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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Ghazal Darakht by Iftekhar Raghib

Assalamu alikum wrb,

Raghib - A Poet of Atypical Diction

Dr. Faisal Hanif

ہر ایک غزل تجھ سے ہی منسوب ہے میری
انداز مِرا تیری بدولت ہی الگ ہے

Each of my couplets is attributable to you, my love
My style of diction, because of you, is atypical

Iftekhar Raghib, in the above couplet, attributes his style of diction to his beloved. I, on the contrary, attribute his atypical and elevated style of diction to his astonishing originality, integrity and sincerity, his distinctive poetic techniques, his impassioned intuition, and his romantic and philosophical sensibility.
These comments are intended to provide the reader a peek into Iftekhar Raghib's poetry, and his new book 'Ghazal Darakhat' whilst highlighting and emphasizing some important aspects of the poetry as an art. The preamble of considerable length is aimed to set the stage for the purpose of 'differentiation', as it deems indispensable for the introduction of a poet like Raghib who, as I know, is one of the very few poets of our age who employs no 'marketing tools and techniques' but his poetry as a vehicle to showcase his poetic talent. Despite his humble person, he is distinguishable as a genuine literary artist. Ghalib's below couplet appropriately applies:
شوق ہر رنگ  رقیبِ سر و ساماں نکلا
قیس تصویر کے پردے میں بھی عریاں نکلا
Passion, in every form appeared rival to the material possessions
Qais appeared undisguised even in the guise of an image

Poetry enthusiasts know that good poetry is a source of delight and fulfillment. If you try to define the utility of poetry in your ideal state, ignoring its aesthetic function and value, you might end up banishing poets. Plato's approach towards poetry was fundamentally utilitarian, and for that reason he condemned poetry as immoral and untruthful. Aristotle took up the challenge of Plato and asserted the superiority of poetry over philosophy. We often make general statements in regards to poetry and in judging the excellence and merit of someone's literary work. In today's fast-paced environment and knowledgeable world, where literature, particularly Urdu poetry is on the decline, one needs a less ambivalent approach in assessing poetic work. It is essential to recognize that the poet's universe is different. Therefore, looking at it through our existing paradigms would result in flawed judgment.
Albert Einstein, one of the greatest physicists of all time, whose scientific and intellectual accomplishments have made his name synonymous with genius, considers imagination more important than knowledge for the reason that imagination is evidently infinite in nature whereas knowledge is limited. Einstein was an artist. Being a very fine pianist and violinist, he relates his approach and thoughts to imagination by saying: "when I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge."
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, the greatest and the most versatile poet of Urdu language, whose poetry and prose represent the highest artistic achievement of Urdu language and literature, in his letter to his friend Munshi Hargopal Tufta, writes: "poetry is imagination, not metrical composition."
Altaf Hussain Hali, Ghalib's famous disciple, a remarkable poet, critic, and prose-writer, who is among one of the 'five-pillars' of Urdu, (others are Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Maulana Mohammed Hussain Azad, Deputy Nazeer Ahmed, and Allama Shibli Nomani) also sees imagination as the most important feature of a great couplet. He believes that imagination is a source of sophistication and fineness. To Hali, the power of imagination is what distinguishes a poet from a non-poet. He quotes Ghalib's following couplet as one of the examples of power of imagination where a simple thought transforms itself into extremely fine poetry when imagination is employed.
پلا دے اوک سے ساقی جو ہم سے نفرت ہے
پیالہ گر نہیں دیتا نہ دے، شراب تو دے

