The Poetry of Hafeez Meeruthi (Part I)
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Gove, CA
Colonel Muhammad Khan was a British trained military officer of British India who joined the Pakistan Army when Pakistan was established. He was a distinguished satirical writer of Urdu and is well known for his satirical biography “Bajang Aamad” in which he has written some anecdotes of his early army life in a lighter vein.
The satirical and humorous style of Bajang Aamad gives its reader first-hand knowledge of the time, the people and the countries, all in a lucid and enjoyable way. Beyond that it exposes the good, the bad and the ugly traits of the colonizers and the colonized people not to engender hatred but to give a true understanding to build meaningful relations.
His critique attributes his humor and his satire to his natural style which he bequeathed from his environment, his genes, and his teacher. In this biography he writes: “If I did not have a kind and dedicated teacher like Dr Ghulam Jilani Barq who taught me how to write Urdu, I might have learnt to talk grammatically wrong English like most Sahib Bahadurs with a twisted tongue, but I would be deprived of the taste of our national literature and it would have been the greatest deprivation of my life. We should be grateful to Dr Ghulam Jilani Barq too for having produced a writer like Muhammad Khan to illuminate us about his time and its problems.
Dr Ghulam Jilani Barq is well known for his book Do Qur’an and Do Islam. Through these books Dr Barq brought the Western-educated Muslims closer to the Qur’an by pointing out to the references which Qur’an had about the physical and social sciences. Thus he restored Islam to its correct balance between the physical and mystical aspect of life. Till then the Urdu-speaking Muslims of the subcontinent considered Qur’an as a book of spirituality and religious history, and Islam as the ritual of five pillars, and enjoyed it as such. Dr Barq did not teach just the Urdu language to Col Khan but also gave him some of his free mind so that he could talk about some of the social taboos associated with military service in a responsible way as was done by Dr Barq about the most sensitive matter of religion and its holy book.
Urdu is the language of a people who have been in the frontline of social upheavals over thousands of years of human history. Therefore it has a consciousness that embraces the past, present and the future, and thus it has preserved the nature of man from antiquity and inshaAllah to eternity. I have written about this aspect of Urdu in my article “Urdu a Paradise Lost” in Pakistan Link dated Feb 25, 2011. Urdu has a literature that is rich in ideas that can guide us to our nature which we have lost over thousands of years of our indulgence in narrow and selfish practices as individuals and as societies. People are looking for new ideas to build a new world and we have them in our old literature and we need to share it.
The fact that Urdu, in spite of all the neglect, is alive even today speaks volumes of its universality, vitality and vibrancy. Attempts to sidetrack the traditional literary profile of Urdu by various aberrant ideologies which were a byproduct of Renaissance affected Urdu only marginally and for a short time and the literary profile of Urdu got on to its original tract not to restore bigotry but to restore the nature of man for the benefit of mankind. The movement of Adab Bara-e-Adab, which was promoted to create “thinkers” out of dummies, by divesting literature from the role of character building and even permitted these dummies to present their thoughts without assessing the literary content or moral implications of it. This movement was largely ignored by mainstream Urdu literature, even though it had the patronage of powerful people. So also the Taraqqi Pasand movement inspired by the communist ideology to pit haves against have-nots did not create a dent into the Romantic and yet Realistic fabric of Urdu or sidelined the original Urdu thought as it did with many other languages associated with socialist and communist countries.
It is not that the Urdu-speaking community is free of its share of inhumanity and immorality, and is not without its share of writers and thinkers like Marques Desade, who try to spread the virus of selfishness and immorality into the mainstream population, but the body of mainstream Urdu literature and laureates isolated such writing and writers as a healthy body isolates its diseased part. They succeeded in doing so by following the guidance given by the Qur’an in verse 15-20 of Chapter 24.
When Sahib Bahadurs referred to by Colonel Muhammad Khan took over the reins of administration of their countries from the colonial powers they relegated the study and advancement of Urdu as they saw the economic gains in English and English alone. Now with Chinese, German and Japanese joining the clique of economic competitors they are scrambling ad hoc strategies to maintain economic status even if it comes to compromising the culture. The result is that Urdu-speaking people were disconnected from their mooring and drifted into corruption and inhumanity and the blame was put on English and their language for the short-sightedness of our own leaders.
Dr Anad Gulzar Zutshi, a Kashmiri Pundit, and an SSO with CSIR in India, was also an Urdu poet. When he visited Mysore in the late-sixties on official work to CFTRI he attended a congregation of Urdu poets. One of the couplets of his ghazal which he presented at a congregation was:
Na Karda Gunahon Ki Jazaa De Jo Khudaya
Mangoonga Khuda se main Muqaam e Urdu.
Meaning: If God rewards me for saving the world from the sins that I did not commit, I will ask Him to restore the status of Urdu in India. This goes without saying that Urdu was discriminated against in India and only God could restore it and God has done it.
