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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Khud-garifta -- a review of Ijlal Majeed's stunning new book

Zehra Nigah, the pre-eminent poet today, once made a very interesting observation in the course of a conversation during one of her frequent Delhi visits. She pointed out for me how, the majmua-e-kalam of even some of  the greatest poets have a lot of padding or fluff; she used the delightfully colloquial but apt description: bharti ke sher, alluding to the unevenness that is inevitable and therefore taken as a matter of course while reading a diwan or majmua from cover to cover. It is a rare poet, indeed, she said who exercises enormous self-restraint and is capable of a rigorous self-edit to publish a collection of his or her poetry. I was reminded of Zehra Apa’s words when I first glimpsed through Ijlal Majeed’s debut collection of poetry, entitled Khud-garifta. A slender volume, no more than 140-odd pages, there is nothing here that can remotely be described as fluff. Certainly no bharti ke sher whatsoever mar the evenness of tone and the immaculate, even stringent selection of what goes, and what stays back.

A writer of both the ghazal and nazm since the 1970s, Ijlal sahib has chosen only ghazals for this selection. Such nafasat, too, is rare for the modern poet seldom makes so stern a distinction between the two; Ijlal sahib does so on grounds of lehja and mizaj. He says the two are completely different in the ghazal and the nazm. In fact, his own lehja, his own idiom is far removed from the conventions of the Urdu ghazal. His choice of words and images is starkly modern. As he himself says:

            Badsaleeqa, lu-ubali, baavla, phakkad mizaj
            Ab use jo chahe kah lein who magar achcha laga

And elsewhere:

            Kiss-kiss jatan se jisko kiya tha kabhi shikaar
            Khwabon mein ab bhi chawkrhi bharta hai woh hiran

A retired Professor of History at the Saifia College, Bhopal, Ijlal sahib has been known and well regarded as a poet as his poetry and essays on poetry have been published in both Urdu and Hindi. In Bhopal -- the city of enlightened Begums who nurtured literature, among a circle of connoisseurs and rasiks who can be best described as a latter-day ‘Halqa-e-arbab-zauq’ – Ijlal sahib has enjoyed a reputation as a ba-zauq person and a poet for over five decades. When I meet him for the launch of his book in Bhopal (launched, incidentally, by another ‘son of Bhopal’, Javed Akhtar), I ask Ijlal sahib the reason for this kam-goi. For a person known as a poet to publish his first collection at the age of 74 is unusual in ange when every nausikhiya poet is in a hurry to publish. Ijlal sahib tells me that while he has always read and reflected and ruminated on poetry, literature and the arts, for long periods of time he ceased to think of himself as a poet: ‘Sirf tab likha jab kuch kehne ko hua.’ Giving a glimpse into the oceon of loneliness that lies within every creative person, he writes:

            Ek ek kar ke uddh gaye panchchi
            Khud-garift chattan tanha hai

Literature is understood to mirror social realities. To what extent is Urdu poetry, especially the ghazal, capable of reflecting this reality, with all its violence, contrariness and extremes, I ask him? While, no doubt, the Urdu poet has wrenched himself free from the limitations of the time-honoured ghazal format and freed himself of the classical repertoire of shama-bulbul-parawana, can the ghazal reflect contemporary reality? Can it say as much or as freely as the nazm can, I ask Ijlal sahib. While he agrees that the nazm enjoys far greater freedom, the ghazal can nevertheless allude to many things; it can, for instance, give ample express to the angst, alienation and exclusion that is such an integral part of the modern-day reality:

            Dariya chadha to paani nashebon mein bhar gaya
            Abke bhi barishon meon apna hii ghar gaya

Another remarkable quality about some of the ghazals included in Khud-garifta, is the compactness of the metre; while no poet myself, I believe the chhoti behr ki ghazalein demand that much more brevity and compression from a poet than one with a more languid metre. As for instance:

Udti chiriya ka saya hai
            Main samjha patthar aaya hai

            Ik girti deewar girakar
            Apne bheetar kuchch dhaya hai
            Khod ke hamne in teelon ko
Kya khoya kya paya hai

Published by Yatra Books in both Devnagri and Urdu, Khud-garifta brings to the fore a fresh, ‘new’ voice; the fact that it is not new at all, and that the poet has been active and well-known in the Hindi-Urdu circles of Bhopal tells us how provincialism has become the bane of good literature in modern times. One particular ghazal, written in 1979, has been known and loved by a select few for decades; yet it had to wait for a mainstream publisher to be placed before a larger audience:

            Shiryanon mein phire darinda
            Qaid mushaqqat sahe darinda

            Fursat mein kya kare darinda
            Ghaaron mein but gadhe darinda

            Patta-patta lahu bahaye
            Jhaadi-jhaadi chhupe darinda

            Purab-paschim wahi shikari
            Yaan nikle waan chhupe darinda

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