• TheNews International
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • rss

Cerebral, political, romantic

A selection from all his previous books and some new poems, this volume captures the essence of Irfan Malik’s poetic acumen

Cerebral, political, romantic

Irfan Malik comes to my class with his latest book Chhanday agay Kayser (Poetry for Saffron Flowers) and starts narrating the events that led to his exile to Sweden. He is of that generation of poets and writers who were targeted by the oppressive regime of Ziaul Haq. The story makes the students feel lucky that they did not have to see those years of ignominy.

Then he begins to recite his poems. All the young boys and girls are thinking about their desires and loves. He reads “kadday aa / hath meray / raat hunairay” (“If I could lay / my hands on you / in the darkness of a night, / we both would extinguish our egos / and light up our eyes.”). Then he moves to a treacherous territory. He recites a poem about menarche and his daughter. The silence seems more serious now. He decides to use this sombre mood to his advantage and recites another poem about all the different times he left his mother: “the first time I left my mother was when I came out of her body”.Saeed-New Doc 2018-06-20

He owns the lecture hall now, despite the onset of a stammer. I am just a bystander. He is teaching the young to respect their feelings and desires and illustrates how different political regimes try to control what makes human beings happy. At the end of the class, he hands the book to me and says “Here is a selection from all of my previous books and some new poems”.

While assessing Malik’s work, it is difficult to separate the personal from the artistic. He has demonstrated a rare commitment to his political ideals and faced the wrath of an oppressive regime and has survived exile. He had to do menial work in the early years of his stay in Sweden. There was no time, he says, for composing long stories. He switched from fiction to poetry because poems would come to him in moments of inspiration and did not require long leisurely hours. He wrote in Punjabi and Swedish. Occasionally he would translate fiction from Swedish into Urdu and Punjabi. But, for his own expression, poetry was the primary mode. Experimental, postmodern, non-linear, pithy, and self-reflexive are all apt descriptors for his poetic compositions.

The feeling this reviewer has is that Punjabi is a lucky language if Malik keeps on producing such refreshing work.

But, Malik, being a socially committed poet, has deep views on language and wordlessness. He thinks Iqbal broke away from the great tradition of Punjabi Sufi poetry by choosing to write his poetry in Urdu and Persian. This, for him, was the result of the privilege assigned to Urdu by the British colonial administrators of the subcontinent. Urdu, he argues, has been enriched at the cost of Punjabi by two Punjabi poets from Sialkot, Iqbal and Faiz. That is how colonialism changes cultural priorities.

While assessing Irfan Malik’s work, it is difficult to separate the personal from the artistic. He has demonstrated a rare commitment to his political ideals.

This type of deep philosophical and political commitment to artistic and lingual matters shows through in all the poems in this volume. Sometimes, while reading his poems, a reader wonders whether Malik is speaking to his language or his beloved: “Jay mein jeenda hondah taythoon vakh kadhi na hondah” (“If I had been truly alive, I would never have been separated from you”).

In addition to such musings on the politics of cultural belonging, Malik has written numerous poems on words and the relationship between the signifier and the signified. A poem titled ‘Bhasha/Boli’ (Language) tells us “We have letters and words but not a language … Our forefathers have left us nothing but shame … Now our daughters will get no language from us though we have letters and words”.

There is another poem titled ‘Arth’ (Meaning) which teases the reader with a puzzling question: “If a ‘wall’ were to be called a ‘passage,’ and a ‘passage’ were called a ‘fan’ and if a ‘fan’ were called a ‘chador’ and if a ‘chador’ were called a ‘rabbit,’ would we have acted the way we are now?”

Despite being a representative and comprehensive selection from all the previously published poetry books by Malik, this book has left out some interesting experiments that were to be found in his previous books. This review would have liked to see the poem titled ‘Kun’ (Let there be a world) which had three blank pages and two pages of only punctuation marks.

There is another poem that should have been included in this volume because of its sheer innovative and challenging power. The whole poem is written in Shahmukhi script but the sentences are English. The poem inverses for the reader the experience of reading Roman Urdu. You read out the Punjabi poem but you speak English. Other than these omissions, this volume captures the essence of Irfan Malik’s poetic acumen by including all the significant cerebral, moody, political and romantic poetry in one volume.

Chhanday agay kayser (Poetry for Saffron Flowers)
Author: Irfan Malik
Publisher: Sanjh Publications
Year: 2018
Pages: 237
Price: Rs450

Saeed Ur Rehman

Saeed ur Rehman
The author believes all human collectives are oppressive in some ways and uses writing to create tiny fissures of freedom whenever and wherever possible.

4 comments

  • The article is a sensitising flavour of Punjabi poetry with seeping sweetness of expressions!

    • Dear Aisha,
      Thank you for appreciating my poetry.

  • Exceptional review! The reviewer, having employed his deep literary insight, has analysed the poetry with an exceptional genius. This review is absorbing enough to convince the booklovers to read it through the whole book. For the readers who like Punjabi poetry, it seems that it’d be treat for them. As the review suggests that all poems convey somehow the poet’s political and philosophical awareness, yet are largely based on his personal experience. It’s natural for a writer that he cannot remain unresponsive for longer to the occurrences happen to him. Every new situation adds up a new experience to his consciousness, which he in some ways, either directly or indirectly, shares through his writing. I really like that translation of the poem, “kadday aa / hath meray” that uncovers the extraordinary talents of the reviewer. Thanks to him for introducing such good poetry.

    • Dear Arshi,
      I agree that Professor Saeed Ur Rahman has captured the essence of my poetry in this excellent review.
      Poem you like is from my Book Duji Aurat.
      Thank you for your appreciation.
      Irfan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

 characters available

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Scroll To Top