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By Intizar Husain
It will not be enough to say that the ghazals by Shabnam Shakil I have just read are fine. While talking of ghazal in our times we should first determine the variety of the ghazals which are under discussion and only then can we talk about their poetic quality.
The ghazal is an age-old form of poetry with centuries of Persian and Urdu poetry behind it. During all these years it has evolved a set expression with a set vocabulary sanctified by tradition.
This vocabulary carries with it a rich store of metaphors, similes, allusions, and historical, semi-historical and legendary references. In the days gone by, ghazal writers couldn’t think of making a departure from this rich store known as taghazzul.
Those who made any such attempt found themselves estranged from the tradition of ghazal.
But trends changed after the year 1857. A great rebellion broke out in the world of Urdu poetry. The emerging group of poets dismissed the form of ghazal along with its taghazzul.
They called it an outdated poetic form which was unable to respond to the challenges of changed times. The verses they in turn started to write were upheld as modern poetry.
Slowly and gradually the ghazal writers did some rethinking and reached the conclusion that if there can be something called modern poetry why can’t there be modern ghazal.
They picked a few modern themes such as the railway train and telephone, and tried to employ them in their ghazals as metaphors. The poets were happy that they were able to evolve new metaphors which stand as a guarantee to the modernity of their ghazals. Those more ambitious among them devised a non-poetic or rather an anti-poetic style for their ghazal writing and were happy to invent a new kind of ghazal known as the anti-ghazal.
On the other hand, progressive writers, given their distaste for modernism chose to accept the old metaphors just as they were. They simply injected political meanings into them. And, lo and behold, these metaphors were now progressive enough to take charge of their newly gained political consciousness.
Trends changed after the year 1857. A great rebellion broke out in the world of Urdu poetry. The emerging group of poets dismissed the existing form of ghazal along with its taghazzul. They called it an outdated poetic form which was unable to respond to the challenges of changed times. The verses they in turn started to write were upheld as modern poetry.
So now we have a number of varieties in our ghazal — modern ghazal, anti-ghazal, progressive ghazal, and of course our dear old brand, that is, traditional ghazal, which reigns supreme in the world of mashairas.
But here is a collection of Shabnam Shakil’s ghazals published by Sang-e-Meel, Lahore, under the title Musaafat Raigaan Thi.
I wonder how I should categorise these ghazals since they don’t, strictly speaking, belong to any one specific variety. Shabnam’s ghazals therefore elude categorisation. Hers is a deceptive mode of expression.
The ghazals presented here don’t appear to make a discordant note in relation to the ghazal tradition. It will take time do discover that these ghazlas stand relieved of much of what forms part of taghazzul. Can you imagine a ghazal writer engaged in depicting vagaries of love but having no recourse to Laila-Majnu and Shirin-Farhad? But here is such a ghazal writer.
Though deeply steeped in the tradition of Ishqya ghazal or, love poetry, we don’t find in these ghazals any mention of Gul-au-Bulbul, any reference to Zulf-ai-Yar, or any Talmih alluding to the legendary lovers so dear to Persian and Urdu poets.
I could find only one Talmih, that of Karbala in these ghazals. But this Talmih doesn’t form part of taghazzul.
However, there is no attempt on the part of the poet to devise a new system of symbols and metaphors in place of the rejected one as modern ghazal writers have been seen trying to evolve.
Shabnam Shakil has just cared to evolve an emotionally packed expression for her poetic purposes. And that serves her purpose well. When expressed in a language, which is not over-burdened by metaphors and similes or any kind of poetic embellishments but, instead, vibrating with emotions, the experience of intimate human relationship comes to life for the reader. We have here also the pathos that a broken relationship brings in its wake.
But such kind of poetry or fiction so often creates the illusion of being autobiographical.
Perhaps the preface writer Khalida Husain too has some such apprehension. So she has tried to explain that poetry is never a true copy of a writer’s self. It is the expression of his or her other self, that is her or his inner self which stands distinct from his or her social self. She is right. I can only say that a reader may be justified in drawing such a conclusion.
A genuine piece of poetry or fiction often creates such an illusion. But the moment a reader or a critic cares to trace the actual facts from a writer’s life in his or her imaginative expression, the illusion of being autobiographical evaporates leaving the critic in a lurch. So be careful when making any such attempt in respect of works of creative writing.