the poor poorer
word about letters
Words enveloped in colours
Two collections of Urdu poetry: one from India, the other by an Australia based poet
By Abrar Ahmad
It's generally agreed upon that the Indian offerings of Urdu poetry fall far short in excellence and standards set by the poetry done in Pakistan. This opinion has many plansible arguments. But here we are with a collection of poetry by Jayant Parmar titled Pencil aur doosri nazmain, just received from India. Jayant Parmar is a celebrated poet in India with his first collection Aur appearing in 1999 which received attention and applause from serious literary circles. This is his second collection comprising predominantly of nazms, with a few ghazals. In the preface Dr. Gopi Chand Narang writes:
'The poetry which utilizes image construction as a dominant method of creation will be considered a substitute to art and vice versa. This means that the poem draws a painting and the painting bears within the strokes of poetry Jayant Parmar's specific quality is that he is the only poet, in whose poetry the continuous process of art creation can be witness.'
His poems endorse this opinion. It seems as if the poet first captures a visual with all its details and then he concentrates on it with a commitment to discover and narrate a personal link with it. And consequently the poem comes into being.
Imagism is not an unusual phenomenon in Urdu poetry. From ancient times images have always found an artistic utility in creation of poetry but very few poets have remained exclusively glued to this aspect as a source of inspiration. Jayant Parmar is one such rare example. He may, in fact, be labeled as an essential imagist -- a lone poet of his kind.
His poems are brief and to the point, although there is a noticeable lack of flow so essential for a long or great poem, he still leaves a definite mark on the reader. He has created an atmosphere of his own which may develop into his recognizable quality and may earn him individuality. He picks up an image, expands on its and culls out a whole beautiful poem from it. There is nothing like politics, philosophy or psychology but socio-economic disparity and deprivation moves him. He doesn't remain a spectator and the salient feature of his poetry is that he never excludes himself, the man amidst the quiet gallery of colours. He always relates himself to be interpreted and understood through this medium.
The rhythm of his poems is uniquely odd. To a less trained reader, he may sound a bit prosaic, reminding one of the poems written by Majid Amjad, especially in his last years. There are halts and obstructions but this is also a point scored by him. Balraj Komal rightly points out;
'Rhythm is the basic issue in Urdu poetry. Jayant Parmar has utilized very scant number of beher in traditional sense of rhythm.'
Shamim Hanafi declares his style uncommon in Urdu poetry but also adds that the element of maturity is blurred in his poetry! He finally concludes that this very limitation is evidence of his creative excellence.
To me his nazms appear to be a unique experience with a mild, mellow tone and the words enveloped in colours convey far more than they apparently pose to convey. His poems Pencil 1,2,3, five poems addressing the aroma of death, nazms relating to the Russian poetess Marina Tsvetayeva (who committed suicide in 1941) Van Gogh (the painter) are all beautiful and captivating nazms replete with tenderness and the creative fervour so rare in our poetry these days. Neruda's influence can be identified here and there in these poems and if any-ism can find relevance to his creative pursuits, it is surrealism.
Pencil aur doosri nazmain is dedicated to the celebrated critic Shamsur-Rehman Faruqi and accommodates few ghazals also. Jayant Parmar is essentially a nazm nigar, this collection earning him a unique place in a short list of the new poets who deserve our attention and serious reading.
Inspite of repeated onslaughts and bitter dismissals ghazal as a genre refuses to submit. Pick any literary journal, visit any publishing house or website, do any sort of survey, one never fails to note that ghazals not only outnumber all the other genres of poetry but are maintaining a reasonable standard too.
Aik muthi mein meray khwab by Saeed, an Australia based poet, is another book I just received. It is a collection of his nazms and ghazals both, though the nazms are relatively fewer and not as good. The book is dedicated to Ahmad Faraz who writes on the back title of the publication;
'Saeed's voice is like a fresh breeze for Urdu poetry'. Too generalized a comment and he doesn't tell what this freshness is.
The only eye catching nazm included is dedicated to Faraz titled Faraz ke naam aik khat -- August 2005 not because of its class but due to its content. Saeed is all praise for Faraz (which he definitely deserves) but he pointlessly refers to the famous nazm Barhwan khilari (Twelfth man) of Iftikhar Arif with a clear tone of dismissal. Faraz has availed almost equal or near equal benefits from governments and is no less popular either. A younger and unacknowledged poet must refrain from such loudness. Interestingly when we read Saeed's ghazals, he seems visibly much closer to the style and diction of Iftikhar Arif!
