Mushtaque B Barq
Poetry is an artistic literary genre that harnesses the rhythmic and aesthetic subtleties of language to encapsulate profound truths, cultural narratives, or individual emotions, utilizing techniques like meter, rhyme, and metaphor for brevity and impact. Occasionally, poets gravitate towards a more fluid form of expression, exemplified in the genre of Nazm. Nazm signifies an integral genre within Urdu poetry, distinguished from the Ghazal. Characterized by its flexibility, Nazm remains unfettered by strict metrical or rhyming constraints. This form has proved instrumental in probing themes such as romantic sentiments, societal dynamics, and philosophical rumination, thereby catalyzing progressive discourse and thoughtful dialogue. It’s believed that Nazir Akbarabadi (1740-1830), an Urdu poet from Agra, was one of the earliest pioneers of Nazm, though the genre saw its significant development during the 19th century with poets like Altaf Hussain Hali and Muhammad Hussain Azad. They sought to utilize Nazm for didactic purposes, addressing social issues and promoting moral and intellectual enlightenment. Hali’s “Musaddas-e-Hali” is a significant example of this style of Nazm.
In the vast universe of poetic voices, each striving to etch their unique impressions on the canvas of literature, Brij Nath Pandit Betab’s voice resonates powerfully. His Kashmiri anthology Ael’Naash is a robust collection of 82 Nazms, each one a testament to his distinct poetic prowess. Betab has leveraged the unique attributes of blank verse to unseal his heart, allowing a candid depiction of societal realities. This style of versification serves as a key to unlock his deepest sentiments, resulting in a revealing blueprint etched upon the canvas of society. The charm of blank verse lies in its harmonious balance between structure and liberty, empowering poets to intricately weave verses that mimic natural speech, unbounded by the constraints of rhyming schemes.
Betab’s craft of writing stands out due to its potent blend of robust diction and delicate themes. His powerful command over language lends a strength to his words, capturing the reader’s attention and evoking deep emotions. Concurrently, his themes whisper of subtleties, revealing nuanced insights into human nature, society, and philosophy. His ability to handle these themes with a crisp and succinct treatment further enhances the impact of his work.
The combination of these elements in Betab’s Nazms results in a rich tapestry of thoughts and emotions, making his anthology Ael’Naash a notable contribution to Kashmiri literature. Each Nazm is not just a poem, but a carefully woven narrative that opens up a dialogue between the reader and the nuanced themes within. His work, therefore, serves as an exemplar of the Nazm genre, showcasing its potential for depth, flexibility, and powerful expression.
“Virasat” serves not merely as a commencement to Betab’s anthology, but also as an embodiment of the poet’s inmost reactions. His verses ring with the resonance of a heartfelt testament to his indomitable connection to his homeland, a tie unbroken even in the face of physical separation.
The pain of parting, palpably present in his words, isn’t just a personal lament but reflects a collective sorrow shared by many others in similar situations. Yet, through the despair, the poet’s claim to his heritage stands undeterred, his voice unwavering.
Betab’s artful employment of language crafts a vivid portrait of his longing, reflecting the resilient spirit that boldly claims his legacy. In essence, “Virasat” sets the tone for the anthology, showcasing the profound interplay of longing and belonging, loss and legacy. It offers a window into the poet’s soul and a preview of the emotive journey that the anthology promises to the readers.
The phrase “Mismar Makanuk Naqshe Chandus” (Carrying within the pocket a map of a devastated dwelling) in Betab’s poetry exemplifies his adept use of imagery to voice both grievance and sorrow. His verses, akin to a double-edged sword, cut through superficialities and resonate deeply within the reader, showcasing his mastery in delivering messages that are potent, subtle, and emotive.
“Veth” serves as a poignant narrative of Betab’s past, from which he is now disconnected. He paints a portrait of his homeland, illuminated by the glow of his memories, yet is bereft of a tangible pathway to physically reengage with his past.
In Betab’s eloquent depiction, “Veth” is depicted as caught in a maelstrom of chaos, devoid of both a shore to seek refuge and a boatman to navigate. This image conveys a sense of profound disorientation and disconnection, mirroring the poet’s own feelings of detachment from his past.
Despite the turmoil, Betab’s portrayal of “Veth” remains steeped in longing. His verses, though they carry the weight of absence and the yearning for reconnection, also bear testimony to the enduring bond with his homeland—a bond that transcends physical dislocation and persists in the realm of memory and emotion.
In “Aangun,” Betab continues his lament over his lost presence, evoking a deep sense of displacement. His poignant query, “Why did I ask for a dot of cloud from a ray of sun,” implies a profound regret and inexplicable pain, possibly symbolizing a yearning for the elusive. Leaving interpretation open-ended, Betab invites readers to explore his state, fostering an interactive reading experience that involves delving into his layered verses, connecting emotionally, and uncovering hidden meanings.
In “Preznath,” Betab seeks solace from his deeply-embedded memories, crafting a kaleidoscopic narrative immortalizing his past through historical and religious references. Despite affirming his rootedness in his land, his stark experiences lead him to the chilling conclusion: ‘His identity is his Ration Card.’
In your boundless expanse, you are the wind,
Should a misstep occur?
It arises from my doing
Unaware of the wind’s might
I unleashed the boat
Yet now, I find myself
Caught in a relentless whirlpool
In my endeavor to traverse the river
I row with all my might
I beseech you to hear my appeal
To grace me with your mercy
Assist me in navigating this river
Grant me a boon
That may disentangle me
From this paralyzing predicament
Where I am ensnared
As delicate as a strand of a lotus stem
This evocative poem uses a boat on a turbulent sea as a metaphor for the human condition. The limitless expanse and the gale symbolize life’s challenges and destiny. The poet acknowledges their missteps as personal frailties while expressing their naive engagement with life’s overpowering forces.
