Dr Zia ul Hassan
started his literary journey as a poet in the 1980s and soon established
himself as a unique voice in the realm of Urdu poetry. But he found the
canvas of poetry too small and limited for his thoughts — thus he became a
critic, or to be more precise, a poet-critic.
These days, poets are
generally considered not good critics because they are too obsessed by their
own processes. However, if we look at the past of English poetry — from
mid-16th to mid-20th century — creative writers, mostly poets, wrote nearly
all criticism. This was the golden age of the English poet-critic when all
that was written as criticism was considered pure literature.
Likewise, in Urdu, we had
poets like Hatim and Insha who wrote authentic criticism. Ghalib was a great
critic and left for posterity some valuable critical notes in Persian and
Urdu. In modern times too, many poets — from Firaq Gorakhpuri and Ahmed
Nadeem Qasimi to Wazir Agha and Khursheed Rizvi — adopted the dual role of
Zia ul Hassan’s doctorate
thesis was on the sociological aspects of Urdu criticism, where he thoroughly
examined our old and new critical texts in a sociological perspective. This
insightful study, later published in a book form, serves as a valuable
reference work for serious students of Urdu literature.
His early works also
include a detailed study of Urdu poet Shehzad Ahmed.
Zia ul Hassan holds that
Allama Iqbal, Noon Meem Rashed and Jilani Kamran are the three pillars that
support the whole structure of modern Urdu poetry.
In the chapter titled
‘The evolution of Iqbal’s stylistics” the author says, “In the pre-Iqbal
era, Urdu poetry depended heavily on the Indo-Iranian ethos, but after the
Mutiny of 1857, this ethos gradually fell into oblivion… Iqbal strengthened
his creative drive through the tradition and civilisation of Hijaz, that’s
why his diction and metaphors come directly from the Arab world… Some
personalities from the history of Islam were presented with such zeal and
vigour that they became immortal, and it amounts to a miracle, because proper
names can seldom become metaphors, only Iqbal’s fertile imagination could
do the undoable”.
The author has elaborately
displayed the chronology of Iqbal’s works from the early three phases of
his poetry, covered in his first collection ‘Baang-e-Dara’ to the more
mature stage of ‘Baal-e-Jibreel’ and ‘Zarb-e-Kaleem’. But, in doing
so, he skipped the most formative 20 years (1915-35) of his creative life,
when in search of a wider audience in the Islamic countries of Asia, Iqbal
changed over to Persian and wrote ‘Asraar-e-Khudi’, which finally brought
him the honour of Knighthood.
Noon Meem Rashed seems to
be the author’s favourite poet. Prior to the present work, he had compiled
two full-length books on the poetry and personality of Rashed.
Analysing Rashed’s style,
Dr Hassan says harmony between form and expression was his major concern and
he took it as a great challenge from the beginning. This approach was not
limited to poetry, he believed art in general depended on the harmony of the
Talking on the evolution of
Rashed’s style, the author informs his early poetry was more romantic and
his expression was direct, but gradually he developed a reservoir of unique
metaphors and allusions. In this most intriguing part of Dr Hassan’s
analysis, we come across three types of metaphors: religious metaphors,
mythological metaphors and Rashed’s personal metaphors that emerged during
the mysterious process of his creative activity.
Dr Hassan has discussed in
detail the influence of Persian tradition on Rashed that becomes more visible
in the last poems of his first collection ‘Mavra’ and fully develops in
his second book, ‘Iran Mei Ajnabi’.
A distinct feature of Dr
Hassan’s work is his deep fascination for the poetry of Gilani Kamran, who
he thinks is an unsung hero of modern Urdu poetry. The author takes great
pains to analyse Gilani’s long poem ‘Baagh-e-Dunya’ in which the four
basic characters, God, Satan, Angels and Man are put into four locations of
the City of God, the City of Separation, the City of Love and the City of
Gilani holds the view that
Adam’s expulsion from the paradise is the basic and eternal human story and
a recurrent pattern in literature. Dr Hassan insists that Gilani Kamran
deserves much better attention and recognition from the Urdu intelligentsia.
The other articles in the
book discuss the role of Maulana Azad in promoting modern Urdu poetry, the
status of prose poem in new Urdu literature, the contribution of
Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq, and Urdu Nazm in Pakistan.
These last articles, sadly,
have not been edited. They are reproduced verbatim, just as they appeared in
various magazines three years ago. The result is an unbearable repetition of
material. At places, paragraphs are picked from one article and put into
another. This oversight mars the contents of an otherwise brilliantly
Jadeed Urdu Nazm — Aaghaz
Author: Dr Zia ul Hassan
Price: PKR 300
Raza Rumi is a
well-known TV anchor, a columnist and a public intellectual whose urbane
manner and erudite understanding of events are much admired by the discerning
public. So, when I began this book I thought I would be reading a travelogue
of the author’s tour of India which, being written by a well-read man,
would also contain references to books and cultural items.
