RUBAA’I, or quatrain, is considered a difficult poetic genre to compose despite its brevity. A quatrain, as the name suggests, is confined to just four lines since the word rubaa’i is derived from an Arabic word which means four. The English name quatrain is derived from the French ‘quatre’, meaning four. A quatrain is a kind of a brief poem that demands philosophical ideas as well as expression of emotions with a poetic touch — just in four lines. What gives quatrain a unique colour is its light-heartedness as the poet acts as a rind, a sagacious drunkard whose exterior is deplorable but heart is pure. This lends the genre an epigrammatic touch: brief, thoughtful and amusing.

Technical demands make quatrain more difficult as it has to be in a specific behr, or metre, named hazaj, and 24 measures or prosodic variations can be used to practise the art. Quatrain has the rhyming scheme ‘aaba’, which means the first, the second and the fourth line ends with a qaafiya, or rhyming word, and qaafiya is usually followed by radeef, or refrain (an identical word or words repeated after each rhyming word), though radeef is optional and not mandatory. The third line usually does not rhyme. The fourth line is considered the most fascinating part of a quatrain as it reveals the crux and creates quite an effect with its rhythmical cadence.

These restrictions have rendered quatrain a genre that is popular among poets and intellectuals but it could hardly, if ever, become much popular among poetry buffs, especially when it comes to Urdu poetry. One of the reasons is, perhaps, quatrain’s stress on philosophical, didactic and quasi-mystical themes, though latter-day poets, such as Josh Maleehabadi and Firaq Gorakhpuri, introduced romantic or even erotic elements to the genre.

How and when did quatrain begin? The question is being debated for ages and the answer is enveloped in contentious issues. Taking a cue from its Arabic name, some scholars believe quatrain originated in Arab, while most scholars agree it began in Persia. Farman Fatehpuri in his book Urdu Rubaa’i has expressly written that quatrain has its genesis in Iran as its prosodic measures, that are peculiarly Persian, suggest (page46). As put by Edward G. Brown in his A Literary History of Persia, quatrain “was almost certainly the earliest product of the Persian poetical genius,” (vol. I, page 472-3). Even if quatrain had its beginning in Arabic literature, it reached its glory in Iran with Persian poets like Omar Khayyam popularising it. But in Iran, quatrain was referred to by other names, too, such as, do baiti, chahar baiti, qaul, tarana and, especially today, chahar gaane.

Just like many other poetic genres, quatrain arrived at Urdu’s literary scene along with Persian literature and began developing in Dakan, or Deccan (or ‘South’, literally) as Deccan was the cradle of earliest Urdu literature. Quli Qutub Shah, Mulla Vajhi, Siraj Aurangabadi, Vali Dakani and some other poets from Deccan composed quatrains in Urdu. It arrived in ‘Uttra’, or North, late and best-known Urdu poets from Northern India, such as, Mir, Sauda, Dard, Insha, Mushafi, Nasikh, Anees, Dabeer, Zauq and Ghalib, say almost everyone, composed quatrain. But somehow quatrain could not become as popular in Urdu as some other genres, such as ghazal. Quatrain’s technical demands and its predominantly moralistic themes may be among some reasons. Many of the poets wrote quatrain just to establish their complete mastery over prosody and language, so it could not truly flourish in Urdu, wrote Dr Arshad Mahmood Nashad in one of his articles. It was only Mir Anees who gave Urdu quatrain a colour of its own, making it a genre to reckon with.

Later on, the popularity of English translation of Omar Khayyam’s quatrains by Edward Fitzgerald inspired many to write versified translations of Khayyam’s quatrains in Urdu. This indeed gave an impetus to write original quatrain in Urdu and the latter-day Urdu poets who gave Urdu quatrain a new lease of life, include Akber Allahabadi, Altaf Husain Hali, Ismail Meruthi, Shad Azeemabadi, Amjad Hyderabadi, Tilok Chand Mahroom and Aziz Lukhnavi, to name but a few. Progressive poets rarely wrote quatrains as it is a demanding genre and shies away from airing views directly, preferring subtlety over stolid realism.

After the Independence, many Pakistani poets tried to keep the genre alive and one of them was Safia Tabassum Maleehabadi, Josh’s granddaughter, not to mention Josh himself. Arif Abdul Mateen was the rare progressive composing quatrain. Fida Khalid Dehlvi, albeit little-known, was considered an expert on arooz, or prosody, and a fine poet of quatrain. Others who penned quatrain in Pakistan include Asar Sehbai, Abdul Aziz Khalid, Qamar Ra’eeni, Ahmed Faraz, Sadeqain, Aslam Ansari, Raghib Muradabadi, Manzoor Husain Shor Alig, Saba Akberabadi, Qateel Shifai, Mehboob Ilahi Ata and many others whose names cannot be mentioned here for want of space.

In a nutshell, Pakistani Urdu quatrain is replete with religious and semi-philosophical notions.

drraufparek@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2024

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