Homer tells us that Odysseus, on returning home, wreaked havoc on the suitors and their servitors who had occupied his home in his absence and the only one he spared was a poet – for being divinely inspired. From bards to balladeers to lyricists, poets have always been respected for crafting the most enduring and popular record of the human condition. And they offer some of the best – subtle but impactful – observations on society and politics – like this towering Urdu poet from Deoband.
The world of Urdu poetry is a glittering galaxy and one has to be a sufficiently bright star to stand out, but Dr. Mohammad Nawaz Khan ‘Nawaz Deobandi’ manages with his stirring poetry, akin to epigrams in verse, and transcending the individualistic approach characterising most of traditional Urdu verse. But, then, he also cannot be slotted in the “tarraqi-pasand” (Progressive) school, having blazed out his own trail – based on humanistic considerations rather than ideological.
Though he has just two published compilations, those who attend prominent mushairas will be familiar with the tall, burly, full-bearded bespectacled poet with a baritone that can range from soothing to thundering. I myself came to know of him at the Red Fort mushaira earlier this century – and one of his couplets remained in my mind, particularly because I could not write it down in time. In those days, the internet was not that boundless receptacle of information it has become now, and it took me many years before I found the full couplet, which reads: “Yeh jala diya voh bujha diya, yeh to kaam hai kis aur ka/Na hawa ke koi khilaaf hai na hawa kisi ke khilaaf hai”.
That is an underlying characteristic of Nawaz Deobandi’s poetry – simple language but with some imaginative, vivid imagery and sometimes apparent paradoxes to express profound truths and depth of thought. Take some of his best-known couplets: “Badshahon ka intezar kare/Itni fursat kahan faqeeron ko” or “Ek jugnu bhi diyon se saath roshan tha magar/Jab andhera ho gaya log pechane use”, or for that matter, “Sitam bhi roz ho kuche mein, qatle-e-aam bhi ho/Mazaa to tab hai tadapne ka intezam bhi ho”.
He just needs a baker’s dozen of words to render unforgettably life’s basic lesson: “Gungunata ja raha tha ek faqeer/Dhoop rehti hai na chhaon der tak” and takes a few more to offer some valuable advice on living (and dying): “Zindagi aisi jiyo tum, dushmano ko rashk ho/Maut ho aise ki duniya der tak maatam kare”.
His poetry offers a perceptive look on our times – whether it be the loss of innocence: “Neend aati hai sun kar inhe akhbaar ki khabren/Bachhe mere pariyon ki kahani nahi sunte”, on (self) advertising: “Usi ka maal to bikta hai is zamane mein/Jo apne neem ke patton ko zafran kahe”, on growing social rifts: “Shahron mein aise to haalat nahi the pehle/Ranjish thi yeh fasaadat nahi the pehle”, on gratitude: “Jin par loota chuka tha duniya ki daulaton/Un warison ne mujh ko kafan nap kar diya”, on ‘trust’: “Raz pahunche hamare ghairon tak/Mashwara kar liya tha apnon se” and much more modern human conditions.
He does not avoid the subject of love but deals with it in his own style: “Main mareez-e-ishq hoon, charahgar, to hain dard-e-ishq se bekhabar/Yehi tadap hi iska ilaaj hai, yeh tadap na ho to shifa na ho”.
But Nawaz Deobandi is at his best when his shers display some deft wordplay – apparently easy but more difficult to do than it looks. Take this particular one from a ghazal he says was based on “dialogues” – “Aa bhi jaao ke ham bulate hai/Tum bulate ham jo na aate to”.
Then, by juggling the word order, he gets: “Dekh kar socha to paya faasla hi faasla/Soch kar dekha to tum mere bahut nazdeek thi” and the superlative: “Ban jaye agar baat to sab kehte hai kya kya/Aur baat bigarh jaaye to kya kya nahi kehte”. Skillful use of synonyms results in this valuable lesson: “Agar bikhne pe aa jao to ghat jaate hai daam aksar/Na bikhne ka iraada ho to qeemat aur badhti hai”.
But most powerful is his intense nazm which begins: “Darham barham dono sochen/Mil julkar ham dono sochen/Zakhm ka marham dono sochen/Sochen, par ham dono sochen” and ends with the powerful: “Tipu ke arman jale hai/Bapu ke ahsan jale hai/Gita aur Quran jale hai/Hadd yeh hai insaan jale hai” and “Har tirath-sthan jalege/Saara Hindustan jalega/Tab sochenge?/Socho! Aakhir kab sochenge?”
And that is the most important message of his poetry – Think, by – but not only for – yourself!