An endeavour to understand Muneer Niazi
by, Meraj Rana
“We know that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God), but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.”
(Image, Music, Text, p.143, Roland Barthes, 1977)
There are many definitions of poetry in the history of world literature. We can use any of these definitions for our poetry. But it would be more appropriate to read and understand our poetry and our own literary culture. Some of these definitions may not focus on our attention due to their cultural ideologies. However, one thing that has a shared value in all these definitions is related to the imaginative embodiment of human feeling.
That is to say; poetry is the best and most efficacious means of concentrating the inner turmoil on the level of expression which arises from a more contradictory situation. T.S Eliot (1888-1935) writes:
“The poem’s existence is somewhere between the writer and the reader; it has a reality which is not simply the reality of what the writer is trying to ‘express’, or of his experience of writing it, or of the experience of the reader or of the writer as reader.”
The relationship between the text and the author is explained in the existence of poetry by Eliot. This is a fact, but it is not a reality beyond expression and which the author tries to express. Eliot then goes on to explain the primary function of criticism:
“The rudiment of criticism is the ability to select a good poem and reject a bad poem.”
That is, the task of criticism is to select a good poem and reject a lousy poem. Therefore, Eliot’s definition of poetry describes the exact situation of the embodiment of feeling, which is related to the self or existence of the poet. However, that self is far beyond what is apparent. Reality exists or is attached to the creative being of the poet.
Poetry, therefore, is usually the result of a deviation from the pure self.
After the definition of poetry, another question arises about its structural factors. That is, which elements play a significant role in the emergence of poetry, consciously or unconsciously. If not only poetry but also the literature of any language is considered, then the fact is known that its creative foundation is based on words. From Plato (424-348 B.C) to the present, a robust word variation system can be seen in the creative order.
Derrida (1930-2004) is the only exception here because he was the first to wallop at Plato’s mimetic theory, arguing that language is not merely an imitation of the external world, but has elapsed through its creative process it creates its world.
Derrida’s talk about language has the status of a literary belief that his theory generalises the text’s autonomy and makes a new concept of freedom for the reader. That’s how I.A. Richards’s (1893-1979) comprehensive discussion of the reader’s autonomy on the idea of “close reading” can be seen here before Derrida.
This view of Richards is a strong foundation for modern criticism. Richards was a pure text-based critic. He used the reader’s independent reading as an effective means of defending his theoretical criticism, while Derrida was primarily an analytical philosopher. For this, the expressive power of language, which creates the concept of power in human society, was struck.
So much is clear about language that it is a fundamental condition that pervades all creative texts. But when it is said, it should not mean that language has nothing to do with our external world. If this is understood, then the whole poetic system will fall into the realm of doubt because poetry is formed from the words we call simile, metaphor, allusion and symbol.
In poetry, all these resources seem to be used in the form of words that we see in our surroundings or the outside world. For example, the term “rose”. The existence of this flower is a great truth of our material world. But when the same rose is used in poetry, it becomes a reference to something else, which means that the icons formed in the readers’ minds by this flower and its attributes (colour, fragrance, redness, freshness) are very different from the fundamental or external concept of the rose.
This attitude of difference deprives a word in a poem of its external relation. A word in poetry becomes a metaphor or a symbol only after it is deducted from the external connection.
This attitude of language proves it to be highly misleading on a creative level. Misleading here refers to the dynamics of language. If creative language excels in our reading as much as it has the power to deceive, it will have the same potential for symbolism.
Muneer Ahmad Niazi (1928-2006) is one of the few modern poets whose poetry is primarily embodied in the personification of meaning possible through misleading language.
Whether it is Muneer Niazi’s lyrical poems (غزلیں) or poems (نظمیں) if we study them thoroughly, we will have no difficulty in understanding that the expression of creative being is present in them along with all artistic virtues.
This creative being is not singular in his poetry but looks like a rainbow full of many colours. Each colour makes it possible to create a unique image. Maybe that’s why, like Ghalib (1797-1869), he makes his creative being the centre of every life experience. That is to say, the anguish or joy that the being suffers from is expressed in him with fullness and joy:
غم کی بارش نے بھی تیرے نقش کو دھویا نہیں
تُو نے مجھ کو کھو دیا میں نے تجھے کھویا نہیں
In the couplet under discussion, there seems to be a monotony of experience, which is directly related to the narrator of the couplet. But in fact, the literal sounds of “image” and “rain” have raised many doubts about the experiment. Not only the creation of the image is present here, but also the image of each image is prominent. Therefore, many reflections of the creative being and many meanings of this reflection can be easily marked in this couplet.
