The oft-repeated literary adage 'The man is the style' may sound trite, but the truth lying in it may never become hackneyed.
William Wordsworth in the preface to his Lyrical Ballads said, 'Poetry is the spontaneous outflow of powerful feelings it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.' 'The spontaneous outflow of powerful feelings' indeed reveals the poet's inner self and it ultimately becomes the style. But how come some poets have a lifestyle and outer self that stands starkly in contrast to the inner self that their poetry reveals?
Or is it that the inner self is 'the man' and outer self is just a 'persona'? Iftikhar Arif is one of the foremost contemporary Urdu poets and his poetry and personality may be a case in point.
I do not know much about Iftikhar Arif's childhood. Neither do I intend to carry out his psychoanalysis. But there is one thing that I can say with some degree of surety as it is what his poetry betrays there is an acute sense of insecurity, deprivation and a deep sense of homelessness lurking always in his subconscious even if he is living in the lap of luxury, as he does these days.
This, entwined with a profound discontent or even contempt for the contemporary political, social and moral values, has lent his poetry a melancholy tone. He laments the lost moral values and ideals and is contemptuous of greed, hypocrisy, sycophancy and callousness that mar our society today. Idealising the sufferings of the martyrs of Karbala for upholding the truth and justice is another aspect of Arif's poetry that makes one stop and think.
But then, Iftikhar Arif himself is part of a cruel system that values negative traits and unless one tramples moral values and disregards justice, one can rarely reach the heights of worldly glory, at the top of which he is basking now. This question has been haunting me, too, for long. There is the man successful, famous and honoured. Here is his style melancholy, bemoaning the slaughter of self-respect and morality at the altar of worldly gains, saluting martyrdom. Which is the real one?
Mubeen Mirza, a critic of the new generation who is much junior to Iftikhar Arif both in years and exposure, has tried to answer the ques tion in his foreword to Kitab-i-dil-odunya, the collective works of Iftikhar Arif, published recently by Maktaba-i-Daniyal. Mirza believes that in Iftikhar's poetry there seem to run two currents, one is dil, or heart, and the other is dunya, or the world. These two seem to overtake each other and the reader feels that there is a dichotomy between the inner self and the outer self.
But this dichotomy, says he, between a successful person and a sensitive poet is false as these two currents run parallel without intercepting each other, representing the assimilation of two entirely different and contradicting voices that complement each other. It strikes a balance in the poet's personality that at times oscillates between asceticism and lust. His inner self, too, longs for the worldly gains and pleasures but once he accomplishes them, he looks down upon them and even curses them.This dual psyche, writes Mirza, has become the hallmark of Iftikhar Arif's poetry.
When we read what Gopi Chand Narang has to say about Arif's poetry, we begin to agree with Mirza Sahib that unless a poet has that sensitive and ascetic inner self that longs for spiritual experiences as well as material ones, he or she cannot compose poetry that cries over the feeling of spiritual hollowness. That feeling is real, not fake.
Narang, in his well-known work Karbala bataur-i-sha'eri isteara (Karbala as a poetic metaphor), says that Arif looks at the present political, social and moral situations in a wider historical perspective. We find in his poetry a main character that is constantly passing through the process of migration, his suffering is endless and his sense of homelessness is unabated. His poetry has a series of icons — thirst, desert, pitched battles, shields, spears, daggers, wilderness, hapless caravans, helpless families, tents, troops, swords, arid plains. These images, according to Narang, not only represent the historical sufferings of mankind and the traditional concepts of oppression and atrocities, but also the complex life in today's cold world.
While narrating the sufferings, Arif's syntax is such that it connects the historical events with the present and reminds the reader of the great sacrifices that Imam Hussain (RA) gave to uphold the truth. Arif's ghazal, writes Narang, sings of the endeavour of the entire mankind against injustices and atrocities. In his poetry the use of 'Karbala' as a metaphor expands the horizons so much that it becomes almost impossible to limit the connotations.
The book has no fewer than eight forewords. One of them is by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.They all are worth reading but I will quote Professor Fateh Muhammad Malik as he says what I intended to say after reading Arif's poetry 'When ignoring the literary and philosophical traditions of the Muslims was the order of the day, Iftikhar Arif stood up against the trend and highlighted the humanistic, enlightened and progressive literary and philosophical traditions of the Muslims. I consider this artistic point of view of Iftikhar Arif's a great feat, both in creative and historical perspectives'.
There is not much that I can add to it, but at least now I have an answer to the question that how an ascetic inner Sufi and a successful outer materialist go together.