Meerut-based poet Azhar Iqbal (top left), Sambhal-based Ameer Imam (top right), Delhi-based Tanzil Rahman (bottom right) and Delhi-based poet Alok Mishra (bottom left). (Designed by Rajan Sharma)
Bujhte jaate hain mere log sabhi/roshni ko bahal karne mein (my folks are all getting extinguished, in the quest to restore the light). When Delhi-based poet Alok Mishra, 34, recited this couplet at “Afreen, Afreen”, a part of the IHC-ILF Samanvay 2019 held at the India Habitat Centre recently, he was hinting at poetry writing as an act akin to lighting lamps and the weariness of the poets with the state of the world, their constant struggle to keep the light of consciousness alive. The log in the first line perhaps refers to the army of people, especially the young ones, who are writing Urdu poetry today. “Shayari asl mein roshni karne ka hi ek silsila hai (Poetry is, in fact, an extension of lighting up candles),” says Mishra, who was among a clutch of new poets who recited their works at the session titled, “Hawa Bhi Khushgawar Hai: Readings by Young Poets”, curated by Hindustani Awaaz founder Rakshanda Jalil.
Mishra says the core of poetry writing involves evoking emotions. “The conscientious among us contribute in different ways to make a difference in society. They show us the need to rise above the self and understand the unstated pain of others. Poets are among them,” says Mishra, describing what might have been on his mind while penning it, even though he usually doesn’t want to explain his couplets, leaving it to open to interpretation.
— Rekhta (@Rekhta) December 14, 2019
Like Mishra, there is a new breed of Urdu poets today who are writing great poetry, giving a voice to their anxieties and angst, despair and delirium. Their presence is increasingly being felt at the poetic soirees (mushairas) and other celebrations of Urdu at various fora in Delhi and elsewhere. Meerut-based poet Azhar Iqbal, 41, who compered the session at the IHC, says there must be about 50-odd young poets, in the age of 20-30, in Delhi itself. “At 21 or 22, they are writing such wonderful poetry that many Urdu poets before them couldn’t do even in their lifetime,” says Iqbal. While Iqbal’s claim may sound like and overstatement, it is true that the the works of these young bards are making the admirers of Urdu, many of them academicians, critics and serious readers, sit up and take note.
These poets include entrepreneurs and young professionals working with private firms in various fields — information technology, software solutions, pharmaceuticals, engineering, medicine and media.
Mishra is a native of Jaunpur (Uttar Pradesh). His father wanted him to be a doctor. He came to Delhi in 2005 and, after completing B. Pharma from an institute in Ghaziabad in 2010, worked in different companies for three to four years in Nasik and Chandigarh. During those years, even as he’d go to work, he’d read (Shakeb Jalali, Zafar Iqbal, Farhat Ehsas, Shariq Kaifi, et al) and write poetry. As he went through several ups and downs in those years, he often felt stifled. That ghutan (suffocation) raging inside him urged him to turn to art. “Life is sometimes bitter and intolerable. Art beautifies life, even though the process to create art can be painful too,” says Mishra, who has quit his job and now writes poetry full-time. Mishra doesn’t like his works to be bracketed under any theme. His ghazals traverse a huge gamut of emotions and are steeped in diverse imagery — from the moon crying in the sky at night as stars console her to the heart finding itself embarking on a journey after seeing someone in a dream: sab sitare dilasa dete hain/chaand raaton ko cheekta hai bahut and jab se dekha hai khwaab mein us ko/dil musalsal kisi safar mein hai.
If, for some, the trigger was the inner turmoil, for many others, it was the degradation of the world outside, the state of the nation. Delhi-based Tanzil Rahman, 37, an entrepreneur, started writing actively around 2005 to express his concern at the “badly broken socio-political climate and the shrinking space for alternative point of views”. Writing poetry, he says, has been like listening to and making sense of your own voice in an otherwise tower of babel where nothing else makes sense. “It also helps connect and build solidarity with others who are also struggling to express themselves,” he says.
— Rekhta (@Rekhta) December 15, 2019
Iqbal, who has been a familiar face at Jashn-e-Rekhta, the annual celebrations of Urdu organised by Rekhta, a movement to promote Urdu, says it’s difficult to pinpoint the hows, whys and wherefores of writing poetry. “Koi tasalsul nahin hota (there is no continuity),” he says, adding that he writes poetry either when he suffers from zehni khalfshar (mental disquiet) or when he is in love. “Ishq shayeri ki taraf ruju karti hai (love draws one to poetry),” he says, breaking into a smile. Mishra agrees. “Muhabbat ka zindagi mein ek bada dakhal hai (love intersects life a great deal),” he says. “We can’t separate love from life. Poetry writing is like opening a window to human psychology and emotions,” says Mishra.
