IN this era of selfies, often described as the era of narcissism, how can a poet hide their poetry from the public eye, shun publicity and be as content as a cat basking in sunshine? Or, to put it in the words of a recent social media post, they are as content as “Donald Trump without mainstream media.”
Poets, especially poets of Urdu, are notorious for their desire to recite poetry with a total disregard for time, occasion, audience or anything else, for that matter. Getting their poetry published and be appreciated is an obsession that constantly haunts many poets. Mushairas are God-sent occasions for them as they have a chance not only to get their poetry heard by audience but to get some publicity, too.
Rather, publicity is a big word, and a small gathering is enough for most of the poets to be lured into a huddle to recite his or her poetry before, say, a dozen or so people and feel on the top of the world. So, one is startled when one comes across a poet who does not want to be known as a poet, let alone appearing on TV as a poet or reciting at a mushaira.
It’s a rarity, but yes, there can be a poet who does not regard spotlight as something worthy or considerable. Irfan-ul-Haque Siddiqui is one such poet. So much so, that except for a few of his near and dear ones, nobody even knows that he is a poet, though his poetry strikes a chord.
Mr Siddiqui, who is a senior journalist, columnist, analyst and a sitting member of the Senate of Pakistan representing the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is known for his impeccable language and deep thoughts. He has a number of books to his credit and his travelogue Makkah Madinah was well-received in literary circles. Now he has become a poet, too — rather he has been a poet all along but has revealed it just now.
Recently, when in a chance meeting he gave me his first collection of poetry I was a bit surprised but not much. As he asked me why I was not as amazed as many were when they came to know that he was a poet, my reply was “having read your elegantly poetic prose I always suspected a poet was hidden behind”. This, too, he shrugged off modestly.
In his foreword to his poetry collection titled Gurez Pa Mausamon Ki Khushboo, just published by Lahore’s Jahangir Books, Mr Siddiqui has, in his usual unassuming manner, given a clue or two to why he has kept his poetry a secret.
He says that, firstly, he began composing poetry at an age and in an era when it was not deemed fit to let your elders know that you composed poetry. Secondly, he feels that with the passage of time, for him writing poetry had become more of a pastime than a literary activity, sort of a personal affair, just like laughing or crying in solitude: something that you don’t share with everybody. For him, his poetry is a refuge where he finds solace and takes burden off his heart. It’s an oasis in burning deserts of life, to put it in his words.
Interestingly, he admits that poetry has a role greater than that and it can transcend the boundaries of times and places, making nations wiser and guiding them to do greater good for all. But “my poetry”, he adds, “has got nothing to do with the philosophical hair-splitting or cracking wise quotes. Neither it offers a panacea for the eternal agonies of human kind, nor does it reflect the struggle between labour and capital. My poetry does not portray the clash of the civilisations either, but yes, it does somehow depict the cruel seasons that Pakistan has been going through”.
The ‘cruel seasons’ is indeed a metaphor for political upheavals and economic disasters. In fact, a series of autumns and an incessant volley of winters of discontent have been befalling this country, one must say. And the title of book alludes to the struggle to find spring full of fragrance in autumn days.
As Iftikhar Arif, the renowned poet, has mentioned, the book saddens one as it narrates the illusiveness of springs in the times of autumns. The book, adds Arif, has a similarity with the global poetic panorama during the last 100 years or so, pointing to two dominant topics: love and resistance. In Mr Siddiqui’s book poems describe the story of love and the ghazals, to a greater extent, portray resistance, protest and concerns for the people of this country.
Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi and Fatema Hasan, two well-known writers of our times, have paid glowing tribute to Mr Siddiqui in their reviews. He indeed deserves the kudos.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2022