Sukhan-i-Iftikhar: Kulliyaat Iftikhar Arif
By Iftikhar Arif
Maktaba-e-Danyal, Karachi
ISBN: 978-9694191126
512pp.

Poets, in general, can be divided into the following categories: those who inspire you to write poetry; those who make you fall in love with their chosen form of expression; those who encourage you to see life eyeball to eyeball; and those who enable you to embrace solitude and revisit love. But there are a handful of poets who help you do all of the above. Iftikhar Arif is one of them.

Arif is inarguably the most eminent living Urdu poet. He is a septuagenarian, which means much has already been written, talked and imagined about his life and work. Therefore, trying to shed more light on either his body of work or his personality would be an exercise in futility.

And yet, you can’t help but get excited when you hear that he’s come out with a new book — as happened last year with the collection of poems Baagh-i-Gul-i-Surkh [The Garden of Red Roses] — because it’s always a cerebral and spiritual joyride. So you eagerly wait for ‘what next?’.

Lo and behold, Maktaba-e-Danyal has now published the complete works of Iftikhar Arif, titled Sukhan-i-Iftikhar [Iftikhar’s Verses] and it is a special treat not just for the poet’s admirers, but for literature buffs as well. The reason is simple: it is top-notch poetry, something that, in this age of technological wonders — where popularity can smile upon you in two shakes of a lamb’s tail and lose its lustre in a heartbeat — is a rarity of the most exceptional kind.

Maktaba-e-Danyal has published the complete works of the most eminent living Urdu poet and it is a special treat not just for the poet’s admirers, but for literature buffs as well

Let’s briefly touch upon the publication first. Since it is Arif’s complete works compiled into one hefty and tastefully produced book, it contains all of his four collections — Mehr-i-Do Neem [The Divided Sun], Harf-i-Baryaab [The Blessed Words], Jahaan-i-Maaloom [The Known Universe] and Baagh-i-Gul-i-Surkh. If you are a reader of Urdu verses, chances are you’ve already read all of them. The image of the poet on the cover of the book is by distinguished architect Nayyar Ali Dada which, in a way, sets the tone for what’s to come: a thinking man with a heart of gold.

Apart from the old, eloquently penned pieces by the late poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and critic Gopi Chand Narang that accompanied the first book, there are a couple of new pieces in Sukhan-i-Iftikhar by two modern-day giants of Urdu criticism: Nasir Abbas Nayyar and Dr Nomanul Haq. They provide a nice little window into Arif’s world that’s dotted with peaks and troughs, signifying the various phases of his spiritual journeys and physical voyages.

Now, back to that unavoidable difficulty: what can one say about Arif’s poetry that hasn’t already been said? His diction laced with classical phraseology; the prosodic patterns that have an enchanting rhythm, making each syllable sound distinct and recitation-worthy; the devotional poems in praise of the Ahl-i-Baet [the family of the Prophet (PBUH)] that emanate from the innermost recesses of Arif’s heart; the tragedy of Karbala which he uses as the most potent and timeless symbol of good’s triumph over the evil despite the former’s ostensible loss; the pangs of migration against the backdrop of a birthplace known for its rich cultural milieu; and the solitude that he at times relishes and on occasion laments, but employs as a striking creative tool — all have been profusely discussed and admired. Justifiably so.

Instead, why not quote one of his ghazals that has not been quoted as many times as it deserves? For some astonishing reason, the following ghazal from Jahaan-i-Maaloom contains all the elements that this master versifier is known for: prosodic charm, allusions to the historic tragedy, migration woes and delectable diction:

Yeh naqsh hum jo sir-i-lauh-i-jaan banaatay hain
Koi banaata hai hum khud kahaan banaatay hain

[This word that I create on the book of the soul
It is, actually, the creation of someone else]

Yeh sur, yeh taal, yeh le, kuchh nahin bajuz taufiq
To phir yeh kya hai ke hum armaghaan banaatay
hain

[The musical note, beat, rhythm… if all are
nothing but a divine help
Then what is it that I deem a gift?]

Samandar uss ka, hava uss ki, aasmaan uss ka
Woh jiss ke izn se hum kishtiyaan banaatay hain

[He owns the sea, the air, the firmament
With whose permission we make boats]

Khud apni khaak se kartay hain mauj-i-noor
kasheed
Phir uss se aik naee kehkashaan banaatay hain

[I glean a ray of light from clay
And turn it into a new glittering galaxy]

Kahaani jab nazar aati hai khatm hoti hui
Wahien se aik naee daastaan banaatay hain

[Whenever I sense that the story is about to end
I conjure a new tale from that point onwards]

Khhuli fiza mein khush aawaaz tairon ke hujoom
Magar woh loag jo tir-o-sinaan banaatay hain

[This flock of mellifluous birds in free air! What about those who are busy making arrows and spears?]

‘Palat ke aaey ghareebul watan, palatna tha’
Yeh dekhna hai ke ab ghar kahaan banaatay hain

[They have returned from the land of strangers
It remains to be seen where they build their
abodes now]

Having said all of that, how can one not refer to Karbala while showering praise on Arif’s tremendous art? So, let’s round off this short piece about his latest book with these two lines:

Main baar baar aaoon khaak-i-Karbala ko
choomnay
Ajab nahin karay Khuda yeh intizaam Husain

[Husain, it’s possible that the Almighty will
arrange for me
To keep coming back to kiss Karbala’s soil]

The reviewer is a member of staff

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 20th, 2022

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