Besides being a distinguished fiction writer, with her debut novel Mass Transit published in 1998 and the latest, The Inn, appearing in 2021, Maniza Naqvi’s tour de force was the restoration and conservation of the historic Pioneer Book House in downtown Karachi. Now she has set up The Little Book Company to digitise Pakistani books in order to make them available to wider and younger readership in Pakistan and across the world.

She is also sponsoring literary prizes for books written in Balochi, Pashto, Punjabi and Sindhi at the annual Karachi Literature Festival organised by the Oxford University Press. Naqvi successfully multitasks while dividing her time between the United States and Pakistan.

To me, it was a pleasant surprise to know that Syed Muhammad Mahmood Rizvi, whose pen name was Makhmoor Akbarabadi, was Naqvi’s maternal grandfather. Upon my request, Naqvi generously sent me some books written by Makhmoor Akbarabadi — ranging from a slim volume of his own poetry to his works on Nazeer Akbarabadi, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib and Fani Badayuni, to his books on history of Urdu literature, and on language, idiom, proverbs, style and pronunciation.

Some of these volumes I received are copies of works published from Agra and Delhi, India, before 1947. Most were published by different publishers in Karachi until the time Makhmoor lived. In 2019, his last book — which offers a critical appreciation of Ghalib — was published 43 years after his death.

Makhmoor was born in 1897 in Agra and died in 1976 in Khairpur Mirs. He was a lawyer by profession but devoted his life to studying and writing on language and literature. He was barely 25 when the first edition of his book on poet Nazeer Akbarabadi, titled Rooh-i-Nazeer [The Soul of Nazeer] appeared. He revised it and published its second edition in 1946.

Another book on Nazeer titled Nazeer Nama [The Tale of Nazeer] came out posthumously in 1979. Both these books — more than 500 pages each, including some of Nazeer’s poetry — are detailed assessments of Nazeer’s psyche, choices of themes, use of language, prosody, genres and cultural moorings. His time and age also provide a backdrop to the overall critical assessment of his verses.

Since Makhmoor is fully aware of Western classical and modern literature, he has the ability to go beyond the Eastern and South Asian literary tradition to first understand and then place Nazeer’s poetry in the larger literary landscape.

Nazeer was a native poet and preferred people’s language over the court language, particularly in his nazms. He was not given due recognition by the champions of the higher Persianised diction and style of Urdu and was relegated, in their terms, to being a commoner’s poet for a long time. Even after his rediscovery, he was not critically acclaimed as much as he deserved.

Makhmoor has built a case for Nazeer with an in-depth analysis of his works. Nazeer’s diversity and pluralism make him stand out among his contemporaries. He stands tall but his embeddedness in his habitat keeps his feet on the ground. Nazeer is not just a descriptive poet, as presented in many classrooms on the basis of his poems such as Aadmi Nama [The Human Tale] and Banjara Nama [The Tale of the Nomad], or his poems on different seasonal and religious festivals.

Makhmoor has given ample examples of Nazeer’s ghazals, where his imagination, observation, emotion and language create a different universe from that of his nazms. Nazeer says: “Milo jo hum se to mil lo keh hum ba-nok-i-gyaah/ Misaal-i-qatra-i-shabnam rahay, rahay, na rahay [Meet me now if you wish for I, on the tip of a blade of grass/ Like a dew drop may stay or just may not stay].”

Sarv-o-Sanober [Cupressus and Cypress] is the title of Makhmoor’s book taken from a verse of Ghalib’s: “Saaey ki tarha saath phirein sarv-o-sanober/ Tu iss qad-i-dilkash se jo gulzar mein aavay [The cupressus and cypress but chase you like a shadow/ When your towering beauty arrives in the garden].”

The book includes Makhmoor’s essays on different dimensions of Ghalib’s poetry, on particular couplets and a comparison of Ghalib with the German poet Goethe. He came up with another book, published as recently as in 2019, titled ‘Ghalib ki Fitnat-o-Sana’at ka Mutaleya [The Study of Ghalib’s Intellect and Skill]. In this book, he has discussed Ghalib’s poetic character, how he viewed aesthetics and his unique sense of appreciating human beauty. These books are essential reading for any serious student of Ghalib but, since Ghalib is analysed and critiqued widely, they may not be considered as groundbreaking as Makhmoor’s work on Nazeer.

Fani: Shakhsiyat aur Husn-i-Bayaan [Fani: The Person and his Eloquence] is another insightful book Makhmoor has penned on the life, ideals, feelings and poetry of Fani Badayuni. Fani lived from 1879 to 1941. He was an exquisite ghazal poet, who wrote verses like these: “Bichh gaey raah-i-yaar mein kaantey/ Kis ko uzr-i-baraihna paai hai [The path of love is strewn with thorns/ Being barefooted is never our alibi].”

The three collections of Makhmoor’s work on Urdu language, literary history and linguistics that I am familiar with include Saheefa-i-Tareekh-i-Urdu [The Book of Urdu History] published in 1946, Urdu Zaban Aur Asaleeb [Urdu Language and Styles] published in 1961 and Qamoos-ul-Fasahat [Dictionary of Articulation]. These books must be recomposed, reprinted, annotated where necessary and made available to students of language and literature by our universities.

Makhmoor has adapted and translated a few stories from Oscar Wilde and others as well. But the poems that he has written in Urdu on Bengal, published under the title of Mashriq-i-Tabaan [The Illuminated East] are both inspiring and melodious. It is a kind of a chapbook published in 1967 comprising only five poems, rather longish, that celebrate the life and innate charm of Bengal.

Maybe he had a premonition of what was coming in 1971.

The writer is a poet and essayist. He has recently edited Pakistan Here and Now: Insights into Society, Culture, Identity, and Diaspora.

His latest collection of verse is Hairaa’n Sar-i-Bazaar.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, August 20th, 2023

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