The Dawn: Dec 11, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: Books: poetry and research-based criticism

Mushtaq Soofi 

Saleem Shahzad is a known poet and fiction writer having a number of books to his credit. He is based in Bahawalnagar, a far flung district of Punjab on the edges of hauntingly magical Cholistan desert that has been stirring the imagination of poets and artists. This seemingly sleepy town can rightly be proud of its writers and intellectuals such as Mian Fazal Farid Laleka, Anwar chaudhry, Afzal Rajput, Farooq Nadeem and of course Saleem Shahzad.

‘Neendar Bhijian Nazman’ is Saleem Shahzad’s latest book of poems published by Book Home, Lahore, with a beautiful jacket. His poems are provocatively attractive as they carry an intriguing ambiguity that compels you to pause and think. And when you fail to discover the typically expected meanings, you have a sense of wonder that the meanings though vague are there but you fail to hold them as something concrete creating a state of pleasurable amazement. Surjit Patar, one of the leading poets of Punjabi language, rightly points out in his remarks about the poems: “To tell you the truth, I could not understand these poems but my soul discovered their meanings”. Search for meaning at times is an intellectual exercise in futility as poetry may be concerned more with experience than with message. One way of understanding poetry may be to experience it which in no way implies the absence of cerebral activity. Some sorts of meanings are always there, subtle or hidden, in any kind of poetry worth the name. Saleen Shahzad’s poems despite their ambiguity and abstraction hint at the concrete socio-political conditions they are born of. “The dust settles on the verses as if here is its abode. The verses bleed. How can one recite them while the season is dripping with blood? Verses still sprout when the poet feels the weight of explosive on his one knee and on the other the lightness of sparrows. But how can one recite them”? Saleem Shahzad’s latest book of poetry shows his remarkable growth in maturity and literary skill.

Dr Inamulhaq Javed is a well-known writer, research scholar and translator. A revised edition of Dr Javed’s ‘Punjabi Adab da Irtaqa (1947-2003), published by Al-Faisal Nashran, Lahore, is a valuable addition to the literary repertoire that deals with the post-Partition development of Punjabi literature on this side of Punjab. It’s a voluminous book divided into four sections. The first section provides a brief perspective. The second deals with the fiction, plays, travelogue, literary criticism and research. The third section explores the multifaceted mushrooming of poetry, traditional and modern. And the last one looks at literary humour both in poetry and prose, and patriotic writings. All the genres popular with Punjabi writers seem to have been examined. The evolution of Punjabi literature from 1947 onward has taken a circuitous route because of the ill-conceived ideology driven state’s policy towards Punjabi language which has been at best reflective of indifference and at worst of hostility. The role of the state in stifling the growth of Punjabi and consequently its literary journey has conveniently been ignored by Dr Javed. This may have something to do with the author’s own intellectual perspective which seems to be inspired more by tradition than critical consciousness. Ground-breaking contribution of writers with progressive worldview finds little space in the narrative. The book, however, marked by descriptive and analytical approaches, is a good document with lot of literary data which can help the scholars interested in tracing the slow but steady development of Punjabi literature during the past seven decades. The book obliquely points to the resilience which has always been the leitmotiv of Punjab’s intellectual tradition spanning over one thousand years.

Shakeel Ahmed Tahiri is not a very familiar figure on the literary scene of Punjab. He lives in Nawabshah, Sindh and is undoubtedly a poet of high merit. The verses in the book ‘Wichhorian de Shagan’ published by Sanjh Publications, Lahore, are not clichéd as the title may suggest. Rather it’s a testimony to the fecund imagination the poet is endowed with. It’s a big volume, perhaps too big for the contemporary readers of poetry who are not used to treat poetry the way one treats fiction where the principal ‘bigger is better’ normally operates. Appreciation of poetry worth the name demands focused attention and imaginative faculty. The reason why the volume is big is that it comprises four books of poetry; one being the latest. Shakeel Tahiri is prolific without being frivolous and versatile without being prosaic. He employs various genres for his expression with almost equal facility. His verses are a good mix of tradition and modernity. His poetic vision evoked by a concrete imagery and vividness sounds familiarly distant and distantly familiar. His poems stand out for their experiential content. The ideas, socio-spiritual, submerged in the backdrop of his poetry create an ambiance of a world seen, yet unseen. Feelings and thoughts blended in a creative effort to understand the human predicament is what makes him a poet joyfully provoking and provokingly joyful. “The cosy sun of early winter/ the acacia trees in the wilderness/ yellow flowers weighing on the branches/ reminiscences of her street while treading the path: an attic in the desolate void, the little stars of the spent noon”. The poet of course knows the language but at times one feels, he needs to be a bit craftier in crafting his poems in order to weed out the linguistic weeds that appear superfluous which in no way reduces his stature as an important poet of our language. The book is an emotionally rewarding read if you love poetry. —

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