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The best of Urdu poetry, 2012

January 06, 2013

By Syed Kashif Raza

Last year, some impressive works of poetry came out, in the genres of both nazm and ghazal. They not only have literary merit but are also relevant in the current political and social context.

One of these is by Waheed Ahmed, an established poet. His two previous collections, Shaffafian (Transparencies) and Hum Aag Churatay Hain (We Steal Fire), were both critically acclaimed. Nazmnama is his latest collection. In this, Ahmed embarks on new journeys to explore some unique ideas.

Choosing seemingly crude words and images for his expression, Ahmed turns them into poetry. While the process may seem shocking to those who are accustomed to flowery language being used in Urdu poetry, its result is often wonderful. Ahmed tries to break away from the tradition of

ghazal diction that has flooded Urdu blank verse in recent decades. His unique imagery, which helps him satirise what he dislikes about society, is able to encompass the sensitivity with which his senses decipher the world around him.

Being a keen observer of the sociopolitical changes in society, Ahmed has also written about the wave of terrorism in the country. His poem “Khaufnama” (Fearlogue) is a fine example of trying to come to terms with the fear which has seeped deep into us as a result of the continuing bloodshed:


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But ultimately, Ahmed’s collection will be remembered for his daring and novel imagery which reminds us that serious poetry should always challenge the world of cliché.

Akhtar Usman’s poetry collection “Sitara-saz” (The Star Maker) is quite the opposite in style and diction to Ahmed’s, but is also very good. Usman has been acclaimed as a master of the ghazal genre, so his nazm collection came as a surprise for many. He is more concerned about the universal questions and thus can be catagorised with Iqbal, Rashid and Akhtar Hussain Jaffri as far as his themes are concerned. Usman’s love of Persian poetry is also evident in his poems. His lines force you to stop and admire their individual beauty before moving ahead. If they sometimes distract from the main theme and structure of the poem, it is often worth the while.

The first thing we experience in Usman’s poetry is his artistry and his concern with polishing his lines. While the theme may sometimes appear obscured, if we delve deep, we are able to connect the underlying thematic structure. He is not satisfied with the commercialism and the onslaught of capitalistic values on our society and his poems are a lamentation of the continuing decline of our culture, society and traditions:

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As for ghazal, the most representative and well-trodden path of Urdu poetry, Idris Babur’s collection Yunhi stands out. Babur is an avid reader of Western literature but has chosen a very old form of poetry for his expression. The results could have been incongruous, but what we see in his collection is a very intelligent weaver, suggesting new designs for age-old forms. One often wonders why he has never thought of employing such unique themes in some other genre, like in nazm, for example:

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Babur has also experimented with prosody and has displayed his mastery of an art which was thought to be the forte of the classicists. One excellent example of his uniqueness is his use of meta language, where the unsaid means more than the said:

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Babur’s ghazals should be an inspiration for young poets who want to break new ground in this traditional genre.

Khalid Moin also came out with his fourth poetry collection, Na Gahaan, this year. The experience of living in a megacity like Karachi, with all its paradoxes and complexities, is evident in his work. Experiences of romance make his couplets colourful:

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There were other gems as well, such as Nasira Zuberi’s Kaanch ka Chiragh, with its ambivalent romantic shades and feminist concerns and Javed Saba’s Koi Dekh na Lay, with his command over classical diction and romantic expression.

Another noteworthy ghazal collection was by late Zeeshan Sahil. His book Wajh-e-Begaangi has been published posthumously by Ajmal Kamal. The collection presents another, and hitherto unprobed and rather unexpected, facet of Sahil’s poetry and his forays into the most traditional of the Urdu poetry genres. He does not have the same command over prosody as some others and a word or two sometimes seem erratic but who could have thought of turning a noun into an adjective the way Zeeshan did:

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And who else could have produced this signature Sahil vignette in a ghazal:

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The writer is a poet, writer and translator and his second poetry collection, Mamnuu Mausamon ki Kitaab, was published in 2012