Poetry as the language of emotions and feelings cannot easily be deciphered since it carries multiple meanings, simultaneously revealing and concealing.
Moondark, a short collection of 42 poems by Muzaffar A. Ghaffar carries piquant themes that reflect a combination of classical and modern sensibility. The poems seem pithy but address many inherent serious and sombre issues.
Even the title, Moondark, is catchy. The symbol of the moon exudes different meanings in different cultures. It represents the feminine side (yin) as opposed to sun (yang) as Ghaffar says in ‘The Maiden’: “Now open mouthed she / dialogued with the sun”.
Apart from these gendered representations, the moon stands for the emotional side of a personality. It is also related with lunacy — both lunacy and poetry have much to share. Moreover, the moon symbolises the control of water along with the rhythm of time. The different phases of the moon symbolise different phases of life, ranging from crescent to full moon, connoting childhood to old age.
The first poem, ‘Love’ was written after reading Mian Muhammad Bakhsh’s Sohni Mahiwal and Hafiz Barkhurdaar’s Mirza Sahibaan. In the poem Ghaffar brings instances of lovers from the world and tells about the lover’s labour:
“Farhaad splits his head for Khusrow’s Shireen
Mahiwaal roasts his flesh for Sohni
Juliet lapses breathless for her love-slayn Romeo”
Discussing the magical powers of love, he says that they are willing to be called lunatic. Ghaffar shows love as the supreme passion and symbolises it with full moon. While discussing that love is sacrosanct he says:
“Look! It’s the full moon again!
Back from his home in moondark”
Another poem is about the classic tale of Heer and Raanjha. Ghaffar described their love in a single poem. His description of the tale is comprehensive keeping in view the symmetry of the plot and chronology of events in mind. Ghaffar has a penchant for Punjabi literature, he himself has translated a voluminous work of classical Punjabi poetry in English including Heer by Damodar Das and has written books on poets such as Baba Fareed Ganjshakar, Baba Naanak, Sultan Baahu, Bulleh Shah, Sachal Sarmast and Khwaaja Ghulam Fareed. Apart from these translations in English, he has written six books of English verse and three books in prose.
The poem ‘Premonition’ tells us about the many possibilities out there in the world and leaves us with one question that has many meanings about our attitudes:
“Time has other ideas?
Ten trillion universes to explore?
But must I stop
walking the moor?”
Ghaffar presents a beautiful transition in the cultural and social value system and shows that men and women are equally capable of performing tasks in this chauvinistic world. In ‘The Girl In The Control Room’ he says:
“Hidden from eyes,
That are oblivious to rains soft as snow
Lovely, she sits with headphones on
And quietly directs the show”
The poet’s desire to bring peace and harmony compels him to search for points of consensus among people, this can be seen in ‘Inputs Second Review Meeting’, where people from 15 different nations have come together to talk. Perhaps at the end there is fear and wishful thinking about the future and that is reflected by the question mark at the end of the poem:
“Belying Kipling, here East met West, and East
We lived together, played together, and worked as one
By fortnight’ s end, we achieved, for what we came
And knew understanding is the rule of the game:
We bridged cultures, opened doors,
Put a value on others point of view
And dispersed with handshakes and hugs to meet anew?
The polarized world are still there, were we winning?
At journey’s end was another beginning”
Ghaffar’s language expertise allows him to communicate human emotions through the dialectics of words and express complex feelings with unique brevity. In the short poem ‘Ennui’, Ghaffar describes the feelings of the prolific vacuum of self that leads to impeccable creativity by playing intelligently with words.
“Emptiness poured into me
Made me full.
Oh, the potential!
But at this Price?”
In ‘Poetry IV’, he talks about the insufficiency of words to communicate true emotions of a poet while still maintaining a comprehensive dialogue through silence that conveys meanings successfully. He says:
“Should I abandon words
And walk the lush silences
Which hush sacred vaults
Centered in my heart,
Never speak, only trust and smile
And be at peace”
Ghaffar describes the anxiety of creative process that a poet faces, it’s not easy to choose words that can accurately express his emotions. He compares the process as wrestling with words and despite their insufficiency to convey the exact meaning, he harnesses them accordingly and creates imagery out of them:
“Put rings through their noses / Garment them as I please / Make their eyes dig the ground / And be the master of ceremonies”
The poem ‘Time’ tells us about the significance of present, past and future with a subtle emphasis on carpe diem. How nostalgia affects the present is elaborated with the imagery of slivers of time that the poet cuts with a bread knife; pickles one and freezes another. And with the passage of time, that pickled sliver grows mildew and the frozen one smells like dead fish.
Now, he is left with the piece of time that he dares not cut, which is perhaps the present and the only asset for humans that they can utilise and, which if laden with regrets and sad memories can hinder the future as well. Leonard Cohen very rightly said, “How can I begin anything new with all the yesterday in me”. Ghaffar also has a similar attitude for viewing life. He sees that past time has no good associations for humanity as history is laden with horrible stories of the victorious and the defeated, from Cyrus to the Crusaders. Telling the tales of their glorious wars, he says: “No one writes of little fish / Humbled by size”.
The only break away from that past, the poet finds, is in love. That not only becomes the symbol of creativity but as a salvation and redemption from the collective regrets and the cruelties of the past:
“Then if you will
Wash the slate clean
And come up
To breathe undarned air”
In Punjabi poetry, quite unlike other poetic traditions, the night is a metaphor of love and union. It represents a consciousness that removes all garbs of the self, bringing out its true form that equates every one. The night symbolically drifts away human beings from the consciously acquired pretence of the day that creates differences between human beings on multiple levels. Najam Hossein Syed in one of his poem says:
“The night descends
When the other would be the other no more
Air would embrace the fire
When they take bath in the touch of the river”
Ghaffar’s poems show the sensibility of human beings living in the transitory state, facing the dilemmas of modern age. These include pain, alienation, isolation, loneliness and an awe of rapidly changing values and equally cherishing and holding compact values from the past. This creates a romantic nostalgia to sustain these values and at the same time a desire to transcend all that and go beyond to explore the galaxies.
Author: Muzaffar. A Ghaffar
Publisher: Ferozsons, Lahore
Price: Rs 295