By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Literature provides us pleasure. It takes us out of ourselves for a while. It also provides an opportunity to appreciate excellence and admire achievement. A classic or good prose or poetry must be one that reflects life and does so in a manner that is stirring. It means something to us, or says something valuable about the human experience.
The Urdu Academy North America held a grand literary evening on June 23, 2001 to provide an opportunity particularly to our young generation to know their cultural heritage. No doubt the study of literature makes ourselves more culturally aware, although critics will say, then let it be poems and novels and plays that are relevant to our world-view, our life-styles. However, the study of literature from past eras can help us answer one of the most significant questions, that is the issue of human progress and perfectibility.
We fancy that we know our cultural milieu and our surroundings. We know what our contemporaries honor and dishonor, what we cherish and what we contemn, what we celebrate and what we are afraid of. But how can we know if this is different from what those who have gone before knew and felt. One of the ways is to look at the cultural witnesses that those long-departed cultural ancestors produced, i.e., their art, and their literature. Only then can we decide if the so-called progress of civilization has been a fact or just another illusion.
Therefore first rationale for studying literature is that literature, like all the liberal arts, is liberating. It frees the reader from the tyrannies of parochial thinking, of believing that the here and the now are the only place and time that matter.
With these objectives in mind, the Urdu Academy literary evening was split into two sessions, namely prose and poetry. Two papers were presented in the prose session on the life and poetry of Wali Dakhni and Mir Taqi Mir. The session was presided over by Dr. Agha Saeed, National Chair, American Muslim Alliance, and Professor of Political Science at the California State University, Hayward. Well known poet, Mr. Abdur Rahman Siddiqi was the chief guest of the event. Mr. Iqbal Zaheer Tashie, convener of the Urdu Academy, was the compere for the prose section.
The program began with the recitation of the Holy Quran by Master Azeem Khan and Master Adeeb Khan who also amused the audience with a poem of Allama Mohammad Iqbal. Later a rich tribute and homage was paid to the founders of Urdu Academy in Multan - late Pro. Arsh Siddiqi, Mr. Fayyaz Uddin Tehsin and late Prof. Anwar Anjum. Ms. Samena Faheem, Mrs. Fawzia Huma Khan and Mrs. Zarfishan Khan recited the poetry of the founders of the Academy.
If poetry is about reflection, prose is about choosing words that accurately indicate a certain thing or a certain notion. This equally applies to the article of Mrs Annie Akhtar, Host and Producer of San Francisco’s popular Urdu Radio Program, Watan Ki Awaz, on the life and poetry of the first poet of Urdu, Wali Dakhni. Her well researched paper was actually words in action when she presented a graphic narration of the poetry of Wali Dakhni. However, she reminded the audience that her subject was not only poetry or ghazal but also the history of Urdu ghazal.
“Before Wali Dhakni, the Urdu language – that used to be called Rekhta (something not worth considering) – was not considered fit for ghazal composition. But Wali Dakhni astonished the poets of Delhi when he visited them with his Urdu ghazals. He drew wide applause from the Persian speaking poets, some of whom also adopted Urdu as medium of their poetic expressions. Prominent poets – Shah Hatem, Shah Abro and Mir Taqi Mir – were among his admirers. Wali Dakhni composed 473 ghazals besides masnawis and qasidas.“ Mrs. Anie Akhtar concluded her paper with the following ‘she’r’ of Wali Dakhni:
Muflisi sab bahar khoti hai
Mard ka aete'bar khoti hai
The poetry of Mir Taqi Mir was the topic of next paper presented by Mr. Ahsan Sayed, an engineer by profession but a lover of Urdu poetry. He was of the view that Mir has a deep impression on the course of development of Urdu poetry. “I take liberty to say that the great Urdu poets, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib and Allama Mohammad Iqbal owed their poetic excellence to Mir, who died in 1810 at the age of 86 years.”
Poetry is sometimes described as the best words in their best order while prose is seen as just words in their best order. This is how Mir Taqi Mir’s poetry can be described. Mir used simple words to express his thoughts. Mr. Ahsan Syed suggested that a Mir Evening should be held to pay tribute to this great Urdu poet. He paid tribute to the great poet with his famous she'r:
Abto Jate Hain Bu’t-kade Se Mir
Phir Milein Ge Agar Khuda Laya
Dr. Agha Saeed concluding the prose session of the Literary Evening, pointed out that Greeks give the same status to prophets and poets. Prophets take care of spiritual aspect of life while poets focus on the moral aspect. “Nations are developed in the shadow of poets. In Pakistan, today we don’t find even a single poet who could awaken the nation.” In this context, Dr. Agha Saeed spoke about the poem – Prison Guard – of a Palestinian poet and said that “we talk about those poets who could unshackle the people from tyranny.”
The poetry session of the Literary Evening was presided over by a very popular poet, Mr. Farhat Shehzad. Mrs. Anie Akhtar was compere for the poetry session. The mushaera was conducted in a unique manner. Mr. Iqbal Zaheer Tashie, a prominent poet, entertained the audience with the verses from the great classical Urdu poets, before the mushaera compere invited a poet to present his 'kalam'. The objective of this unique exercise was to refresh our memories about the great work of our classical poets.
The mushaera began with the recitation of Naat by Dr. Khalid Siddiqi, a well known Islamic scholar. Ms Naseen Nisha presented a free verse. She was followed by another poetess, Ms Rubina Jina who drew wide applause for her ghazal.
Later the following poets thrilled the audience with their thought provoking poems and ghazals, reflecting human nature: Abdul Rahman Markar, Sabir Chisty, Zafar Zafeer, Prof. Noor ul Hassan Syed Anwar, Farooq Taraz, Javed Syed, Fayyazuddin Jahangir Hamdani, Abdur Rahman Siddiqi and Farhat Shehzad. They drew wide applause from the audience for their imagination and eloquence of expression.
The objectives of poetry are highly diverse. Some poems are meant to entertain, others to inform. Some teach a moral, while others serve as the basis of meditation. Poets perceive their world in common with everyone else but see perhaps better than others the meaning of events, nature, and life itself. When poets speak the universal truth to the best of their ability, they are trying to enlighten, teach, warn, or advise--sometimes all four at once. The galaxy of poets at the mushaera attempted to fulfill all these objectives.
The mushaera ended at about 12.15 am with a brief speech of Ms. Smina Faheem, who thanked the guests for gracing the beautiful literary evening and expressed hope that they would encourage the Urdu Academy to hold such gatherings.
The Literary Evening was held at the Lucie Center in Palo Alto. It will not be fair if I don’t mention the extra efforts and keen interest taken by Ms. Samina Faheem to make this colorful evening successful. It is very difficult to create an Urdu literary atmosphere in America. Ms. Samina Faheem took extra care to create a literary atmosphere with extensive decorations of flowers, fresh flower broaches and even a ‘farshi nashist’ for the poets to present their verses in the traditional eastern style. Mrs. Naheed Zaheer also deserves praise for significant role in the organization of the Literary Evening.
To conclude this cultural episode, I would like to add that I personally missed my old friend from Kuwait and a prominent poet, Professor Farid Sahar Akbarabadi, who could not attend the literary evening because of illness. Mr. Farid Sahar Akbarabadi, had a mild stroke last month and is still recovering in hospital in Los Angeles. (Courtesy Pakistan Link)