Monday, October 30, 2017

How to Create Love for Poetry: A Tribute to Sir Ghalib Raza of ICB

Over the last 25 years as I desperately try to connect my students with the joy of reading and poetry, at universities and at schools , I realize the worth  of what Sir Ghalib Raza was achieving in my school days. He was making us "feel" the poetry, not "understand" it. Poetry is meant for "feeling" the emotions which are being expressed by the poet. You kill the poetry by trying to "explain" it. This is the story of how Sir Ghalib Raza imbued love of poetry in me and other students. He would not make us labor with "explanations"  but would rather focus on evoking the "feelings". He knew that once a loving association is developed, understanding will follow naturally in good time. He would enjoy reading the poetry immersed in the emotions being expressed. He loved poetry and he infected us with that love.  Thank you, Sir Ghalib Raza, for cultivating in me this love for poetry and literature.

My association with Sir Ghalib Raza started on the wrong foot. I was in class 8th at Islamabad Model School for Boys (now ICB), in G-6/3, adjacent to the famous Covered Bazar (which was razed a few years ago). It was first or second week of the new term. When Sir Ghalib Raza entered the class most of the students were talking to each other. He may have noticed some disturbance in the class, and he thought that I was the one making it, and the first thing he did was to come and slap me. I used to be a really quiet student at that time; always very careful not to get on the wrong side of any teacher. This  was my first time in life being slapped, and I cried. When I reached home, I was still disturbed and shared my perplexing experience with my mother. My mother arranged a meeting at the school a few days later. She met with Sir Ghalib Raza, and discussed the issue. I think the matter was resolved amicably and Sir Ghalib Raza's attitude towards me changed drastically. Of course, I never gave him an opportunity to be cross with me ever again. He would later on always call me as Irfan-e-Hyder, and I think he was the only one who called me with this twist that actually improved the meaning of my name.
I can still recall his athletic built, his fair complexion, his hazel, brownish-green eyes. He was among the smartest of the teachers at the school, looking specially dashing in his Pakistan flag color blazer with Pakistan emblem indicating his participation in an international event where he had represented Pakistan. We could see him in the morning conducting fitness exercises for the male and female teachers. Exercises for teachers included jogging, stretching, warm up, etc. I learned to copy many of these movements during my early morning exercise regime at my home, and still seem to repeat these movements when I exercise. Several year later, I would learn of his romantic, colorful and adventurous side of his handsome personality.

From that 1975-76 session, I recall his love for Urdu poetry. He seemed to have in his memory immense poetry related to every conceivable situation which he could recall effortlessly. His recitation was correct,  balanced and amazingly wonderful and without accent. I still recall his explanations of poems and "ghazals". They were less about pedantic details, critical appreciation of the style, or focusing on form or measuring the meter. They were more about beautiful and emotional evocations with copious references to  excerpts from romantic poetic works emphasizing a relevant theme.

I recall vividly three of his recitations in class that were delivered in his distinctive style. First one is from the ghazal of none other than the most romantic of Urdu poets, Shair-e-Rumaan, Akhtar Shirani: 
mai aarzo-e-jaaN likhon , ya Jan-e-aarzo 
tu he bata day , naz say emaan-e-aarzo 

I later discovered its beautifully fluent rendition by Munawwar Sultana. Whenever, I hear the song, I can see Mr Ghalib Raza reciting it teht-ul-lafz.

The second piece was no wonder, again from Akhtar Shirani:
tā ḳhuld-e-barīñ le chal! 
ai ishq kahīñ le chal! 

sansār ke us paar ik is tarah kī bastī ho 
jo sadiyoñ se insāñ kī sūrat ko tarastī ho 
aur jis ke nazāroñ par tanhā.ī barastī ho ​

I now come to his wonderful rendition of a  poem of which only two verses had remained stuck in my mind for the last over four decades, I vaguely remembered that the poet was Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. The two beautiful ashaar were:
Maang ki tarh teRhi sayyaarain, teRhi leekhoan say kutnay na paaen
and
mein in chatanoan peh bethi tujh ko dohay sunaati rahoon gi;
The poem related to a young wife looking at her husband tilling the soil of the fields as she carried the lunch to him at mid day, and waiting for him to join her on a rock nearby. The way Sir Ghalib Raza recited the poem deeply immersed in the scenery and engrossed in the imagery depicted in this poem is a treat for me till this day. I can visualize him reciting the poem each time I think about that class session way back over 4 decades ago in 1975. I can see his face red with emotions. I can see him in his trance actually living the situation of that young wife of the tiller singing for her husband. In that moment his emotions and feelings were felt by us in a transmission that connected him to the hearts of all the students. I can still visualize him standing there in front of the class reciting the poem. I don't think I understood at that time all the meanings of the verses or the depth of emotions and messages. But I experienced the feelings that he was feeling and expressing in his ecstasy. In that moment, I fell in love with poetry. I enjoyed it then and I enjoy that experience now whenever I think about it.

I had been searching for that poem for a long time. My Sargodha Board Urdu textbook of 1976 is long gone and forgotten except the couple of ashaar that I found stuck in my mind. Today I had the great fortune of having Mr Hammad Rasheed, a lover of literature and poetry, some how pulled out the poem from Internet. It is actually by Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi:
 تھپکی : ایک کسان عورت کا اپنے شوہر سے خطاب 
I was waiting for this information. I am now completing this post which had been lingering in my draft folder for years. Thank you Hammad Rasheed Sb. for reconnecting me with the poem and that experience. The context of the two couplets that had been stuck in my mind for so many decades are now again much clearer, and what a pleasure it is to remember and recall that experience of his rendition:
جھٹپٹے تک ابھی ہاتھ تیرے
ہل کی ہتھی سے ہٹنے نہ پائیں
مانگ کی طرح سیدھی سیاریں
ٹیڑھی لکیروں سے کَٹنے نہ پائیں

میں یہاں اِں چٹانوں پہ بیٹھی
تُجھ کو دوھے سُناتی رھوں گی
اپنی آواز کی تھپکیوں سے
ہاتھ تیرا بٹاتی رھوں گی
The full poem is copied at the end of this post to highlight how poems highlighting the feelings and emotions should be used for kindling love of reading and poetry rather than dry analysis and dead erudition.
Mr Salman Siddiqui, a renowned academic, often says that if you want to make people hate poetry ask them to explain the poem or paraphrase it or explain the style, or explain the context. Poetry is not about context or analysis. Poetry is about emotions and feelings. 

I think this is so true. Our curriculum and text books prefer explanation of poetry over feelings and intellectual analysis over heart felt emotions. Instead of developing interest in poetry,  the analytical approach of critics teach us to hate all those poets whose life events we were forced to memorize and "tarz e kalam" that was thrust down our throats. We could not understand those sentences and therefore hated pedantic explaining of details that we found in no way connected with the emotions that the poet was actually feeling, experiencing and then expressing. No wonder most of us hate poetry to an extent that we have stopped enjoying it and have even started hating Urdu itself. 
Later I learned about his romantic life that was full of adventure. He had passion and was romantic. As someone said: Poetry is an infectious disease.  It can not be taught.  It can only be caught.  And it can only be caught by someone who already has the disease. 

تھپکی

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