Monday December 16, 2019

Book on Firaq: Oasis in parched land


51-CPKO7vjL-1In my current pre-occupations with the depressing state of world affairs, the arrival of a book, ‘Firaq Gorakhpuri’ for review, provided relief. The author, Ajai Mansingh claimed to be a relative of Firaq. This was intriguing. Raghupati Sahai Firaq, was a straightforward Kayastha from a distinguished family of Urdu poets. It turns out that Mansingh claims descent from one of Firaq’s sisters.

Oddly, Mansingh has lived in Canada for over decade teaching subjects unrelated to poetry. He then settled down in Jamaica which I associate with Rastafarians, Ocho Rios and fast bowler Michael Holding, not Firaq.

All information is not necessarily knowledge. Mansingh’s painstaking compilation of the great poet’s family and relatives does not shed even a shaft of light on a genius who spent his life in poetic gatherings, mushairas, intellectuals, artists, students and teachers of Allahabad University.

The book has triggered a procession of personal memories.

Once when I was visiting my cousin Mushtaq Naqvi in Allahabad, the great Urdu critic, Saiyyid Ehtesham Hussain dropped by. He had to meet Firaq Sahib and asked me to accompany him. Firaq Sahib held forth on a book by Prof. Aijaz Hussain, head of the Urdu department and Firaq’s regular companion. Ehtesham Sahib, a man of few words, was mesmerized. Returning home, Ehtesham Sahib muttered mostly to himself about Firaq’s “incisive” mind, how he had shed light on aspects of the book only a genius can discover. This admission was significant because Ehtesham’s critique of the book had created waves in literary circles. Firaq’s observations were novel and fresh. Throughout the journey back home, Ehtesham kept shaking his head in silent admiration.

My cousin Mushtaq was close to Firaq on two counts. Firaq’s youngest brother, Yadhupati Sahai, was the head of department, English literature at Allahabad University where Mushtaq was a lecturer. Also, Musthaq’s maternal grandfather, Mir Wajid Ali, had been a much respected senior in Naini jail where Firaq too had spent a term during the freedom movement.

The day after Ehtesham Sahib’s visit, Mushtaq visited Firaq.

“Ehtesham Sahib was terribly excited about your fresh insights into Prof. Aijaz Hussain’s book.”

“Which book?” Firaq rolled his eyes mischievously. “I know Aijaz so well, I don’t need to read his book.”

This was just one example of Firaq’s perceptive, razor sharp mind. He had sent away the greatest critic in the land deeply impressed by his insights into a scholarly book he had not read. He had anticipated his friend Aijaz’s mind with stunning accuracy.

In his book Ajai Mansingh expresses unhappiness with the way Firaq has been projected. Most of the writings on Friaq, he alleges, were based on gossip.

At the very outset the author, lists four generations of Firaq’s family as sources for the book. In this list the Mansinghs are prominently inserted. Firaq would have torn his hair. He was not a family man at all. One of the unhappiest events of his life was his marriage. The language he sometimes used to describe his wife is almost unprintable.

Firaq was one of Urdu’s greatest poets, but he was not what you would call a nice man. He says so himself.

“Munh se hum pane bura to naheen kehte ki Firaq,
Hai tera dost, magar aadmi achcha bhi Naheen”

(I will not call him names because Firaq is your friend. But let me warn you, he is not a good man.)

He could be self centered and insincere. Many flattering stories about himself were half truths. Firaq passed the ICS examination. Not true. He got into the provincial civil service but, under the spell of the Nehru family, joined the national movement. He was a professor in the English Department. Incorrect. He spent his life as a lecturer. Yes, he was one of the most popular teachers the university ever had.

He had all the contradictions great men are sometimes endowed with. In full flight of his imagination, he could, in one moment be with the stars, clouds, the milky way. In the next moment he touches deep emotions with rare delicacy. He is probably the most sensuous poet since Meer Taqi Meer.

Shabe wisaal ke baad aayina to dekh I dost. Tere jamal ki dosheezgi nikhar aayee

(Look at the mirror after a night of love. You look more chaste and maidenly)


Woh tamam rooe nigar hai, Woh tamam bos o kanar hai

Woh hai ghuncha, ghuncha jo dekhiye, Woh hai choomiye to dahan, dahan.

(She is all beauty to behold. She is all entangled arms and lips. She is a rose bud for eyes to dwell on in a kiss she is all mouth.)

Did Firaq dominate the literary scene even though contemporaries like Josh Malihabadi, Jigar Moradabadi and Yaas Yagana Changezi were also on the stage? Such an assertion would be fiercely challenged by partisans. Josh was unparalleled in the boom and vigour of his diction; Jigar in his unsurpassed lyricism; Yagana in the startling novelty of ideas.

