KARACHI: Urdu poetry has often been accused of being too limited and narrowly focussed on a few themes such as love and beauty of the sweetheart. Urdu poetry, especially written by poets of classical era, is often derisively referred to as poetry of ‘gul-o-bulbul’ (flowers and nightingales) and ‘lub-o-rukhsaar’ (lips and cheeks).

Another blame that Urdu poetry has to bear with is that it is a mere duplication of Persian poetry. Thirdly, it is often said that Urdu poetry does not reflect the local milieu as it has borrowed the motifs from Persian poetry. The imagery, allusions and even the names of birds, trees and flowers have been borrowed from the Persian, so go the naysayers, such as, Dr Muhammad Sadiq and Dr Kaleemuddin Ahmed.

But what critics like Dr Sadiq and Dr Kaleemuddin ignored was the fact that poetry, and to a greater degree ghazal, reflects society in a much subtler way than do the other forms of art since poets use symbols and metaphors. Verses often do not mean what their wordings apparently convey and it is only the trained mind that fully deciphers the true message hidden in poetry. Dr Syed Abdullah in one of his articles has beautifully described what significance the symbols like ‘bulbul’ and ‘gul’ have in our culture and our poetry.

Many words and phrases used in our poetry have deeper connotations and are used as metaphors and symbols. It is a fact that symbols like ‘chaman’ (garden) and ‘aashiyaan’ (nest) sometimes represent the country or motherland. Flowers are the fellow countrymen and ‘sayyaad’ (hunter or prowler) or ‘bijli’ (lightning) (that befalls on ‘chaman’ or ‘aashiyaan’) are the forces opposed to the motherland. When poets sing of flowers, it has different strata of meanings, both apparent and deeper. Many of Urdu’s classical poets have used these symbols to communicate their patriotism. Urdu poets of even the British era have used subtle symbols and metaphors to vent their political feelings. ‘Zindaan’ (prison) and ‘zanjeer’ (chain) symbolise slavery, so when Josh Maleehabadi said in one of his poems composed in pre-Independence era:

Kya Hind ka zindaan kaanp raha hai aur goonj rahi hain takbeeren

(The prison of India is shaking and the slogans of Allah-o-Akbar are being echoed)

He was definitely talking about the colonial British rule that was shaking under the pressure of the independence movement, as the title of this poem Shikast-i-zindaan ka khwab, or ‘The Dream of Jailbreak’, suggests. It would not be surprising if some Kashmiris interpret this poem against the backdrop of the disturbing scenes in today’s occupied Kashmir, which has been converted into the world’s largest jail under the shadow of bayonets and guns.

Along with Josh, many other poets wrote poems and songs that sang of the promised land, Pakistan, and poets such as Majaz, a progressive who never migrated to Pakistan after independence, wrote poems supporting Pakistan. Majaz’s poem Tarana-i-Pakistan, or Pakistan’s anthem, is often quoted as his commitment to Pakistan Movement. The famous line ‘Le ke rahen ge Pakistan’ was used in many poems and was claimed by several poets but it had become a general slogan in those days.

After independence, Pakistani Urdu poets faced new realities with the rest of the nation. Reeling from the massacre that took place in the wake of independence, the nascent country needed some solace that came from poets and writers. Hasan Askari launched a Pakistani literature movement and such poets as Yousuf Zafar, M.D. Taseer, Asad Multani, Kaif Banarsi and many others celebrated independence while asking fellow countrymen to keep their heads high in the face of enormous hardships.

Less than a year after independence, India’s unlawful occupation of Jammu and Kashmir unlashed a new era of atrocities against the Kashmiri people. Several Pakistani Urdu poets, including Kaif Banarsi and Hafeez Jalandhari, wrote poems to support the Kashmiri people. In Pakistani Urdu poetry written in the first decade after independence, that shows a determination to build and to stand steadfast can easily be witnessed, especially in the verses composed by Mahirul Qadri, Asar Sehbai, Mahshar Badayuni, Saifuddin Saif, Jameeluddin Aali, Nazar Hyderabadi, Raees Amrohvi, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and many more.

One of the most splendid examples of Pakistani Urdu poets rising to the occasion and expressing their patriotism came in 1965 when Pakistan and India went to war. It is simply exhilarating to note how almost every poet composed some moving and beautiful patriotic poetry during the 1965 war. Radio Pakistan with poets, musicians and singers played a key role in inspiring the nation to forge a new unity and a greater faith in the future of the country.

It is simply not possible to name here all the poets who wrote poems or mention the verses or songs as almost every poet contributed and an enormous number of poems were written, which kept appearing in magazines for quite long after the war had ended. Many of them became so popular that they assumed the status of almost national songs and many of us still remember them.

In a nutshell, Pakistani Urdu poetry offers some of the most sparkling glimpses of Pakistani nationalism. Pakistani Urdu poets have proved that Urdu poetry does reflect local colour and is capable of presenting variegated ideas, whether it is love of the sweetheart or the motherland.


Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2019