AARZI roshni ki bheek na de/Mustaqil aabo-taab deta ja/Mujh ko m(n)uh dekhne ki hirs nahin/Mujh ko apna naqaab deta ja (Don’t give me the temporary alms of light/Give me permanent effulgence/I’ve no desire to see the face/Instead, give me your veil).
Even as hijab (veil or burqa) is now in the news, this piece of clothing has been the bedrock of Urdu poetry for nearly 300 years. Screeds have been written on naqaab in Arabic and Persian poetry, right from the inception of Islam 1,400 years ago, but that’s for some other day.
In Urdu poetry of the subcontinent, hijab is something that enhances the mystique of a woman. To quote Urdu poet Nuah Narvi, Nihaa(n) hai husn tera hijab mein/Kuchh aur shireen ho gaye shabaab mein (Your beauty is concealed in veil/You’ve become sweeter in your youthfulness) or Jameel Mazhari, Beshumaar ummedein jaag uthin/Use dekh ke hijab mei (Numerous hopes have woken up, seeing her veiled face).
There has always been an element of mystery or je ne sais quoi when a lovely face is hidden behind a veil. It creates a mystique, a kind of mojo that is irresistible. ‘Speculations about concealed or half-concealed beauty is much more delectable than the fully exposed beauty. The latter leaves nothing to imagination,’ opined Italian master of semiotics Umberto Eco in his volume, On Beauty. So very true! A veiled beauty stokes a fire of imagination, whereas what’s visible or exposed leaves no room for possibilities. Raghupati Sahay ‘Firaq’ Gorakhpuri was spot on when he penned, Bazahir husn se behtar hai, husn jo tasavvur ko angdai de (Beauty that causes speculations is better than the beauty that’s for all to see). Mind you, I’m not encouraging the practice of wearing a hijab. Nor am I delving into the socio-religious ramifications of it. My point is that there’s nothing so bad that there’s not some good in it. Famous Urdu scholar and critic, Kalidas Gupta ‘Raza’ articulated it, ‘Urdu shayari ka ufaq hijab aur sharaab ke baghair naaqis hota’ (The entire horizon of Urdu poetry would have been incomplete sans veil and wine).
A veiled face with only the limpid eyes visible is a connoisseur’s delight sans any voyeuristic concupiscence. Didn’t Lata sing, Haya hai aurat ka ek gahna (modesty is an ornament to a woman)? In Urdu poetry, veiled modesty is the essence of feminine beauty.
Lastly, Pardanasheen ko beparda na kar/Jamaal ko yoon hi rahne de, sabke saamne muzahira na kar (Don’t take the veil off/Let beauty remain in its pristine form; don’t demonstrate it in public).
True! Let feminine beauty remain half-concealed, at least in poetry, for retaining its magic and mystique for mankind.
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