O' wine-cupbearer, pour into my cupped-hands, if you hate me
If you do not like giving me a cup, so be it, but give me wine
A large number of contemporary Urdu poets skillfully exhibit metrical achievement. They, however, disgracefully fail on the account of originality, imagination, and philosophy. The result is substandard poetry that lacks all the necessary characteristics of good poetry. The inherent weakness in the idea of Urdu poetry is the rule which dictates that a metrical composition makes two-lines a couplet. What about, imagination, expressions, knowledge, reasoning, emotions, feelings, intellect, analytical ability, musicality, delightfulness, re-creation of experience, and intuition? 
Poetry, by no means is just composition of words in a meter. It deals with facts, experiences, and problems that we human beings face in our day-to-day life. It does two things to complete the process; first, it relates them to our emotions. Second, it transfigures and transforms them by employing the power of imagination. Here one might ask that, since all above qualities characterize prose also, how poetry differs from prose? Where is the dividing line? The answer is simple--certain form of expression i.e. rhythmical language or poetic meter where thought is condensed in a few words where reader's attention is caught at once, distinguishes poetry from prose. In poetry, the poet adds layer after layer of meaningful expressive words, powerful metaphors, varied and translucent images, and other vehicles for perception. It all builds up into one holistic perception. In fine, the poetry originates directly in that impassioned intuition which is the main requisite of poetry. It is the intuition, and the power of imagination that distinguish the work of a gifted artist from that of a mediocre mind. Without afore-mentioned qualities any subject treated in poetic meter will not be worthy of being classified as 'poetry'. Raees-ul-Mutaghazaleen Jigar Moradabadi has rightly said:
کاریگران   شعر سے   پوچھے   کوئی   جگر
سب  کچھ تو ہے مگر یہ کمی کیوں اثر میں ہے

Would someone ask poetry-technicians (poets), Jigar
why poetry, despite all the right ingredients,  fails to create impact
Urdu poetry is witnessing a decline in quality due to the creation of meaningless poetry by most of the contemporary poets. Therefore, despite great love and passion for Urdu, readers' thoughts cannot always lean on the optimistic side of things. This cynicism springs from the tasteless poetry which keeps testing readers' endurance. Many so-called poets write poetry by coining droll terminologies without focusing on the form and substance. This is done solely at the expense of good, sincere and skilful poets. At this juncture quoting Ghalib's famous couplet is indispensible. 
ہر بو‌الہوس نے حسن پرستی شعار کی
اب آبروئے شیوہ اہلِ نظر گئی
Every deceptor has now adopted beauty-worshipping
the dignity of the men of integrity and passion, is now lost
The above statement is reminiscent of those who have an eye for the fine qualities of poet's genius for balancing the form (beauty) and the substance (thought) in poetry. This is an extension to Bertrand Russell's quote used expounding on Plato, "the man who only loves beautiful things (form) is dreaming, whereas the man who knows absolute beauty (form and substance) is wide awake.  The former has only opinion; the latter has knowledge."
I'm sifting through the pages of Iftekhar Raghib's new book 'Ghazal Darakhat' while keeping in mind all the characteristics of good poetry.  I could say that this book is made of fantastic Urdu ghazals. The intelligent question to ask is "so what?" In other words, an intelligent reader would like to know the value of the book. Will this book repay his reading?  Hundreds or perhaps thousands of books in the name of Urdu poetry are published every year. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the readers to make a distinction between an artist and a non-artist. In my note below, I have aimed to show the reader the value of this book by highlighting the fine points in Iftekhar Raghib's poetry in general, and this book in particular.
A poet must be sensitive and observant. Raghib's observation is very keen. The first thing that strikes us about Raghib as a poet is his lyric intensity and his thematic variety. His principal themes are love, pain, nostalgia, hope, peace, spirituality, betrayal, humanity, and values. Therefore, his poetry appeals to every mood. His approach to these aspects of human life differs from that of other contemporary poets. What will surprise the reader, is Raghib's variety of topics, situation, and treatment of the typical themes with novelty and genuineness.

