POETRY: IN LOVE WITH THE GHAZAL

Published February 4, 2018
“Fallen for you, this silence of the ocean/ In your name too, the dance of the water wave”. ─ Illustration by Shaikh Sarfaraz Ahmed
“Fallen for you, this silence of the ocean/ In your name too, the dance of the water wave”. ─ Illustration by Shaikh Sarfaraz Ahmed

Urdu — once called ‘Lashkari’, a mixture of all the spoken languages of north India — emerged as the region’s lingua franca during the period of Muslim rule in the subcontinent. However, when — along with caste and creed — language was taken up by the British colonial masters as a tool to exert control over their subjects in undivided India, Urdu played a crucial role in the making of Muslim political identity. After Partition, the social status of Urdu gradually narrowed until it became confined to only the Muslim community. Hence, with the passage of time, the former majesty of the Urdu language as lingua franca declined in its birthplace of India.

Nonetheless, Urdu poetry and its literary essence persisted, particularly as a feature of Hindi cinema with the presence in the industry of prominent literary figures as lyricists, screenwriters, directors and musicians, and the Urdu lyrics of Bollywood film songs and ghazals sung by classical singers never ceased to captivate. Even now, they continue to act as a stimulus for the creative impulses of artists and writers.

In the case of Minu Bakshi, the poet of Mauj-i-Saraab: Waves of Illusion, it was the spellbinding voice of Begum Akhtar singing Urdu ghazals at a college concert in 1972 that appealed to her tender heart. Bakshi recalls, “That day, a young Beatles fan surrendered completely to the lure of Urdu poetry and the magical voice that captured its very essence with such ease and grace. It was the defining moment which changed the course of my life.” The teenage love affair with ghazals was to last for long: Bakshi set about acquiring a proper knowledge of Urdu, which was not her mother tongue, and began writing Urdu poetry of her own.

In her second collection, an Indian poet pours out her love for Urdu, the ghazal and mystical devotion

Bakshi is currently a professor of Spanish at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the official interpreter for the Indian government for dignitaries from Spanish-speaking nations, a singer, poet and social activist. She started penning her first collection of poetry, Tishnagi: The Thirst, in hospital waiting rooms during her father-in-law’s illness, and the ghazals were accorded much acclaim by critics and readers of Urdu poetry. With Mauj-i-Saraab, her second volume containing more than a hundred ghazals, she is one step closer to her planned trilogy of books. For the benefit of readers who may not be proficient in reading Urdu, the verses in this book appear in three scripts — Urdu, Hindi and Roman Urdu — alongside a translation in English by Pakistani writer Nyla Daud.

Against a background of classical music — which she studied under the tutelage of the grandson of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of the Rampur gharana — Bakshi honed her poetic sensibility of the Urdu ghazal further. She writes, “Urdu has always been the language of the heart and its foundation rests on the tenets of love, and love is the reason behind the creation of the universe. Poets believe that without love and passion every concept of religion is untrue.” Although with the passage of time, the Urdu ghazal couldn’t sustain the mystic rudiments that Amir Khusro had espoused in the early 12th century, for Bakshi, “ghazal as form grew to maturity under the benign protection of wise God-fearing Sufis and Dervish.” It is very interesting that, despite having a different religious and cultural background, her ghazals manage to epitomise the essence and tradition of the form’s origins, and she frequently uses idioms typical of Muslim origin, with the same connotations:

[Greetings, O idol, for having a deity become in this world/ For now submission to you, binding on all hearts is]

[Thus, in your love may I prostrate/ Your face instead of the Kaaba, be before me]

The prime theme of the ghazal form of poetry is essentially love, and the form is often beset by all the possible ups and downs of human stimuli, such as longing, separation, yearning, desire, passion, submission and surrender. Bakshi’s verses also justify the form with augmented content filled with love and passion, and through it all, the pain allied with love:

[Without a care of the universe and beyond, am I/ May you live long, O love’s sorrow]

By sharing the legacy of mystic belief and the conviction of the early Sufi poets, Bakshi also believes love to be the cause of all causes, the only reason behind the creation of the universe. Thus her poetry embodies love as the only unvarying motivational impulse behind her creative being:

[Love alone is all over, wherever you look/ The universe, infused with love is]

Bakshi’s expression, style and diction is simple, yet contains profound perceptions that are befitting of good ghazal writing; hers is not the “spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions”, but “emotions recollected in tranquillity.” In his preface to the book, filmmaker, poet and artist Muzaffar Ali rightly says that Bakshi “continues to celebrate the essence of ghazal, at times within it and at times outside it, till she puts it as if the masters themselves were endorsing her representation of its sensuous form.”

[The beauty of which Ghalib, the seer is enamoured/ That is Mir Taqi Mir’s favourite, the ghazal]

The reviewer is a poet, writer and columnist and teaches at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro

Mauj-i-Saraab: Waves
of Illusion
By Minu Bakshi
Rupa Publications, India
ISBN: 978-8129135018
230pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, February 4th, 2018

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