‘Tasteer’ — a well balanced medley of short stories, poems and ghazals

The problem of modern nazm is not conceptual in nature but a practical one, observes Naseer Ahmad Nasir in the editorial of Tasteer’s April 2018 issue. So far, criticism on modern poem has been concentrated on concept, theory or on syllabus and is devoid of finding as to what is a nazm, a post-modern nazm or a prose nazm, and what necessitated to create these forms of poems.

Also we have to concentrate and find out the truth behind similarities, and otherwise in ghazal and nazm. Such discussions have been happenings of the past. From day one, many definitions of poetry have been offered and every person finds the answer that suits him.

In each era, the prevalent environment, internal and external factors, and some universal happenings alter the concept of poetry.

On the basis of these factors, a poem is classified as modern or traditional. Aristotle had observed that a poet is a shadow of life but this shadow may not necessary be that of the present times or that of the past. So a poet’s presentation could portray things as they were, as they are and as they are seen in the future.

Abdul Hameed Shahid remembers his friend Javed Anwar who returned from abroad, spent a day with all the nazm sayers of Islamabad, went to Lahore and died. He left a poem ‘Agar Tum Nei Apne Baite Ko Usama Kaha’ (if you named your son, Usama) with his friends. This poem became a topic of discussion for its contents and style among the intellectuals, who liked its treatment. The poem’s one line extended half way to the second line. The matter of Abdul Ghani naming his son Usamain, the papers at the time of his son’s circumcision, areas like Karachi and Hazara and Zamzam waters from Makkah; came under discussion. Such elements made this poem look like a caricature. Therefore, this poem was considered innovative. In the chapter ‘Mukalma’ (dialogue), Muhammad Naeem ur Rehman writes on Professor Saadat Saeed, a teacher of Urdu literature and language (Page 31). Dr. Saadat Saeed advocated the use of new words and even those borrowed from other languages in their poetry. With reference to what a great novel is, Dr Saadat stated that a big novel is the one that also discusses the problems prevalent in the era in which the characters of the novel lived. He also stated that the lives of writers who got them projected through lobbies were short lived. Umar Farhat discusses the role of great poets in ghazal reciting with Qazi Afzaal Ahmad. He lamented the critics who termed the poetry of great poets such as Mir as ‘Ishqia Sha’ari’ (poetry of love) thereby negating the other elements present in their poetry.

‘Nai Manzil’ (new destination) written on a single page is the story of a man, woman and a dog walking in wilderness in search of a habitat

In the section ‘Afsaana’, (short stories) Rasheed Amjad’s story ‘Sheher Badar Sheher’ (city reject) is a form of storytelling by two individuals to each other, who were wandering in the darkness of the city. This form of storytelling establishes ‘Afsaana’s theme.

The other short stories are by Gulzar (more known for his poems), Mahmud Ahmad Qazi, Muhammad Ilyas, Amjad Sheikh, Bushra Ijaz, Muhammad Hamid Siraj, Mahmud Zafar Iqbal Hashmi, Ahmad Iqbal, Shaheen Kazmi, Muazama Tanveer, Farha Arshad, Ijaz Roshan, Arshad Ali Murshid, Jameel Hayat, Akhtar Azad, Waqar Ahmad Malik, Samina Ashraf, Riaz Tauhidi, F. J. Faizi, Farhar Zafar, Sara Ahmad, Hafeez Tabassum, Shehla Naqvi, Fatima Mehru, Rubina Bukhari, Zaigham Raza and Naseer Ahmad Nasir writings are thought provoking. The latter’s short story is poetic in nature as expected from a poet entering the domain of storytelling. In the story ‘Khwabon Ka Basta’ (the bag of dreams) Naseer dwells into his childhood when he had to walk to his school in the rain, avoiding trampling the tadpoles and other insects that came his way. He expresses this scene in a poem.

A separate section of the book has been allotted to micro-fiction, small short stories namely ‘Afsancha’. I know that Alice Munro, the Nobel Prize recipient in short stories’ writing has written short stories averaging 30 pages each, but some of her stories exceed this norm. Her story ‘The Love of a good Woman’ is spread over 76 pages. The section under review comprises of very short stories mostly by Naeem Baig. ‘Nai Manzil’ (new destination) written on a single page is the story of a man, woman and a dog walking in wilderness in search of a habitat. They end up to a place where a man is sitting contentedly near some shrubs. He tells the couple that this was their destination as there is a river ahead. The woman and the dog seem to accept the idea. Similarly the story ‘Karb’ (pain) consists of a small paragraph, written to the beloved who left all her poems in the small garden behind the house. The lover feels the contents of the poems in the sun and through the breeze in the cold weather. When the whispers of the sentences creep to his windows, he sends them back as he knows that in each sentence his life has been imprisoned. Qasim Yaqub, Amir Siddiqui, Munir Ahmad Firdaus and Bushra Shirin also contribute to this section of the book. Mini-travelogues by Irfan Shahood are included, titled ‘Safar Namcha’ (Pages 228-234).

