Contemporary Punjabi poetry struggles to deal with what it has inherited; literary tradition. The literary tradition has been shaped by at least three vital elements; deep yet accessible classical poetic expression, rich folklore and the ethos of the long-established agrarian society. So far, he has not been able to fully unburden himself of the influence of tradition that weighs heavily on him. Poets generally tend to be folksy in expression or cerebral. Shiv Kumar is a prime example of the former and Najm Hosain Syed of the latter. Our literary world has not yet fully recognized the emerging urban model of social life. But in the works of some poets we can trace the beginning of the realization of how to adapt to this new way of life that has come to stay. Poetry by the late Zamurad Malik published in the 1970s is one of the earliest efforts. Unfortunately, his contribution has been ignored in the cacophony of popular poetry. Another poet worth mentioning in this context is Irfan Malik who is free from what Karl Marx called the “village idiocy” romanticized by so many. Another poet who can be counted among the torchbearers of this non-mainstream trend is Surinder Sohal, a US-based poet and critic. A book of his poems titled “Ibaarat Chup Kayun Hai”, transliterated from Gurmukhi script by Javed Boota, has been published by Sulaikh Bookmakers, Lahore. His poems are so different in composition, tone, and tenor that those addicted to sweet songs may disapprove of them as non-poetry. Paradoxically, this very quality or this absence of traditional poetic quality makes it a contemporary poetry; fresh, unassuming and reflective of the conditions around us in urban spaces.
Surinder’s poems actually seem to be conversations with things and people that dot the metropolitan landscape. Her conversation with them brings them to life, which otherwise seem impersonal and forbidden. He tells us in the blurb who inspired him to look at everyday things. It was Dr. Jagtaar who, while traveling underground with him on a train, looked at the name of the upcoming station on the screen and asked if he had written anything on “Junction Boulevard?” “No,” I replied. “You should,” he said. “The suggestion had a magical impact on me. It sparked my imagination. Thus, each scene, each thing and each catwalk became poetic material for me,” writes Surinder. New York City emerges as if it were his beloved, intimate and yet not entirely known. He sings about all the emblematic brands of the city that make it what it is; the busiest city in the world which has a magnetic attraction. The experience of having seen physically is not necessary to appreciate what is expressed by the poet. It strongly evokes what is described, told or delimited. But to enter his poetic universe, you have to feel the new rhythm he uses discreetly to see and experience things as they are and as they appear to him. He paints the whole city, emblem of modernity, with all its cultural, social, architectural and technological manifestations. The “Rush hour” segment contains five poems subtitled “People I met in the taxi”. This set of poems depicts the predicament of man in a metropolis that simultaneously attracts and pushes people because it is as inviting as it is forbidding. The city loves everything and yet no one. It is a mix of different cultures and values. Let’s see the eponymous poem from the book which shows what the poet sees in a museum in New York. “The Game Boy, kept in a beautiful museum glass box; a little scorched on one edge, another a little melted / Smoky but it still shimmers in the museum light / Shiny text next to ‘The Game Boy’ says how strong that gadget was! Among other things, it was in the radius of a bomb explosion during the first Gulf War / The gadget, slightly damaged, still works / The piece kept in the museum adds to its atmosphere / But suddenly it strikes me ; the boy who had this game must have been hit by the bomb blast/ What happened to that child? Why is the text silent on this subject? Surinder’s book is a literary tour de force. Don’t miss it if you’re interested in modern poetry and cosmopolitan living that has contemporary relevance.
Shagufta Gimmi’s latest book “Jamiyaat Mein Urdu Tehqeeq” has been published by Qalam Foundation International, Lahore. London-based Shagufta is one of the daughters of well-established Punjabi writer, novelist, scholar and broadcaster Saleem Khan Gimi. She is in her own right a poet, writer, translator and facilitator deeply engaged in creative pursuits. In the preface, she says that it is “a first step in an effort to make accessible the research on Urdu literature done in Indian universities. This is the first volume. The second is in the works and will hopefully reach students within the next six months. The first volume is a heavy tome that implies a lot of sweat has gone into its production. She tells an anecdote that pained her but at the same time inspired her to undertake this project. She started working there in 2021 while she was in Lahore to arrange to have her father’s works published. She happened to walk into a library, saw a distraught girl, and struck up a conversation with her. This is what the girl said: “I can’t find the subject of my master’s thesis. The one I’m talking to takes airs. I contacted a concerned department head and people in different universities but no one has time for me. If I don’t choose a thesis topic today, I will drop out. The book contains a compilation of masters and doctoral dissertations completed in Indian universities. The number is staggering; no less than 395 on various topics. The book has been divided into 11 segments: Urdu Language, Linguistics and Literary History, Classical Literature Tradition, Religious Literature, Urdu Poetry Tradition, Urdu Fiction Tradition, Nonfiction Tradition, Literary Exploration and Criticism, translations, comparative studies. , Tradition of Literary Criticism, Humor in Urdu Literature. This nearly thousand-page book can really help scholars, especially students, as it offers a lot of material on various aspects of the evolution of Urdu language and its literary tradition. Shagufta Gimmi deserves kudos for burning the midnight oil. — [email protected]
Posted in Dawn, October 24, 2022