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NON-FICTION: MAESTRO ON MAESTRO

Poetry has textures and feeling. And the greats of poetry have lent textures to their words that are felt the moment you hold their compilations in your hand, or read those oft-quoted lines in moments of inner silence. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s imagery is almost silken, even when he uses difficult and piercing words such as nashtar [lancet]. Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s words, on the other hand, are faintly granular, subtle yet abrasive, and layered — as are the ideas behind his words laden with deeper meaning, Farsi derivatives and a timelessness exclusive only to Ghalib. Perhaps this unique texture of his poetry is where Ghalib crosses paths with the texture of the art of Syed Sadequain Ahmed Naqvi.

The work in focus for review is a collection of 47 folders weighing almost five kilogrammes — heavy not just in terms of its physical volume. There is a lot to take in, as it features 43 of the 50 paintings that make up Sadequain’s ‘Ghalib’ series. Titled Ghalib: Call of Angel, this collection was compiled and published as a commemoration of Ghalib’s 150th death anniversary. It has a distinct texture, perhaps by deliberate design of the compilers — the folders are separate and individually complete, yet are bound by thematic cohesion. This allows the reader the choice to pick up one and reflect on it for a day, or days, or pick an irresistible one after the other and turn it into a marathon of reading a choicest selection. The paper is hard and heavy, yet smooth — suited to the texture of Ghalib’s poetry — and solid enough to carry the weight of Sadequain’s artistic renditions.

Compiled and authored by Sibtain Naqvi, the book has been published by Mutbuaat-i-Irfani and this is the sixth book that the publishing house has produced. All six books have centred on the life, times and works of Sadequain. The translation of poetry has been done by none other than the renowned Ghalib translator Dr Sarfaraz K. Niazi.

A compilation of Sadequain’s artistic interpretations of Mirza Ghalib’s poetry delights

The third folio has a sketch of Ghalib’s person by Sadequain, alongside the famous poem Allama Muhammad Iqbal wrote, lauding the prowess of Ghalib. As Iqbal accepts in a line from the poem:

Lutf-i-goyai mein teri humsari mumkin nahin

[Matching you in literary elegance is not possible]

Images from the book
Images from the book

The fourth folio is a brief write-up in Urdu by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, where the inimitable Faiz explains why Sadequain deserves to translate Ghalib into his art, and in the last line gives a testimonial to both Ghalib and Sadequain by saying, “Ghalib ke ashaar ki musawwari Sadequain ke fann ka haqq hai” [An artistic rendition of Ghalib’s poetry is the due right of Sadequain’s art].

This fourth folio is perhaps the only one where a painting of Sadequain is by another artist, Haider Ali.

The fifth and sixth folios include calligraphies of Ghalib’s poetry by Sadequain. It seems Sadequain put his heart into these particular calligraphic renditions, very aware of the power of what he was depicting.

There onwards, it is Sadequain’s artistic depictions of selections from Ghalib’s poetic works. The selections — from both Ghalib’s poetry and the complementing art of Sadequain — are matched so judiciously that it seems like a careful slice from the work of these two has been selected and married in a way so as to give a taste of the many facets of their work. Some of the couplets seem to have touched Sadequain so deeply that they have elicited not one, but two works of art from him, as if the artist felt one was not enough to do justice to it. The compiler and author has dealt with this sensitively and the result is a book that is unmissable by lovers of Ghalib and Sadequain.

In folder 13, the words have the timelessness so typical of Ghalib, where he expresses the dilemma of one trying to walk the tight rope of balancing between love and mundane worldly concerns:

Go main raha raheen-i-sitam-ha-i-rozgar
Lekin tere khayaal se ghaafil nahin raha

[Though I remained involved in managing the tyrannies of living, I was, however, never oblivious of your thought and memory]

Possibly, Faiz was inspired by the sentiment when he wrote “Kuchh ishq kiya kuchh kaam kiya…” [I loved a little and also did some work]. Juxtaposed opposite this verse is an oil-on-canvas painting which Sadequain created in 1969, showing a man bent under the weight of earning a living by carrying heavy wood logs, yet having enough strength to have kept alive an element of romance in him, holding a flower close enough to breathe in its aroma.

Another example of one of the verses where Ghalib wrote about man’s existential condition spanning over the past, present and future is in folio number 27:

Sab kahan, kuchh lala-o-gul mein numayaan ho gaeen
Khaak mein kya sooratein hongi ke pinhaan ho gaeen

[Not all, only a few have become evident as tulips and roses What images may lie in the dirt that remain hidden from us?]

