COLUMN: Old story, new times
By Intizar Husain
I have just read a verse play which appears to be a fairytale conceived in the context of our modern times. The writer is Ayub Khawar, who is well known as a modern poet of free verse. He records the experience of love in Muhabbat Ki Kitab, which transports us into the world of fairytales. However, Khawar has managed to make sure that this fairytale world is not far from the world we are living in.
Khawar is a seasoned writer. He already has three collections of modern verses to his credit, which have earned him praise from distinguished poets and critics such as Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi and Gulzar. Possessed with a rich imagination, he so easily creates two romantic souls who, though estranged from each other, are destined to fall in love.
In old stories, a female character known as Kutni performs the difficult task of bringing together two souls who, though in love, have never seen each other up close. In Khawar’s story, on Valentine’s day, Zafar, a romantic young man, blindly takes a leap in the dark and sends a message in the form of a love poem, hoping that it reaches the right woman. His dream comes true. Sumbul receives the message on her cell phone and is at first bewildered by it. But soon the two start exchanging messages and a love story develops. The cell phone, in addition to conveying messages, tries to convince us that the fairy land created is not far from our everyday world.
The young poet and the woman, hitherto strangers to each other, are attracted towards each other under the spell of cell phone messages. The romantic situation offers a golden opportunity to the young poet to express his feelings in verse. He communicates his messages in the forms of poems.
But fate has something else in store for them. The pattern of events we find in traditional love stories recurs here and their innocent game of love is thwarted. Sumbul is informed by her parents of their choice of a suitable husband for her. This news is devastating for the young lovers. However, Sumbul sees no way out of the situation but to submit to the proposal. On the other hand, this submission shocks Zafar so much that he falls ill and lands in a hospital.
But no, that is not the end of the story. The situation takes an unexpected turn when Sumbul decides to bid goodbye to her parents, leaves her home and heads straight to the hospital. While this seems to be the auspicious moment the two were yearning for, life has one last thing in store for them.
The tragic end has been written in stylised poetic language reminding us of the romantic era of Akhtar Sheerani. It is no more a story of love told in a romantic language. It is transformed into a sad tale of our violence ridden times in which all that is humane is targeted by inhuman forces.