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‘Rashed sought harmony between body and soul’

Updated February 10, 2015
PROF A. Sean Pue speaks at the IBA on Monday.—White Star
PROF A. Sean Pue speaks at the IBA on Monday.—White Star

KARACHI: Faiz was focused on the external world while N. M. Rashed looked inwards. This difference between the two revered contemporaries was pointed out by American scholar A. Sean Pue during his talk titled ‘A Punjabi critique of Sufi idiom: N. M. Rashed and Urdu literary tradition’ at the GT auditorium, IBA, on Monday.

Sean Pue, an associate professor of Hindi Language and South Asian Literature and Culture at Michigan State University, began his lecture by giving a brief bio of Rashed. He said he was an important modernist poet in Urdu and one of the pioneers of free verse. He studied at Government College Lahore and worked at the All India Radio Delhi. His first collection of poems, Mavara, was published in 1941.

After partition he joined Radio Pakistan Lahore and worked there for five years. Then he joined the United Nations. His second collection, Iran mein ajnabi, saw the light of day in 1957, followed by La mausaavi insaan (1969) and Gumaan ka mumkin (1976, published posthumously). He died in England in 1975.

Referring to one of Rashed’s interviews, Prof Pue said the poet did not speak favourably of the Persian literary traditions of Lucknow and Delhi and liked to call himself a Punjabi Urdu poet. Giving the example of his poem ‘Dil merey sehra navard-i-pir dil’, he said the poet employed modernist allegory, rejecting from the get-go the metaphor of divine intoxication. He sought ‘harmony between body and soul’. According to the poet himself, the reason for his heavily Persianised diction was that it was part of his education and training.

Prof Pue said Rashed’s approach to poetry was like that of poet Akhtar Sheerani, for whom love was a material thing, and divinity and spirituality were meaningless to him. “It’s all about himself.”

Reverting to poem ‘Dil merey sehra navard’, he described the difference between the use of symbols and the allegorical approach to a poem and stated that it’s important to separate ‘what’s said’ and ‘what’s meant’. He said the poem carried aspects of literary traditions to show how the poet distanced himself from them, stripping it of didacticism and artifice. This led him to analyse the poem in detail by pointing out four important elements in it — sand, bonfire, caravan and the morning (dawn).

Prof Pue said traditionally in Urdu poetry the heart is the seat of passion and Rashed in the poem had used it as the joyous citizen of the desert, where the sand could provide a source of hope. The bonfire signified desire as an important component of human life and as a creative source in social life.

Caravans meant the coming together of east and west, similar to Iqbal’s concept but unlike Iqbal Rashed didn’t profess control over one’s carnal self; he celebrated the material world. As for the dawn, the poet had drawn on it playfully as something not alien to the scheme of things. As for the harmony between body and soul, Rashed saw the body as the sight of creative activity; he was distrustful of the unity of divine and human will.

The talk was followed by Dr Nomanul Haq’s very fine recitation of some of Rashed’s poems, including ‘Harf-i-nagufta ke azaar se hushyar raho’, ‘Main seh neem’ and ‘Sulaiman sar bazaanu’.

After the recitation, the floor was opened for a question-and-answer session. Responding to a question about the difference between Faiz Ahmed Faiz and N. M. Rashed, Prof Pue said Faiz was more focused on the external world while Rashed looked inside of himself.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2015

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