Iqbal, who grew up in Budhana (Muzaffarnagar), was 15 when he participated in a poets’ meet where they were asked to write in the rhyme scheme of Hindi poet Dushyant Kumar: woh mutmain hain ke patthar pighal nahin sakta, main beqarar hoon awaaz mein asar ke liye (he is assured that stone can't melt/I’m restless to see the effectiveness of my words). Iqbal recited: woh phool ban ke mere paas hi mahakta raha/main sochta hi raha apne hamsafar ke liye (A flower, he was fragrant around me/And I kept thinking about my companion). That was Iqbal's first sher (couplet). Soon, raised in a family of well-known poets and devouring the works of Ahmad Faraz and Jaun Elia, Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi, Ibne Insha and Mujtaba Husain), he was on his way to follow in the footsteps of his elders. Iqbal, who has participated in many poetic soirees, says there are two kinds of mushairas: One, where the emotional poetry is recited, often sung, and appreciated. The other is held in universities and colleges where heavyweight poets participate. Iqbal's inclination has always been towards the latter. “The true guidance to the youth would be not to let them not get entangled in emotional poetry, but develop their interest in straightforward poetry which has some standard,” he says.
It was at a small gathering of doyens of Urdu literature in 2005 in Delhi that rekindled Sambhal-based Ameer Imam's interest in Urdu poetry. That gathering included Shahryar, whose songs for Umrao Jaan (1981) were immensely popular, poet and dramatist Zahida Zaidi and novelist and short story writer Qazi Abdus Sattar. “I was applauded when I recited my work there,” says Imam, whose first collection of ghazals, Naqsh Pa Hawaon Ki (Footprints of the Winds) published by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language in 2013, received the Sahita Akademi Yuva Puruskar in 2015. Imam says the audience at both the kinds of mushairas mould themselves into what they are provided. “They take the mould according to the poets: if you present the popular, they will lap up the popular, they will turn serious if you recite serious poetry,” he says. Among contemporary poets, Imam says his favouites are Lucknow-based Abhishek Shukla and Delhi-based Salim Saleem and Abbas Qamar. Iqbal names many, including Vipul Kumar (26) and Imtiyaz Khan (25), among the rising stars of Urdu poetry.
While mushairas and smaller poetic gatherings have brought them to the fore, a lot of these GenNext poets have also found their readers on social media. Imam says social media has been a huge catalyst. “Before social media, young poets depended on Urdu magazines to get their works published. It was a long and arduous process. Today, we write something, post on social media and get instant appreciation and feedback,” he says. Mishra says some of his misras (lines) became popular on social media first. Many of these poets have also been recognised after Rekhta started compiling a compendium of contemporary Urdu poets.
Imam, 35, whose second volume of poetry, Subah Bakhair Zindagi (Good Morning, Life, 2018) was published by Rekhta. He says Rekhta has brought poets from oblivion and provided them a podium where poets of the young generation are heralding their arrival. It has emerged as an effective platform since the reach of literary magazines and journals remains limited, says Imam. “Earlier, Urdu poets would distribute their collections among friends. Nobody imagined they could be read by strangers. Today, It feels good to be read by people,” says Imam, adding that the poetry being written nowadays is sharper than it has ever been in the recent past.
IHC-ILF Samanvay 2019 was held at the India Habitat Centre recently.
However, it is not past that's on the young Urdu poets' minds. It's the future. “It’s a long journey. The focus should always be on on the journey,” says Mishra, who feels that he hopes to achieve maturity of thought (khayal ki pukhtagi) with time. “Waqt sab se bada ustaad hai (Time is the greatest teacher),” he says. Journey, incidentally, has been the metaphor of many of these young poets. Iqbal writes: Ek muddat se hain safar mein ham/ghar mein rah kar bhi jaise beghar se (For a long time, I have been journeying/as if I'm at home and yet homeless).
Urdu, for these poets, have often felt like home. They have a sense of belonging with the language. “For long, Urdu has been identified with a particular community. That myth is being broken today by the youth, many of whom are so enchanted with the language that they are learning the script. It's a big change. Delhi is becoming the capital of literature; there is no week that goes without a programme celebrating Urdu poetry, and literature in general,” says Iqbal, who also participated in this year’s Jashn-e-Bahar, the annual mushaira organised by Kamna Prasad. Several of his couplets earned an encore. Junoon kam hai to mujh se shayeri kam ho rahi hai/Tumhein paakar meri deewangi kam ho rahi hai (If there’s less passion, I find myself writing less poetry; now that I have found you, my madness seems to recede). Perhaps poetry just boils down to one word — junoon or passion.