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‘Social  Consciousness  In  Modern  Urdu  Poetry   And  Indo  – Anglian  Poetry- A  Comparative  Study’

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Book Review

By: Rao Farman Ali

The book ‘Social  Consciousness  In  Modern  Urdu  Poetry   And  Indo  – Anglian  Poetry-AComparative  Study’  published  by  Al – Mustaqar  Publications,  Mund  Guffan Yaripora  (Kulgam) which is written by  Professor   A. G Mir  who  has  served  in the  department  of  higher  education  Government of  Jammu and Kashmir.The  current  study  was  an  experimental study  submitted  in  partial  fulfillment  in  CIEFL  Hyderabad,  now  EFLU University.

The author  compares  the  development  of  social  consciousness  in Urdu  Poetry  with Anglo-  Indian  Poetry. The  book  gives details of  comparison  between  modern  Urdu poetry and  Indo- Anglian  poetry   and   has used  the  historical method  of research by  comparing  the  social consciousness  of  modern  Urdu  poets  and Indo- Anglian  poets.

Poetry is the expression of human life from time eternal. We, in fact, have a long tradition of arts and poetry. Colonialism gave a new language- English. The poetry written by the Indians in English in the last 150 years may be said to have three phases: the imitative, the assimilative and the experimental. The period from 1850 to 1900 is the imitative phase when the Indian poets were romantic poets in the Indian garb or in George Bottomley’s words “Matthew Arnold in a Saree” or as some derogatively observes “Shakuntala in a mini-skirt”. The chief sources of inspiration were the British romantic poets: Wordsworth, Scott, Shelley, Keats, Byron.

The period from 1900 to 1947 is the assimilative period when the Indian poets still romantic tried to assimilate the romanticism of the early nineteenth century British poets and the “new” romantics of the decadent period for expressing the consciousness of the Indian renaissance between nationalism and political changes which ultimately led to the attainment of political freedom in 1947. Modern poetry deals in concrete terms with concrete experiences in free verse. Rhyme and other devices are of meter and stanzaic forms are discarded.

The major post – independence Indian English poets are : Nissim Ezekiel, Dom Moraes, P. Lal, Adil Jussawalla, A. K. Ramanujan, R. Parthasarthy, Gieve Patel, Arvind Mehrotra, Pritish Nandy, Kamala Das, K. N. Daruwalla, Shiv Kumar, Jayanta Mahapatra, Dilip Chitre, Saleem Peerdina, Santan Rodrigues, Eunice De Souza, Silgardo, Meena Alexander, Agha Shahid Ali, Vikram Seth, Manohar Shetty etc. The models of the modern Indian poets are neither exclusively Indian nor British but cosmopolitan. Europe, Africa, America and Asia have all become a part of our cultural consciousness and offer impetus and stimulation.

So the poets have cosmopolitan culture to fall back on, though the preference is shown for Eliot, Pound, Yeats, Auden, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Background to Indian English Poetry / devotional poetry of saints like Tukaram. Contemporary Indian English poetry is the expression of certain attitudes and values believed in by certain sections of today’s Indian society, wholly urban, middle class. The poets are realistic and intellectually critical in the expression of their individualised experience. The poets go in for precision at all levels. The poems are not didactic but thought provoking as they fall back on psychological problems presented in a psychoanalytical manner. So, most of the poems do not strive for resolution of themes or conclusive stance.

Modern Indian poems are by the poet turned psychologist, psychoanalyst, existentialist, surrealist etc. They are purely an expression of thoughts felt. There is a lot of experimentation in the modern Indian poetry with a view to achieving modernity. Rhyme and stanzaic forms were replaced by free verse. Verbal melody came to be evoked through the use of alliterative and assonant words. The tone was one of intellectualized irony and sarcasm. The stance of the poets was one of complete detachment and objectivity. The other innovation of the modern Indian poets is the use of symbolism. The poets use modern techniques used by the film industry and advertising industry, besides the stream of consciousness and free association of ideas. There is much “word – hunting” and “image-hunting” which reflects the medium of consciousness on the part of the poet.