Firaq derives his sensuousness from Behari as well as Keats. As a teacher of English literature, he had allowed the Romantic movement to influence him greatly. He was to that extent much more cosmopolitan than his contemporaries. A few decades down the line Faiz Ahmad Faiz emerged as a poet with a mind truly in the modern idiom. His personal friendships extended from Edward Said to Louis MacNeice.

Faiz was quite considerably helped by the fact that he lived in Lahore, the liveliest cultural centre until 1947. Lucknow and Delhi never quite recovered their élan after 1857. Majaz possibly the finest talent of the century, languished in Lucknow’s decadence. His dozen or so ghazals and long poem, Awara, rank with the best in Urdu poetry.

It is in this galaxy that Firaq shines incomparably. He courted controversies, including the one which caused Oscar Wilde to be jailed by Victorian England. Like Wilde, Firaq was a scintillating conversationalist, whose company was sought by all ages.

Ajai Mansingh’s plaint is that most of the Firaq stories were “unethical, mischievous and libelous,” as they were based on “gossip”. He says all the writings were based on Firaq’s “last twenty five or thirty years when he had become mentally deranged and morally bankrupt”.

Here is a clear case of libeling the dead. Firaq attended Mushairas until the 70s. He died in 1982.

What a genius like Firaq needed was a Boswell, to record the public record of his wit and erudition, not a tedious compilation of relationships the great poet would have had difficulty recognizing.

(Saeed Naqvi, IANS)

Next Story

What is a Poem’s Purpose and Why is Carefree Life of a Poet most Adored?


 – by Saket Suman

New Delhi, July 24, 2017: Of all romanticism associated with poetry, the ethereal and carefree life of a poet is perhaps the most adored. But is this — the state of a poet’s being — the reason for the existence of poetry, and, more so, what is a poem’s purpose?

There are no wars to be won through poetry, no great intentions behind a poem’s composition and it is more of a compulsion for self-motivated souls than a mere hobby, says Kiriti Sengupta, a gifted Indian poet, who has more than 17 books of poetry to his credit.

“I think writing poetry cannot be defined as a favorite pastime for a writer. An honest poet writes poetry out of sheer compulsion. Poets write poetry when they think it will do justice to their thoughts or expressions. There are several other ways for conveying messages, observations, and experiences, but poetry is written only when poets think they can do no better without indulging in this genre of literature,” Sengupta told IANS in an interview.

Elaborating, the much-acclaimed poet from West Bengal said that he had no “great intention” when he started composing poetry and even now he does not entertain ideas of “changing the society” through his poems. “Poetry does not change anything. It does not initiate a change either. Poetry makes you think, makes you aware, and it makes you revisit your concerns, which may include your agonies as well,” he added.

Sengupta’s “My Glass of Wine” is almost autobiographical and is now a part of India’s first poetry trilogy, “Dreams of the Sacred and Ephemeral”, which also bears two other works, “The Reverse Tree” and “Healing Waters Floating Lamps”. In the first two collections, one finds verses placed alongside prose. Sengupta stressed on the fact that he wanted to eliminate the apathy of a common reader towards poetry and thus a mix of prose and poetry was the immediate option.

But poetry is considered to be one of the finest expressions of literature and, even today, it is widely read and adored. How fulfilling is the experience of a poet then?

“You have a definite purpose when you write a poem. You either convey a message you intended to, or you showcase your cerebral prowess to juggle words. Whatever be your objective, if you do it well, you are happy at the end of the day. Prose writing is generally more time-consuming, but then, there are poems that, no matter if they are long or short, take days and even weeks to write and finish,” quipped the poet.

And then there is the writer’s block. Like all creative people, a poet is no stranger to this rather depressing phenomenon, but Sengupta says that one has to live with it as it is a part of the journey.

“I’ve my share of non-productive days when I fail to write. After publishing more than 17 books I don’t find it stressful or alarming anymore. I just feel bad about it, but it is only when I read other poets’ work. See, it is extremely important to keep abreast of the latest happenings in the field of poetry, especially when someone is seriously engaged in it,” he maintained.

Sengupta also contested the idea that poetry has taken a backseat in recent years and said that the reality is actually contrary to popular belief. There has been a rise in poetry consciousness across India, he said, and we have more than one organization in every city promoting poetry among new readers, especially youngsters. It is, however, debatable whether they promote quality work and enhance the availability of quality work.

He also emphasized that it is indeed impossible “to earn a living from writing poetry” in India. “Poets are self-motivated souls who write poems for the joy derived from creating a work of art,” said the poet, whose upcoming chapbook of verses is titled “Solitary Stillness” and is due to be published in August. (IANS)