the last few decades. Previously there had been eminent poets who wrote marsia such as Josh Malihabadi, Naseem Amrohvi, Syed Aal-i-Raza, Saba Akbarabadi, …..

Though his family was from Amroha, Dr Hilal Naqvi was born in 1950 in Rawalpindi, and arrived in Karachi at the age of seven. His family moved here because there was no university in Rawalpindi where his siblings could continue their education. His son is in Canada preparing for a PhD after doing his MS from Oxford University. His daughter is a Karachi University student, doing her Master’s in English.

He says he enjoys a very cordial relationship with his family members. “My wife, my son and daughter-in-law, all have a friendly relationship with me,” say Dr Naqvi. “I apply literature to life and live a pleasant life.”

Like every sensitive soul, he is also affected by the goings-on and cannot suppress his poetic outpouring:

Meikada chashm ko, aariz ko kanwal kia likhain

Shehr mein khoon jo barsay tau ghazal kia likhain

Jiss mein qanoon bhi her gaam badal jata ho

Uss kharabay mein koi baat atal kia likhain

The J word continues to haunt

By Amir Mateen


THE approach to the parliament presented a grim reminder that the judges issues that has the country in a tailspin since that fateful March day last year was far from over. On both sides of what is called, perhaps tauntingly, the Constitution Avenue stood small groups of protesters holding placards that displayed harsh words: “Mukya tera khel Musharraf, go Musharraf, go Musharraf;” “Fight to the end—restore judges,” “Musharraf—vacate the army house.” They were small in numbers but vigorous in their gusto. Among them were groups, like Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party, Awami Qaumi Mahaz, we thought were dead after the fall of Berlin Wall. Credit must be given to Musharraf for rekindling such ancient revolutionary emotions.

The proceedings inside the Senate though presented a stark contrast. A plethora of ‘real issues’ was on the table. Sherry Rehman was found assuring the house that the basic health would be provided to the teeming millions. Chaudhary Nisar, who had finally come to terms with the loss of his favourite oil ministry, was at pains to profess that nobody in this country would sleep hungry as long as he was in-charge of the Food Ministry. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, though short in personal energy, seemed confident that the national energy crisis would be resolved in no time. But there was this overriding omnipresence of something that was not being discussed. The J word that was crucial to everything, yet it was forbidden to mention it.

Cafeteria gurus seemed divided over the dilemma. On one side were those who were sick and tired of the riotous judges and black coats. They believed food and energy were a bigger priority; we should now dump the judges and move on. The opposing camp was of the opinion that we cannot de-link the two. We cannot get over poverty, unemployment, food inflation until we resolve the basic issue of the rule of law. The system was lop-sided where a tiny elite controls resources through its cartels, monopolies and pressure groups. These problems cannot be resolved without taking drastic measures over the issues like cutting the defence budget, the curtailing of intelligence agencies, the depoliticisation of the military and evolving transparency. It will take a while before governments develop the guts to take on these vested interests. It sounded pseudo and overly intellectual. But there was a valid point that if we let it go this time there might not be another chance.

There was a consensus that the fight was on. These protesters are not going home. Yet the establishment, personified by Musharraf, is also not giving up. He may be down because of the election results, the coming together of the opposition, the resistance shown by the media, the lawyers and the civil society, the final straw being the grand betrayal of the Chaudhrys. But he is definitely not out.

Senators from the both the PPP and the PML-N agreed in private that they were falling apart. Mistrust has already seeped in. Statements apart, the PML-N is determined to part ways if the PPP dilly-dallied over the judges reinstatement any further. Nobody is talking about this in public but a senior PML-N member who is privy to the crucial information minced no words when asked in confidence. “We are committed to go along the coalition for as long as we can because we realise that we cannot resolve the issues alone,” he said. “But there is a limit to which we can betray our voters and the pledge we have made to them publicly. We mean it and are not playing a game of brinkmanship here.” Perhaps, too much, too early.

Coalition partners think that the president has been able to infiltrate their ranks. The idea is not just to stop the reinstatement of the judges but to avoid what might follow after that -- the curtailment of the crucial cases that are before the courts to decide. Even Aitzaz Ahsan, say our buffs, has privately conveyed that he is leaving the legal committee because he believes it has been created to delay and stall the reinstatement of judges. Aitzaz has pointed the accusing finger at, once again, dear friend Rehman Malik. In his typical gusto, RM had the gall to try to convince Aitzaz that the president was not that bad after all and may be he could broker a deal between the two. As if this was not enough, RM picked a fight with Islamabad police the other day for letting “That Shahbaz Sharif’s car” inside Aitzaz Ahsan’s house and stopping the vehicle of their “real boss” outside the premises. The colleagues who witnessed the whole scene said it was quite hilarious to see the most powerful person in the government scuffling with ordinary constables. We might see a few placards about the good old RM next time.