Caught in a merciless vortex, straining at the oars represents the struggle against life’s hardships. The plea to the ‘boatman’ embodies the human yearning for guidance and deliverance from these struggles.
The request for a blessing to escape the immobilizing quandary speaks of the desire for salvation. The closing metaphor of being as fragile as a lotus stem underscores human vulnerability and precariousness. The poem skillfully captures human struggles, frailties, and the enduring hope for guidance and deliverance, echoing a shared human experience and resonating deeply with readers. “Where I am captive, as frail as a filament of a lotus stem…” The final lines reinforce the speaker’s vulnerability, comparing their delicate state to a fragile lotus stem, emphasizing the precariousness of the human condition.
While the poet profoundly articulates his personal loss, he also bravely critiques the authorities’ actions in the poem ‘Interlocutor.’ He writes:
‘Another ember descends onto the earth
while winter’s grasp yet holds us firm;
speak not of a frozen state
even the snow retains its form, undissolved.’
The falling ember could symbolize another impactful event or decision by the authorities, landing upon the soil, which represents the people or the homeland. The ongoing winter suggests a period of hardship or discontent that has not yet concluded. The poet challenges premature talks of a ‘frozen state,’ perhaps a metaphor for stagnation or impasse, arguing that the ‘snow,’ symbolic of the issues or difficulties, hasn’t even fully melted.
Betab’s verse demonstrates his ability to adeptly comment on sociopolitical dynamics while intertwining it with his personal experiences and emotions. His words reveal his keen observational skills and social consciousness, skillfully employing metaphor and imagery to convey both personal feelings and broader societal concerns.
Betab’s poetry weaves a rich tapestry of narratives, melding personal introspection with a wider portrayal of pain, pleasure, turmoil, and tranquilly. His verses blossom with original and evocative metaphors; his illustrations are deeply rooted in personal experiences; and his unique diction reflects the refined calibre of his poetic craft and cultural lineage.
My nightingale harbored a profound wish
to emulate a parrot’s vibrancy
Its enticing illusions ensnared me
now, confined within a cage
feasting on fiery chilies
I find myself echoing its melodies.
In this Nazm, entitled ‘ Pinjra’ the last in the collection, the speaker presents a nightingale, traditionally a symbol of beauty and melodious song, yearning to become a parrot, known for its vibrant colors and the ability to mimic human speech. This transformation might signify a desire for outward vivacity or a shift in identity guided by attraction to surface-level allure. This poem poignantly illustrates the tragic consequences that can ensue from a forced alteration of identity. It underscores the perilous journey of losing one’s authentic self, resulting in a sorrowful denouement that resonates with the struggles of identity crises.
The speaker becomes ensnared by these enticing illusions, suggesting a fascination or entanglement with the nightingale’s transformation. This could symbolize the speaker’s own entrapment by the superficial or attractive qualities that often captivate us, leading us astray from our true paths.
In the end, the speaker finds himself confined within a cage, a powerful symbol of restriction or loss of freedom, indicative of the consequences of chasing these illusions. The act of feasting on chillies, a departure from a bird’s typical diet, could symbolize the discomfort or pain that comes from adopting unnatural behaviors or identities.
Echoing the parrot’s tunes is a poignant metaphor for the speaker’s loss of originality or individuality. Having succumbed to the allure of the nightingale’s desired transformation, the speaker now finds himself mimicking someone else’s voice, a poignant commentary on the cost of conforming to expectations or pursuing illusory ideals at the expense of one’s authentic self.
Overall, the verse offers a rich exploration of identity, authenticity, and the perils of succumbing to illusion, narrated through the poignant metaphor of the nightingale’s transformation.
The social, moral, religious, and regional nuances within his poetry offer a comprehensive canvas, resonating with diverse audiences. His application of poetic devices is deeply insightful, revealing his intimate understanding of the intricacies of poetry, a knowledge both inspired by his contemporaries and enriched by the poets of antiquity.
Influenced by existentialist philosophies, Betab’s verses straddle the worlds of literature and social activism. His poetry, therefore, does more than just cater to literary connoisseurs; it also resonates with those dedicated to social service, extending its appeal beyond the bounds of traditional poetry. His work encapsulates a profound exploration of the human condition and is a remarkable testament to the power of the written word in echoing collective experiences, emotions, and thoughts.
The pressing need of our times, as beautifully conveyed through Betab’s anthology Ael’Naash, is to explore our collective consciousness in search of solace. The poet invites us to unlock hearts hardened by trials and tribulations, promoting healing and understanding through his deeply emotive verses.
Betab’s poetry underscores the transformative power of art in mending emotional fractures and bridging gaps caused by adversities. His verses serve as metaphorical threads, weaving together shattered bonds and hearts, encouraging reconciliation and fostering a sense of unity and shared human experience.
In essence, Ael’Naash is more than just an anthology of Nazms; it’s a testament to the restorative power of poetry. It reminds us of our innate capacity for resilience and empathy, even amidst hardship. Betab thus extends an invitation to his readers to engage with his work not merely as spectators, but as active participants in a collective journey of introspection, healing, and reconnection.
Mushtaq B.Barq is a Columnist, Poet and Fiction Writer. He is the author of “Feeble prisoner, “ Wings of Love” and many translation works are credited to the author like “ Verses Of Wahab