↑ Grab this Headline Animator

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

muzaffar ghaffar - khadija hassan aftab

Many voices
REVIEW by Khadija Hassan Aftab

Is Muzaffar Ghaffaar’s elusive verse a jab at the sorry state of Pakistani writing in English?

Another voice: Thirty-five poems
By Muzaffar Ghaffaar, Ferozsons,
Rs 250.00

As the language of the soul, poetry does not lend itself easily to analysis. But in its depths it simultaneously hides and reveals the truth of the poet, and to the discovery of this end it is worthwhile to analyse. The collection Another voice, by Muzaffar Ghaffaar, is an especially interesting subject of investigation. The title suggests that the poems contained on its pages echo thoughts and feelings that have already been expressed by other voices that have found validation and legitimacy within society. Thus, the landmark humility of the true poet marks the literal surface of the volume and prepares the reader to expect the expected. But if one has previously read any of Mr Ghaffaar’s works one may rest assured that to do this is never wise.

There are several reasons why the title Another voice, departs from the tone of the poetry within, and becomes wry. First, there is a dearth of good Pakistani English literature (by which I mean writings by authors of Pakistani origin in the English language) on the market. Few, if any, voices have emerged that go beyond formulaic writing to ring true of the Pakistani experience. Fewer still elicit a reader’s empathy and perhaps none have managed to string words that carry a universal appeal. In an environment where readers are few and the serious writing community consists of only a handful of people, what does Mr Ghaffaar mean by calling himself just another voice?

The initial impression is that the author, mindful of the sorry state of Pakistani English letters, is simply being ironic. Conscious of the fact that poems are reluctantly taken to press (publishers much prefer marketing novels) and fewer still linger in public memory, perhaps the poet takes a satirical jab at the system from within. But a sad possibility pushes the irony aside and tugs at one’s heart: here is a volume of poetry, lovingly penned by a poet, baring his innermost thoughts and feelings to us, and it is afraid of being just another voice that will quickly fade away. Or worse, be misunderstood. The closing poem of the collection titled ‘The harvest’ betrays the truth of this latter possibility:

I understand;
going to be

The poems that form Mr Ghaffaar’s voice vary in theme, style, meter, length and tone. What is common between them is that all are rich in symbolism. Mr Ghaffaar switches from metaphor to allusion to personification with ease and he does so without sounding formal or stuffy. In general, the message his poetry conveys has moralistic tones and he often presents his system of values by showing what becomes of us (or what has already become of us) through their negation. In ‘Smoke screen’ he says:

City smells have gone awry. We cover
our nostrils, mutter in disarray and
look the other way. The city lambastes us
with the stench of dirty money…
…Unrelenting capillaries of gossip mark out
odorous men and women. To underscore
their identities they are impelled
by the unassailed, reeking gold
to spend on mile-long illuminations
as they make, one after another, lavish
sorry weddings for spoilt daughters.
We dine at these feasts, curse the hosts,
blame the stars and all our pet hates
then scurry on to the next subterfuge.

However ripe with moral lesson his poetry may be Mr Ghaffaar is never didactic and certainly does not pretend to impose his beliefs on the reader. He only shows us a mirror. Whether we choose to look into it or not, remains up to us:

‘The moment’

The moment
with fire in its eyes
will pounce on you
and bite off your flesh
digging its claws
to reach the bone

Or it will wither away
without touching you
without giving you deep kisses
and holding you to its bosom

Enter the moment
make it smile
make it bleed
and yell
and from its womb
bring out the babe

Look in the mirror:
you are the babe
and there is no one else around

Moving beyond moral considerations, Mr Ghaffaar asks questions of identity. In ‘Predicament’ he writes,

My allusions have shifted
from Milton, Donne and Eliot
to Fareed, the three Shaahs, heavens and this earth
and thus it is likely
to go

How does language
take to transference?
How does a journey traverse bridges
swimming on water
with crocodiles gaping?

Will someone please stand up
and say
this is okay?
Or will I
child of two, three
marvellous tongues
be guilt-smitten
and continue to look askance?

In stating his predicament Mr Ghaffaar voices ours. The questions he asks are questions we must ask ourselves as children who grapple with histories that divide us between tongues and then cheekily rule.

Elsewhere, Mr Ghaffaar departs from a social agenda and turns to introspection. He struggles with the human experience and realises a dislike for what the world makes of Man,

‘Quandary 1’

Each day
you unwrap me a little
take off etched labels
as you lovingly scrape away my scabs.
I peek out of the veils
and recognise myself a little
I resent this

Through his poems Mr Ghaffaar talks about nostalgia, pain, love, and deception; he talks about the human spirit; about ancestors; about loneliness. He pines for freedom as he paints clipped wings; he urges silence; he proposes poetry:

‘Myland – 1996 (and on…)’

…(The poet with shredded spine
shows his tears
dreading the wrath
of all
who dwell in the mirror)

…Rhythm and words
cohort with thoughts
dense as tropical vines
light as an infant’s tiny kiss…
…They solve nothing
but leave nothing at rest.

Here, in the last stanza of his ‘Poetry’, we find his real agenda. Mr Ghaffaar is a professor. It is his lot to keep probing into young minds to keep issues and arguments alive. And it is but only with debate and discussion that we may make a fresh start. Though words in themselves may not offer solutions they open doors that lead to some form of resolve.

Through his poetry, Mr Ghaffaar is also creating space for himself as a tool for uplifting society from its pathos. In doing so, he is staking the poet’s claim to being society’s moral teacher. His poem ‘Trials’ sums up the goal that his poetry inches toward – to bear his burden, to keep the torch of knowledge alive, so that his fear of not being understood with which he closes his anthology may never be realised:

…I try to enter grey caverns of young minds
to wheedle out
what they already know.
I throw out echoes
before making a sound
I can’t justify my being;
But I try


Post a Comment

<< Home