Modernity in sub-continental literature is linked to English: Satyapal Anand

In Urdu poetry, the first experimentation was done by Khwaja Altaf Husain Hali. New technique of expression came with Noon Meem Rashid. Iqbal seems to have come back from West as blank of western experimentation as he had gone there.  Faiz’s ‘modernity’ consisted in using the classical ghazal phraseology to suit the topic of Revolution. The drum-beaters of the Commune were there to shout that he was the greatest poet of all times in Urdu.

Dr. Satyapal Anand, who was born in Pakistan and then migrated to India after the Partition, is a trend setter in Urdu poetry. His stature as a postmodern Urdu poet and writer who preferred writing Nazms rather than Ghazals, is unparalleled in the contemporary Urdu literature. In the following interview he discusses his literary activities and how the Urdu poetry, specially Nazm evolved in the post colonial period:

You had a longstanding career in Urdu and English literature as a professor, researcher, translator and a critic.  Please give a brief background of your work and achievements with reference to how you became a distinguished Urdu writer, your life in Pakistan, India, England and the U.S.

I have been a literary nomad most of my life. I was born in a nondescript village KOT SARANG in Chakwal district of Pakistani 1931. My birth date is the same as Shakespeare’s, midnight 23/24 April, (1564/1931). It doesn’t make me Shakespeare but it does pose a question for astrologers…I studied in the local primary school, then moved to Nowshehra, then to Rawalpindi, then again to Nowshehra, and finally once again to Rawalpindi wherefrom I passed my Matriculation examination 1947, the year of Pakistan’s creation.

I was in my seventeenth year when the exigencies of partition took me to India . The core personality of human being incomplete before adolescence – and so was mine. Even today I consider myself, in terms of my culture, more as a Kot Sarang born villager of Pakistani origin, than a Hindu born in India. The sweet smell of the soil of the countryside is still fresh in my mind – indeed it is a part of my being. All other influences, later in life, are but various layers of external paint: the core structure remains the same.

The family lost its bread winner, my father, on the train to India and four of us, three younger brothers and I, the eldest son, were left with a widowed mother. Naturally, the responsibility was enormous but I rose to the occasion and worked day and night. What kind of work? You’ll be surprised if I tell you. I wrote, under fictitious names, cheap detective novels for a publisher in Delhi , who paid me Rs.40 for a monthly novel he published under the title NAQAB POSH.I wrote short stories for “Shama” and “Biswin Sadi” two popular magazines of that period. This brought in more income. To top it all, I translated a lot of popular stuff from Urdu to Hindi and vice versa for publishers, magazines and daily newspapers. Every piece, small or big, had to be written by hand. It was a great life, I believe now when I look back because it steeled into what I am now, a hardworking old man even at the age of 80, working 6 to 7 hours a day on my computer as my index finger wouldn’t let me hold a pen.

By the time I was 20 I had made a name for myself as a short story writer, poet, pen-pusher for hackwork as a by product of my labour which was literally only for earning my bread. My first book of short stories was published in 1953 when I was just 22 years old. In quick succession then came four novels, four collections of short stories, and umpteen cheap novels written under fictitious authorial names. The maximum I earned for a single book was Rs.1,500 from Shama Publications, Delhi, for my novel AAHAT and Yousuf Dehlvi, the editor told me that he would give me a thousand rupees more if the book saw a reprint. It did and I got another one thousand rupees from him. It is now surprising that the first edition was 5,000 copies and so was the its reprint.

I forgot to mention that from Pakistan this close-knit family of ours had reached Ludhiana . During these years, I also continued with my education. I passed Adib Fazil (Hons. in Urdu), F.A. and B.A. with Honors. in Psychology – all as a private student, and then my M.A. in English from Panjab University , Chandigarh . In the interregnum between my graduation and M.A. I had moved to Delhi to work as editor of an Urdu monthly, RAHI. This gave me the unsought for opportunity to cultivate the doyens of Urdu literature then in Delhi , Lucknow , Allahabad , Bombay and other metropolitan cities. I must add that my love for my native land made me cultivate my contemporary writers in Pakistan so much that at that time I was known as a short story writer in that country more than in India .

My First Class First in M.A. English earned me a lecturer ship on the main University campus in Chandigarh . Once installed there I didn’t look back and pursued my doctorate and my professional career with earnest zeal. My thesis for Ph.D. was on British fiction with particular reference to James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. In about five years, I had the first invitation from B.O.U. (British Open University) for a two year grant as a research resident scholar. I availed of it and that was the gateway to a world I hoped to conquer one day. I had so many visiting professorship invitations during my 30-year long tenure that I was nicknamed “Air Port Professor” by my colleagues and students. Indeed, I worked for 17 of these years abroad, in Europe , Canada and USA .

