Iftikhar Arif’s poetic distinctions

Meraj Rana
Meraj Rana معراج رانا

Iftikhar Arif’s poetic distinctions

by, Meraj Rana

The individual identity of any poet is determined by his style.  If we divide Urdu poetry into chronological boundaries, then the creative tendencies of the poetry of each era are more or less the same with a slight change.  But when it is said, it should not be taken to mean that the style of expression of the poets of every age is the same.  Rather, it is intended to imply that the ability to present creative tendencies is unique to each poet.  This can be better understood with reference to Ghalib and Dagh’s couplets:

غنچِۂِ نا شگفتہ کو دور سے مت دکھا کہ یوں

بوسے کو پوچھتا ہوں میں مُنھ سے مجھے بتا کہ یوں


لے لیے ہم نے لپٹ کر بوسے

وہ تو کہتے رہے ہر بار یہ کیا


The couplets of both Ghalib and Dagh are based on the theme of ‘kiss’ but their style of expression is very different.

There is only one manifestation of the condition that is created by the kiss of the beloved.  There is no merit in the above-mentioned couplet of Dagh except dealing with it.  So it is useless to look for any kind of meaning in it.

While in Ghalib’s couplet the subject of’kiss’ is described with the help of various metaphors and allusions.

Therefore, different figures (meanings) seem to shine with their different colours. Here ‘ghuncha-e-nashagufta’ (bud) is a metaphor for the closed lips of the beloved and the whole couplet is based on this metaphor.  The lover seeks a kiss which is not possible in any way.  Because there is a proper distance between the lover and the beloved.  Due to this distance, the ‘bud’ is unable to turn into a ‘flower’ (open lip).  And we know that it is natural to open the lips in the process of kissing.

One of the meanings of this couplet is related to the personal virtue of Ghalib. This means that the process of converting  bud into flower may be possible at the request of the poet himself.  Therefore, it can be said that the uniqueness of a poet is determined by the poetic style of their expression.

Iftikhar Arif is recognised among his contemporaries as a distinguished and unique poet in many respects.  Among the points on which his poetic distinctions are based, the point of ‘migration’ or displacement has been the most prominent.  Rather, it would be more accurate to say that the development of other points, such as constant travel, housing, sustenance, torment, desert, etc., seem to be possible with regard to the creative tendency of migration or displacement.

Therefore, it can be said that Iftikhar Arif’s poetry is known for its skill in presenting migration and all its sub-clauses, which is quite correct in the sense that the tendency of migration was present in his early poetry as a major driving force.  But a situation of disagreement arises when a reader like me is persuaded to consider the tendency of migration as the whole universe of his poetry.

One of the major problems of Urdu criticism is the establishment of authentication on the basis of repetition. This means that if the words loneliness or dream are used many times in the poetry of a poet, then the critics immediately accept these words as metaphors and imprison the entire poetry of the poet concerned in the metaphor of loneliness and dream.

Even the poetry of Iftikhar Arif does not seem to be free from this undesirable attitude of criticism. However, the truth is that if we read the poetry of ‘Mehr-e-Do Neem’ and ‘Harf-e-Bariyab’, the tendencies which are created by the harmony of the self and universe become more the focus of our attention than the tendency of migration.

If the poetic debate is subtracted from the critical discussions of the famous English romantic poet Wordsworth’s book ‘Lyrical Ballads’, his views on the poet are still revolutionary today.

Wordsworth writes somewhere in the preface to his book that the poet thinks and feels in the spirit of human emotion.

Elsewhere, he makes the important point that the poet connects the vast empire of human society with passion and awareness. From the poetry of Iftikhar Arif, if we deviate from the tendency of migration for a while, then in some places we are confronted with a person who is the protector of the sacred self of the poet and by whom.

We try to understand the mystery.  This person of Iftikhar Arif is very lonely but in his loneliness there is a commotion. With this new tone, not only the poet reaches his existential reality but also introduces us to his existential reality. Therefore, sometimes the poetry of Iftikhar Arif seems to be inclined towards the individual and the gathering towards the individual.

