What is Poetry? An arrangement of scenes, trivial or tragic, romantic or practical, viatic or static, homely or fantastic featuring more or less the plausible events (of life and dream) patched up with deliberate details. That is how poetry struck me when I sat a few days ago in the populated seminar hall of our institution while listening to eminent educationists and irrealists referring to the poetic work of the famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
The seminar, a gathering of intellectuals from the poetic cream of India, took place in the jorum of our contemporary designed school building. The building, however, acted as anachronism. Its brick-red facade, the glasses that some unknown mason glued to its body for modernist effect, the royal blue banner displayed next to the entrance declaring in bold yellow letters the university’s dictum that ragging in any form will be dealt as criminal offence by the institution, and the guards with thick bushy mustaches hardly exhaled poetry from me when I walked into the building around twelve in the afternoon. But all preconceived notions relating to un-poetic surroundings were dashed from my mind when the sweetly melodious voice of a singer reached me. On a stark Monday morning of abject life dear B, my friend, stood at the podium reliving the tunes of a dead poet: “Hum dekhenge, lazam hai ke hum bhi dekhenge ge.” I don’t know what she intended to see, but in her voice it was evident that she was frisking the depths of her own soul as she performed the act trying to search something, some aspect of her own self lost to her and the world about whose presence she had been enlightened by the poet’s lines.
The proceedings were already underway by the time I reached the destination. Hirsute intellectuals and young students from the school of humanities and social sciences which had organized the two-day seminar on Faiz Ahmed Faiz filled the room. I seated myself in one of the comfortable blue chairs and observed the chamber. It was a fairly sized seminar hall, well lit, the wooden desks showed no sign of wear or tear, the temperature in the room was comfortable too. As I placed myself on the settee I wondered would this room comfortable as it was evoke poetry in me. Apparently, it did not; however, as I listened to the canorous Urdu of Sheikh kaaf nizam, one of the dignitaries invited to the literary show, I realized that poetry doesn’t need a place, it needs time, time to burgeon in the mind, time to grow up from roots to shoots and saplings and then spread its massive green leaves outside the confines of all deep dark places of life that imprison us.
Poetry is all about freedom, mental freedom. I quite agree that most of the Urdu spoken by the dignitaries throughout the course of the day was lost on me mostly because of the lack of knowledge on that front, yet I somehow manage to derive subtle pleasure from the musicality of the language, the softness of the words. Urdu is indeed a gentleman’s zabaan, and Faiz had given it ample time to inflate and gradually fill-up him mind with words and expressions fit for his cause because his poetry is outstandingly musical and elite, if I may be pardoned for using the expression.
One of the things reiterated throughout the day was the constant urge to customize Faiz’s poetry to one’s own needs. Faiz has to be your own Faiz if you want to do justice to his poetry said the honorable Dean of our department. I took to his words immediately; the morsel of truth the expression held was that you can never learn to produce or appreciate good literature until you can customize it to your needs. Can poetry, or for that matter, any piece of literature be written if there is no independent mind behind the cause? Indeed this idea that one must think well and read well to write well has become universally apodictic.
The seminar continued for two days and as the first day gave way to the second the waves of poetry took shapes from winding currents of empty expressions issued in stylized Urdu to things that almost made some sense and then lost into nothingness. Like flavored smells of lavender incense sticks once burning and once exhausted they smoldered for some time and then leaving behind only a dust of ashes and a libanophorous room, they departed leaving me searching for clues to decipher their unheard codes.
There is a fine line between understanding and appreciating something, and I realized that even though I understood only a few sections of the two day discussion, I appreciated the tremendous efforts the poet paid to his art. I pictured him sitting at his desk, a wooden desk, a ledger with a coarse vermillion cover, a pen, an over-used fat bellied fountain pen with a dripping nib, and his figure, hunched up, his face with lumps of flesh pillowed under his chin grimly concentrating on poetic impulse. I see only one legible word on his papyrus: Faiz, his own name written and underlined several times. His euphuistic mind deliberating on silent musings that flutter about like lovely colored butterflies, just within reach but hard to lay hands on, while he sits there patient, stoic waiting for them to sit on his ink-dotted kurta. A massive green platter of green accessorized by the dry remains of a once-exotic temple stand like placid observers outside his open window silently reminding him of possibilities and despair, the dyadic principles of human life.
It was this transitory image of the poet encased in my mind that made me go back and think about the seminar in a new light. Of course, I give you only a piecemeal of the two-day session, mostly a discussion of the first day mainly because it appealed to me more than the second day of the session in which the linguistically skilled instructors decided to relegate at lengths from Urdu to Hindi and English. Even though the Hindi that was spoken was as pure as the purest Hindi could be and the English as classic as it came, yet somehow I retain nothing of the discussions heard. It is only the first day impleached with reminiscent ramblings collected throughout that day that exist in the core.
As the clock strikes its way to the deep hours of night, let me leave you all with a poem of Faiz Ahmed Faiz that I translated. Although it lacks much of Fiaz’s musicality, it does bring to mind the flavor of his poetry-- a portmanteau of the altiloquent expressions mixed and dusty colloquialism--which I tried to retain.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Translated by Barnali Saha
Why blissful my heart is not
Why I keep remaining numb
O, leave the saga of my life
I am good the way I am
So what my heart is unhappy
The whole world is woebegone
This sadness is neither thine nor mine
It is our beloved barony
Even if you become mine
The agonies of the world will remain the same
The knots of sin, the manacles of malice
Our words can never by riven
In any form pain is lethal
Be it somebody else’s or ours
Boohooing, enflaming the soul
That is also ours; that is also ours
Why not embrace the pains of the world
And later consider the debates
Later dream the happy reveries
And contrive on the dreamy arrangements.
Unperturbed rich and wealthy
Why on earth are they happy?
Let us apportion their happiness among us
They are after all akin to pain
May be we have declared conflict
Heads will be smashed, blood will flow
The pain too will afloat with the blood
I won’t be there, pain won’t be there
P.S. : Do not use translation without permission