Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Puff of Poetry

Pain, poetry and passion

Nirupama Dutt

They call him Pakistan’s Shiv Kumar Batalvi but he would rather be known as Afzal Saahir, who has interpreted pain his own way.
THERE is something very endearing about Afzal Saahir, Lahore’s young poet who is in town with his fine repertoire of Punjabi poetry. Endearing and vulnerable, one is at once protective about him and a little afraid, for poets such as him have had the going tough in an essentially prosaic world. It is not uncommon for Indian hosts to introduce him as ‘Pakistan’s Batalvi.’
However, charming Saahir is quick to put things right his own mellow way, “Babeo! Na. I am an admirer of Batalvi who was one of the best poets the two Punjabs have seen but I would be rather known as Afzal Saahir for that’s who I am.” He goes onto explain that while Batalvi romanticised pain, he has endeavoured to look pain in the eye. “Pain for me is not an individual experience, I speak of the pain of an entire populace. It is not I but us who are undergoing the pain and this pain is inflicted on humanity by vested interests and not a divine ordinance,” says Saahir.
Saahir was born in Faisalabad and there he started writing poetry . “I started writing in Urdu but soon I moved to Punjabi, influenced as I was by the folk poetry sung by my mother and folk legends told by my father,” he says. His parents belonged to the Hoshiarpur district. His mother was from Jandi and his father from Chabewal. The talk of Partition makes this sensitive poet sad, “My parents were married just a month before the Partition. She was away on muklava when the riots broke out. My parents saw each other the first time in a refugee camp. My mother would tell us how the hen had just laid the eggs and the atta had been kneaded for lunch the day they fled their village.”
After school, he came to Lahore to join college and started editing various Punjabi magazines and journals, besides making a place for himself as a poet to look forward to. True enough, he proved himself and has the reputation for looting the mushaira and well loved in both Punjabs even before his book is out. The name of his first anthology to be released early next year is ‘Peedhan Vikane Aayian’. In translation it would mean — Pain is up for sale. And thus he says:: Sajjan ajj peedhan vikane aayian/ Kisse na hass kjarai bohni kisse na jholi payian.
Saahir is in India the third time and this trip he came as delegate to the Sajjaad Zaheer Centenary celebrations early this month in Allahabad and then for the IPTA meet in Lucknow. From there to Delhi and now two days in Chandigarh and Amritsar before his return. What is he taking back with him? A lot of pleasant memories and something very precious. Saahir tells, “When I went to meet Imroz, Amrita Pritam’s companion, he gave me three dozen cigarettes that Amrita had left behind. I promised him that I would smoke them when I write poems.” Thus the puff of poetry travels from Delhi to Lahore.
December 2, 2005