In Wordsworth, the poet’s action connects the vast empire of society to passion and awareness. A large part of Iftikhar Arif’s poetry is about the formation of human passion and awareness.

بولتی آنکھیں چپ دریا میں ڈوب گئیں

کیسے کیسے تہمت گر خاموش ہوئے

وہی چراغ بجھا جس کی لو قیامت تھی

اسی پہ ضرب پڑی جو شجر پرانا تھا

روز اک تازہ قصیدہ نئی تشبیب کے ساتھ

رزق برحق ہے، یہ خدمت نہیں ہو گی مجھ سے

All these couplets of Iftikhar Arif are before ‘Bagh-e-Gul-e-Surkh’.  Whether we go through any stage of reciting these couplets, their mental state does not change.  Everywhere the centre of awareness is the same person who is born from the connection of self and universe.

 The drowning of the eyes spoken in the first poem in the river is not only a metaphor of annihilation but also a tragic sign of the external situation of oppression which has been formed by the word ‘slanderer’.

Here the word ‘slanderer’ has been elevated to the meaning of social ugliness, which is an attack on moral values.  In the couplet, the protest of an individual regarding the forced death has been justified, which would have been confirmed by the silence of the slanderers.

The silence is a kind of shame or embarrassment.  The tragedy of decline is also described in another couplet. This means that just like the first couplet, this poem also has a dying state of forced annihilation.

Here ‘lamp’ and ‘tree’ are the two basic metaphors.  This means that there may or may not be many reference figures for the “lamp” that we can associate with a brightened civilisation, one or more enlightened person or beauty lover.  While the metaphor of “tree” gives rise to the meanings of grace, shade, compassion and greatness.

There is also a strong religious reference to the tree, ancient Aryan and Islamic history, from which the poet accesses his religious traditions.  That is to say, the physical thought of the past regarding ‘people’ and ‘olive’ appears to be a tragedy as a result of inconsistency with the present.

There seems to be no connection between the two stanzas of this couplet because the appropriate word is not completely clear.

It is Iftikhar Arif’s artistic skill that he has portrayed the negative force of ‘wind’ as a valence through the process of extinguishing the flame of a lamp and falling of a tree. And the biggest proof of this is that the wind blows the lamp and the tree falls to the ground.  Therefore, it can be said that the process of bringing the non-existent (wind) into the object (extinguishing the lamp and falling of the tree) has spread the meaning of the couplet from the earth to the sky.

In the third couplet of Iftikhar Arif, the polite protest of a civilised person is prominent.

This means that the poet does not wish to get wealth from the supreme authority because he has perfect faith in sustenance. And in the Holy Qur’an, Allah also promises His servants “and Allah is the best  provider of sustenance”.

Therefore, the poet refuses to sing the couplet with all his might. Denial here is not just a denial, but a declaration of a kind of individual rebellion against the misrepresentation of power. That is to say, the struggle against blind force must begin with one individual, but later the same individual takes the form of a collective protest.

Whether or not there is anything else to be said about these three couplets, but it certainly comes to light that Iftikhar Arif has not only the artistic form of migration but also the manifestation of different colours and styles in his poetic universe.

Khalilur Rahman Azami has written in his book Mazameen-e-Nau:

It would be wrong to examine every poem or ghazal of a poet on a single scale. (P. 35)

The said couplets of Iftikhar Arif have three different styles, so these three cannot be considered with reference to a particular recitation. And if we try to understand otherwise, then the meanings which are always in the background will not come out from the said couplets which Derrida insists too much on its disclosure and non-disclosure. Raphael Fische wrote:

‘Eliot observes that there is something in Hamlet which Shakespeare cannot drag into light, contemplate, or manipulate into art.’