Sadequain, a great in his own right, calls himself “Banda-i-Mirza Asadaullah Khan Ghalib” [follower/servant of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib] in the 47th folder, the striking and fitting Addendum, where the right-hand side presents a black-and-white photograph of Sadequain showering flowers on the grave of Ghalib alongside Zaheen Naqvi, who was then the secretary of the Ghalib Academy in Delhi. The left-hand side of the folio has what are perhaps scribblings of Sadequain as he calligraphs impromptu some of his favourite lines (not couplets) from Ghalib’s poetry, ending the page with giving himself many self-proclaimed titles, the last two being Baykal and Baychayn, both almost synonyms, meaning uneasy and restless.

Such was the temperament of the works of Sadequain — peace within restlessness, order within chaos, faces defined by his typical sharp, angled strokes, but the overall impact made whole by some softer maestro strokes. This contradiction is perhaps one other similarity between Ghalib and Sadequain, then. While much of Ghalib’s poetry is clearly inspired by the love of the Beloved, he was a man who simultaneously gave in to human temptations — gambling and consumption of alcohol being the most well known. As Naqvi writes in the introduction about him, Ghalib was “equally at ease at the king’s court or the gambler’s den, he was aware of both his poetic genius and his disreputable ways. Rather than put people off, it is this disrepute or badnaami that endears him to the general masses. The man on the street loves a flawed genius.”

The reviewer is a Karachi-based journalist, editor and media trainer; human-centric feature stories and long form write-ups are her niche

Ghalib: Call of Angel
By Sibtain Naqvi
Mutbuaat-i-Irfani, Karachi
ISBN: 978-969792700
188pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, July 5th, 2020

https://www.dawn.com/news/1566957?fbclid=IwAR330X7T01cAlyH4EEk4vO0g2gWmls_sFzrOL6tjOkdTMgKc2pucF72vIdg

Ghalib, with angels as his muses

It may suffice to say that I do believe that poetry buffs like me will keep re-visiting his poetry all our lives, and find something unique each time. PHOTO: FILE

Mirza Asadullah Khan chose possibly the most apt pen name for himself – Ghalib – meaning dominant. He rules the world of poetry of the Indian subcontinent to date.Greats like Faiz have taken pride in looking up to him. Centuries later, he continues to be the muse for millions.

“Koi ummeed barr naheen aati

  Koi soorat nazar naheen aati…”

(There is no hope to be found,

There is no way out to be sought)

A Long Play (LP), or a 33 13 rpm vinyl record, that my father had bought from a trip to London was titled “Lata sings Ghalib”. Often, Abba would play it and make me sit and listen. It was like a punishment for me. I didn’t understand why Abba wanted to listen to something so sombre with such difficult words. He tried to explain the lyrics to me, and told me tales of how he had heard Lata Mangeshkar sing some of these ghazals live at the Royal Albert Hall in London. But as a seven-year-old, I thought Abba’s going to London and buying that LP was a very unfortunate thing. After all, I could have used the same time playing Pacman on my Atari video game.

Years later, studying Ghalib for my grade 10 Urdu exam, I thanked Abba. And thanked my eldest brother who, when I entered my teens, gifted me a Deewan-e-Ghalib and made good use of my summer vacations by explaining the entire thing to me. By then, Atari had become boring, hormones had started kicking in and the concept of romance started making relatively more sense. Ghalib, thus, begun to make sense too.

At a later stage, that concept of romance translated into the idealistic notion of love, or even Ishq. Ghalib was with me at this stage too.

“Kahoon kis se mein ke kya hai, shab e gham buri bala hai

Mujhe kya bura tha marna agar aik baar hota…”

(To whom do I say the calamity that the night of grief is,

I would not mind dying if death were just once)

It seemed he knew what was going on inside of us….like he had a prophetic understanding of human emotion.

However, it dawned much, much later that a lot of his poetry was deeply spiritual. That perhaps his poetry was not for the beloved, but for The Beloved. And this is where Ghalib has hit me the most.

“Yeh masa’il e tasawwuf, ye tera bayaan Ghalib,

  Tujhe hum wali samajhte jo na baada khwaar hota…”

(These problems of spirituality, this poetry of your’s Ghalib,

We would think of you as a saint if only you were not a drunkard)

My father, at a later stage in his life, took my mother on a trip to India, without any of his children. He wanted to visit the Taj and Aligarh University, his alma mater, with my mother. But a third site, very important to him was Gali Qasim Jaan, Ballimaran, and he took Ammi there so that she gets a feel of Ghalib.

