Can it be true that a man composes poetry all his life but neither he discloses it nor anyone gets inkling of it? It’s true as it has happened in our recent literary history. Nevertheless it seems simply out of this world.
In our culture poets rush out to recite their verse like something it at some public platform or get it published in some literary rag the moment they half-finish it. Poets’ obsession to be visible, to be heard, borders on hysteria. Their anxiety has assumed the form of a cultural malady that seems laughably incurable. Poets especially the bad ones are natural exhibitionists like children. So their antics amuse the wise who avoid them like the plague. Intriguingly, a man proved to be an exception, a sole exception indeed.
The man was Anwar Chaudhry who has posthumously been published under the title Anwar Chaudhry Di Shairi by Kitab Trinjan, Lahore. It’s a highly valuable serendipitous discovery that is a product of a sense of wonder and offers itself as a rich source of wonder.
One fails to decipher Anwar’s desire to keep his poetic expression an absolutely guarded secret till his last breath. It takes immeasurable courage in our cultural context. His ‘secret’ becomes more surprising if we keep his background in mind. He was from the generation that dreamt of dreams. He had his early intellectual growth in 1960s and 70s, while living in the boondocks i.e. Bahawalnagar. It was an era of revolutionary ferment across the globe: heroic resistance of Vietnamese against the American occupation, rebellious students’ movements in in the Europe and America accompanied by defiance against colonial and post-colonial oppression in the third world countries. The dreams of a new less extractive and less exploitative world were the rock bed of a social, economic and political design that stirred mass imagination. Pakistan was no exception. Intense pro-people election campaigns in the East and the West Pakistan had mobilised the masses and galvanised the political and social landscape of the country.
Anwar Chaudhry joined Pakistan People’s Party as a young man. He moved up the ladder as a result of his commitment, hard work and diligence and was appointed the party’s secretary general of the district by Z. A. Bhutto. Infused with revolutionary spirit, he did not care to fight the elections as a candidate. After the dismemberment of the country, Bhutto assumed power and thus started Anwar’s alienation with the party leading to his separation from it. He joined retired Maj Ishaq-led Mazdoor Kissan Party that espoused a socialist change. After a decade or so he got disenchanted with his new party as if doing so-called revolutionary politics was a boondoggle. In 1980s he moved to Lahore intending to do something spectacular. But he was in for a big cultural shock. Lahore was metropolitan, intellectually and culturally challenging, and impersonal like any other big urban centre. He was in fact lost in Lahore and it took him years before he could find the semblance of his bearing. Cultural activity was what he eventually turned to and it was what sustained him as a thinking person with a passionate heart. He would be aggressive, even nasty after enjoying his tipple with friends. Surprisingly, he would be the same soft-spoken, friendly and caring person the next morning. Something rattled him whenever his self-sensor was loose. His desperation perhaps was an outcome of an intellectual and emotional crisis in the wake of fading away of dreams of a better world he envisaged for himself and all. The apparent wastage of his creative energy was, now it seems, provided cover that afforded him space to surreptitiously create stunningly fresh and delicate poetry; the kind that would put with its natural tone, unconventionality and seamless craft many an established poet to shame.
Anwar’s poems fall in two broad categories (they can’t be neatly compartmentalised though); political and existential. His poems with political angle are quite different from what is generally offered in the form of versified ideological kitsch. They carry sharable human ideals that can humanise the inhuman world the evolved social systems have built around us. He tries to show us what we have become; dehumanised. He explores the effects of dehumanisation with a soft touch by whispering into our ears something that would open our eyes and compel us to look at ourselves. “This image has two persons / One beats the other / The one who is beaten ducks / The one who beats has a face distorted by anger / The pain of being fed by what he plundered has twisted his visage / Both the faces are not what they were when their mothers gave birth to them…,” he says in one of his poems. An expose of the oppressor and the oppressed in the Brechtian manner!
What a way to remind us that we are born human but the conditions in which we grow up deface and disfigure us. His world is the world of ordinary things seen so often that they lose their meanings for us. He reminds us they have meanings if we pause and talk to them, and care to discover their interconnections. “The night descended, drop by drop / it dripped from the hair/ the soil of flesh being wet turned into mortar/ it continued shaping the clay / it continued baking it in its own heat,” says another poem.
The conversational tone of Anwar’s poems helps turn them into dialogue-like monologues and monologue-like dialogues creating spaces for the readers to enter his poetic world. Subdued sound of his verses weaves a wonder-filled web of pregnant silence. “Time for us is Mullah Nasruddin / and we are his donkey, starved and thirsty / A tuft of grass is but our dreams which continue dangling ahead of our mouth / we have been trudging for ages/ and yet we could not close the gap of one step between us and our dreams,” he says.
At times non-poetic poetry in violation of conventions makes better poetry. And this is what late Anwar Chaudhry poetry is; light like a wisp of fresh grass, exhilarating like a gentle breeze and illuminating like a lodestar. His poetry now becomes an integral part of our literary landscape. -firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2023