Eliot, in his article ‘Hamlet and its Problems’, explains that Shakespeare in the Hamlet  was unable to bring certain things to light or that his artistic expression was not possible.  Insists on discovering the meaning that is always in the world of procrastination.

It can be said with full confidence about the poetry of Iftikhar Arif that the process of formation of meaning has taken place in him so deeply that it cannot be understood from a traditional recitation.

Another major issue of Urdu criticism has been related to following the superficial opinion given to a poet by a famous person. About thirty or thirty five years ago today, Faiz  had given his opinion on the poetry of Iftikhar Arif that he has a glimpse of many poets from Mir and Mirza to Firaq and Rashid.

Following the views expressed by Faiz Ahmad Faiz on the poetry of Iftikhar Arif does not embellish our criticism that it creates obstacles in our recitation. It is certain that we cannot enjoy the poetry of Iftikhar Arif as long as we are bound by a single critical or sentimental opinion whether it is Faiz’s opinion or someone else’s.

But this does not mean that the endorsement of critical opinion does not help in understanding the text. All that is to be said here is that if a new critical discussion does not arise from following a previous critical opinion on a poet or a work of art, or if it does not reveal a new meaning in the work of art, then following such an opinion is futile.

Instead of being happy with the glimpse of Faiz’s opinion, if it is seriously considered, then surely a new discourse can be started on the poetry of Iftikhar Arif. Not only this, but the poetry of Faiz himself is also seen in the realm of his impressionistic opinion.

Faiz was such an accomplished poet that he considered ghazal and ghazal as a source of pride in his poems as well. Numerous examples can be given here, but due to their length, his poems ‘Manzar’, ‘Tanhai’ and ‘Mujh se pehli si muhanbbat meri mahboob na maang’ can be seen.

In all these poems, the chain of verbal harmony seems to be connected with the poetic tradition of Mir and Mirza from Wali.

From the frequent repetition of the word “slow” in “Manzar” (this word is probably used twelve times) Faiz  has described the state of heart in a mysterious whisper tone in such a way that we begin to see a moving picture of this state.

Therefore, what Faiz has said about Iftikhar Arif applies to his own and the poetry of many modern Urdu poets.  So, Faiz’s impressionistic opinion cannot be placed in the category of criticism.

We already understand that a poet cannot be a modernist or inventor of a new style unless he is able to combine his poetic consciousness with the classical poetic consciousness.

Eliot called this poetic process an extension of tradition that ignites individual potential. The most astonishingly critical discourse in this regard has been set up by Shamsur Rehman Faruqi.  There is no precedent in Urdu criticism for the critical discussion he has undertaken under the title ‘Ghalib ki Miree’  in the first volume of his illustrious book ‘Sher-e-Shoorangez’. Here, on the basis of poetic tradition and poetic awareness, Faruqi has proved Ghalib to be a poet of style.

In other words, there is a lower wave of Mirism in Ghalib, but the storm of meaning that is hidden within this wave has become slightly different and diverse from Mir.

Like every great poet, Iftikhar Arif has the skill to acquire the grace of classical poetry. Therefore, in his poetry, like Faiz Ahmad Faiz, some people see many colours and harmony of classical tradition.

But the fact is that Iftikhar Arif demonstrates his closeness to the classical tradition as much as his creative nature allows him to do so.  Perhaps this is the reason why the relationship between the creative individual and his spiritual world, which is created as a result of grace and acquisition in his poetry, is connected with contemporary sensibility as opposed to the past.

In Iftikhar Arif’s poetry, the creative fountain flowed from one person to another.  It is also important to keep in mind that the training of the creative person we encounter in these couplets is not the result of any external situation but is the result of the poet’s own efforts. The expression of which is also evident in this couplet  of Khan Arzoo:

 ہر کہ خود تربیت خود نکند حیوان است

 آدم آں است کہ او را پدر و مادر نیست

Therefore, it can be said that the manner in which Iftikhar Arif decorated and embellished his creative being is rarely seen in his contemporaries.

