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History of Urdu poetry
by Anisur Rahman
Urdu language and literature, beyond their spatial confines, have been more heard of than read. With the publication of some notable translations, some of them in the recent past, a new literary culture seems to be emerging from the canons of the old. Modern Urdu poetry, of which this is the first comprehensive selection, has its own tradition of the new. It has developed through stages of a variegated literary history. This history has absorbed both the native and non- native elements of writing in Arabic and Persian, and the Urdu language has survived through several crises and controversies. Some of these are related to its growth and development, its use by the British to divide the Hindus and the Muslims. it estrangement in the land of its birth following the Partition of India and its interaction with Hindi once akin but now an alien counterpart. Even with the extinction of those generations of Sikhs in Punjab, Muslims in Bengal and Hindus elsewhere, who nurtured the language with love and for whom it was the mark of a cultivated man, the language has survived and developed. It is now the cultural legacy of India and the adopted national identity of Pakistan, and significant new literature has emerged in both countries.
Literary centre : Deccan, Delhi and LucknowLiterature in Urdu grew at three different centres: Deccan, Delhi and Lucknow. As it happened, the Deccan emerged as the earliest centre, even though the language had first developed in northern India, as a result of an interesting linguistic interaction between the natives and the Muslim conquerors from Central Asia, who settled there in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, The period stretching roughly from the middle of the fourteenth centuries to the middle of the eighteenth produce a number of poets. They are claimed both by Urdu and Hindi literary historians, but Quli Qutub Shah (1565-1611) is generally acknowledged as the first notable poet, like Chaucer is English, with a volume of significant poetry in a language later named Urdu. He was followed by several others, among whom Wali Deccani (1635-1707) and Siraj Aurangabadi ( 1715-1763) deserves special mention. Delhi emerged as another significant centre with Mirza Mohammad Rafi Sauda (1713-80), Khwaja Mir Dard (1721-85), Mir Taqi Mir (1722-1810), Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869) and Nawab Mirza Khan Dagh (1831-1905). It reached its height of excellence during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Lucknow made its way as the third important centre with Ghulam Hamdani Mushafi (1725-1824), Inshallah Khan Insha (1757-1817), Khwaja Haidar Ali Atish (1778-1846), Iman Baksh Nasikh (1787-1838), Mir Babr Ali Anis (1802-74) and Mirza Salamat Ali Dabir (1803-1875). These literary capitals, where the classical tradition developed, had their individual stylistic and thematic identities, but broadly it may be said that the ghazal (love lyric) reached its zenith with Mir and Ghalib, qasida (panegyric) with Sauda, mathnawi (romance) with Mir Hasan and marthiya (elegy) with Anis and Dabir.
Hali and Iqbal : new poetry in UrduIn the period that followed, and before the launching of the Progressive Writers Movement in the 30s, mention should be made of Altaf Husain Hali (1837-1914) and Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938). Hali was a poet of the newer socio-cultural concerns and advocated 'natural poetry' that had an ameliorative purpose. His Musaddas is an important example of this. He was also a theorist who opened new frontiers in Urdu criticism with his Moqaddama-e-Sher-o-Shairi (Preface to Poetry) which equals Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads in importance, and even surpasses it in certain respects. He realized that with the impact of the West a new perspective was required. He, along with Mohammad Husain Azad (1830-1910), laid the foundations of a new poetry in 1867 under the auspices of Anjuman-e-Punjab, Lahore. Azad had asserted in the same year that Urdu poets should come out of the grooves of responses conditioned by Persian culture and root their works in the ethos of the land. Seeing no response to his pleas, he reiterated the same point seven years later on May 8, 1874 during his address on the occasion of the first mushaira of the Anjuman. These appeals failed to make and impact as sensibilities rooted in particular tradition are not easily altered even by impassioned pleas. Hali, creating a new taste for his age. Iqbal, with his remarkable religio-philosphical vision, and Josh Malihabadi (1838-1982), with his nationalistic and political fervour, produced exceptionally eloquent kinds of poetry that continue to reverberate over the years. Iqbal remained the most influential poet to achieve artistic excellence while putting forward a philosophical point of view, and his poetry, quite often, acquired the status of the accepted truth. A host of others Urdu poets and translators of English poetry who appeared on the literary scene during the first quarter of this century experimented with non-traditional poetic forms but they ultimately echoed sentiments and adopted forms that were more or less tradition-bound. They also looked towards the West, the traditional source of literary influence, but that was a world apart and too far to seek, They could reach only the Romantics who had already become outmoded in an age identified with Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. A characteristically modern poem in form and value, tone and tenor, remained at best an intriguing possibility.
Progressive Writers MovementThe 1930s emerged as the archway for entry into a new world and achieve the unachieved. Some young Indians-- Sajjad Zaheer, Mulk Raj Anand, and Mohammad Deen Taseer-- who wee then studying in London, musing on the role of literature in a fast-changing world, came up with a manifesto for what came to be known as the Progressive Writers Movement. Even before this, Sajjad Zaheer, during his stay in India had published Angare (Embers), an anthology of short stories, with explicit sexual references and an attack on the decadent moral order. The book had to be banned, like Lady Chatterley's Lover, but the stories had an impact, as they were thematically interesting and technically innovative. The reader had suddenly become exposed to the worlds of Freud, Lawrence, Joyce and Woolf. There was a world of new values waiting to be explored by an emotionally charged and intellectually agile reader. the Progressive Writers Movement was launched at the right time. This was the precise hour to shed the age-old traditions, take leave to the clichés, proposed new theories, and explore a new world order.