ہاتھ رکھّا تھا ہمارے دل پر اُس نے ایک بار
کچھ نہیں معلوم جب سے دل ہمارا ہے کہاں

My beloved, once looked at me with kindness
Since then, in ecstasy, I have lost myself

ایسے پودے ہیں کہ واقف نہیں شادابی سے
ایسی ندیاں ہیں کہ سیلاب سے ناواقف ہیں

There are buds that never blossomed
There are rivers that have not met the storm
ایسے بھی گل ہیں جو واقف نہیں رنگ و بو سے
ایسی آنکھیں بھی ہیں جو خواب سے ناواقف ہیں

There are flowers that are deprived of beauty and fragrance
There are minds that suffer from the lack of imagination and thought
ایک وحشت ہے کہ جینے نہیں دیتی راغبؔ
اِک محبت ہے کہ جینے کی دعاکرتی ہے

Madness, on the one hand, pushes towards devastation
Love, on the other, calls for happiness and rebuilding
تم کیا بچھڑے ساری شوخی ختم ہوئی
آوازے کستا ہے مجھ پر سنّاٹا

Separation from you took away my exuberance
So much that impassiveness mocks me

Chief features of Raghib's poetry are the use of skillful language, originality, organized ideas, simplicity, concentrated expressions, and re-creation of experience. In general, poets, who acquire an intellectual tone, become deficient in emotion and imagination. In this sense, Raghib stands unique among the crowd of poets. He has presented intellect in his poetry, but not at the expense of emotions and imagination, which are the true substance of poetry. Thus, his poetry is delightful and thoughtful at the same time. This delight is not just confined to momentary aesthetic pleasure; it rather leaves indelible mark on readers' mind.

پھر اُٹھایا جاؤں گا مٹّی میں مل جانے کے بعد
         گرچہ ہوں سہما ہوا  بنیاد ہل جانے کے بعد
I will be restored to life after I am extinguished
I am, however, restless after my foundation is wrecked

خوف آتا ہے بلندی کی طرف چڑھتے ہوئے
گل کا  مرجھانا  ہی رہ جاتا ہے کھل جانے کے بعد

The thought of climbing upward is freighting
As deliquesce always follows efflorescence

اِس طرح حیران ہیں سب دیکھ کر راغبؔ  مجھے
جیسے کوئی آگیا ہو مستقل جانے کے بعد

Everyone is astonished to see me, Raghib, as if
Someone has come back after permanent departure

While giving a peep into poet's thinking, above couplets have many religious and philosophical reverberations. The first striking quality of this ghazal is that it is teeming with thoughts. It has strong intellectual appeal. It clearly appears to be the product of a philosophical mind and is remarkable for its chaste simplicity and for the beauty of the diction employed.

We would agree that every work of literature has two aspects, form and substance. Great poetry is produced when poet takes due care of both form and substance.  Most poets disturb the balance in favour of form and devote too much attention to formal perfection, thus producing poetry which 'looks good' but 'tastes bitter'.  Iftekhar Raghib has been successful in maintaining the balance between form and substance.
The poet himself says:
چاہیے معنی و مفہوم کی نیرنگی بھی
صرف کافی نہیں الفاظ کا چسپاں ہونا

Essential is a rainbow of imagination and emotions
Metrical composition alone, just does not suffice

Raghib is an 'aroozi' poet who is noted for strict observance of the rules of language.  Today many people are of the opinion that writing poetry according to the standards and rules laid down by the classical Urdu poets, results in repression of emotion and imagination and in correctness and elegance of expression. It is true that regular ghazal and nazm (when compared with prose and particularly with nasri nazm) restrict spontaneity, but it guarantees the beautiful, most desired, and appropriate structure. Raghib's poetry is demonstrative of a skillful poet who says new and significant while following the basic rules of prosody.

In Doha Qatar, Guzergah-e-Khayal Forum organizes symposium on Mirza Ghalib every month to enhance understanding of Ghalib, where prominent literary personalities of Qatar, poets, writers, and Ghalib-experts discuss, interpret, and critically appraise Mirza's ghazals. Iftekhar Raghib, in first symposium, made an earnest attempt to compose a humorous ghazal using a verse from Ghalib's couplet and adding his own to the next. His poetic creatively and 'aroozi' skillfulness was greatly appreciated and much liked by the participants and attendees so much so that he was requested to continue with his endeavour to present such composition at every Ghalib-symposium.