But as I read on I was
taken by surprise, which changed into awe. With fourteen chapters and a
glossary I discovered that this was not a travelogue; it was a social and
intellectual history of Muslim north India. He begins with the shrine of
Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya and then juxtaposes the past with the present to
create a web of time in which the past is present in the here-and-now. This
narrative device hinges upon the present being presented through the
conversation of people like Sadia Dehlvi, a social activist, and Rumi’s
peregrinations through India. And the past comes through Rumi’s unobtrusive
references to books, works of art, archaeological remains, cultural artifacts
etc. He wears his prodigious learning light so the text seamlessly shifts
from the present to the past and vice versa.
The second chapter,
however, dwells mostly on the past. Entitled ‘Realm of the Sufis’ it
begins with the sufi saints but goes on to incorporate the present along with
the traumatic partition of India. The chapter ends on Alok Bhalla and Pran
Nevile’s works — chilling words indeed — about the way people were
killed like flies in the name of the religious identity in 1947-48.
The next chapter,
‘Meeting Again’, begins with the partition. With Amrita Pritam’s moving
words on the mayhem created during the partition then goes on to the present
which has been rendered unsafe by a number of factors including the
incorporation of hate material against minorities in our text books. The
message is clear: we began with hatred enacted during the partition and then
make the point that we are sowing the seeds of further mayhem even now.
Besides Sufi saints, who
are part of nearly all the chapters in one way or the other, the author also
reveals his astonishing love of Urdu literature. In Chapter 6, ‘Lovers
Heart’, the unique device of framing the discussion of Mir’s classical
ghazal with the history of the Mughals and their capital of Shahjahanabad.
The figures from that imperial past, the Princess Jahanara, Shahjahan’s
daughter, Dara Shikoh and a number of others are conjured up to provide a
background into the plaintive tone of Mir’s ghazals.
But in this chapter history
is so central that we go back to the even earlier times of the Delhi
sultanate and end on Raza Rumi going “to face the real twenty-first century
Delhi” (p. 151). But he never does face it as other travellers do. He is
too erudite to write something like a simple travelogue describing sights and
sounds and the here-and-now. This technique makes him delve deep into the
past (‘The Chosen Spirits’) in which the focus is Sarmad and Dara Shikoh
and the chapter after that (‘Those who stayed’) in which luminaries like
Hakim Ajmal Khan are remembered. These memories frame his own bantering
relationship with Farzana who becomes Zaara to his Veer. But this Farzana, a
would-be modern Indian Muslim girl, ends up wrapped up against her will in a
top-to-toe veil, in a marriage which proves the negation of her dreams. Such
are the ironies of life in South Asia.
Being a social history the
book cannot ignore cuisine. But this history is expressed through the aroma
of savouries of Old Delhi from the street behind the Badshahi Mosque and not
mere narratives about who cooked what and ate what.
So Chapter 9 (‘Centuries
of flavour’) contain references to such landmark items as chaat, Ram
Laddoos and parathas. Architecture too is covered with astonishing references
to both ancient and British architecture, which have made Delhi as
distinctive as it is.
One iconic figure of Delhi
is the poet Ghalib, arguably the greatest poet of the Urdu language, and also
a man of his times and yet transcending his time. The chapter entitled
‘Ghalib’s Delhi’ (No. 12) also contains a history of Urdu poetry which
culminates in a discussion of Ghalib who is built up as the pinnacle of
The last two chapters focus
upon modern Indian intellectuals and activists and we get a feeling of future
hopes for life moving on in this part of the world despite all that keeps it
back — the hatred, the violence, the nationalism, the threat of war, the
antagonistic states and groups and so on. But the book ends on an ambivalent
note: “Forgetting is a fantasy that could easily reincarnate into a
haunting dream” (p. 315). We South Asians do not preserve our heritage and
that is a great danger because then we do not know what to value and
Every chapter has notes and
a bibliography after it. Moreover, there is a list of books, an annotated
bibliography, in the end which points to further reading. But then the whole
book is full of references to so many sources in Urdu, English and Persian
(translations) that its scholarly worth is beyond question. To sum up, Raza
Rumi should be congratulated for having produced an entertaining social
history of north Indian Muslim civilisation centred around the evocative
symbol of Delhi.
Delhi by Heart: Impressions
of a Pakistani Traveller
Author: Raza Rumi
New Delhi, 2013
Price: INR 399
listened to the Lawrence Saga with polite interest. He wanted to talk about
that enigmatic character Mrs Moore. Rylands was intrigued about what went on
in the Malabar caves. Forster said it was no more than what he had written.
“But tell me Morgan,” Ryland insisted, “ what did the old bat
(referring to Mrs Moore) mean when she said “If one had spoken volumes in
that place, or recited poetry, the comment would have been the same Ou boom
– what is that boom ou boom about?” “I don’t know Dadie,” Forster
said slightly exasperated, “she was such a tiresome woman.” “You are a
cad, Morgan,” Rylands remarked as they both laughed.
