By Naseer Ahmad When it comes to the appraisal of their own poetic worth, Urdu poets seem all alike. They use all the superlatives for themselves and their works. Even the minnows of the realm of poetry make tall claims to impress upon the reader that they are gifted with such mental faculties that nobody else either has or will ever have such qualities.
In recent years, the late Munir Niazi spoke so highly about himself as a poet that it created ripples in literary circles. But he did not limit himself to making justified or unjustified claims to grandiose, and triggered a controversy with the statement that there was no poet to name in Karachi. Ghalib's couplet in which he has compared himself with Mir is very well known. Rekhta kay tumhin ustaad nahin ho Ghalib/ Suntay hain aglay zamanay mein koi Mir bhe tha.
Most people interpret this couplet as a compliment to Mir. It may be so. But to me Ghalib's stress seems to be on the remoteness of a bygone era, 'when Mir was also somebody'. Anyhow, Ghalib was a master of wordplay, shrewdly saying one thing and meaning quite another.
With 18 volumes of poetry already to his name and 18 more in the process of being published in three volumes, Zafar Iqbal must indeed be the most prolific writer of ghazal.
He has no idea how many thousand couplets he has written so far and there is no end in sight to this smooth flow of imaginative and innovative poetry.
However, he says he is too humble to make any tall claims about his poetry. 'Probably about 50 years after my death critics would be able to correctly evaluate my poetic standing ... whether I was a poet at all,' says the septuagenarian poet in an interview with Dawn. Yeh abhi tau meri samajh mein bhe naheen aa rahi/ Mein jabhi tau baat ko mukhtasar nahin kar raha Obviously, he can't stop others from expressing their opinions about his poetry. For instance, Intizar Hussain likens Zafar's couplets to a pile of mangoes of the tukhmi variety (not the hybrid ones ripened with artificial means) — some deliciously sweet, some sour and others raw. The late Haneef Ramay called him the poet of a new tone, new concepts and new language. But Shamsur Rehman Farooqui, a stalwart of Urdu literature based in India, says Zafar is next only to Mir!
About his experiments in language, which some critics appreciate, others criticise, he says he has used words of various local languages such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi to express a particular thought. The radeef (refrain) of one of his ghazals is in Gujarati.
Asked why he has written ghazals and no nazm, he says 'Initially I wrote nazms. But when ghazal came under severe criticism by critics, I took up ghazal writing as a challenge and cared little what the detractors of the genre said.'
Many of his ghazals are popularised by known vocalists. But he does not take pride in their popularity. 'Popularity is no yardstick for a poet or a piece of poetry. I know many dau number (second-rate) poets, who attract many dau number readers.'
Even his first couplet, which he wrote when he was a student of the Government College Lahore, is very popular. Asked about the spur that prompted him to write poetry, he says the couplet is self-explanatory Yahan kisi ko bhe kutch hasb-i-aarzoo nah mila/ Kisi ko hum nah milay aur hum ko tu nah mila.
Till 2003, when he had a heart bypass surgery, he practised as a lawyer, first in Okara and then in Lahore. Although his poetry only has passing references to the lawyers' movement, his columns have copious mention of the nation-wide struggle spearheaded by the lawyers and that ran for more than two years.
He has been writing columns for different newspapers at varying periods for about 35 years. Considering that he was a practising lawyer, which is a very demanding job, and wrote columns almost daily, what he has achieved is unusual. Asked how he managed to write such excellent poetry with the limited time at his disposal, he says he has no explanation except that it was a rush of passion. He retains the passion for poetry and says continuing to work with verve provides him with an excuse to live on.
Zafar Iqbal was born on September 27, 1932 in Bhawalnagar, where his maternal grandparents lived. He received his early education in Okara, his hometown, and moved to Lahore for higher education.
His books include Aab-i-Rawan, Gulaftab, Ratb-o-Yabis, Ghubaralood simton ka suragh, Sar-i-aam, Aib-o-hunar and Vehm-o-guman. The honours he has received include the President's Pride of Performance Award.
Over the years, in his several couplets he has referred to his growing age. But answering a question, he says 'Old age is only a feeling. It actually has little to do with the number of years one has lived. A 30-year-old person may feel to be old, and an 80-year-old person, in love with someone or something, may consider himself to be young.' Jo boorha hoon tau kiyon dil mein mohabbat zore karti hei/ Mein jitna chup karata hoon yeh utna shore karti hai