Coming back to our point, the collection is heavily dominated by ghazal -- and unfolds a promise of going ahead with brilliance in this genre while in nazms, he remains ordinary and a routine poet. The strongest point he scores here is his creative ability to utilize words in their proper meaning. His stance is essentially neoclassical and a few exceptionally good couplets catch your attention. He seems deeply immersed in the greater ghazal tradition, and understands high class ghazal. All his work is meant to convey some thoughts, ideas and feelings. Subjective issues occupy the main bulk of his content. These include a longing, a sense of loss, an unquenched thirst for love and allied feelings. But he is fully conscious of the objectivity around and far from him.
At places he offers political comment, at others he turns philosophical. A wave of romanticism runs through as an undercurrent in all his poetry. Before penning down a few of his couplets, it wouldn't be irrelevant to point out a few serious shortcomings so evident in his poetry. There are countless misprints betraying the carelessness in proof reading, but more importantly he lacks command on Auzaan and one can find quite a number of couplets going technically incorrect, added to this is a whole ghazal which is out of meter.
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler, 2004
Price: US $11
By Saira Yamin
'Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign 'aid' organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet's natural resources. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying, dimensions, during this time of globalization.'
In his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man John Perkins shares his memories. In a courageous bid to disclose the hidden agendas of International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) he details the exploitation they have wreaked in the third world. Perkins charges that the United States of America in collusion with these institutions has worked to effectively to make the poor poorer in the impoverished south and the rich yet richer in the north. Sounds like a conspiracy theory? Well the novel does read like your classic spy novel but then it is really not fiction. The author daringly names names and lives to tell the truth. Did Fidel Castro not say the IMF was the "devil's kiss"? That should ring a bell in any case.
The autobiography offers an uncanny historical account that traces the play of international oil politics and the United States' strategic maneuvering of uninterrupted access to oil supplies and say in global oil policy. The book was first published in 2004 and made it to the New York Times best seller list.
The narrative puts into sharp focus the element of greed and utter disregard for human life in pursuit of money and power by states, corporations and individuals. It is a soul searching attempt by a real life Economic Hit Man who regrets having sold his conscience for monetary incentives. It may be cathartic for the author in some ways as he expresses his wish to make up to the world what he had taken away from it in partnership with those he refers to as the "corporotocracy" i.e. the triad of government agencies, international financial institutions and oil companies. At the intra-psychic level it sheds light on the motivations of an individual who has been denied a healthy socialization process in his formative and adolescent years, eventually turning to deviant behavior in order to satisfy his denial obsession.
At the international level it is interesting to have in print from the horse's mouth the manifestation of essentially competitive, destructive, and power driven realpolitik forces at play in international oil politics. The world in which Perkins operates is seemingly devoid of any element of political idealism, social justice or concern for human welfare.
The narrative very aptly reminds us of the events leading up to the 1973 Arab oil embargo against Israel and its allies. In recent history this has perhaps been the only time the Arabs have put up such a show of unison in using oil as a weapon. Whether it was a result of Anwar-el-Sadat's diplomatic acumen, a spirit of Arab nationalism or pan-Islamism that led them to demonstrate such strength will remain a matter of debate.
While the embargo acted as an effective deterrent it marked a watershed in Saudi-American relations. It was ensued by a sea change in US-Saudi relations perforating the model of Arab unity for seemingly a long time to come. Quick to realize that they could never afford to be on a hostile footing with Saudi Arabia, a strategy was evolved by the US whereby the Saudi Arabian economy would become so reliant on them that they would not think of interrupting oil supplies.
In exchange for petrodollars the United States launched a development and modernization program that would export technology to Saudi Arabia and transform the desert kingdom's institutional framework and infrastructure at par with the most modern and industrialized countries of the world.
Perkins minces no words in asserting that the Saudi 'royal family agreed to invest billions of dollars of oil income in US securities and to allow the US Department of the Treasury to use the interest from those investments to hire US firms to build power and water systems, highways, ports, and cities in the kingdom. In exchange, the United States guaranteed that the royal family will continue to rule.' This was the classic example and acknowledgement of an EHM deal that has turned many countries in the world into virtual banana republics, subservient to the will of the U.S, IFIs and MNCs.