The first recitation of the couplet implies that the rain of grief has not erased the image of the beloved or that it has failed to wash it. While rain usually washes away the image or colour. But the rain mentioned here is a rain of grief, and there is no other word in the suffix or prefix of the image spoken of.
Therefore, the word here does not become a compound or a synthesis but becomes a metaphor. So here, the term “image” becomes one of its many adjectives, which we can see by associating it with step, colour, light, fragrance and face, etc. Because in the above couplet, Muneer Niazi has created doubts with an independent metaphor (image) related to the poet’s heart. This is indicated by the word “rain of grief” in the first line (مصرع) because all sort of grief is believed to be related to the heart.
But when the second recitation of the poem is done, the other being, as opposed to the natural being of the poet, becomes prominent with all its attributes, which may belong to the beloved or someone else.
Here, the act of forgetting the lover through the beloved is, in fact, the manifestation of the image that is engraved on the heart of the poet. This means that the beloved has lost or forgotten the lover, whatever the reason for losing or forgetting, but despite thousands of sufferings (rain of sorrow), the lover cannot forget her.
Thus, the third recitation of the poem highlights the virtue of both lover and beloved. Maintaining pleasure in the world of separation or imprinting the picture of the beloved on the heart is not an easy poetic act. However, it is the distinguishing feature of the poet who, like Muneer Niazi, knows the art of concentrating his dispersed being on a creative level. One of Muneer Niazi’s most important contemporary poets Shehryar’s couplet is:
میں نے جس کو کبھی بھلایا نہیں
یاد کرنے پہ یاد آیا نہیں
This couplet, also apparently, has the same quality as Muneer Niazi’s couplet, but in fact, the poetic point of not forgetting the beloved has been presented in it. Here, remembering someone does not mean remembering them. It proves the assumption that the one who remembers comes to be forgotten.
The couplet is good, but like Muneer Niazi’s couplet, the situation created by the action of the beloved does not come to the fore, which establishes the virtue of the lover.
The first indication of the innovation of authentication (استناد سازی) in the Urdu poetic tradition that Maulana Muhammad Husain Azad (1830-1910) made in his book Ab-e-Hayat (آب حیات) turns into an elaborate explanation in Shibli Nomani’s (1857-1914) book Mowazna-e-Anees-o-Dabeer (موازنۂِ انیس و دبیر). In the category of authentication, from Mir (1723-1810) to Nasir Kazmi (1925-1972), several poets can be identified whose poetry has been studied under a specific theory of poetry. As a result, the poetry of the poets concerned was stamped with a special certificate. It is not possible to say here how many poets have benefited or suffered from this attitude of the critics, but one cannot say with certainty that this act of our critics has imposed a kind of ban on new recitations.
That is to say, we are moving in the same direction as the critics had already set, as opposed to reading and understanding a work of art freely. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (1935-2020) is also privileged because he derived Mir from the canonisation of “pain and sorrow” and noted the lack of meaning in the literature written under the political philosophy of the Progressive Movement.
Muneer Niazi’s poetry was also read in part in the light of a particular ideology, so its interpretive capital also seems to be the trust of a particular ideology. But the number of such capitals is not very large, so there was no strong certification of Muneer Niazi’s poetry, which would require some slight change in poetics to refute.
A large part of Muneer Niazi’s poetry, though in harmony with classical poetry, is seen as a separate tradition. The formation of a separate tradition here does not mean a structural invention or deviation from the principle of poetry, but rather the intellectual experiences which make the formation of poetry possible in an idiosyncratic style.
The same factor distinguishes the great classical poets of Persian and Urdu. To better understand this, the couplets of Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) and Ghalib ( 1797-1869) can be considered:
ای گل چو آمدی ز زمیں گو چہ گو نہ اند
آں روئے ہا کہ در تہہ گرد فنا شدند
سب کہاں کچھ لالہ و گل میں نمایاں ہو گئیں
خاک میں کیا صورتیں ہوں گی کہ پنہاں ہو گئیں
The paradoxical situation after the death of beautiful faces (the beloved) at Khusrau is described in the form of an inquiry. That is to say, the flowers that are growing in the ground are being asked about the condition of the faces that are buried in the ground from which these flowers are growing.
There is also a hint in the couplet that, in fact, the faces that have perished have reappeared in the form of flowers.
While Ghalib’s couplet describes a completely different but innovative form of experience, not all people like Khusrau are mentioned here. However, some people, those who were extremely beautiful, have not died or perished even after death or annihilation but have become prominent in the form of Lalah (a kind of red flower) and Gul (flower). This point is also of special importance in this couplet which belongs to Lalah (لالہ) and Gul (گل).
