The hall is full of people who have come from different cities of the Punjab for a mushaira on a weekday. They are either poets or poetry lovers who have come together on the platform of Aoj-e-Adab, an organisation that aims to promote Urdu literature. This is also its inaugural meeting in Lahore.
The mushaira in a local hotel in Lahore last week opens as usual with verses praising Allah and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) — a decorum that has been observed for as long as people have been gathering to recite and listen to poetry in this region. The first to recite their verses are novices under training in the Rah-e-Aoj programme of Aoj-e-Adab. Arshad Aziz from Faisalabad is one of them. One of his verses reads: Dast-e-rahmat ka taqaza hai ziada maangain (The hand that gives, demands that we ask for more).
Majority of poets are from Lahore, but poets have come from Rahimyar Khan, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, Sheikhupura and Islamabad. Big names such as Amjad Islam Amjad and Nazir Qaisar also grace the occasion.
Amjad Islam Amjad recites his poems fast. His poem Meri baat beech me reh gai… (What I want to say remains incomplete) strikes a chord. Nearly 30 years ago he wrote the poem Tum se kia kahain janaan. A book title under the same name was also released. The poem read ‘zindagi ke mailay mein, khwahishon ke ralay me /Tum se kia kahain janaan iss qadar jhamailay mein.’ The poem became very popular, 30 years ago. Today, Amjad writes on the same theme: he still finds it difficult to carry out conversations. It’s true that you can only communicate to people when they are ready to listen. His point was heard loud and left people reflecting.
Nazir Qaisar says the face we are born with is from God but the face we develop ourselves, develops well when we learn to love. He read, Dukh iss baat ka nahin keh hum mar jaatay hain /Dukh iss baat ka hai keh hum mohabbat kiye baghair mar jaatay hain (It is not sad that we die /what is sad is that we die without loving).
Here are verses from a poem of Nazir Qaisar; Zindagi raasta nahin deti /raasta khud bana parta hai /Koi aisa bhi khwab aata hai /khwab kay saath jaana parta hai /khamoshi apni apni hoti hai /shor mil kar machana parta hai. One can tell that his poetry resonates with the audience as they repeat his verses along with him.
Saud Usmani’s poem Dunya sub aazmai hui hai faqir ki /dekhi hui dikhai hui hai faqir ki was much appreciated.
One noteworthy point is that the poems touch issues that concern the human condition and human relations, but nobody in particular touches politics.
Anjum Saleemi from Faisalabad recites: Umr ki saari thakan laad ke ghar jaata hun /raat bistar pe sota nahin mar jata hun.
On the worries of making a living Umair Najmi from Rahimyar Khan presents a poem. Tujhe na aain gi muflis ki mushkilaat samajh /Mein chote ghar ka bara hoon meri baat samajh (You will not understand the difficulties of poor /I am elder of a poor household)
Nazar mein rakhna gham shanaas gaahak/ Mujhe sukhan bechna hai, kharcha nikalna hai (Keep in view empathetic buyer/ I have to sell skill, manage the cost)
Nikaal laya hoon pinjray se ek parinda /Ab iss parinday ke dil se pinjra nikalna hai (I have brought a bird out of a cage /Now have to take out the cage out of the bird’s heart).
Below are some verses of Khalid Mehboob from Bahawalpur that are worth sharing: Iss rawayyay par karo kuch ghor ji /Dil dukha kar poochhtay ho aur ji (Reflect on this attitude /You hurt me and ask how I do)
Taareef us ke kaam ki mehngi pari mujhe/ Wo shakhs apne daam barhanay pay aa gaya (Praise of his work turned out to be expensive /that fellow came to raise his price)
Nadir Siddiqui from Burewala is an Imam Masjid. Here are his two couplets: Kaghaz par tehreer karain tau mar jain /Manzar jo tashkeel kia hai aankhon mein (I will die if I write on paper /the scene that eyes have conjured)
Barish ko tehleel kia hai aankhon mein /Qatra qatra jheel kia hai aankhon mein (Have assimilated rain in the eyes /Have collected a lake in the eyes drop by drop)
On the same note, a poet from Sheikhupura, Naveed Raza’s verse; Aalam-e-Chashm ne hairaan kia hai mujh ko /iss zameen par tau suna tha keh bohat paani hai.
The above mentioned poets are mostly young and male, but there are young female poets as well. One is a bureaucrat. Saima Aftab works for the Federal Board of Revenue. Her poetry reflects disillusionment when she says; Bandagi mein bhi kuchh maza na raha /Jis ko dekho khuda bana hua hai (There is no fun in serving anymore /everybody is posing to be God)
The mushaira, attended by hundreds of people was thoroughly enjoyed because such events are a rarity. Among others the person who sits next to me is a housewife that loves poetry. She has brought her son along who is a budding poet. Kudos to Aoj-e-Adab and its five executive members who organised this mushaira and brought so many poetry-lovers together.
Aoj means the highest point. Inferring from its name, Aoj-e-Adab aims to take the language to its zenith. But how — by bringing poets together? Probably yes; poetry is deep feelings and thoughts composed in well-crafted language that follow certain metre and rhyme — few are capable of this, maybe that is why poets are regarded as gifted.
It’s the desire to be heard, to be understood that has brought so many poets and poetry lovers under one roof. What better platform for this than one where all those present have appreciation of poetry. Auj-e-Adab has 208 members so far and the annual fee is Rs1,000. This makes the effort sustainable.
Poetry is also a craft and to excel in any craft, you need practice (riaz). This platform also offers mentoring in poetry and prose writing through its programme Rah-e-Aoj. The programme also offers Persian in its lesson plan. It has 170 members who have guidance available from a good number of litterateurs. They are paying Rs1,000 for the educational courses apart from membership fee.
Right after the mushaira Aoj-e-Adab is holding an essay competition for which it has announced Rs50,000 first prize. This is after two online poetry competitions. The last was a ghazal competition in which the first prize was Rs5 lakh. Aoj-e-Adab has given away Rs15 lakh in prizes by now. Topic of the essay is ‘Mausam-e-Garma’ (Summer Season), between 400-1000 words.
Aoj-e-Adab is reaching out to education institutions for talent hunt. Saud Usmani, Lahore President of Aoj-e-Adab says, “We want to gather young people from colleges, universities who write literature and arrange for their further guidance — basically trying to bring literature lovers together.”
There are five people who support this activity. Among them are Imran Ahmad Khan from Lahore, son of the famous children books writer Saeed Lakht. Nawaz Kamal, Muzammil Sheikh and Osama Sarsari are the other three while Saud Usmani oversees the Aoj-e-Adab activities. From 2009-2015 Usmani had been running Harf-e-Kaar, a literary platform.