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HERMITS have their own world, their own sense of perception and expression, and, indeed, their own interpretation of what man-to-man social interaction is all about. To the world at large they may well appear to be reclusive and withdrawn, but beneath the veneer of seclusion they have a delightful existence enriched by the sound of silence that remains inaudible — at best, faint — to most of us, but represents absolute melody to those who have an ear for solitude. Majeed Amjad, one of the pioneers of modern Urdu verse, was one such soul.

Born in the year in which Altaf Hussain Hali and Shibli Nomani crossed over to eternity, Amjad honoured the symbolism of that coincidence by being a seriously learned individual who took intellectual pursuits and their expression to newer, higher levels without bothering about the art of self-projection which could have given him his deserved place alongside the likes of Noon Meem Rashid, Meeraji and even Faiz Ahmed Faiz as far as the genre of Urdu nazm is concerned.

It is some indication of his poetic prowess that despite his conscious, intentional evasion of the spotlight, the centennial year of his birth has produced more than a few titles about his significant impact on the shape and contour of Urdu nazm as we know it today.

One of the more noticeable of such works is one by Dr Nasir Abbas Nayyar who has dealt with the life, poetics and aesthetics of Majeed Amjad in a much more refreshing tone and tenor than probably Amjad would — or could — have ever done himself.

And, frankly, it comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever read Nayyar’s earlier titles or has heard him speak at various forums that have dotted the literary landscape in recent years. With an eye for detail and with equally strong roots in both the classical and modern forms of expressions, Nayyar happens to be a fascinatingly creative character in his own right.

Majeed Amjad: Hayat, Shairiyaat aur Jamaliyaat, though focused entirely on Amjad, as it should, has a parallel plot that may be of interest to linguists; both of the puritan and the modernist streaks alike. Since one of the areas in which Nayyar specialises is the changing forms of language in a globalised society, it is, therefore, significant to keep an eye on his usage of various words that may reflect a changing pattern.

For instance, he has used words like ‘prologue’, ‘archetype’, ‘architectural’ and several others in Urdu alphabets alone and without any attempt to explain the meanings, which is an indication that he considers them to have been adopted by the language.

Had it been true of all the English words, one would have thought of it as his personal choice, but that is not the case. In using words like ‘public sphere’, ‘pantheism’ and a few others, Nayyar has used the English alphabets along with Urdu translations, as well as some descriptive fragments, to elaborate his thought process, which is an indication that he considers such words not to have been adopted by the language yet.

While the linguists and Urdu lovers at large may have their own views, Nayyar has the professional background, understanding and passion to be taken seriously on this count. This in itself is a major contribution of the volume in hand. But, naturally, it is but a sub-plot to the mainstream content, which is about the life and times, as well as the art and craft of Majeed Amjad.

For anyone who started out in the literary world in the 1930s, it was only natural to be influenced one way or the other by the publication of Angaaray which turned out to be a precursor to the progressive movement in Urdu literature. However, “what makes Majeed Amjad different from his peers is his great ability to avoid getting completely influenced by one school of thought or one personality.”

While Rashid and Meeraji complicated the matter with their penchant for metaphors and symbolism that were alien to Urdu readers, Amjad took the option of versifying new ideas while using an imagery that did not sound strange to local ears. In doing so, he used his surroundings to great effect, which was actually a deviation from tradition for everyday objects were not considered worthy of being used as similes and metaphors in classical Urdu poetry.

In doing so, argues Nayyar, the poet was actually able to connect man to his surroundings and emphasise the process of learning by observing rather than mere introspection. “The myth that man can learn no better than by turning his thought inwards is actually collective human narcissism in the eyes of Majeed Amjad,” writes Nayyar in one of his more powerful passages of literary critique.

The maltreatment of Amjad at the hands of the progressives is one element that has cropped up a few times in the book. While Faiz and a few others had joined the British forces and had tried to “sell the War” to the locals as “our war,” Amjad never quite bought the argument, writes Nayyar.

It was probably out of such disagreements that progressive critics either ignored Amjad or downplayed the significance of his poetry. Naturally, it was made much worse by the fact that Amjad, the hermit that he was, never had the interest to argue for or against anything except in his creative output.

Quoting several examples throughout the text, Nayyar has stressed that the essence of progressive thought was an integral component of Amjad’s poetry and his outlook on life as such. The phrase used for the mindset of denial and its twisted interpretations by the routine school-of-thought critics is actually quite interesting. In Nayyar’s words, they displayed “Orthodox Progressive” bias.

Majeed Amjad: Hayat, Shairiyaat aur Jamaliyaat is not only a wonderful tribute to one of the major modernists of Urdu literature, but is also a brilliant work of critique which is highly readable even when the reader may not find himself in total agreement with the critic.

The reviewer is a Dawn staffer

Majeed Amjad: Hayat, Shairiyaat aur Jamaliyaat


Dr Nasir Abbas Nayyar

Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore

ISBN 978-969-35-2800-0