On nostalgia, and in the state of hardship and pain, noted Urdu poet Fani Badayoni said:

فانی ہم تو جیتے جی وہ میت ہیں بے گور و کفن
غربت جس کو راس نہ آئی اور وطن بھی چھوٹ گیا

Fani, while being alive, I'm a shroudless unburied corpse
Who is expatriated from homeland and couldn't settle abroad

Being a stranger, away from home has its own unique experience. Raghib has gone through that experience being an expatriate in Qatar for many years. He too handled a similar situation, like Fani, in a masterly fashion by creating imagery of sensation which is quite prominent in his couplets below. It clearly suggests the quick and acute sensuous perception reaching the heart of the reader with overpowering effect.

لے جائے جہاں چاہے ہوا ہم کو اُڑا کر
ٹوٹے ہوئے پتّوں کی حکایت ہی الگ ہے

The wind, like the hand of destiny, sweeps away the leaves
The tale of the leaves plucked from the trees, is atypical

پردیس میں رہ کر کوئی کیا پانْو جمائے
گملے میں لگے پھول کی قسمت ہی الگ ہے

How would one settle down in a foreign land?
Destiny of the flower planted in flower-pot, is atypical
Raghib has employed the technique of throwing up a shower of translucent images to depict the helplessness and the state of being hapless, which can coalesce into a meaningful obvious reality. His distinctive poetic technique, simple use of words, and remarkable originality exhibit quick sensibility to the world around him, where he himself suffers and sees others in nostalgic pain too. Fani, whose poetry largely revolves around the theme of death, and sorrowfulness runs through all of his compositions, his poetical pondering on underlying theme is certainly a remarkable one. Raghib with wide variety of themes, however, expresses this reality with freshness. I can, with confidence, make a case that the above couplets are among the best poetry created in our time. These couplets show Raghib's deep sensibility. He could not have written such couplets if he was not sensitive and observant.
The above couplets, due to their deep simplicity and authentic expression, deserve to occupy a significantly vital place in contemporary Urdu poetry.
In a similar situation, it is interesting to note how different poets select words and expressions that suit their purpose most and employ special connotations to deepen implication and association. Ghalib on the way to Calcutta to plead for the case of his hereditary pension, wrote a ghazal in which he described, in his unique style, his keen perception and lived experience. Maqta' is:
تھی وطن میں شان کیا غالبؔ کہ ہو غربت میں قدر
بے تکلّف، ہوں وہ مشتِ خس کہ گلخن میں نہیں

Ghalib, was I dignified at home so I should expect to be valued abroad?
Frankly, I'm that fistful of garden-waste that is not in the waste-container

A specimen from Raghib's 'Ghazal Darakhat':
ظالم سے لڑوں گا میں قلم ہاتھ میں لے کر
دشمن کی یہ کوشش ہے کہ شمشیر اٹھا لوں

With the oppressor, I'm determined to fight with pen in hand
My foe, even so, is provoking me to pick up the sword
دامن کا ہے جو حال وہی دوستی کا ہے
پیوند کیا  لگاۓ کوئی  چاک چاک میں

Try not to patch up my extremely tattered cloths
The state of my garb is no different than our friendship

اُس لفافے میں بند ہوں راغبؔ
جس پہ نام اور پتہ نہیں موجود

I'm locked in an envelope, Raghib
Which has no name and address

In the first couplet, he handles the situation with an alarming sense and succeeds in exhibiting robust optimism in his faith and himself. It is faith that he has expressed so well and so authentically.

The second couplet is a perfect specimen of deep simplicity and passion with rich decorative quality. Ornamental imagery of relating 'dosti (relationship)' to 'daman (garb)' is exquisite, representative, and quintessential of Raghib's poetic art. The expression, the sweep and the flow of the couplet, is reminiscent of the glorious diction of the great eighteenth century classical Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir.