Akhter Husain Raipuri, in his well-timed Adab aur Inqilab (Literature and Revolution) published in 1934, discarded the classical Urdu poets, including Mir and Ghalib, as degenerate representative of a feudalistic culture. This rejection was, however, based on extra-critical considerations as he was more intent on popularizing Marxist thought in literature. Premchand's famous presidential address to the conference of Progressive Writers Association in Lucknow two years later in 1936, came as a more precise call to relate literature to social reality. ' We will have to change the standards of beauty, ' he had said, and beauty of him was that which Eliot identified as ' boredom and horror' in his own context. The movement focussed on poverty, social backwardness, decadent morality, political exploitation; it dreamt of an ideal society and a just political system.
Every rebel was, therefore, a progressive writer and vice-versa during those exhilarating days. He was basically wedded to the idea of political and social revolution. He drew his inspiration from Marx. He rejected the striving for individual signatures, new modes of expression and new experiments in form. It was important for the poet to denote rather than connote, and to appeal to the larger humanity rather than to the individual. Falling victim of these errors before long, the movement alienated some noted poets, the most important of them being N. M. Rashed (1910-75) and Miraji (1912-49), who came together to lead a group called Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq (Circle of Connoisseurs) in 1939. The progressive writers insistence on ideology and the impatience of those who cared more for art are reminiscent of the British poets of the 1930s and the later stance of W. H. Auden.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-84) is the most prominent and the finest of the poets who subscribed to the progressive ideology. he was singularly successful in striking a balance between art an ideas. He was drew upon sources other than Urdu and Persian and imparted an individual tone to his poetry. he did not raise slogans; he only uttered soft notes of expostulation. he was inspired more by the spirit of liberation than by slogans raised elsewhere. Prominent among other progressive poets were Asrarul Haq Majaz (1908-56), Makhdoom Mohiuddin (1908-69), Ali Sardar jafri (b.1913), Jan Nisar Akhter (1914-76), Kaifi Azmi (b.1918) and Sahir Ludhianawi (1921-80). They are mentioned here not only for the individual qualities of their poetry by also for their importance in this movement at a particular juncture in literary history. Despite the deep political complexion of the Progressive Writers Movement, it prominence was a short-lived affair. The next generation of poets expressed certain misgivings about their emphasis on class struggle in a materialistic and scientific world. The new poet wished to shake off all external shackles and apprehend his own experience for himself.
The modernismN. M. Rashed and Miraji are the two most remarkable poets in this group.They along with Faiz, represent in the Urdu language what Eliot and the Symbolists do in English and French. They appeared later but also showed a unique resilience and vitality. Faiz was a poet with a message, one woven artistically into a pattern of symbols and delivered in a mellifluous tones. Rashed treated the Urdu language in a fresh way and created complex symbiotic fusion. Faiz appeals alike to the philanthropist and the philanderer, the pious and profane, the music makers and dreamers of dreams, but Rashed appeals only to a select readership. Faiz emerged as a myth in his own lifetime while Rashed and Miraji are yet to be fully appreciated. Rashed's resources are immense. The merging to the eastern and western influences accounts for the richness of his verse enhanced by linguistic innovation and poetic skill. Miraji, who reminds one of Tristan Corbiere in his bohemianism, drew upon Oriental, American and French sources, meditated upon time, death, the mystery if human desires, the raptures of sex and wrote in a variety of verse forms -- regular, free, and prose-like. He opted for esoteric symbolism, resorted to the stream-of-consciousness method and emerged as a unique modernist movement in Urdu poetry.
It was on this tradition that individual poets later developed their own version of modernism. Majeed Amjad (1914-74), Akhtarul Iman (b.1915) and Mukhtar Siddiqi (1917-72) deserves special mention here. A poem for them was a delicate work of art that succeeded or failed for its artistic worth. Akhtarul Iman wrote ironic, nostalgic and dramatic poems, while Majeed Amjad wrote in an inimitable introspective mood and ideas. They served as models for the younger poets to follow. The impact of Rashed, Miraji and Faiz was immense and far-reaching. Their successors echoed them, learnt from them and so came to acquire their own voices in course of time.
The generations of poets since the 1950s faced new predicaments. The Partition of India was an experience they had suffered, while the world around was also terribly alive and eventful. Groups of poets followed on after another; Wazir Agha (b.1922), Muneer Niyazi (b.1927), Ameeq Hanfi (1922-88), Balraj Komal (b.1928), Qazi Saleem (b.1930) grappled with the world around in an idiom and form that were decidedly new and had nothing to do with Progressive aesthetics. All of them acquired their own individual identities and made their mark in the development of modern poetry. They looked back at their won masters-- Mir and Ghalib-- and fared forward to Eliot and Empson. Modern literary and philosophical movements no longer remained alien. Realism, symbolism, existentialism, and surrealism, were drawn closer home. Kumar Pashi (1935-92), Zubair Rizvi (b.1935), Shahrayar (b.1936), Nida Fazli (b.1938) and Adil Mansoori (b.1941), on the one hand, and Gilani Kamran (b.1926), Abbas Ather (b.1934), Zahid Dar (b.1936), Saqi Farooqi (b.1936), Iftekhar Jalib (b.1936), Ahmed Hamesh (b.1937), Kishwar Naheed (b.1940) and Fehmida Reyaz (b.1946), on the other, experimented in form and technique, bringing in new diction and finding a place for new experiences. The new poem had come into being; modernism had firmly established itself by the mid-1970s.
Shaabkhoon, a literary journal, projected this movement in a big way and identified the poets of the new order. Ever since its inception in 1966, it has done a singular job -- especially during the vital 60s and 70s -- of creating a taste for modernism. Shamsur Rehman Farooqi, the most perceptive of the modern Urdu critics, played a vital role in helping recognize the contours of modernism with his critical studies. his studies appraising modern poets, as well as classical poets who bear upon the modern tradition, developed sound critical theories and helped in creating an atmosphere for the acceptance and appreciation of modernism.
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