COLUMN: Old expressions, new poetry
By Intizar Husain
ONE of the most important elements of the oral tradition in Urdu is the mushaira. It has also gained a lot of popularity in foreign countries where Pakistanis and Indians welcome things which remind them of the culture they left behind in their homelands. In cities such as Dubai, London, Toronto and New York, where South Asians are settled in large numbers, mushairas have become very popular and are also a blessing for poets as they are a forum for communicating their art.
There is one more reason for poets to be fond of mushairas — listeners of this oral tradition, as opposed to readers of poetry, are more generous in granting recognition to poets. At mushairas, the audiences are in general in a good mood, ready to bestow applause not necessarily on the basis of merit. Poets enjoying the popularity of mushairas tend to be satisfied with this form of recognition and often do not care to get their work published.
This is true especially in the case of immigrant poets. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised when a collection of an Urdu poet living in London was delivered to me. The poet is Yashab Tamanna, who has been participating in mushairas for a decade or so and has now compiled his ghazals, free verses and prose poems in a volume titled Kitab-i-Tanhai.
Tamanna gives the impression of being a purely Urdu writer in his ghazals. He seems to have no flair for Persianised expressions, nor has he cared to decorate his ghazals with metaphors, similes and allusions. These are ghazals bereft of taghazzul.
In one way, this is a good attempt to get rid of the hackneyed expressions the traditional ghazal employs. And in consequence we see a positive outcome of this attempt. We are saved from traditional metaphors and similes which have lost their freshness, and their meaningfulness, because of overuse. In addition, with the elimination of the burdensome Persianised expression, we feel a sense of relief while going through them. Usually, this burden does not allow the Urdu ghazal to earn its natural Urdu accent and its natural flow. But once this burden is shed, the poet is able to express himself with ease and facility.
At the same time, though, it needs to be pointed out that this sense of ease and facility should not lead to superficiality. One may pertinently ask if this whole system of metaphors, similes, allusions and symbolic suggestions built under the inspiring influence of the Persian tradition has turned obsolete and lost its utility. The answer is perhaps no. It appears obsolete in the hands of traditional ghazal writers. But when these same metaphors appear in the renewed poetic expression of Iqbal they seem to be brimming with meaning. So what makes them appear obsolete is their unimaginative use at the hands of traditionalists. When employed imaginatively by great poets they have helped writers express profound thoughts in subtle ways.
But what matters most is the creative mind, which helps to make an expression meaningful enough to be employed in poetry.