Love, hate, compassion, cruelty, greed, contentment, sharing, exploitation, and such other opposite traits are in the nature of man so that he understands the good values from the bad ones after experiencing both; and is thus able to discard the evil in favor of the good. When God became a figment of imagination, religion became the opium of the poor and morality became irrelevant and relative due to evil genius of our rulers, evil gained an upper hand in our mind and confused us about the basic question of what is our true Nature. Poets like Hafeez Meeruthi (1921-2001) have spoken about all these virtuous and wicked traits of man in poetry candidly and lucidly to make us aware of our true nature and come back to it.
Poetry is not a jugglery of words to rhyme one sentence with another and lose the thought in the process. Those who did not have the capacity to save the thought with rhyme rhythm, started what is called nazm. Some great ideas came in this form, but a whole poem had to be read to get this idea which was not suitable for the time in which “Time was money”. The traditional lovers of Urdu poetry continue to enjoy ghazal in which the two lines of a couplet are packed with a whole meaning which gives them more bang for the buck. This was the explanation given by Hafeez Meeruthi about his preference of ghazal over nazm in one of his interviews.
Nayeem Siddiqi, another great Urdu scholar, poet and critique has written about the effectiveness of Urdu ghazal thus: A poet presents his feelings, his experiences and his state of mind in a couplet through words. But the words which make the body of couplet become alive through a process in which the poet blows the spirit of his imagination (Nafakh e Takhay-yul) and makes this inert body of words alive to kick the readers’ imagination. This spirit of imagination creates in the reader a vision and an understanding where the word “tear” appears like candescent light, and the word “wound” appears like a flower that is being tendered with care. The words are astonished to know about the meanings that they had beyond the conventional definition of lexicon and which were brought to life by the poet who had blown the spirt of his imagination into them. A successful poet is one who has this capacity, and Hafeez Meeruthi had this art says Nayeem Siddiqi. He quotes this couplet in support of his statement:
Mud-dathon Phool Smajhthi Rahi Unko Dunya
Hum Ne Tho Zakhm Bhi Rakhe The Saja Kar Kithne.
Alluding to the tragedies he was facing in his life Hafeez Sahib says in the above couplet: That those who were enjoying the beautiful thoughts in my poetry were unaware of the wounds that I was suffering because I was presenting them to the audience of my poetry in a way the people offer flowers with utmost care.
I have chosen the Urdu poet Hafeez Meeruthi as an example to illustrate the mainstream Urdu thought because I knew him by virtue of spending two evenings with him and listened to his poetry in three congregations of poets called Musha-era (which is from the word shaoor, meaning awakening of consciousness). I had read about the tantrums which the established poets throw on their fans in biographies of poets like Firaq Gorukhpuri and Josh Maleehabadi etc., but Hafeez Sahib was a simple down to earth man with a knack of ruling over heart without controlling your mind. Perhaps one should have a pure heart and a sound mind to do this; and to see and feel this quality in him. I have heard some people like Zoai Ansari complaining about him because of his association with Adb e Islami.
Before introducing the personality and poetry of Hafeez Sahib to my readers I will present them with few of his couplets which represent his positions on some of the burning subjects of our time.
On the topic of domestic violence he writes:
Ye Kya Sulook Muhab-bath se Aadmi Ne Kiya
Libas e Gul Mein Gayi Thi Kafan mein Aayee hai.
A girl goes to her husband’s house in flower in the hope of getting love and making family/It is shameful that a man violates this trust and mistreats her and sometime sends her back in coffin.
Even though every country and its leaders swear about the equality of all before law, the fact remains that the weak are always ill-treated in every country irrespective of the type of government they have. Alluding to this Hafeez Sahib says:
Daad di-jay Ke Hum Ji Rahein Hain Wahan
Hain Muhafiz Jahan Qatilon Ki Tarah
Roshni Kab Thi Ithni Mera Shahr Mein
Jal Rahein Hain Makan Mash’alon ki Tarah .
Meaning: We should be applauded that we continue to survive in a place where those who are supposed to protect us, kill us, those that should provide us electricity to light our houses burn our houses to bring light to cities.
He further says in the following couplet: that we are not supposed to complain against our leaders for suppressing us like this.
Zikr Chid Jaye Agar Qaum ki Bad-bakhthi Ka
Rah-numaon ki taraf Koi Ishara na Karo.
Talking about the role of media he says: Even before we can understand the crime for which we are punished, the media declares a guilty verdict against us, in the following couplet.
Hum Abhi Jurm bhi Samajh na Sakay
Faisala Bhi Suna Gayi Dunya.
As a result of the infinite ability of oppressors to continue their atrocities and keep the oppressed silent has degraded the human race as it was never seen before and man is thinking of how to dispose this mankind, says Hafeez Sahib in the following couplets:
Is say Pehlay Aadmi Ki Ithni BayKhadri Na thi
Sochti Hai Aaj Duniya Aadmi Ka Kya Karay
Hafeez Sahib laments about the plight of mankind which is supposed to be the most evolved creation on face of the earth in the following verse.
Ye Hasil e Hayath hai Ye Fakhr e Kayenath
Ai Aadmi Mazakh Na kar Aadmi kay Saath
(To be continued)