That is to say, Ghalib wants to say that after death, some of the most beautiful people appeared in the form of Lalah (red flower) and those who were relatively less beautiful became transmitted in the form of ordinary flowers (roses, daffodils, lilies, hyacinths, etc.).
There is also a third point in the couplet that beauty, even if it seems to perish, never perishes, but it remains prominent in the form of flowers.
By making this botanical process a biological process, Khusrau’s poetic essays rejuvenate the couplet in its imaginary world. In his theoretical essay Tradition and the Individual Talent, Eliot explained the idea that any current poem has its roots in a poem of the past. But when Eliot says this, it should not be a common misconception that a poem is just an extension of an old poem, but he says that the new poem uses the subject matter of an old poem so that new meanings are created in it.
Eliot’s theory later indirectly led to the emergence of intertextuality in the new literary theory.
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) also writes in his famous book, The Archeology of Knowledge that scattered events are a succession of associations. Foucault’s philosophical point is, in a sense, a means of concentrating on the scattered thoughts of the past that can be used in history, fiction or poetry.
In Muneer Niazi’s case, the intellectual turmoil of the past either causes the expansion of the current turmoil, or the concentrated thought of the past seems to be dispersing in conflict with the present era. This can be inferred from the following couplets by Muneer Niazi:
جمالِ یار کا دفتر رقم نہیں ہوتا
کسی جتن سے بھی یہ کام کم نہیں ہوتا
مجھ سے بہت قریب ہے تو پھر بھی اے منیر
پردہ سا کوئی میرے ترے درمیاں تو ہے
In the first couplet, the poet tries to express the beauty of the beloved, but the beauty of the beloved has so many colours that he cannot express it.
The non-expression of the beauty of the beloved here makes us believe that the beloved is not an ordinary person but a glorious being whose radiant personality does not come to light despite the poet’s thousands of efforts. Therefore, the beloved of Muneer Niazi’s couplet seems to have both real and virtual nature.
One of the virtues of the couplet is that while it expresses the infinite beauty of the beloved, on the one hand, it also describes the passion of the lover; on the other hand, which constantly keeps him, that is, the lover, always inclined towards the beloved. Therefore, the expression will definitely be possible. Long before Muneer Niazi, Mir seems to have another form of the same condition. Mir’s couplet is:
گر چِہ عالم جلوہ گاہ یار یوں بھی تھا ولے
آنکھیں جو موندیں عجب عالم نظر آیا ہمیں
Here, Mir already recognises the world as the abode of the beloved, but he sees another world of beauty after closing his eyes. Here, Mir only mentions the world, which also has a meaning of ecstasy, so using the word “wonder” has an astonishing beauty and a sense of the many colours of the body, the embodiment of which does not seem possible in any way.
Like Mir, Muneer Niazi also has a point of non-expression of beauty. Some poems in the post-Muneer Niazi poetic tradition show the creative skill of presenting more or less the same condition. Irfan Siddiqui’s couplet is:
مگر گرفت میں آتا نہیں بدن اس کا
خیال ڈھونڈتا رہتا ہے استعارہ کوئی
In this couplet, the effort of creative acquisition of grace from Mir and Muneer Niazi is seen, but all the qualities of beloved’s beauty have become specific to her body. Therefore, its scope of interpretation does not seem to be as comprehensive as that of Mir or Muneer Niazi’s couplets.
But in this couplet of Irfan Siddiqui, a special condition arising from artistic arrangement cannot be denied. The mystical point of “presence” and “absence” is prominent in Muneer Niazi’s second couplet.
This point has been used as a dominant trend in Persian and Urdu poetry. Here the poet is not just saying that he is close to his beloved, but he wants to say that despite thousands of closeness, there is someone else between him and his beloved, apparently nowhere to be seen.
By acknowledging the non-existent, Muneer Niazi has inferred the mystical meaning and pointed out a third existence between the two beings and stated the modern point of view of the philosophy of existence in the form of the third being. It also causes an individual’s confusion and concentration. An abbreviated form of the same condition is found in Hafiz (1315-1399):
میان عاشق و معشوق ہیچ حائل نیست
تو خود حجاب خودی حافظ از میاں برخیز
Hafiz states in this couplet that there is no one between the lover and the beloved except the poet, that is, the lover. Between the two is the existence of the poet himself, which exists in the form of a veil. So he advises himself to get up between the two of them.
The literal structure of the couplet gives the first impression that the third being between the lover and the beloved, which exists in the form of a veil, is the poet’s own existence, while the second impression is that the existence of the poet belongs to the lover. As stated at the beginning of the article, a major characteristic of poetic language is its variation which misleads the reader. In this couplet, the same variability of language seems to open many doors of meaning.
Literary discourse includes both transcendence and unity. Therefore, through the medium of literature, Foucault develops a new psychological approach to space and time that is real and the result of which is always reflected in creativity. In Muneer Niazi’s poetry, time and place look unique and varied. The concept of time and place in his creative world is slightly different from the concept of external time and place. Perhaps this is the reason why Muneer Niazi, in his poetry, depicts the defeat and grief of a person who is subject to the time which the poet himself has created:
آواز دے کے دیکھ لو شاید وہ مل ہی جائے
ورنہ یہ عمر بھر کا سفر رائگاں تو ہے
وہ جواس جہاں سے گزر گئے کسی اور شہر میں زندہ ہیں
کوئی ایسا شہر ضرور ہے انھی دوستوں سے بھرا
In both of these couplets, a tragic state of affairs is revealed in reference to an individual who seems to be completely under the spell of time. Here “city” and “travel” are not just two words but metaphors of time and place, and these metaphors have been used to focus on the inner turmoil of an individual.
There were two theories in the classical criticism of Arabic in the light of which the poetry of Muallaqa (hanging poetry) was studied. One of the leading critics of this category was al-Jahiz (776-868), who said that “meaning” exists in every sphere of life, but what is of special importance in literature is structure.
In Arabic criticism, Ibn Qutaybah (828-889) is important in that he gives equal importance to both subject and meaning in poetry. Critics like Ibn Rashiq (1064 A.D ), who tried to separate structure and meaning, did not succeed. The greatest critic of this category was al-Jurjani (1009-1078), who made it clear that accessing the general meaning of a couplet is not a difficult task, that it illuminates every eye and mind. However, the most complex meanings are attached to a specific structure.
Therefore, Jurjani’s opinion leads to the conclusion that form or structure is the source of meaning. More or less, the same situation existed in ancient Sanskrit criticism. The “riti school” considered sweet words and small compounds necessary in poetry. The greatest lingual philosopher of the fifth century, Bhartrhari, explained in the concluding chapter of his ideological book, Wakiya Padiya that the intellect acquires critical impulses only after becoming acquainted with various traditions.
It is crucial to keep in mind that Muneer Niazi’s poetry cannot be read in terms of a single critical theory. There are many couplets of Muneer Niazi in which different ways of embodying the structure are prominent.
ہر طرف دیوار و در اور ان میں آنکھوں کا ہجوم
کہہ سکے جو دل کی حالت وہ لب گویا نہیں
رہنا تھا اس کے ساتھ بہت دیر تک مگر
ان روز و شب میں مجھ کو یہ فرصت نہیں ملی
تمام عمر رہ رفتگاں کو تکتی رہے
کسی نگاہ میں اتنا تو دم نہیں ہوتا
کسی کا اپنے عمل کا حساب کیا دیتے
سوال سارے غلط تھے جواب کیا دیتے
All these couplets of Muneer Niazi express not only the reflexive state created by the forced domination of time, but also the formation of a strong structure in some places. It cannot be said here that a new idea was introduced in Muneer Niazi’s poetry. However, there is no denying that he established an utterly individualistic form of structure by linking his poetic thought to the classical poetic tradition. For example, his couplets can be seen:
میں تو منیر آئینے میں خود کو تک کر حیران ہوا
یہ چہرہ کچھ اور طرح تھا پہلے کسی زمانے میں
This couplet depicts the deplorable state of affairs created by the passage of time. Apparently, due to the uniqueness of the experience in the couplet, its expression also seems to have individuality. However, this individualistic experience of the poet is a reflection of the collective experience.
However, the meanings that emerge from the deformation of this couplet are of many kinds. Unlike Munir Niazi, Ahmed Mushtaq narrates more or less the same experience individually:
اسے کل راستے میں دیکھ کر حیرت ہوئی مجھ کو
یہی لو تھی کبھی جس سے چراغ عشق جلتا تھا
دل فسردہ تو ہوا دیکھ کر اس کو لیکن
عمر بھر کون جواں کون حسیں رہتا ہے
In both Ahmad Mushtaque’s couplets, there is a sad expression of the fall of those beautiful people (the beloveds) who are completely in the grip of time. But when these couplets are compared with those of Muneer Niazi, it becomes clear that Muneer Niazi’s individualistic experience emerges as a non-individualistic experience. But the nature of the experience is the same for both. Therefore, great poetry is not based on new subjects or new experiences but on adapting the experience (whether the experience is new or old) to a new meaning.
Muneer Niazi’s poetry is different from other modern poets in many respects. Therefore, most modern poets can see a slight blur, but in Muneer Niazi’s poetry, his whole existence seems to be spread out like the sky. In his poetry, both the inner and outer worlds are so intertwined that even if we wanted to, we could not separate them from each other:
پھر ایک دریا کا سامنا تھا منیر مجھ کو
جو ایک دریا کے پار اترا تو میں نے دیکھا
In this couplet, “river” is a metaphor taken from the outside world based on which a great world of meanings is inhabited. This means that “river” here can be a metaphor for heart, time and suffering in addition to the river itself. If we want, we can look at the possible meaning of the river in the context of the couplet.
In doing so, the creative being that arises from the influences of the external world becomes fully visible. The first recitation of the poem describes the constant fatigue, which is confirmed by the admirable tone of the second line (مصرع). But there is also the point that the poet wants to be always present in the journey of curiosity.
This means that the river journey will end at some point, and it will be possible to discover a city inhabited on earth. Therefore, it can be said that the search for land in the river journey is a subtle poetic process. However, a glimpse of the same condition can also be seen in this couplet of Sultan Akhtar:
زندگی بھر ہم اسی امید پر چلتے رہے
اب کے صحرا پار کر لیں تو سمندر آئے گا
The metaphors that make this couplet of Sultan Akhtar possible are “desert” and “sea”. Therefore, unlike Muneer Niazi’s couplet, the nature of curiosity here seems to have a sense of deprivation. That is, the poet’s desert journey that ended at sea is over. Here the “sea” is a metaphor for water, depth and mystery, while the “desert” symbolizes warmth and deception.
He describes the feeling of deprivation in two words in the heart of the poet at the end of the journey. Therefore, it can be said that the insatiable curiosity in Muneer Niazi’s couplet is not found in Sultan Akhtar’s couplet. However, there is a kind of depression that depresses the reader as well. Therefore, unlike Sultan Akhtar, Muneer Niazi’s couplet has several perspectives of meaning. Muneer Niazi’s poetry generally says that it is a manifestation of a kind of evil, but it is not clear whether evil is present in his poetry as a purpose or as a resource.
Two things need to be clarified here. The first is that if some of Muneer Niazi’s poems are ignored, we do not see evil as a significant metaphor, and the second is that where a poem is based on the metaphor of evil, it has been made a source of disclosure. This means that Muneer Niazi discovers the inner world, which is lost somewhere with the metaphor of evil. We know that there is a kind of trauma and fear in the process of retrieving lost things.
چاروں سمت اندھیرا گھپ اور گھٹا گھنگھور
وہ کہتی ہے کون
میں کہتا ہوں میں
کھولو یہ بھاری دروازہ
مجھ کو اندر آنے دو
اس کے بعد اک لمبی چپ اور تیز ہوا کا شور
(صدا بہ صحرا)
The study of this poem has two levels. At the first level of the study, words like “darkness” and “clouds” are prominent, which indicates the bitterness of the outside world. On the other hand, the two short dialogues between “she” and “I” express two different mental states, which are, in fact, two different thoughts of the same mind, the disunity of which creates a kind of mystery that happens. This mystery state is so intense that both sides of the poem get nothing but a long silence. This means that when the poet reaches his existence after a long journey, his heavy door does not open for him.
The dialogue between the poet and his being results in a long silence and a fear before the noise of the strong wind, and then that fear becomes a source of unending sadness. One of the great virtues of this poem is that its title is “Sound in the Desert”, but the word “Desert” is not used in the whole poem, which can be marked as a prominent metaphor but in the first line of the poem “All around” “All the signs of the desert have been pointed out. Therefore, it can be said that the process of making a noise in the desert, the process of finding the lost being, which makes the poet suffer from demonic insanity and the poet from his spiritual confusions. This poem by the famous English poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1866) is quoted.
The stimulus there is
In danger, other impetus
Is numb and vital-less.
As’ t were a spur upon the soul,
A fear will urge it where
To go without the spectre’s aid
Were challenging despair.
(I lived on dread; to those who know)
This poem by Emily Dickinson also basically describes the tendency of fear. The feeling of fear is so intense here that it affects both the mind and the soul equally. The existential anguish here arises from the conflict with the outside world, which is why the poet has always been a source of fear, even for those who were her own. Unlike Muneer Niazi, the internal tendency of fear is quite noticeable here. Therefore, it may be said that with this tendency of fear where Muneer Niazi returns from the outside world to his inner world, Emily Dickinson returns from her inner world to the outer world. However, to say that Muneer Niazi’s poetry is full of evil and fear is not appropriate in any sense, but in his poetry, these two things have been used only as poetic resources.