The Tribune - Spectrum

, September 1, 2002

Off the shelf
Diversities in Urdu
V. N. Datta

THE Partition of India in 1947 gave a severe blow to the development of the Urdu language, and since then the popularity of Urdu has greatly diminished. Mostly it is the pre-Partition-born generation that takes to its reading and writing. The future of Urdu in the country is dismal! Regrettably it is identified with the Muslims and their culture, but it is forgotten that the Urdu language represents the finest values of India’s composite culture, which was nourished and sustained by the joint efforts of both the Hindus and Muslims. For the pre-Partition-born generation any authoritative publication in Urdu from any quarter is a breath of fresh air.

In the USA a monthly Urdu journal, Zaviya, edited by Jauhar Mir has been published with the object of promoting the cause of Urdu at the international level. The journal includes articles in Urdu on a variety of themes by poets, essayists and literary critics. The first issue of the elegantly produced journal is dedicated to the memory of the doyen of Pakistani poets, Syed Zamir Jafri, an author of 50 books, of which nearly half are written in prose. This journal is divided into five parts, the first contains articles on Syed Zamir Jafri, the second and third are literary essays, the fourth section includes poems, and the fifth reviews of books.

Syed Zamir Jafri had carved out for himself a special place as a poet and writer in Pakistan, ranking with Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Noon Meem Rashid and Mujeed Ahmed. The most prominent feature of his wide literary contributions is a free play of his flashing wit that shines in his poetry and prose that he uses with consummate skill.


Born in Chak in Jhelum district (Pakistan), Jafri was educated at Islamia College, Lahore. After his graduation he joined the army but the soldierly life did not suit his temperament. After a short interval, he rejoined the army. During the Second World War he served at Singapore, where he came in close touch with Faiz and Noon Meem Rashid, whose poetic models set a standard for his literary ambitions. In 1949 he rose to the position of Captain, and in 1966, a Major. Later he served in the Pakistan intelligence service, holding highly sensitive departments. He specialised in Afghan affairs. Because of his literary contributions he was honoured with the Qaid-e-Azam award in 1985. After his retirement he settled in Islamabad. In 1989 he went to America, where he died in 1997. Not by any means an intellectual poet, Jafri’s poetry expresses a deep and abiding concern for the poor, the peasant and the working class. Free from any trace of rancour or irony, his poetry exhibits in simple idioms his variegated moods of self-mockery while cajoling others simultaneously in a light-hearted vein. His poetry won wide acclaim from his audience when he recited his poetry. The articles published in the memory Jafri are mostly adulatory, emphasising the high quality of excellence reflected in his poetical works. His poems ‘Motor’ and ‘Mazi-ulzamir’ and his dialogue with the poet and philosopher Sir Mohammad Iqbal on the growing degeneration of moral values in Pakistan won recognition as literary masterpieces. Randhir Singh’s technical virtuosity is evident in his poem, and so is the novelty of theme in Amad Feroz’s composition.


A distinguished woman Urdu poet of Pakistan Parveen Shakir, born in Karachi in 1972, died in 1994 at the age of 42. Endowed with a high sense of discrimination, Shakir did not publish much. Her poetical work ‘Khushboo,’ originally published in 1977, has been republished by Kitabi Duniya Publishers, Lucknow, recently. This slim poetical work of 124 pages established Shakir’s reputation as an outstanding Urdu poet, and her early death was regarded as an irreparable loss to Urdu literature both in Pakistan and India.

Shakir took her MA degree in English literature from Karachi University, and studied further at Harvard University. Later she joined the Pakistani civil service and held various high administrative positions. But her first love remained poetry. She was greatly influenced by the Progressive writers movement. As an intellectual, she was substantially in touch with the current ideas and assimilated their vitality in some of her poems. In her poetry she derived much impulse of thought from the writings of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Noon Meem Rashid and Ali Sardar Jafri. She has no doctrine or philosophy to preach! Her poetry is itself an aesthetic experience. Her poetic idiom is chaste and exquisite, and she writes spontaneously with effortless ease.

Shakir’s poem ‘Aj ki shab to kisi taur to guzar jayegee’ shows her sensitivity and delicacy of touch. As an artist she understands the anguish of the suffering lot. At certain moments she regards separation from the beloved as noble, while the union is viewed as death. Free from artificiality and frills, her verse is tender. Hush, a mere touch would break it! Shakir was a born artist, and such a perception cannot explain her uniqueness merely by an analysis of the external factors that worked as a stimulus on her life. Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s ‘Wasteland,’ Shakir wrote a poem in the same vein of gloom and despondency on the annihilation of the moral and spiritual values. I think her poetry has much affinity with the Pre-Raphaelites in England.


Mohinder Pratap ‘Chand’ has promoted the cause of Urdu, particularly in Kurukshetra University, where he took up the initiative of setting up the Bazm-e-Adab and introducing the study of Urdu in the university curriculum. Though serving in the Kurukshetra University library, he has kept up his interest in writing Urdu poetry. His latest poetic collection is Azar-e-Gham-i-Ishq (Prakashan, Delhi, Pages 112, 2001).

Chand did his masters in Urdu and in library science: his association with Qais Jullundhari acted as a stimulus on his poetic talents. The present work is a selection of his earlier as well as his latest poems. To Chand, as expressed in his poetry suffering, is one long moment and a holy ground, a springboard for self-examination and soul-searching. He is essentially a poet of sorrow and love. His experience translated in his verses is not individual but universal, not leading to a blind alley but opening a wider horizon. Not losing sight of a glimmering hope, he firmly believes in submission—more things are wrought by prayers than the world dreams of, as Tennyson says. His latest poetic compositions show the vitality of his thought and technical virtuosity. There are also in the collection a few patriotic poems, and others on general themes.

In the last part of this collection, his poems focus on his son Vivek (Ghoshai-e-Vivek) who had died tragically in a bus accident in May 1997. These poems are the anguished cries of a broken heart instinct with utmost sincerity and rendered into moving verses, expressing his depth of feeling. After reading these poems the lines that come to mind are Shakespeare’s ‘Rest is silence’ and, perhaps the greatest, ‘Readiness is all.’

Note: Apropos of my review of Antony Beevor’s The Fall of Berlin, 1945 (Spectrum, July 7, 2002), the dates of Germany’s surrender and her capitulation are given as April 7 and 8, 1945. This is wrong. The dates should have been May 7 and 8. The error is regretted.