Dialogue Times

Deterioration of Urdu Literature

(Universal Urdu Leaflet-Series)


March 2012

I get about three dozen Urdu magazines from India and Pakistan. These include Kitab Numa, Naya Warraq, Shair, Mobahisa, Sabaq-i-Urdu, Asbaque, Intisab, Zehn-i-Jadeed, Asbaat, Ajkal, Bebak, Adab-Saaz, Insha, etc. from India and Kaghadhi Paerhan, Montaj, Symbol, Chahar Soo, Tasteer, Manshoor, Roshnai, Nazm-i-Nau, Nikat, Dunia Zad, Aaj, Qirtas, Seep, Urdu Dost, Mukalma, etc. from Pakistan. Money-wise (and I am wise in that respect!), I never send a penny as a subscription but they keep on air-mailing these to me hoping that I might condescend to contribute a poem or a story.

In each issue of these magazines, names of the contributors apart (for they are top, mid and low – all levels) poetry (particularly ghazals and Nasri nazams) bemoans the constant and continuous deterioration of standards – inhitaat –انحطاط as it is called in Urdu – and it is getting worse. Of course, it is more evident in India than in Pakistan for Urdu is no longer the high-pedestal rider there.

“Easy does it” is the cornerstone of each couplet in each one of the semi-classical ghazals. The same hackneyed metaphors, the same saliva-coated mouthfuls of verbiage, and the same rhyming words – nothing seems to have changed in the last one century or so. I believe most of these ghazals are composed, nay machine crafted keeping in view the exigencies of mushairas – the audience being easy-to-grab simple subjects and simpler Urdu vocabulary. Then there are the modern masters of the ghazal format, who have nothing better to offer than such couplets, as Bakra minminata hai / Bakri maiN karti hai (Zafar Iqbal) بکرا منمناتا ہے، بکری مَین میں کرتی ہے  OR Sooraj ko chonch meiN liye murgha Khara raha  سورج کو چونچ میں لیے  مرغا کھڑا رہا (Nida Fazli). Less said about the dead burden of ghazal format Urdu has to bear, better it would be.

Of the Nasri nazm variety, there are jumbled-up lines of just plain trash! For one, the term is a contradiction in itself. How can there be “prose poetry” as a genre of literature? There, of course, can be poetic prose. Abul Kalam Azad’s prose is one of highly Persianized poetry in prose. Krishan Chander’s is an overflow of romantic phraseology with sweet nothings, as it were, of colorful warp and woof of a myriad pattern. What we get, by way of Nasri nazm in our magazines today, is neither prose nor poetry; it is something of a dubious genealogical patrimony, gender-wise.

It is the afsana (i.e. short story or – short fiction that could mean a long short story) that I am much bothered about. It is as if stories written in the first half of the last century are embracing the experimental stories of the sixties and seventies. The latter variety has characterization liquefied, plot thrown to the four winds, the flow of time from past-to-present- to future all mixed up in a jumble. The sad part of the story is that the same issue of a magazine might include a traditional story or two alongside a jumbled-up plethora of insane stuff packed up in a hold-all.

One saving grace is that the نظم category is now slowly but assuredly getting out of the sweet opiate of the Faiz tradition. Noon Meem Rashid is once again installed at the pedestal of uniqueness. If one picks up Naya Warraq or Asbaat published from India or Symbol, Tasteer, or Kaghadhi Paerhan from Pakistan, one would see that the theme, subject, treatment, phraseology, or use of similes and metaphors are once again akin to the tradition of Rashid and Majeed Amjad.

The title of this piece might be a little too harsh, but if one has to be honest, one must call a spade a spade!

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