My exposure to world literature in its basic essential at the university level, rubbing shoulders with luminaries in the field, including Nobel laureates, gave me the rare insight into “oneness” of human creative effort, in all forms of art and literature, geographically and historically, and thence is born my pet project, Comparative Literature that includes three major languages of the sub-continent, Urdu, Hindi and Bangali side by side with European languages – all translated into English.

I now lead a retired life but I am called upon by various universities in North America and Europe to visit and help in the task of curricular planning and course designing in Comparative Literature. I do what I can, though in my frail health, it takes me to Europe almost every year. This year alone I have been to U.K. Germany, Turkey, Denmark and Norway, came back tired and broken in two months and had to undergo a surgery from which I am recovering now.

How do you see evolution of Urdu verse and prose in India and Pakistan in terms of adopting new and postmodernist trends in structure and content both?

Your question requires a chapter or an entire book as my response. I will, therefore, limit it only the genre of poetry. We in the subcontinent are closely linked to English as a source of much that is modern (a misnomer, contemporary would be more akin to the sense of the word) in our life. It includes norms of dress, speech, food (including junk food – an American bad influence all over globe). In Urdu poetry, the first experimentation was done by Khwaja Altaf Husain Hali, soon after the 1857 mutiny against the British raj and the two stalwarts (Hali and Mohammad Husain Azad) sojourn in Lahore where they founded the Anjamman-i-Musanfeen. With a cue from the British poet, Hali followed the pattern of “Natural Poetry” as against tarhi ghazal format. To loosen the shackles of classical ghazal was a very hard task and he failed in it. But he did show the way, both in the choice of subject matter, choice of topics and literary style (mauzoo’, mazmoon, aur asloob).

In poetry the new technique of expression came with Noon Meem Rashid, Meera ji, Majeed Amjad – and to some extent, lesser poets like Qayoom Nazar and Akhtarul Iman. Iqbal had not imbibed anything from the West although during his stay in Europe the first generation of Imagists in England, spearheaded by Ezra Pound, had its concurrence in Germany, France and Italy and he must have known about them if not read their works. He seems to have come back to India as blank of western experimentation in poetry as he had gone there.  Faiz, a contemporary of Rashid, had chosen another path. His ‘modernity’ consisted in using the classical ghazal phraseology, its naghmagi, mauseeqiat, ghinaaiat, khud-tarahmi – and what not – to suit the topic of Revolution. The drum-beaters of the Commune, Banney Bhai i.e. Sajjad Zaheer included, were there to shout that he was the greatest poet of all times in Urdu.

Rashid was a loner. Most of the time he was in Iran and later he was in New York with the permanent mission of Pakistan . His contribution was two-fold. He chose subjects like sex and its non-social and non-conjugal propagation. This was not suitable at all for the ghazal format. So was the subject of history – not of Islam as Iqbal did – but of the subcontinent and its enslavement by the British. However, his greatest contribution was the use of metaphors, similes, symbols, mythological referential contexts – all that required a master key to open. His symbolism wasn’t of the type that could be easily understood by an amused audience whose finer sensibilities had been conditioned by the opiate called ghazal. Faiz found the trick of general acceptability by depending on the gazal tradition. Meera ji, without much of the Western influence, fell back on native Indian tradition at least in his style, but in the choice of his subjects, he sings of forbidden sex, auto eroticism with gay abandon.

I always put the ghazal genre of Urdu poetry under the title orature (oral literature) rather than literature proper. There is no tradition of ‘sunaana’ (To make someone hear your poem is the only translation in English of the word!). Thus ghazal is unsuitable for being read with your solitary self as your own companion unless you recite it aloud to yourself! Any experimentation in ghazal could thus be confined only in mauzoo’ /  mazmoon – and not in matan (text), or even asloob. It is that reason why Rashid never wrote ghazals.

With the leftist Taraqii pasnad poets ruling the roost, the loner Rashid could not produce a progeny of poets as Faiz had done – particularly with poets like Faraz and some others of lesser caliber. However, I could count many names, particularly in India , who chose to follow the JADEEDIAT of the brand of Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, which was but a pale carbon copy of much that goes in the West. It was an amalgam of what might be called in Urdu, Maavriat, Arziat, Wajoodiat, Ilamatiat etc. That it came as a flood to fill the vacuum left by the Progressive poets is true but the fact that it has breathed its last within two decades is also true. The ma-baad jadeediat spearheaded by Gopi Chand Narang has filled the vacuum, but much of it is just a pale carbon copy of post modernism era in the West.

(Syndicated from Viewpoint Online)