Ghazal is one of the senior most domains of poetry. Zafar Iqbal says ‘Har Ik Lafz Teri Zaat Kei Barabar Hei/Keh She’er Kehna Mulaqat Kei Barabar Hei’ (Each word that I say suits your persona and that is why saying poetry is equivalent to a meeting with you). The other poets who contribute in this section are Anwaar Fitrat, Ghafer Shehzad, Syed Kami Shah, Mubashar Saeed, Jawad Sheikh, Khumar Mirzada, Yasir Iqbal, Saeed Shariq and Bilal Aswad. Naseer Ahmad Nasir contributes ten pieces of his own poetry (Pages 274-278). He says ‘Main Saunder Misaal Tha Shayed/Mere Ander Utter Gaya Dariya’ (perhaps I was like an ocean, which is why all water entered inside me).

Like the previous edition of Tasteer, Gulzar contributes two poems for children but nazm take more space on the present issue of the literary journal. Many poets contribute their poems in this section.

In the chapter titled ‘Fikr-o-Falsfa’, two interesting essay by Iqbal Fahim Jozi on ‘being and nothingness’ and Zafar Sippal on Voltaire are included. Both are thought provoking articles. The former discusses the issue with respect to Western and Marxism angles. Sartre feels his “being” caught in a web while formulating history of his travels in Indo-China, as per his novel ‘La Nausea’ (Page 396). Heidegger observes in fear that things in their physical shapes appear in form of overtness (Page 399). Voltaire’s famous words that he did not agree with what others said but maintains that everybody had the right to state whatever they felt (Page 420), is how Zafar starts his essay.

In the chapter on criticism, Dr Iqbal Afaqi’s research titled ‘Raja Gidh – Ishq-e-Lahaasil Sei Muqadas Diwangi Tak’ equates Bano Qudsia (writer of ‘Raja Gidh’) of reaching to the level of Ghazali’s ‘Keemiya-e-Saadat’, Roomi’s ‘Masnavi’, Saadi’s ‘Gulistan’ and Jami’s ‘Baharistan’. The other essays are contributed by Dr Nasir Abbas Nayyar, Dr Rafiq Sandeelvi, Dr Jamil Hayat, and others.

On the website ‘Urduwallas’, Javed Siddiqui says that ghazal is an Arabic word and it means romantic, poetic talks to a girlfriend. Ghazals are usually songs about unrequited love. This is a poetic form mostly used for love poetry in Turkish, Urdu, Arabic, and Persian. Ghazals were written by the Persian mystics and poets Rumi (13th century) and Hafiz (14th century), the Azer poet Fuzuli (16th century), as well as Mirza Ghalib (1797–1869) and Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), both of whom wrote ghazals in Persian and Urdu.

Through the influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), ghazal became very popular in Germany during the 19th century; the form was used extensively by Friedrich Ruckert (1788–1866) and August von Platen (1796–1835). The Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali was a proponent of the form, both in English and in other languages; he edited a volume of “real ghazals in English” (that must be an innovation). In the Tasteer’s volume under review, as many as twenty one poets have contributed their ghazals. It is not possible to write all their names.

Translations form an exhaustive portion of the journal by Ahmad Suhail, Shahid Hinaai, Amir Siddiqui, Farhan Hanif Warsi; the latter doing lot of work on Sabir Haka. Haka is an Irani labourer who forgets that he is a poet when he works on a construction site. In the poem ‘Sarhadain’ (borders) Haka says: ‘Kafan Jaise Laash Ko Dhak Daita Hei/Baraf Bhi Tau Saari Cheezon Ko Dhaank Laiti Hei/Woh Imaraton Kei Malbe/Aur Pairon Ko Dhak Laiti Hei/Qabar Ko Sufaid Bana Daiti Hei/Aur Sirf Barf Hei Jo/Sarhadon Ko Bhi Sufaid Kar Sakti Hei’ (the way snow covers a funeral, snow covers lot many things. It covers the debris of buildings and trees and even makes the grave white. It is only snow that covers the borders also).

The last portion of the journal covers late arrivals making this volume of Tasteer a very exhaustive one with loads of hard work gone in collecting quality literary material and editing it.

Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2018.