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MIRAJI 1912-1949: The modern poet

November 04, 2012

The first edition of Miraji ki Nazmain published by Shahid Ahmed Dehlavi, Saqi Book Depot, Delhi Courtesy: Asif Farrukhi

By Intizar Husain

“MIRAJI was not simply a poet; he was a phenomenon unto himself,” said Noon Meem Rashid. He added, “In those days when the three poets [Miraji, Tasadduq Husain Khalid and Rashid] were trying to introduce free verse into Urdu, Miraji was bolder and more confident in employing this mode of expression than the other two.”

Rashid further elaborated that Miraji drew inspiration from three sources of knowledge: western literary tradition, modern psychology and ancient Hindu mythology. For his modern consciousness he is indebted to the first two sources.

This can be authenticated with an introduction to Miraji’s series of articles published in Maulana Salahuddin’s monthly journal, Adabi Duniya, during his years in Lahore. They were later compiled and published under the title Mashriq-o-Maghrib ke Naghmain. These articles are an introduction to leading western and eastern poets including François Villon, Charles Baudelaire and Mallarme (French), Whitman and Poe (American), DH Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield (British), Pushkin (Russian), Heine (German), Chandidas and Vidyapati (Indian), Li Po (Chinese) and Sappho (Greek).

For each poet, Miraji has translated selected poems. Primarily he aimed at introducing these poets and through them the literary traditions of their respective countries to Urdu readers. But in the process he was perhaps also assimilating influences from them. While engaged in studying western poetry, Miraji was not content with an acquaintance with modern modes of expression. That, according to him, was not enough: “Mere employment of free verse for his poetic expression,” he said, “is not enough to make one a modern poet.” So he went beyond that and took pains to access the modern sensibility deep therein.

At the same time, with the consciousness that he was Aryan, Miraji embarked on a journey to explore old Hindi traditions and studied Bhakti poetry. Then moving beyond it, he wandered into the ancient past which lead him to the wonderland of Hindu mythology. He also points to another source of inspiration — the Quran.

So what a diversity of influences he imbibed from different sources of the East and the West, which is why Miraji stands distinguished in the world of modern Urdu poetry. He possessed a modern sensibility and was rooted in a rich past; this reminds us of Eliot who said that modernism without a reference to tradition is a term devoid of meaning.

Compared to his contemporaries, Miraji deserves to be recognised more as a modern poet in accordance to the truest sense of the term ‘modernism’. But perhaps Akhtar Suliman is right when he designates him as the forerunner of modern Urdu poets. This reminds me of the time when a group of budding poets in Lahore including Mukhtar Siddiqui, Qayyum Nazar, Yusuf Zaffar, Zia Jalandhari and Mubarik Ahmad were engaged in grappling with the elusive trend of modernism. Miraji’s enigmatic personality attracted their attention and they gathered around him. Miraji readily took on the role of mentor and guide. Askari Sahib was right in saying that “Miraji wanted to gain an understanding of new literary trends and modes of expression and communicate this understanding to others. He definitely created a mental curiosity in the new writers.”

This group of poets, mentored by Miraji, soon became recognised as modern poets belonging to Miraji’s school of thought. And it was because of their enthusiasm that a literary body was founded in Lahore under the name Halqa-i-Arbab-i-Zauq. It came to be associated with modernism, particularly with poetry. This situation gave a fillip to the theory of modernism in Urdu literature and slowly and gradually Miraji came to be associated with it to the extent of his name became a symbol of modernism in Urdu, his idiosyncrasies imparting a distinct glamour to it.

At the outset, Miraji’s modern verse shocked readers, the traditionalists in particular. His mode of expression appeared to them odd, anti-poetic and morally shocking. Groping for meaning in his verses, they found them to be puzzles rather than poems.

But in the meantime, they discovered that he was more puzzling in his behaviour than in his verse. His personality became a centre of attraction for his friends and foes alike. They felt tempted to write, with much exaggeration, about his idiosyncrasies, eccentricities, and perversions, relying on gossip. This showed their lack of understanding of Miraji’s verse.

Askari Sahib has made two observations in this respect. Firstly, Miraji, according to him, relished being built up as a fabulous personality. Secondly, he perhaps carried in him something which tempted onlookers to build him up as a fabulous personality. As for the second observation, I would like to refer to a short novel recently written about Miraji. A young intellectual from France, Julien Columeau, during his stay in Pakistan, took a deep interest in the literary works from the region. Eventually, he concentrated on Miraji, sensing a feel of Baudelaire in both his poetry and personality. His novel, written in Urdu, portrays Miraji as a soul reliving Baudelaire in his own eastern way.

So, briefly speaking, we now have two Mirajis with us: Miraji, the poet, an icon of modernism in Urdu, and Miraji, the idiosyncratic man transformed into a fabulous personality. Unfortunately, the second Miraji has attracted more attention, tempting his admirers to write about him with relish. Sadly it was at the cost of Miraji, the leading modern poet, who asked for more serious attention.