Iftikhar Arif’s latest collection of poetry ‘Bagh-e- Gul Surkh’  has just been published. After reading this collection, it seems that Iftikhar Arif seems to be completely bound by the same metaphysical thought that exists as a major trend in ‘Mehr-e-dau Neem’ and ‘Harf-e-Bariyab’:

   یہ سر اٹھائے جو میں جا رہا ہوں جانبِ خُلد

مرے لیے مرے آقا نے بات کی ہوئی ہے

کچھ اعتبار اگر ہے تو حرفِ خیر کا ہے

جز اس کے اور سخن جاوداں کوئی نہیں ہے

 اُتاقِ کنگرۂ عرش کے چراغ کی لَو

کسی گلی کے فقیروں کے ساتھ رقص میں ہے

کسے مجال کہ جنبش کرے رضا کے بغیر

جو رقص میں ہے اجازت کے ساتھ رقص میں ہے

  نظر ہو دیکھنے والی تو دیکھ لیتی ہے

زمینِ سنگ میں امکانِ رنگ و بو کیا کیا

سمندر آتے ہی کیسی ہوئی ہے نرم خرام

چٹانیں چیر کے آئی تھی آبجو کیا کیا

The above couplets are of ghazal but their moods seem to be united against anarchy. We understand very well that the uniformity or unity of the situation is the basic virtue of the poem.

Therefore, if all these couplets of Iftikhar Arif are read in sequence, then the moods of most of the couplets seem to be the same with a slight difference which is confirmed by the words used in these couplets.

The dynamics of words like Khuld (heaven), Aqa (prophet PBUH), Harf-e-Khair (blessing), Arsh (sky), Charagh (lamp), Faqeer (monk), Raza (acceptence), rang-o-bu (colour and fragrance), samandar (ocean), chatan (rock) ab-e-ju (river), etc., create a mysterious and variable atmosphere of metaphysics.

All of these words are those metaphors, which stimulate our minds. But it is also important to remember that mental activity is an argument for meaning, but not an argument for plural meaning. More or less the same situation can be felt in the following couplets of Iftikhar Arif:

مرے قلم، مرے مَنبر، مرے عَلَم ، مری تیغ

ملے ہوئے ہیں حریفوں سے سب کے سب مری جان

غروب ہوتا ہوا آفتاب پلٹا دیں

وہ صاحبانِ تصرف جو اک اشارہ کریں

  اب کوئی آئے کہ نہ آئے ، کوئی صف آراء ہو کے نہ ہو

میرا کام اذاں دینا تھا یارو میں نے اذاں دے دی

  مشکلیں آتیں تو نعمت میں بدل جاتی تھیں

میرے اطراف دعاؤں کا حصار ایسا تھا

دور کہیں وہ جاگتی آنکھیں اندھیاروں میں ڈوب گئیں

طاقِ دعا میں ایک دِیا تھا وہ بھی ہوا کی نذر ہوا

The words pen, knowledge, pulpit, blade, sun, row, call to prayer, blessing, supplication, light, odd, wind, etc., appear in these couplets as the creators of a certain spiritual atmosphere. Commenting on ‘Bagh-e-Gul-e-Surkh’ , Nasir Abbas Nayyar wrote:

In Bagh-i-Gul-i-Surkh, too, there are a few fine couplets that show how adroitly Arif composes his devotional poetry.

Nasir Abbas Nayyar’s statement that there are some excellent poems in this book of Iftikhar Arif in which his devotional expressions are prominent, is not possible to disagree but when one says that the number of devotional poems in Bagh-e-Gul-e-Surkh is very little, then it is not possible to agree at this opinion.

Overall, Iftikhar Arif’s poetry is one of the most important instances of poetry in Urdu. Besides many other qualities of his poetry, a great quality is the power of language and expression.

That is why the poet can easily form his most difficult experience in which there is a kind of sufi selflessness. Therefore, unlike some modern poets, Iftikhar Arif does not have any problem with transmission and communication.