THE word ghazal is derived from an Arabic root and it means ‘to talk amorously to women’. According to some scholars, ghazal also means ‘a doleful cry of pain uttered by a deer when surrounded by hunting dogs’. Yet another meaning of the word ghazal is said to be ‘the gloomy sound made by a spinning wheel when moving’.

Hence, the colour and tone of ghazal, the most popular genre of Urdu poetry, is somewhat determined what is in its roots: love, cry and gloom. Add to it Sufism, delicate language, desire to enjoy life and reflections on the troubles faced in this mundane world and you would have a perfect ghazal, albeit quite a traditional one that is now usually frowned upon.

Ghazal is an Arabic word but in Arabic literature the ghazals styled as in Persian and Urdu are not to be found. In fact, ghazal developed from Arabic qaseeda, or panegyric ode, since a qaseeda traditionally began with amorous verses. About a thousand years ago, Persian poets began composing these amorous verses separately and named it ghazal. The genre was handed down to Urdu, along with many other literary legacies.

But modern ghazal has come a long way and modern poets detest the traditional love poetry that sheds tears on sweetheart’s callousness (read: inattention) or disloyalty (read: the right to favour another admirer). Rather, modern sensitivity has been absorbed much in new Urdu ghazal and variegated ideas, ranging from philosophical introspection to political opinions to economic rumination to religious views, have been amply reflected upon in modern and contemporary Urdu ghazal.

But ghazal’s new standpoint was not achieved easily or quickly and a hard-fought battle between the supporters of old-school ghazal and the fans of newfound sensibility raged for over a century and only then was Urdu ghazal able to shed its old plumage to emerge as a modern and contemporary form of literary expression. Had it not been for ghazal’s ability to change the themes and diction, it would have never been able to survive in the 21st century and had been consigned to the dustbin of history, just as other genres like qaseeda and vasaukht.

The fact that ghazal has survived the severest of attacks from its adversaries is a story of ghazal’s evolution: how ghazal revamped itself, embraced the new philosophies, allowed economic and political notions, tolerated linguistic experimentation and welcomed a different world view. Urdu ghazal is still fighting to avoid dethroning in a literary environment that is increasingly anti-ghazal and overwhelmingly biased in favour of nazm (poem), free verse and prose poetry. But the most wonderful thing about this newborn Urdu ghazal is that it did not allow the idea of metrical experimentation or change the typical rhyming scheme (qaafiya and radeef).

Aside from critics, many poets too were against ghazal as a genre, but they too had to compose ghazal. First and foremost among those who opposed ghazal was Altaf Hussain Hali. But he had to compose ghazal, albeit his ghazal was quite different from the traditional one. Another big name who opposed ghazal was Josh Malihabadi, but he too had to compose ghazal, such is the dictate and popularity of ghazal in Urdu.

Other poets and critics who opposed ghazal for its certain shortcomings include: Azmatullah Khan, Waheeduddin Saleem and Kaleemuddin Ahmed. But Andaleeb Shadani was not against ghazal, contrary to what is commonly believed. The misunderstanding that he was against ghazal and against certain poets writing ghazal spread when his articles titled ‘Daur-i-Haazir aur Urdu Ghazal Goi’ were serialised in Saqi, Delhi. It was published in book form in 1962. Some of his friends tried to clarify the situation but the damage was done.

Shadani just wanted to prove that Urdu poetry and especially ghazal had become too trite, repetitive and predictable. He thought some of the themes had become ridiculously outdated. To drive his point home, he ruthlessly criticised ghazals written by Hasrat Mohani, Jigar Muradabadi, Fani Badayuni and Asghar Gondavi, a few of the most representative ghazal poets of his time.

This criticism was not based on mala fide intention, neither was Shadani against ghazal. Rather, he was a great lover of the genre and wanted it to stay away from the beaten path and tread on new roads leading to glory and grandeur.

Wajahat Hussain Andaleeb Shadani was a poet, short-story writer, academician, critic and researcher. He was born in 1897 in Sambhal, near Moradabad, UP. He obtained his Master’s degree in Persian from Islamia College, Lahore, in 1925. In 1928, Shadani was appointed lecturer at Dhaka University’s department of Urdu and Persian. He did his PhD from London University in 1933 and was later made head of department and dean. His other books are Tehqeeqaat, Sachchi Kahaniyaan, Nosh-o-Nesh, Chhota Khuda, Nisaht-i-Rafta, Tehqeeq Ki Raoushni Mein and Payam-i-Iqbal.

It was critics and poets like Andaleeb Shadani who played their positive role by sympathetically criticising ghazal and showing the way to new environs and new heights.

Andaleeb Shadani died in Dhaka on July 29, 1969.

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Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2019