Exquisitely Urdu

(Raziqueh Hussain)
Filed on January 8, 2010
Exquisitely Urdu

His speciality is diction, experimentation and the melody of ghazal. Muztar Majaz is one of the best Urdu poets of our times from India

Exquisitely Urdu (/assets/oldimages/urdu_070110.jpg)Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them. One can say the same for Syed Ghulam Hussain whose pseudonym Muztar Majaz is what he’s famous as. He’s the literary editor of Aina-e-Adab from Munsif Daily, a leading Urdu newspaper published in Hyderabad, India.

Born on February 13, 1935, Majaz looks every bit like the quintessential legendary poet that one would expect after reading some of his well-known Urdu couplets. He is thoroughly modest, nicely mild-mannered and dreamily romantic. There are no airs about him despite the fact that he is the best of living Urdu poets from India. Ably representing Hyderabad in most of the mushairas (poetic gatherings) that he’s participated in, his treatment of ghazal is off-the-beaten track. He finds for himself new ‘radeefs’ and ‘qafiyas’ (rhymes). Ghazal, which had become notorious for its monotonous and overworked and overwrought rhymes and radeefs are both treated by Majaz with a new and fresh idiom and images.

“I was in class 10 when I wrote my first couplet. During Ramadan, I saw followers praying dutifully. Otherwise, people would perform the namaaz (daily prayers) just as an exercise. To address that problem, I wrote:

Saf basta namazo mein khade hain lekin

Zehno mein hain tarshe ashraan khayali

Loosely translated, it means people are all standing for prayer but their minds are wandering everywhere.

I used to write down on paper all those lines long back but now I seemed to have lost them all,” he laughs.

He’s a self-taught poet. Having graduated from Osmania University in 1955 as a Commerce graduate, his heart was always in Literature and poetry so he developed a penchant for reading classical poetry from Mir Taqi Mir to Faani Badayun. “I was in government service and I used to travel a lot. On each of my travels, I would pen down whatever would come to my mind. I have to move to write. Once I retired, I took a sabbatical from writing and started translating the works of Allama Iqbal and Mirza Ghalib from Persian to Urdu,” he reveals.

His poems, he says, are “a fine balance between the hollowness of optimism found in Iqbal and an intensity of pessimism found in Badayun.” It’s mostly ghazals and nazms (rhymed verse) that he pens.

Without a doubt, Majaz has freed ghazal from the clutches of the romantic grip that represented the old thoughts and symbols of love and the pining of separation.

He breaks these shackles and indulges in new thought content of life, such as the political situations and the new problems faced by today’s man, especially in light of the suppressed humanity that exists these days all over the sub-continent. His book Shehre Baqa is one long poem which talks of our contemporary existence and the futility of man-made troubles.

The poet describes himself as a child who wants every toy and all toffee when it comes to reading. “I read to fulfill myself, I run behind it, I follow it like a river along its course,” he says.

Javednama, Payame Mashriq, Al Mughane Hijaz and Pasche Baye Kard are all acclaimed books of Allama Iqbal translated from Persian to Urdu. He’s also done a versified Urdu translation of selected poems from Mirza Ghalib called Naqsh Hae Rung Rung.

His inspiration? “You may find me quasi-romantic, but inspiration is a mystery. The creative urge is like a spider weaving its web and dying in that very web — you draw from your own self,” he says.

Does it means you have to face the inner Ghalib, or believe in Simone de Beauvoire’s belief that poets are myth singers?

“I don’t know. It is a search. Life is poetry. It cannot be summed up in a handful of words. We all see the same sunset, yet, your sun is different, my sunset is different. We take out different meanings from it,” he simply conveys with unfathomable depth. He justifies the epithet, ‘always be a poet even in prose.’

Majaz feels that Urdu poetry parallels with Persian poetry. “The problem is that our work is not being translated into other languages so the world does not know much about us. We need to do comparative studies and learn more about the happenings in other languages too,” he says.

About Urdu poets who give the impression that they live in another era, the poet concedes humbly, “Yes, we have cloistered ourselves. We have not developed our communication infrastructure as well as we should have. But yet, progression cannot be stopped. We should bring in modernism in our words,” he says, adding, “Words are the same old, but we need to bring in new meanings to them. See, Iqbal is known as the poet of Islam, but he touched a chord in his readers because he did not write like a mullah. That’s how words need to be used,” insists the poet who credits Dr Yusuf Kamal as the one who introduced him to modernism in Urdu poetry.

“I feel that poets should be sincere to their art. And readers should inculcate the real taste for poetry. Poetry should remain an art and not be used for slogan mongering. That’s good for politicians, not poets,” says the legend who steeped in classical Persian and Urdu traditions, combines the sensitivity and lyricism of the 18th century Mir Taqi Mir and the philosophical range and depth of Mirza Ghalib, easily the greatest of the 19th century poets.

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