In September 1961 I
received a note from Forster asking me to come and see him if I had the time.
I arrived one chilly autumn afternoon at the usual time of 4PM. Forster
looked a bit frailer. He had a scarf round his neck. A fire had been lit in
the big fireplace. I enquired after his health and he said he felt that his
life was ‘going to bits’.
He asked me if I had heard
anything about Broadway and I told him that my agents felt pretty confident
that the production was going to be on, but he hadn’t received a firm offer
about me. “Well”, he said, “I have just had the papers about the New
York production. It’s a pity that they won’t have Frank Hauser as the
director. But I have told them that they would be mad if they don’t have
you. I said I was deeply touched and honoured and that I didn’t quite know
what to say. “Don’t” he said, “you are the part,” I felt like
getting up and hugging him but checked my emotion.
Forster has written,
“When I wrote ‘A Passage to India’, I dedicated it to Ross Masood out
of gratitude, as well as out of love, for it would never have been written
without him”, “Was it Masood who inspired you to write the character of
Dr. Aziz?” I asked “Well,” he said, with a wistful smile.” I made
Aziz a bit more down to earth. Masood would never have married a plain
woman,” and he looked longingly at the fireplace as though he was saying.
‘There never was anyone like him and there never will be’. “Aziz has a
large heart,” he continued, very much like Masood, and…” He hesitated
for a moment, “You see, he is the sort of man who’d be willing to
sacrifice his reputation for the sake of friendship.”
It was during this meeting
that he suggested that I should stop calling him ‘Sir’ and address him as
‘Morgan’, the name used by his close friends. “I can’t” I said,
“I’d feel embarrassed, but if you would allow me to, I’d be happy to
call you Morgan Sahib”. “Very well”, he said with an understanding
smile — and from then on he was ‘Morgan Sahib’.
* * * * * *
It was only when I had
settled down in a successful run of ‘Passage’ on Broadway that I learned
from Santha Rama Rau about the long drawn-out negotiations that had taken
place between Morgan Sahib and the impresarios in New York. She showed me
some of the letters he had written to her in this connection. One letter
written a couple of months before rehearsals began ended with:
……Gladys Cooper — not
really right but if she could be so good as to get herself up as dumpy and to
mug up a little mysticism or poetry she would do for Mrs Moore.
Scenery: The court scene
unsuccessful in the original and in this connection the nude, beautiful
punkawalla, a must.
MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL
Zia — we all repeat — is
imperative even if poisoned by some aspiring Porto Rican”.
(The reference to the Porto
Rican was a result of a news item that the Broadway producers were
considering the Porto Rican star, Sal Mineo, to play the part of Dr Aziz).
Some of Morgan Sahib’s
letters had been dictated. He was now over 82 and had begun to suffer from
ill health. The meticulous instructions about what was necessary for the play
showed how strongly he felt about his own work and any representation or
interpretation of it.
During the run of
‘Passage’ on Broadway the inevitable stage arrived when the producers
asked Forster to consider royalty cuts in the interest of a longer run.
Forster was adamant. He wrote to Santha:
“… I have only to add
that though of course I like money, my two objectives in an American
production have already been attained. In the first place New York — the
best of it has seen your wonderful dramatization of the novel. In the second
place Zia has gained the larger audience he so richly merits and should go
forward triumphantly in the future. So I am not bluffing when I tell Miss
Strauss that as far as I am concerned the play can off at once.”
In the same letter he
touched upon another subject:
“To turn to a very
different matter — the ‘Passage’ as you know was dedicated to and
partly inspired by my great Muslim friend, Syed Ross Masood (who died in
1937). Old friends of Masood and indeed of my own have founded an “Urdu
Hall” in Hyderabad, Deccan, to promote Urdu Culture…”
He went on to ask, very
diffidently whether Zia or Santha because of their connections with India and
the play might care to make a small donation to it. Santha asked me if I
could and I told her without any hesitation that I would. So, she wrote back
assuring Morgan Sahib that of course we would. He replied with warmth and
“How very gracious of you
to consider the possibility of a small donation to that Urdu Hall. I hadn’t
supposed you would and told my Hyderabad friends that I would pass the
suggestion on, but thought it unreasonable. If you and Zia decide to combine
in a sympathetic gesture in honour of Masood, it might be a good idea to
write to him and explain why you are doing so. You can’t be expected to be
passionately interested in the enclosed “appeal” nor am I – but it
would have had the approval of Masood.”
I cannot find a better
sample of his most profound and best- known characteristic — the immense
importance he placed on friendship. How can I ever forget what he wrote in
‘Two Cheers For Democracy’.
“…If I had to choose
between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have
the guts to betray my country.”