THE dramatist that he is, Asghar Nadeem Syed had to be dramatic when taking up poetry as one of the several mediums that he uses to express himself. Nothing theatrical or histrionic. No melodrama; just an element of drama about it. Syed’s book has a gripping opening, an engaging narrative, a bit of wordplay and a lot of sense. In short, there are hooks aplenty to sustain the reader’s attention. But is there a climax? This we will see when we get to it.
Let’s start with the beginning. What does a title of any play do? Or is at least supposed to do? To tickle the imagination of the prospective audience and to excite them into believing that what lies ahead might be different and hopefully better than what passes around as acceptable.
Syed’s book is titled Adhoori Kulliyat. Now ‘adhoori’ means ‘incomplete’ and ‘kulliyat’ refers to someone’s ‘complete works’. Put together, the two-word title means ‘incomplete complete works’ of Syed: a contradiction in terms which is enough to bring a wry smile to the face. Call it the x-factor, call it the unexplainable third dimension of fine arts … call it whatever. But it does the trick. Undeniably.
You open up and look for some explanation in terms of preface, a foreword or something. There is nothing in the book; nothing in prose; not even an introductory, laudatory, customary flap. You keep looking for an explanation, but the message from Syed is clear. Either his poetic output communicates independently or it doesn’t. In either case, Syed is clearly not interested in communicating on crutches.
In doing so, Syed has taken the road that known and respected storyteller Intizar Husain has been propagating for years: telling a story and leaving it for the readers and the critics to draw their own conclusions. Husain shuns the very notion of explanation, description or contextualisation of his creative output. Syed has done the same and it is no wonder that the first poem in the collection, ‘Tareekh: Aik Khamosh Zamana’ (History: An era of silence) carries a rare note in prose dedicating it to Husain.
So the writer leaves it to the readers to decide for themselves when they can connect with the complete incompleteness of his creativity and when the incomplete completeness of the work leaves them wondering if they have lost track of the argument or if it is a case of stuttering craft.
To the credit of the poet, however, the overall texture of his free verse is thoroughly enjoyable. His comments about social norms and the shallowness of the conformism that pervades society at large are curt and pithy. Take, for instance, his comments on his own craft. The verse is titled, ‘Nazm Kaisay Tayyar Ki Ja’aay?’ (How to prepare a verse?). His choice of the word ‘prepare’ instead of the more common ‘write’ underpins the thought that follows.
The verse continues in this vein for a while where he keeps suggesting ideas to ‘pick up’ words from the oceans; the voices, from love and from pathos. He also suggests the various touchstones on which the chosen words must be tested before using them in order to have the ultimate concoction ready. And then comes the punchline, which on the one hand hints at the rather tough demands of creativity, and, on the other, mocks the serious lack of effort and commitment on the part of supposedly creative souls who ply their trade as poets. This is how Asghar puts it:
But Syed is not putting himself on a pedestal by running others down. He is not interested in using some kind of poetic license to talk about his own grandiosity that is such an integral component of classical Urdu poetry. This, indeed, is no surprise because Syed’s thoughts, feelings and expressions are all laced with categorical non-conformism. Whenever he makes use of first-person singular, his humility sounds as sincere as it is unmistakable. It is something that one comes across time and time again, but, arguably, the introspection is never as intense as it is in a verse titled, ‘Aik Aanch Ki Kami’ (So near yet so far).
Even a quick browse through the book is enough to see Syed coming across as someone holding his head high not just in terms of modern poetic expression of a fine order, but also as a thinking soul who gets irritated by our national penchant for paying lip service to whatever cause we get associated with. The way he has talked in ‘Voh Kya Chahtay Hain’ (What do they want?) about ‘our’ concept of pan-Islamism and ‘our’ attitude towards the Palestinians is remarkable, to say the very least. Not much different is his word on the plight of labourers in a poem dedicated to Labour Day. And, indeed, many a reader would be able to relate to what Syed has talked about in ‘Naya Qanoon’ (New law) even though the prosaic would love to raise the issue of political correctness or otherwise of his thoughts about the law on sexual harassment.
But Syed would have little to do with such a reaction. He seems to love a fight as long as it remains confined to the domain of creative output. Poetry may have little impact on physical outcomes for it basically is a cathartic tool, but Syed surely believes in the power of the pen, as he says in ‘Aik Nazm Kya Kar Sakti Hai’ (What a poem can do):
Asghar Nadeem Syed’s poetry has the potential to do just that. What better climax can a dramatist offer with the poetic motion of his pen?
The reviewer is a Dawn staffer
By Asghar Nadeem Syed
Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore