KARACHI: They say that children carry the burden of their parent’s fame. And they are either expected to live up to that fame or even surpass it. Perhaps such thoughts were racing through people’s minds at Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu on Saturday where they had gathered to meet Basir Sultan Kazmi, son of the highly acclaimed Urdu poet Nasir Kazmi.

Poet, playwright and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Chester University in the United Kingdom, Basir spoke at length about teaching the craft of writing to his students, the strong link between inspiration and writing, and the advantages of translation in collaboration with others.

Offering his writing expertise to students at Chester University, Basir said that even though most of his students were of British origin, with English as their mother tongue, yet when it came to writing, “I ask them to revise their grammar particularly punctuation.” During workshops on creative writing, he advises his students to labour over the first sentence. “Writing the first sentence of any piece is the toughest. Writing is an exercise that requires practice. The core purpose for any writer is to communicate and to be understood by the readers.” According to him trying to impress is how many writers falter. For instance, he said people usually tend to write ghazals because it is a popular genre and garners more praise.

Warming up to the topic, he spoke about creative writing, especially poetry. Quoting John Keats, “that if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all”, he explained that poetry should come naturally and through inspiration.

Awarded the MBE by the British Government in 2013, the poet next quoted the Bard of Avon: “The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven; and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name; such tricks hath strong imagination.” He explained this quote at length, particularly “local habitation”, saying that when he used the words baadal (cloud), dhoop (sunshine) in his poetry while living in Chester, it was completely different to how he used the same words when he composed poems while living in Lahore.

After this, the floor was opened for questions. Eminent poet and critic Prof Sahar Ansari posed the first question: “What do you think are the parameters of a literary piece? Is it as Samuel Taylor Coleridge says: ‘best words in best order’?”

“By best words, I think, he meant the usage of an apt word. Any literary piece of writing which has used the most appropriate word will stand the test of time,” he replied. “Nothing is final, there is always room for improvement. It is a reader who makes all the difference. It is a reader that shapes words in poetry and prose accordingly. A poem or a piece of prose can never become popular without a reader. If a reader likes certain verses and repeats them, only then they become popular, otherwise all divans (poetry collections) are pointless.”

Another query related to translations to which Basir answered that he came upon it because he wanted his father’s works and his works to reach out to an English-speaking audience and that it was possible only through translations. During the translation process, he realised that while he could do it on his own but if he collaborated with others, it became much better. “I befriended a couple of English poets and showed them my translated works. They made a couple of suggestions and it made all the difference.” He admitted that a lot is lost in translation but “a lot is also gained in translation”. Ghazal Ansari, who runs the Yorkshire Adabee Forum in the UK, asked him what he thought he had lost and gained when he moved to Britain. “The informal kind of apprenticeship that one acquired while frequenting teashops in Pakistan is something that I miss.”

Basir read out a nazm and a couple of his ghazals that were much appreciated. Peerzada Qasim Siddiqui also spoke at the gathering. Guest poets were also invited to read out their ghazals, and they included Ghazal Ansari and Rakshanda Naveed.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2016

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