By Atif Tauqeer
Atif Tauqeer is an excellent Urdu poet, but he is more popular in Pakistan as a social media activist and vlogger. Many of his political poems have gone viral on social media and some are openly critical of Pakistan’s ruling establishment. This has prompted some people to call Tauqeer a “one-dimensional” poet. I think the review is a bit unfair
At a time when the Urdu literary scene is full of ghazals and qaafiya-loving poets [rhyming words]radeef [refrain] and a variety of bahoor [metres]here is a poet who chooses to write paaband [metrical] nazms. Moreover, the topics that Tauqeer usually deals with are reminiscent of the landmark poems of Noon Meem Rashid, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Faraz. This is no ordinary feat in today’s fast-paced world with limited attention spans.
It also reminds me of a now somewhat outdated and irrelevant debate about the supremacy of the nazm over the ghazal. In the previous century, many established Urdu poets despised ghazals and claimed that the traditional genre had run its course. Now is the age of nazm, they announced.
Fast forward to 2022, nazm poets in Urdu are a hot commodity. Young poets, especially, seem more inclined to ghazal writing, which does not always require much erudition and rigor. Some conveniently write prose poems without having exhausted conventional formats.
Atif Tauqeer’s latest collection of poems is filled with painful nostalgia for the poet’s homeland and a desire to fix it
Tauqeer, who is based in Germany, began his poetic career in Karachi by writing ghazals. It was his mentor, Jaun Elia, who suggested Tauqeer pursue the nazms as he believed his young disciple had the potential to excel in this particular form of poetry. Fortunately, Tauqeer heeded Elia’s advice. His last anthology of poems, Radd [Negation]is a testament to both Tauqeer’s extraordinary nazm writing skills and Elia’s mentorship.
In the nazm titled ‘Lahoo’ [Blood]for example, Tauqeer writes:
Hum aab-i-Zamzam ya Ganga jal se bhi sadiyaan pehlay
Khayaal-i-kun ke rahien-i-minnat
Zameen pe bhaijay gaey thay aur phir
Na jaanay ye kya hua ke hum ne
Badan ke taankay udherr daalay
Wujood hisson mein baant daala
Bisaat khaanon mein torr daali
Woh tera khaana, yeh mera khaana
[We were sent to this world centuries before
Aab-i-Zamzam and Ganga jal
As a result of “Let there be!”
Who knows what happened then that we
Pulled the stitches of our bodies apart
Split our very existence into pieces
And the board into squares, which now
Are either your squares or mine]
Radd’s poems are filled with a painful nostalgia for the poet’s native country. It seems that what afflicts Pakistan socially has had a profound impact on him, and he cannot overlook it.
While some poems are explicitly political, like “Ghaddaar” [Traitor]’Aitraaf’ [Confession] ‘Mutaaliba’ [Demand] and ‘Shukriya’ [Gratitude]others – like ‘La’ [Nothing]’Izafiyat’ [Relativity] and ‘Sukoot’ [Silence] – have a more philosophical bent. But even these convey a feeling of deprivation, of chaos, of a burning desire to put things right.
In the poem “Ghaddaar”, for example, Tauqeer writes:
Bhook ghadaar hai
Bhook mein pait by haath rakhna gunah
Pyaas ghaddaar hai
Pyaas mein aasmaanon ko takna gunah
Lafz ghaddaar hain
Sach mein liptay huay
Justujoo ke naey raastay kholtay lafz ghaddaar hain
[Hunger is a traitor
And it is sin to suffer from hunger
Thirst is a traitor
So is staring at the sky in thirst
Words are traitors
Words enclosed in truth
Words opening new avenues of our struggle
Yes, they, too, are traitors]
Then, in ‘Izaafiyat’, he says:
Yeh waqt kya hai?
Ke jaisay gardish ki lamha lamha nigoon-sari ko safar samajhna
Ke jaisay maakoos zaaviyon ko safeer-i-gasht-i-sahih samajhna
Yeh daira-waar gardishon ke naqaat-i-makhfi ko dekh lenay
Ke aik daavay se barrh ke kya hai?
[What is time?
Relativity it is
As we take the circulation of bowing moments to be the journey
As we take the inverted angles to be a harbinger of the rightful path
What is it more than the claim of having seen the hidden points of the spiralling motions?]
Occasionally the poet tends to indulge in pedantry – something I hope he will master as he gains experience. Sometimes Tauqeer’s craft, which is superior to many of his contemporaries, dominates poetic aesthetics – rationality replaces emotions. But this is not the case with his ghazals. Perhaps the poet believes that the nazm genre is more suited to cerebral subjects than to emotional experiences.
Radd’s ghazals echo Jaun Elia and Gulzar – two different poets – so it is quite remarkable how Tauqeer managed to draw inspiration from both. But, as in nazms, Tauqeer’s ghazals reflect his unique sensibility and style. The political element never goes away.
Take, for example, the following:
Main bhi khuda parast hoon, you bhi khuda parast hai
Lekin hamaray darmiyaan phir bhi buland-o-past hai
Teri har aik daleel mein tera hi radd nihaan raha
Goya yeh teri zaat ki sab se barri shikast hai
[A worshipper I am, a worshipper you are, too
Yet the highs and lows keep us apart
In all your reasoning is concealed a rejection of your claims
Your biggest defeat, hence, at your own hands]
Wujood-i-ishq ka koi sira mila? Nahin mila
Khudi mili, nahin mili, khuda mila, nahin mila
[Existence of love, did you find the start of it? No
Found your ‘self’? No. Found God? No]
Raat ki chhaaoni se aya tha
Chaand teri gali se aya tha
Neend bhar chekhna parra mujh ko
Khwaab kis khaamoshi se aya tha
[Came hither from the garrison of night
The moon came hither from your abode
Throughout my sleep I had to scream
How quietly the dream had come]
Tauqeer is a poet steeped in both tradition and modernity, one who grapples with the issues of our time. Unlike his contemporaries, he is not interested in “surprising” his reader with clever puns or borrowing phrases from English and other languages to sound “modern”. It is contemporary in its themes, but traditional in the treatment of its subjects. Take, for example, the following ghazal:
Peeraan-i-jubba-o-qaba saara fasaad aik hai
Sab ka khuda alag sahi sab ka mafaad aik hai
[All mullahs and priests are one, so is their menace
Each with their own god, their interests but all the same]
Jaanay hum kya khareed laatay hain
Jism bazaar thorri hota hai
Yeh kabhi raeygaan nahin jaata
Khoon akhbaar thorri hota hai
[What is it we buy and bring home?
The body is but no market
It indeed never goes in vain
Blood, for sure, is not a chronicle]
The Urdu critics’ lack of attention to a poet who touched the lives of many, from Karachi to North Waziristan, is somewhat disconcerting, however. This shows how far they are from the latest poetic trends, new experiments in world literature. Urdu scholars might downplay the literary significance of Tauqeer’s latest book because they have a condescending approach to famous poets and writers through social media. But can they deny its pervasive and overwhelming role in our lives?
Many new poets are making a name for themselves through social media these days, not only in Pakistan but all over the world. Not all deserve our attention. But in a world filled with social media versifiers, Atif Tauqeer is a poet who stands out for his unfathomable talent and craftsmanship.
*All translations are by the proofreader
The reviewer is a journalist and fiction writer based in Germany. He tweets @ImamShamil
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 13, 2022