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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

fehmida reyaz - intezar hussain

There she goes again

By Intizar Hussain

A literary age is also known by the kind of controversies it brings in its wake. They are indicative of the newly emerged questions in our literature and our involvement in these questions. But a repeat of an outdated controversy serves no purpose. Rather, it speaks of our mental barrenness.

The immediate cause for this reaction on my part is an article by Fahmida Riaz, which I have just read in the latest issue of Duniyazad, Karachi. I earnestly tried to understand what has prompted her to launch once again a tirade against the ghazal and its practitioners. Has some new situation arisen with the passage of time and has she anything new to add to what has already been said by the hostile critics at different times? If not, why should she take the trouble to repeat all those oft-repeated arguments, which every time they are repeated appear more hollow than ever?

Duniyazad has accommodated in the present issue two letters written in defence of the ghazal. The writers, Abrar Ahmad and Shanavar Ishaq, have fared a bit better in the sense that they, at least, are brief and to the point as opposed to Fahmida.

Fahmida, in her article, has wasted much time in trying to caricature ghazal writers. The attempt doesn't impress us much. She leaves this tiresome exercise in the middle and comes to the point. Here, too, she betrays her weakness by shifting from one position to the other. At the outset, she is in a mood to dismiss the ghazal as a form of expression. But soon, she relaxes a little and says that "good poetry is not always an impossibility in the form of ghazal." She is gracious enough to give some credit for good poetry to Hafiz and Baidil. She, however, seeks help from Josh and gladly informs us that he, too, had pointed out the limitations of the ghazal as a form of expression. But she did not care to understand that Josh had his own limitations as a poet. The rejection of the ghazal did not help him to overcome these limitations.

Fahmida feels helpless in the face of Hafiz and Baidil. In spite of her approval of Josh's verdict against the ghazal, she finds no way out but to grant concessions to Hafiz and Baidil. But once again, she goes on giving concessions to poets of lower cadre such as Jigar, Asghar and Fani. Even Zafar Iqbal succeeds in getting concession from her. But enough is enough. No more concessions. She is angry with her contemporaries for choosing the ghazal as their medium of expression while they had the option of choosing the nazm, which, according to her, is a far better medium of expression. She is fully convinced that ghazals written these days are all trash. She has no hesitation in including the ghazals of previous decades in this trash. On the other hand, nazms written during these years, according to her, are far better. Is it really so? But here, too, she pauses to make a few exceptions. Zafar Iqbal had already been excepted. Now she picks up Anwer Shaoor from the rejected lot and grants his ghazal the status of good poetry. One can only wonder at such exceptions. So many others included in the condemned goods are equally as good or as bad as the excepted ones. Only they could not win her favour.

Josh's argumentations against the ghazal may or may not appear convincing to us. But one thing goes in his favour. He took a clear stand against the ghazal and stuck to it. Fahmida lacks that kind of firmness. Ostensibly, she took a stand against the ghazal condemning the whole lot of contemporary ghazals as devoid of poetic qualities. But the next moment, she picked up poets from the condemned lot and began granting concession to them.

As for her discrimination between contemporary ghazal and contemporary modern verse, I will venture to say that bad poetry is not the prerogative of contemporary ghazal alone. Contemporary modern verse can claim equal share in it. And trash has been a part and parcel of our literary produce in general. We can hardly associate it with any particular form, traditional or modern. We can trace plentiful of it not only in traditional and modern ghazal, but also in modern verse. And in our fiction, too.

As for the tirade against the ghazal, it has a long history behind it. We can trace it back to the times of Hali and Azad, who were perhaps the first to register their dissatisfaction with this age-old poetic form of expression. From then on, we have been seeing a number of individual writers, literary groups and modern movements making their contribution to this tirade. And the ghazal has been able to survive all such onslaughts. However, in the meantime, it underwent a process of renewal absorbing much from what it drew from the sensibility of modern times, Fahmida has taken up this campaign when this whole controversy about the ghazal has grown outdated.

Of course, there is no harm in reviving an old controversy provided one picks it up with a new approach, which unfortunately is hardly traceable in Fahmida's articles.


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