Zafar Iqbal
Zafar Iqbal

IMMEDIATELY after the announcement of coveted Kamal-i-Fun Award for 2021 last week, began the usual thunderous outpouring of comments in the literary circles. The nomination was appreciated by and large, notwithstanding some dissenting voices on social media, supporting their own favourite author/s and questioning the wisdom behind nominating Zafar Iqbal — a 93-year-old, prolific and trendsetting poet — for the much sought-after literary prize.

Kamal-i-Fun Award, or Lifetime Achievement Award, is Pakistan’s highest literary award and comes with a cash prize of Rs1 million. Introduced in 1997 by the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) and awarded annually to the authors whose outstanding literary contributions have profoundly impacted Pakistani literature and society, Kamal-i-Fun can be awarded to any living Pakistani poet, prose-writer or scholar writing in any Pakistani language. PAL was established by government of Pakistan in July 1976. It is one of the most prestigious literary organisations in the country and is often called Pakistan’s National Academy of Literature. In a way, Kamal-i-Fun is Pakistan’s Nobel Prize for Literature, as quipped by Muneer Ahmed Badini, the veteran Baloch fiction writer.

Zafar Iqbal, the recipient of 2021 Kamal-i-Fun award, once remarked that his date of birth is Sept 27, 1932, but he was not too sure about it and admitted that a couple of years might have been subtracted to get him admitted to a school, as was in vogue in those days. Usually his date of birth is quoted as Sept 27, 1930. His maternal grandparents were settled in Bahawalnagar, Punjab, and that’s where he was born. Zafar Iqbal’s ancestral hometown is Okara, Punjab. Having passed his matriculation from Okara, he was admitted to Lahore’s F. C. College (now a university) and after graduating from F. C. College, he obtained a degree in law form Punjab University.

Zafar Iqbal was a practicing lawyer at Okara, but in 1995 he was appointed as director general of Urdu Science Board, Lahore, for a period of two years. So he settled down in Lahore and later on resumed his law practice in Lahore. According to his own account, it was the influence of his schoolteachers that made him poet otherwise there has never been a poet in his family. He began writing poetry in 1954 and while still a student at college he attended a mushaira (poetry recital) at Jallandhar, India.

Then in late 1950s, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi began publishing Zafar Iqbal’s poetry in Imroze, a leading Urdu daily in those days. Aab-i-Ravaan (1962), Zafar Iqbal’s maiden collection of poetry, shot him to fame as it proffered a different diction and a new tone with new motifs. In his second collection, Gulaaftaab (1966), this endeavour to find his own and true voice through innovative linguistic usage gained new heights. As the name Gulaaftaab suggests, since it is a portmanteau of gul (flower) and aaftaab (sun), he wholeheartedly experimented with diction, inventing new words and deviating from conventional Urdu grammar even to the point of distortion, claiming to have dismantled the clichéd lexicon and have gotten rid of “grammatical suffocation” to communicate what he wanted to say. He intentionally grafted Punjabi words in his Urdu poetry so as to, as he put it, “transfuse new blood into Urdu language” to help it get cured of “fatigue and withering”.

This truly sent tremors across the literary world of Urdu and the aftershocks were felt for quite long. Despite many controversies and staunch opposition from some contemporaries, Zafar Iqbal emerged as one of the most prominent poet of his times. What truly inspired Zafar Iqbal and left an everlasting impact on his poetry and diction that eventually gave him his identity as a distinct poet was nai shaeri, or new poetry, a literary movement that was launched in Lahore in 1960. Spearheaded by Iftikhar Jalib, Anees Nagi, Zahid Dar and some others, the new poetry movement’s stress was on creating new poetry with new themes and new diction.

But, ironically, none of these stalwarts of the movement were able to demonstrate what new poetry and new diction was, despite their theorization and hypotheses. It was Zafar Iqbal who practically showed what new poetry and new language really is, creating in the process new Urdu infinitives and verbs, amended idioms and unique metaphors. Zafar Iqbal’s many poetical works have now been collected in several thick volumes under the title Ab Tak.

Aside from poetry, Zafar Iqbal has been writing Urdu columns for decades. His columns are known for his gift of repartee and incisive analysis of our social and political life.

Another aspect of Zafar Iqbal’s literary works is his criticism. His critical essays, often laden with tangent ideas and pointed remarks about literature and literary figures, are collected in a volume named La Tanqeed.

One feels the veteran poet truly deserves the award and it was, in fact, overdue.

drraufparekh@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, October 23th, 2023

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