Sunday, Apr 02, 2023

Nasir Kazmi: The Poet Who Made Migration A Civilizational Experience 


Nasir Kazmi: The Poet Who Made Migration A Civilizational Experience 

Nasir Kazmi, who died 50 years ago in Lahore, gave a new idiom and confidence to melody in the 20th century and overturned the opinions of critics about ghazal.

Poet Nasir Kazmi
Poet Nasir Kazmi

Kazmi, who wrote ghazals imbued with classical beauty and recited them in mild notes, passed away 50 years ago on March 2. A tribute.

"Daaim aabaad rahegi duniya
Hum na honge koi hum sa ho ga
(The world will remain flourishing permanently
We will not be there, someone like us there will be)

This is a tale of 1942. A mushaira was organised by All India Radio at Islamia College Lahore. Abid Ali Abid was presiding and many renowned poets of India were present. A 17-year-old-youth recited a ghazal in a mild voice and even milder note, which left everyone amazed. 

"Hoti hai tere naam se vahshat kabhi kabhi
Barham hui hai yoon bhi tabiyat kabhi kabhi

Ae dost hum ne tark-e-muhabbat ke bavajood 
Mehsoos ki hai teri zaroorat kabhi kabhi

(Sometimes of your name I am frightened
 Like this too the displeasure of my mood is heightened 

O friend despite relinquishing my love, I
Have felt sometimes that my desire is freshened)

There was something about this poet and his poetry: he was young, but his ghazal had a sad tone, brimmed with classical beauty, and expressed a novel thought. With that mushaira, it was as if a proclamation was made in the city that a new poet had arrived.

This was Nasir Kazmi, who died 50 years ago in Lahore. He gave a new idiom and confidence to melody in the 20th century and overturned the opinions of critics about ghazal. Nasir had learnt three things from Khuda-e-Sukhan (God of Poetry), Mir Taqi Mir. First, that a poet should be attentive to the earth rather than the sky, meaning the atmosphere in which one breathes should come alive in one’s poetry. 

In his poetry, Nasir channelled the pain of ‘partition’. Nasir, too, had migrated and the destruction he saw as a result of that, he expressed with such an art that it was transformed into a collective experience.

A responsibility of great art is to capture the zeitgeist in words with such expertise that you cannot understand that period without ignoring it. In the West, T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ is the best example of this. If anyone made migration a civilizational experience in Urdu poetry, it was no one except Kazmi. Surprisingly, an acclaimed scholar like Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, ignoring this aspect, spoke his mind by labelling Nasir as merely a poet of the tragic tone of love and passion. The nostalgia of Nasir is not personal, but civilisational. Sample a few verses of a ghazal from his diwan (collection) and Barg-e-Nai (‘Melody of the Flute’). Does this attitude feel like it springs from the failure of personal love?

"Pattiyan roti hain sar peet-ti hain
Qatl-e-gulaam hua hai abke
Shafaqi ho gai deevar-e-khayal
Kis qadr khoon baha hai abke"

(The petals are crying, engaged in lamentation
 At this time, common has become the flowers’ assassination
 So much blood has shed at this time
 Red has become the wall of imagination)

"Zameen logon se khaali ho rahi hai
Yeh rang-e-aasman dekha na jaye
Purani sohbaten yaad aar ahi hain
Charaghon ka dhuan dekha na jaye"

(The earth is being depopulated
With this colour of the sky I cannot be comforted
The old friendships are being recollected
With the smoke from the lamps, I cannot be comforted)

Secondly, like Mir, Kazmi expressed everyday feelings in simple language. Our experiences may vary but the basic human behaviour remains the same and Nasir is the poet of the human behaviour.

The third important thing which Nasir learnt from Mir is the art of employing words. Words are the colours with which a poet draws a picture. Therefore, the whole verse to a great extent depends upon the manner of words. In poetry, if apparently harmless words as ke (that), hee (only/even), bhi (too), sa (very), magar (but), khair (well), yoonhi (in this very manner), etc. are not used correctly, then they can be damaging. In these verses, Nasir casts a spell with simple words:

"Tere aane ka dhoka sa raha hai
Diya sa raat bhar jalta raha hai
Suna hai raat bhar barsa hai badal
Magar voh shahr jo pyasa raha hai"

(A suspicion remained regarding your arrival
 All night long did burn the candle
One hears that it rained all night
 But in case that city thirsts despite the drizzle)

"Apni be-chaini bhi ajab thi
Tera safar bhi naya naya tha
Teri palken bojhal see theen
Main bhi thakkar choor hua tha
Tere hont bhi khushk hue the
Main to akhair boha tpyasa tha
Dil ko yoonhi sa ranj hai varna
Tera mera sath hee kya tha"

(How strange was my anxiety
 You too had embarked on the journey recently
 Your eyelids were a bit heavy
 I too was dog-tired
 Your lips too had become dry
 As for me, well I was really thirsty
 My heart is sad in this very manner else
 We were not meant for each other’s company)