It is no use trying to comment on Ghalib’s poetry, his skill or his prowess. Much has been written about it. It may suffice to say that I do believe that poetry buffs like me will keep re-visiting his poetry all our lives, and find something unique each time. I silently cringe when I hear the naive say,

“Ghalib is over-rated”

How do you rate something we have barely begun to understand? The man was divinely inspired, as he himself said,

“Aate hain ghaib se ye mazaameen khayaal mein
Ghalib  sareer-e-Khaama nawaa-e-sarosh hai…”

(The subjects (for my poetry) come to me from divine hidden sources,

The scratching sound my pen makes resonates like the sound of angels.)

The angels were his muses.

I have long lost that LP. But I know that I must talk to my daughter over sessions of Ghalib’s poetry we can listen to on Youtube via a proxy. One day, she will thank me for it.

Mein to marr kar bhi meri jaan tumhain chahoon ga….

Zindigi mein to sabhi pyaar kiya karte hain
Main to marr kar bhi meri jaan tujhe chahoonga
Tu mila hai to yeh ehsaas hua hai mujhko
Ye meri umr mohabbat ke liye thodi hai
Ik zara saa gham-e dauraan ka bhi haq hai jis par
Mein ne wo saans bhi tere liye rakh chodi hai
Tujh pe ho jaaoonga qurbaan, tujhe chahoonga
Main to marr kar bhi meri jaan tujhe chahoonga
Apne jazbaat mein naghmaat rachaane ke liye
Maine dhadkan ki tarah dil mein basaaya hai tujhe
Main tasawwur bhi judaai ka bhala kaise karoon
Mein ne qimsat ki lakeeron se churaaya hai tujhe
Pyaar ka ban ke nigehbaan tujhe chahoonga
Main to marr kar bhi meri jaan tujhe chahoonga
Teri har chaap se jalte hain khayaalon mein chiragh
Jab bhi tu aaye jagaata hua jaadu aye
Tujhko chhu lun to phir ae jaan-e-tamanna mujhko
Dair tak apne badan se teri khushbu aaye
Tu bahaaron ka hai unwaan tujhe chahoonga
Main to marr kar bhi meri jaan tujhe chahoonga
Poet: Qateel Shifaai
PS: If ever there is love in this world, then this is how it is. 
Below are links of two renditions. One the timeless ghazal by THE Mehdi Hasan Khan Sahab, the other by an able vocalist Shafqat Amanat Ali. Rarely has the world seen such beautiful poetry.
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x265ebd_zindagi-mein-tou-sabhi-mehdi-hassan_music
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1guta8_zindagi-mien-to-sabhi-shafqat-amanat-ali-khan-by-umar-islam_music

I miss the things that were never meant to be

An attempt at Spoken Word poetry… a beginning.

I miss the things that never came into being.
Sunrise in your arms,
the aroma of baking bread in that little house with a red tiled roof…our home,
the tug of little hands at my apron…you looking up from your book and smiling at that sight,
that evening when you cooked for me and waited for me to come home from work,
you saying my beauty still left you speechless…you said this the day I gave up on dyeing my hair because it was almost all white.
I miss our growing old together…
and feeling a current even at that age…a current of passion still alive,
and the joy of each other’s company.
Oh I miss the laughter we were supposed to share each night after dinner.
I miss the quilt you never tucked me in in winter nights.
I miss your first pair of reading glasses.
And I miss that walk in New England we were meant to take.
I miss the things that were never meant to be.

Serenade me, my love

DSC_0838

Put me to sleep with a serenade of togetherness. Wake me up with an aubade that is one of joy. Let the rays of sunlight touch us together. Leave not. Go not. Stay. Here. All we need is us.

“We Have On This Land That Which Makes Life Worth Living…..”

Mahmoud Darwish wrote this for Palestine. It reminds me always of my resilient country, my home, Pakistan.Omer Offendum recited it and livened this poem even more. Read. And watch.

“We have on this land that which makes life worth living

We have on this land all of that which makes life worth living

April’s hesitation

The aroma of bread at dawn

A woman’s beseeching of men

The writings of Aeschylus

Love’s beginning

Moss on a stone

Mothers standing on a flute’s thread

And the invader’s fear of memories

We have on this land that which makes life worth living

September’s end

A woman leaving ‘forty’ behind

with all of her apricots

The hour of sunlight in prison

A cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures

A people’s applause for those who face their own erasure with a smile

And the tyrant’s fear of songs.

We have on this land all of that which makes life worth living

On this land

The lady of our land

The mother of all beginnings 

And the mother of all ends

She was called Palestine

Her name later became Palestine

My lady….

Because you are my lady

I have all of that which makes life worth living.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUNGlVfqgWs