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Gone with Ghalib?
The ever questioning urge, Yun hota toh kya hota?... na hota main toh kya hota?, made Mirza Ghalib the poet that he was. But as poet and lyricist Nida Fazli puts it, "In this commercial world overwhelmed by cricket and films, a thing like Urdu poetry, pregnant with such deep questioning, has little space. "
That's a grouse held by Khushbir Singh Shad too. Piqued at the state of Urdu poetry today, the poet says, "I have my doubts if poetry will come back to its original stature, like the one it enjoyed in the 18th century. Not much work is published these days as not many are game to even buying Urdu poetry. If you tell someone that you are a poet, they expect you to be engaged in something more concrete, something that pays, not merely in writing poetry. With just that, you simply can't get by. "
With poets not getting their share of fame - though fortune traditionally never shone on this lot - the number of those involved in this literary trade is also declining. Muzaffar Ali says, "I think, more than Urdu poetry the concern should be the dwindling number of poets. " But have the numbers gone down more post the fall of the Progressive Writer's Movement? "I think so, " he says. "Poets are born out of social activism;now that's not there. For instance, a lot of poetry was born at the time of the demolition of Babri Masjid. The collective anguish was expressed through poetry then. "
For many poets writing in Urdu, the poetry that once had its roots in social activism has now acquired the colour of "a performing art". Says Shad, "Poetry is all about ehsaas (feeling) and now even that has been commercialised. " There are other social dynamics that have affected Urdu poetry and Ali says it is the increasing and overwhelming influence of English language. "Urdu poetry cannot happen in thin air;there has to be a population that understands it. Ab English bhi toh bahut zaroori hai (English is very important these days). Aren't we, too, talking about the state of Urdu poetry but doing it in English, " he laughs.
Though poet Waseem Barelvi would like time to answer the question on the withering away of Urdu poetry, he agrees its "role" has been "squeezed" today. "Contemporary criticism is not in a position to assess the role of poetry at the time of its being written;assessment is done after the passage of some time. But considering the compulsions of the modern age, it wouldn't be wrong to say that circumstances have compromised the role of Urdu poetry, " he says.
Kamna Prasad, who calls herself an Urdu activist, says poets don't have patrons and end up performing at mushairas and sammelans to earn a few bucks. Asked how much money Urdu poets can get to make these days, Ali begins to answer and then trails off. "Some leave for Bombay... actually, that's a sad story. Just leave it, " he says.
But in all this, there's another, more poignant, hurt that Fazli carries in his heart. "Perhaps due to politics, Urdu seems to have been intentionally associated with one particular community - Muslims. This is historically wrong. Why only Muslims, even Hindus write and have always written in Urdu. If we have Mir and Ghalib, we also boast about Brij Narayan Chakbast and Pandit Daya Shankar Naseem. This language doesn't belong to any one community. Persian is spoken in Iran, Arabic in Arabia, and Urdu in India. "
THE AUTHOR IS A RESEARCH SCHOLAR AT JAWAHARLAL NEHRU UNIVERSITY, DELHI
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