"Deevangi-e-shauq ko yeh dhun hai in dinon
Ghar bhi ho aur be-dar-o-deevar sabhi ho"

(These days the frenzy of desire is in a state of such inclination
 Without a door and wall it be so, but then it should also be a habitation)

When Nasir began with the ghazal in the 1940s, the initial collections of Miraji, Faiz and Rashid came to the fore, but the full return of ghazal happened in the decaded of 1950s and 1960s: the new ghazals of Zafar Iqbal, Shahzad Ahmad and Saleem Ahmad became famous and Ahmad Mushtaq began writing ghazals with a gentle tone. Very few ghazals appear in the first two collections of Munir Niazi but gradually the volum e of ghazals began to increase. In the 1960s, the collections Aab-e-Ravan (‘Flowing Water’, Zafar Iqbal) and Dushmanon ke Darmiyan Shaam (‘An Evening Among Enemies’, MunirNiazi) embodied the expression of the confidence of new poets in the form of ghazal. In this same period, Shakeb Jalali startled with his revival, but another important event that marked this period was the linguistic formations.

But this was also the time that was hard for both the ghazal and Nasir. In 1949, Muhammad Hasan Askari had announced the arrival of a poet in Nasir. But now ‘professional critics’ began to indicate the end of the road for him. In the works of Zafar Iqbal and Shakeb, the couplets are strong and the expression is more open. That is the reason that the lustre of Nasir began to appear faded to some people. But Nasir’s poetry possesses the mystery of brown beauty whose mark is faint, but the influence is very long-lasting. A lot of time too had passed since his second poetic collection was out. But as soon as Deevan was published after Nasir’s death, the ‘critics’ were dumbstruck. One must praise Faruqi’s honesty when he not only changed his stance but also acknowledged Nasir’s genius by stating that had he not written ghazals, the ghazal would have had to wait for him.

The behaviour of the progressives towards Nasir and his poetry was the same. A poet like Nasir would appear devoid of political and social consciousness to them since in his works there was not slogan, but poetry — not insipid and single-meaning line-making, but classical beauty. The most representative poets of the Progressives became drawing-room poets but Nasir is still the poet of every street. Whatever mould we attempt to enclose Nasir in will be a failure because social behaviours in his poetry are found in such a dissolved shape that it is not possible to separate their ingredients. When Nasir wrote about East Pakistan, talking about the fishermen and singers upon the coasts, he even made that a full civilizational behaviour. That is why it is still fresh. These ghazals are the best evidence of Nasir’s deep immersion in nature and folk culture.

Pehli Barish (First Rain) was another landmark work of Nasir whose images and creative abundance is self-evident. Nasir supplied a model which becomes the receptacle for creative experiment and symbolic language praising the beloved’s physical charms. 

"Tere ghar ke darvaze par
Sooraj nange paon khada tha
Deevaron se aanch aati thi
Matkon mein pani jalta tha
Dhoop ke lal hare honton ne
Tere balon ko choomatha
Mathe par boondon ke moti
Aankhon mein kajal hansta tha
Chandi ka ik phool gale mein
Hath mein badal ka tukda tha
Bheege kapdon ki lehron mein
Kundan sona damak raha tha
Ik rukhsar pech and khula tha
Thodi ke jagmag sheeshe mein
Honton ka saaya padta tha
Chandar kiran si ungli ungli
Nakhun nakhun heera satha
Ik paon mein phool si jooti
Ik paon sa rananga tha"

(At the door of your home
 The sun was standing barefoot
 Heat came from the walls
 Water burnt in the jars
 The red green lips of the sunlight
 Had kissed your hair
The pearls of drops upon the forehead
 The kohl laughed within the eyes
 A silver flower around the neck
 A piece of cloud in hand
 In the waves of the damp clothes
 Pure gold was glittering
 Upon one cheek a lock was falling
 On another the moon was spreading
 In the shining glass of the chin
 The shadow of the lips fell
Every finger like a moonbeam
 Every nail like a diamond
 In one foot a flower of a slipper
 The other was all bare)

Fifty years have passed since Kazmi passed away. Nasir not only smoothed the ground of the ghazal, but also elevated it to a level whose height no other poet has touched till now. After Nasir, whatever experiments happened in the ghazal would never have taken place had Nasir not provided such a strong foundation. Even today the ghazal is our strongest style of expression at whose back the most important event is the presence of Nasir. The chessboard which Nasir laid, many pawns arrived upon it, but Nasir still stands in the form of the king.

"Fursat mein sun shaguftagi-e-ghuncha ki sada
Ye voh sukhan nahi jo kisi ne kaha bhi ho"

(At leisure listen to the sound of the bud’s happy countenance
These are not the words which too were spoken, perchance)

All the translations from the Urdu are by the writer. Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached through email at [email protected].