The above three couplets give an impression of Raghib's poetry, from the point of view of his approach towards creating themes with intense integrity and sincerity. He has exhibited quick sensibility, and expressed his thoughts involving different philosophical dimensions to the world he lives in.

میں چاہتا تھا تم سے نہ جیتوں کبھی مگر
کھا جاؤں خود سے مات نہیں چاہتا تھا میں

I never wanted to win against you, but
To lose against my own self, is not what I wanted either

کیا حال اب ہے تیرے تعاقب میں اے حیات
تُو یوں ہی آئے ہات نہیں چاہتا تھا میں

What a distressing state I'm in, in pursuing success
I get you effortlessly, is not what I wanted either

Raghib is one of the very few genuine and original poets of Qatar. He is a star poet of Dabistan-e-Qatar. Distinctive aesthetic pleasure and thoughtfulness is what Raghib's poetry is about. In support of my views, I quote below a fine sample from Raghib's poetry with its English translation.

اندازِ ستم اُن کا نہایت ہی الگ ہے
گزری ہے جو دل پر وہ قیامت ہی الگ ہے

Her style to cause an emotional anguish and distress, is atypical
Tragedy and pain, I have been through, and barely survived, is atypical

لے جائے جہاں چاہے ہوا ہم کو اُڑا کر
ٹوٹے ہوئے پتّوں کی حکایت ہی الگ ہے

The wind, like the hand of destiny, sweeps away the leaves
The tale of the leaves plucked from the trees, is atypical

پردیس میں رہ کر کوئی کیا پانْو جمائے
گملے میں لگے پھول کی قسمت ہی الگ ہے

How would one settle down in a foreign land?
Destiny of the flower planted in flower-pot, is atypical
باہر سے تو لگتا ہے کہ شاداب ہے گلشن
اندر سے ہر اِک پیڑ کی حالت ہی الگ ہے

From surface, it appears a blossom garden of exquisiteness
In fact, the inner state of each tree (forsaken hearts), is atypical

جتنا ہے ثمر جس پہ وہ اُتنا ہے خمیدہ
پھل دار درختوں کی طبیعت ہی الگ ہے

Accomplished ones, are gifted with the virtue of modesty
The nature, and the content of fruit-bearing trees, is atypical

ہر ایک غزل تجھ سے ہی منسوب ہے میری
انداز مِرا تیری بدولت ہی الگ ہے

Each of my couplets is attributable to you, my love
My style of diction, because of you, is atypical

کس کس کو بتاؤں کہ میں بزدل نہیں راغبؔ
اس دور میں مفہومِ شرافت ہی الگ ہے

How shall I convince others, that I'm not a coward, Raghib
The sense of decency, and civility, in our age, is atypical

The intelligent reader is more concerned about the substance in the poetry, and appreciates the artistic side of it. Coherent structure, and thematically connected parts are, however, the basic requirements that make poetry worth reading. Raghib, in this book, has succeeded in providing a feast of keen delight to the readers. His thoughts are bright and clear. He has expressed complex sensibilities in appropriate manners with his unique style marked by elegant terseness, precision, and density of expression. Raghib has skillfully and boldly experimented with words. This book's title 'Ghazal Darakhat' is Raghib's own coined term.
'Ghazal Darakhat' is not another run-of-the-mill poetry book. The variety and scope of Iftekhar Raghib's poetry topics are truly remarkable. Raghib has previously published two poetry books namely 'Lafzon Main Ehsaas (Emotions in Words)' and 'Khayal Chehrah (Face of Imagination)'. His newest book 'Ghazal Darakhat' is atypical of his previous poetry work. The name fits the book perfectly for the reason that it presents new themes, and also touches on familiar themes, but with variation. I, therefore, feel that it holds special allure for the Urdu poetry enthusiasts. Please enjoy the book; you will certainly appreciate depth, and originality of it.
Dr. Faisal Hanif
Founder and President of Guzergah-e-Khayal Forum
Doha, Qatar

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