Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 5, 1985 p. 127.


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Book Reviews

Shaheen Be-Ni^an Karachi Maktaba-e-Afkar 1984 232pp (Publication funded by the Directorate of Multiculturalism Department of the Secretary of State Ottawa, Canada )

I had never read Wall Alam Shaheen s poetry until I came to Canada My ignorance about him must have stemmed from the fact that he spent most of his creative life—before coming to Canada—in Bangladesh Then when he was in Pakistan in Karachi and was published in literary journals there I was in the Punjab and read the journals that came out of Lahore—more out of a sense of loyalty than any consideration for the quality of the material published I must add

Another factor may also have contributed to my ignorance about his literary output Until 1970 he wrote under the pen name 'Shaheen Ghazipun " With a tag like Ghazipun' appended to his pseudonym he could not have endeared himself to our group of young writers of blank verse in the Lahore of the Sixties Almost as a matter of policy we did not recognize any literary merit in or felt any kinship with poets who came packaged as 'Muradabadis' or "Malihabadis " They would almost automatically be taken as writers of ghazals and ghazal was nothing short of an anathema for us lovers of nazm Ghazal as a mode of writing we believed, had largely outlived its utility or exhausted its potential over the past two centuries only a poet with a completely new vision of the world and a unique perception and turn of phrase could make a name for himself by writing in this mode And frankly having read at least one Muradabadi and one Malihabadi we did not hope to run into any newness of vision or linguistic innovation in poets with such tags Such tags bespoke literary backwardness and "Ghazipun" could be no exception In retrospect I realize that the loss was entirely ours for Shaheen writes and has been writing both ghazals and nazm

Formally as well as conceptually the nazm and ghazal belong in a different universe and call for a different even non-complementary ordering or organization of experience I may be over simplifying the issue here but I believe that the writing of nazm involves the process of expansion and elaboration of thought and experience so that each facet of the subject in hand may be mulled over separately each detail observed individually and seen to fit in the larger context of meaning Ghazal on the other hand attempts to condense and coalesce a number of experiences so that their essence or value be perceived and expressed within the space of a couplet Ideally imprecise or rambling language is unacceptable in both nazm and ghazal but my experience has been that some of it is tolerated in a nazm in the interest of exploration of ideas in a ghazal its use is well-nigh fatal for the ghazal as well as the poet s imagination The couplet of a ghazal to be effective must rely heavily on the connotative value of words for the short space of the couplet as well as the constraint of the end rhyme often hinder rather than facilitate expression Given the marked difference in the nature of the discipline required to write in each mode it will be right to infer that the ability to switch from one mode to the other is hardly facile Shaheen however crosses the formal boundaries between the modes with remarkable ease and finesse He is as accomplished a writer of nazm as he is of ghazal

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