In all fairness Perkins also speaks of daunting personalities such as Panama's Omar Torrijos who was resilient in his stance on the ownership of Panama Canal and US military bases in his country. Such leaders, claims Perkins, met their deaths suddenly in plane crashes or bloody coups masterminded by the CIA. Perkins' book is replete with references to ruling elites who have not been compliant and faced similar fates. The Shah of Iran is notable among several others Perkins talks of. It is unfortunate to note that very few leaders of client states will rise to protect their own group's interests. Ironically when they do so they are eliminated from the game.
By Kazy Javed
Paradox of free thinking
Many of our scholars and intellectuals who claim to support free thinking are suffering from a dilemma: whenever they advocate free thinking they always remind us not to forget the limits set by our socio-religious and ethical novels. They do not seem to be alive to the fact that free thought cannot be developed while remaining within those limits. The same is true about our theologians. They are never tired of telling us the significance of Ijtihad in our faith tradition. However, they attach so many strings to Ijtihad that it becomes practically impossible to benefit from it in our individual or collective life. The fact of the matter is that, mostly because of our intellectual and cultural poverty, there remains no notable difference between modernists and traditionists in our society. They have become two sides of the same coin.
The roots of this paradox can be traced back to Allama Iqbal who, for instance, passionately advocated Ijtihad in his lectures on the issue of reconstructing religious thought in Islam as well as some other speeches and writings. He termed it as the principle of movement in Muslim Society. But he never encouraged it in practical life. His poetry glamorizes conservatism while his prose writings promote modernist way of looking at things. He never cared for this contradiction and we too, ignore it.
Vice-chancellor of the Punjab University Lt. Gen. (retired) Arshad Mahmood has recently presented himself as yet another example of this paradox.
While eulogizing over free thinking in a talk on his experiences in higher education at Islamabad's Allama Iqbal Open University, the retired general who is serving a second extension in the office, declared that education would serve "its true purpose when the system and the teachers allow students to think and question freely."
He rightly termed universities as the places where free thinking is encouraged and new ideas are created. He further asserted that the best way to develop the mental faculties of young people is to "let them form their own opinions." But then he suddenly realized that he had gone too far. So he deemed it his duty to caution the students. He reminded them of their "great and golden" cultural, religious and social heritage and advised them not to violate their traditional norms and values.
Nobody is going to cut a lance with the learned vice-chancellor when he asserts the significance of tradition. Tradition is certainly important but at least a university should be the place where all values and beliefs are made to undergo a critical appreciation and are not allowed to hamper the creation of new ideas. A university should not be expected to play the role of guarding the cultural heritage of the past: Its proper role is to provide guidance for a better future.
"Poetry is my cup of tea and it has earned me some fame and respect. Moreover, I have always taken a keen interest in the study of literature and current affairs. Fortunately some of my early verses, composed during the 1950s, gained unusual popularity and greatly helped me in getting myself recognized in the literary circles of the rule subcontinent. In those bygone days I was only in my early twenties and as such it was a remarkable achievement. Since then I have published many books and have also participated in mushairas held in foreign countries like India, Canada, America and Saudi Arabia. My first collection of verse appeared in 1961 under the title Shakest-e-Shab and another was published in 1969. It was titled Justa Justa. I have also done some work to introduce Haiko, a form of Japanese poetry, in Urdu. I translated Dr. Tanveer Abbasi's Sindhi language Haikos into Urdu in 1963 and also composed some Urdu poetry in Haiko.
I am satisfied with my life and despite having been suffering from cancer from more than a decade, I feel that life has been very kind to me."
This is what poet Mohsin Bhopali said about his life and poetry at a literary meeting held at the Press Club of Multan nearly eight years ago where we met for the first time.
He passed away in Karachi last week at the age of 75.
Sindh lost two more men of letters during the past fortnight. Anwar Pirzada who died at the age of 61, was an eminent Sindhi language progressive poet, journalist, researcher as well as a devoted discipline of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. He was considered the founder of Sindhi blank verse and is now being remembered as "a personification of Sindh Wisdom" His widely acclaimed look of poetry, Chand, Bhittai khey Chaiyan, was published in 2005.
Octogenarian Ilyas Ishaq, too, was a noted admirer of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. His Awaz-e-Latif is considered is be one of best books on the great sufi poet and intellectual of the 18th century.
Ilyas Ishqi mostly composed poetry in the popular traditional north Indian Dohe form. He was better known as a linguist and was widely respected for his knowledge of many languages including Sindhi, Seraiki, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, Persian and English.