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Suroor Barabankvi (back row right) with Haroon (back row centre), one of the actors in Aakhri Station [The Last Station]. The 1965 film was directed by Barabankvi, who also wrote the lyrics for its songs | Vintage Pakistan
Suroor Barabankvi (back row right) with Haroon (back row centre), one of the actors in Aakhri Station [The Last Station]. The 1965 film was directed by Barabankvi, who also wrote the lyrics for its songs | Vintage Pakistan

Some critics define poetry in terms of subjectivity and objectivity. To them, subjective poetry is that which stems from the heart, while verse that depicts the objects of the outer world or occurrences of society — perceived through the mind — is called objective. In benchmarking the poetry of tarraqi pasandi (Progressivism) against the poesy of jadeediat (Modernism) — two major movements of 20th century Urdu literature — the above mentioned duality seems to be operative. A few more characteristics have been attached to these two brands of poetry; tarraqi pasand (or objective) poetry is consciously purposive, ideological, political and aberrational, besides its conspicuous tilt towards the marginalised segments of society. In contrast, jadeed (or subjective) poetry prefers to portray an individual’s unconsciousness, dreams, desires, feelings etc, and so embraces an experimental and ambiguous style.

Interestingly, Suroor Barabankvi’s poetry has been judged in terms of both tarraqi pasandi and jadeediat. Some of his critics (the likes of Iftikhar Arif and Mumtaz Hussain) declare him a tarraqi pasand poet, meaning his ghazal and nazms are more and more inundated with socio-political themes. Yet others term his poetry tarraqi pasand and jadeed alike, meaning his themes are Progressive, while the diction he employs in ghazal and nazm is modern and devoid of all sorts of cliché. Moreover, where he touches upon themes of love and feminine beauty with their attending emotions — such as those of communion, separation, fear and anxiety — these critics opine that they have both Progressive and modern significance alike, simply because love and beauty cannot be separated from life, no matter if it is social or personal. In reality, what we call a poetic process occurs on the blurred borders of conscious and unconscious regions. Moreover, the language, the medium of poetry, has to undergo a sort of transformation; common, ordinary, idiomatic use of language is broken up (and afterward gets reformed) at the anvil of poetic imagination. So, instead of representing conscious/political/outer or unconscious/individual/inner worlds, poetry creates a new, imaginary world which has its own rules, customs and its own particular language, too. It is worth keeping in mind that this new world of poetry is not alienated from existing personal or political worlds; rather, it is there to illuminate both worlds. All the best poetry — and the best pieces of Barabankvi’s poetry as well — confirm this assumption.

Suroor Barabankvi’s collected works make clear that the late poet was one who illuminated the personal as much as the socio-political

The poet Barabankvi was born in 1927 in the district of Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh, India. He migrated twice. After Partition, in 1952, he went to Dhaka where, though he witnessed continual political unrest, his days were comfortable in terms of livelihood. First he joined the Dhaka branch of the Anjuman-i-Tarraqi-i-Urdu as secretary and started the Urdu literary magazines Aab-o-Gil and Qalamkar. His efforts were aimed towards promoting Urdu in the metropolis of then East Pakistan, which had belligerently revolted against the decision of making Urdu the single national language.

Then, Barabankvi became associated with the world of films as a writer, director and producer. A year before the fall of Dhaka, sensing the upcoming tragedy, he migrated to Karachi. In Karachi, he had to live literally hand-to-mouth. However, he kept writing poetry, but he was not a prolific writer. Sang-i-Aftaab [Stone of the Sun] was his first collection of poetry published in 1975. His second collection, published posthumously, was titled Soz-i-Geeti [Pangs of the World]. It appeared in September 1980; however, Barabankvi had passed away in April that year while on a visit to Dhaka. The volume under review here, Kulliyat-i-Suroor Barabankvi [The Complete Works of Suroor Barabankvi] comprises both collections. The book has been edited by Barabankvi’s daughter, Aiman Suroor, and begins with a preface written by Iftikhar Arif.

Though Barabankvi’s pen seems to be more at ease when writing ghazal, his nazms are no less important on more than one score. In both genres, he avoids using unfamiliar words, intricate metaphors or complex symbols.

Though Barabankvi’s pen seems to be more at ease when writing ghazal, his nazms are no less important on more than one score. In both genres, he avoids using unfamiliar words, intricate metaphors or complex symbols. Some of his poems, forming part of his first collection, display the cultural ethos and political pathos of Bengal. The following stanza of his poem titled ‘Pal Pal Hai Anmol’ [Every Moment is Priceless] can be mentioned as a perfect example in this regard. It seems we have failed in finding a way forward, still confronted with a status quo in its literal meaning:

[Holding the Quran, religious leaders have become traders of religion/ The political leader has bread, clothing and housing in his lap/ Amid all this, the naked, hungry native people are bleeding/ Once again, the country holds a new begging bowl/ O my fellow, the boat (of the country) is a victim of vagrancy]

Though his ghazals also refer to the gloomy political conditions of the country, the overall tone of his verses is optimistic. Raat [night] appears as a dominant metaphor in his ghazals. As every night has to come to end, the metaphor of night in Barabankvi’s poetry gives rise to the image of the aftaab [sun], which consequently deals a death blow to the night. Undoubtedly, here Barabankvi seems to be fascinated by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, but he succeeds in developing his own, authentic poetic voice:

[Night will stay for a very brief period/ As the crack of dawn appears, the night is destined to die]

[Just as the stone of the sun falls/ Night will shatter into pieces like a mirror]

The discovery, the embrace and appreciation of the beauty — of words, of the world and, of course, of the beloved — has been a domineering convention of the poetics of Urdu ghazal. In Barabankvi’s Kulliyat we come across a good number of couplets in which the splendid, pervasive beauty of life and dear ones has been captured in marvellous, though unpretentious, words. Everything is destined to vanish, sooner or later, except the splendour of art. Barabankvi’s ‘beautiful’ couplets will be remembered, repeated and celebrated for long.

[Maybe you have not come across those people — but they do exist/ Who arouse ardent love in our hearts for life]

The reviewer is a Lahore-based critic, short story writer and author of Urdu Adab ki Tashkeel-i-Jadeed (criticism) and Raakh Se Likhi Gaee Kitaab (short stories)

Kulliyat-i-Suroor Barabankvi
By Suroor Barabankvi
Maktaba-i-Daniyal, Karachi
324pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 10th, 2019