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IN MEMORIAM: THE DREAM THAT REFUSED TO DIE

January 14, 2018

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The late poet Rasa Chughtai, whose talent went unnoticed | Photo by the writer
The late poet Rasa Chughtai, whose talent went unnoticed | Photo by the writer

Every poet is a dreamer. Rasa Chughtai was no different. But he led a life in which there were times when he dared to dream. He had no other option — he created a world where dreams were a luxury he could afford:

[This dream should never end/ But ah! Recollection takes memory away].

Rasa migrated to Pakistan in 1951 from Sawai Madhupur, Rajasthan, when he was already married and had two children. He had a romance with the newly formed country carved out of India for the Muslims of the subcontinent. That romance lasted for as long as he lived, despite the fact that he lived a not-so-comfortable life. Surviving in a camp for some months before stepping into Pakistan was not easy, nor was feeding a relatively large family through jobs that did not pay an exorbitant amount of money. He worked in the Treasury Department and later on at the Urdu daily newspaper Hurriyat as a proofreader. Obviously, these employments gave him just enough to get by, but Rasa was not a grouser. He never complained. He never looked heavenwards and asked, “Why me?” Instead, he dreamed, despite the fact that those dreams seldom had promise.

[Life comes across as a dream/ And that dream belongs to another realm].

[The one you dream about, one day/ Can emerge from the dream].

Yes, Rasa was an unassuming, undemanding man. But he wasn’t superhuman. The indifference with which Urdu’s literary elite treated him must have hurt. If it hadn’t, he would have stopped writing those remarkable ghazals and nazms that he will now be remembered for, always.

From the time his first collection, Rekhta, came out, he had been producing astounding couplets and verses, many of which have become proverbial. Some of his lines are used by lovers of Urdu poetry without even knowing that they are Rasa’s creations — largely because of the indifference of the literary elite. The following are some of those proverbial lines:

[The wish that one day you would arrive/ Made the season of blooming flowers stay forever].

[Life is the journey of a moment/ From your background to the fore].

So why did the elite ignore him? There could be a number of answers to the question. The most obvious one that springs to mind is that Rasa didn’t belong to any literary lobby or clique. Another could be his unassuming disposition — he never liked to talk about himself, therefore the idea of blowing his own trumpet never crossed his mind. In our society, poets and fiction writers try and get closer to ‘influential’ people to not only enter literary circles that matter, but to get published in magazines that are widely circulated.

In his sunset years, there was a wave, perhaps because of social media, in Rasa’s favour which compelled cultural bigwigs to take note of him. Still, he was relegated to the position of a ‘senior’ poet, fit only to preside over mushairas. There were no exclusive sittings with him, no special sessions were dedicated to his art at major events.

What was Rasa Chughtai’s art? This is an important topic. Through his poetry he turned life into a philosophical quest that even an uninformed — read: illiterate — person could relate to. He addressed life’s bigger questions as if art were obliged to make light of those questions. It is amazing how he was able to touch upon grave issues in a style distinguishably his own, which made the tyranny of time and the challenges one faces, because of the body-and-soul tussle, sound readily relatable. And that is what lends his voice the uniqueness that no one else in the second half of the 20th century can lay claim to.

[You’re sheltered by the shadow of my being/ Me, I have a shadowless existence]

[What a strange life I have led/ Never stepped out of home nor cared for home]

[What season do people crave?/ By putting mirrors in the direction of the ocean]

[Am I wearing a different set of spectacles?/ Or is it the other side of the picture?]

Rasa published five books in his lifetime: Rekhta, Zanjeer-i-Hamsaegi, Tasneef, Chashma Thandey Pani Ka and Terey Aaney Ka Intezaar Raha — all of them replete with ghazals and nazms exemplifying his uniqueness.

[This is where the dervish’s tale ends/ From here on the journey of solitude begins]

The writer is a member of staff

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, January 14th, 2018