The Indian poets therefore borrow words from their regional languages. To be Indian, poets have to be rooted somewhere in India – geographically, historically, socially or psychologically. on  the  other  hand  the  writer compares  these developments  of  Indian English  Poetry to  the  Urdu  poetry  and  poets and  puts  up  the  social  consciousness  in the  modern Urdu .  Poetic canon emerged, partially in response to, and to a larger extent, uncritically carrying out a reform project of 19th century initiated by colonial rulers. Old, Greek or Arab, imperial powers rarely intended to take full hold of the ‘imaginative landscape’ of their subjects as new Western colonial powers did. The latter did their utmost to not just exercise their ‘colonising constitutional power’ over every inch of the geography of the colonised, but also to leave their imprint on every constitutive feature of the ‘cultural symbolic system’.

So, it should not be surprising that the moment we try to describe ourselves or our place in society and the world, we are reminded of this reform project by both the outside observer and the inside witness. This also makes us realise just how complex and multi-layered the decolonising process is. A study of the origin of the modern Urdu poetry is a part of the decolonisation through an ‘epistemological introspection’.

In the classical period, the ghazal and the dastan characterised the trans-individual and trans-national ethos. The poetics of classical Urdu ghazal had developed over time had no room for the expression of either the poet’s self or his/her personal emotions, dreams, woes or worries. The notion of private, highly individuated, autonomous self and its prerogative to be expressed in individualised style was alien to Urdu poets of pre-colonial period. They shared themes that encompassed a vast arena of human emotions, dreams, anguishes and ecstasies.

The major field of the poet’s struggle for accomplishment was deemed to have been language, not ‘self’. So, a poet could be recognised as having a distinct Andaz-i-bian or praised as a sahib-i-asloob rather than as someone depicting moral, national, psychological or social issues. In his oft-cited verse, Ghalib prides himself on being recognised as possessing a discrete andaz-i-bian.

Kalim ud din Ahmad, 20th century Urdu critic, derided this attribute of the ghazal poet as barbarianism. A barbarian, he said, lacks the ability to focus on a theme for long. In this, Ahmad was a hard-core representative of the modern Urdu canon. Following his predecessors like Hali, Azad and Azmatullah Khan, Ahmad viewed nazm, introduced by the English, as a site where a civilised and linearly thinking mind could find true expression. Though there is much difference between nomadism and barbarianism, the derogatory connotations of the latter term were grafted on by modern Europe to define itself in contrast to the black, colonised Asia and Africa.

Modern Urdu  poets not only defied Urdu ghazal but also its poetics. Ghazal was thought to be a decadent genre. Nazm was supposed to be quintessential components of modern Urdu poetry. Imaginary themes of classical Urdu poetry were replaced by natural and realist themes. Instead of tradition, immediate present was deemed everything. This gave rise to the unprecedented emergence of individuality, as individual self can engage with the immediate present. This way the notion of a writer’s responsibility and obligations towards the society came into existence.

The modern poet’s imagination is tied to the present or appearance which is perpetually in a state of transition caused by colonialism and in dire need of a progressive organisation. History was deemed to be a credible source of modernising Urdu literature. First Nazir Ahmad, the novelist, and then poet Altaf Hussain Hali, pioneered in imagining Hijaz as the most authentic site of Muslim national identity (in his poems Shikwa-e-Hind and Musaddas).

Instead of roaming across limitless landscapes and experiencing wahshat (the wild), they anchored their imagination to a single perspective. Their ‘modern’ revolt against the tradition was consecrated in the name of revolution.

Modernity was simultaneously hegemonic and emancipatory – which perpetuated ambivalence among writers. Revolution was a Western construct which arrived here via colonialism, yet it became a tool of resistance against colonialism. However, it turned out to be a site of never-ending contestations for modern, modernist and progressive writers.

However, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) having noticed an inherent conflict between nationalism and humanity disapproved of nationalism in his poem My Country Awake. He imagined a world “Where the mind is without fear and the head held high/where knowledge is free”.

The book is a good catch; essentially the book lovers will enjoy its reading, besides will give new insights and broaden the aesthetic mental horizons.

(Reviewer is author of several books)



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