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A new poetic idiom

Poetry, life and times of Mukhtar Siddiqui

A new poetic idiom

Mukhtar Siddiqui was one of those poets in the course of the twentieth century who wanted greater lyricism instilled into the verses of Urdu poetry. He was not alone as many more were also involved in the same quest for a number of reasons during their creative lifetime and they happened to be either senior or junior contemporaries of Mukhtar Siddiqui.

Though the quest had started in earnest with Noon Meem Rashed, it was Meeraji who had set the right tone in the exploration of the more visceral and esoteric interiors of the psyche which it was believed had not been tackled frontally by the poets of Urdu because of their more formal prosodic structures.

Meeraji got close to developing a new poetic idiom about the inner workings of the mind, the libidinal motivations so to say. He was able to show that it can be done in Urdu poetry by remaining within the structures that have been developed by the classical poets. He was also able to influence and inspire many more poets to take the experiment forward and one such poet deeply moved by all this was Mukhtar Siddiqui.

One area that he marked for himself was the relationship between music and poetry. The lyrics written for musical compositions were not modelled on the structures that were considered to be the major forms of poetry like the ghazal, masnavi and marsia. The lyrics were composed according to the forms like chand, thumri and dadra and the melodic quality that these evoked were greater and missed out on by the more formal structures of the Urdu language. Due to the deep love for music and an appreciation that was keener than that of the layman, Mukhtar Siddiqui wanted the same melodiousness to be part of the poetical expression.

One way of doing that was to write the poetical verses in accordance with the melodic modes commonly or popularly known as the raags. Many of his poems were based on the melodic requirements of music rather than that of poetry and were able to make some headway in that regard.scan0008

It may be pointed out that these were not meant or written to be sung as many of the poets had wished before and after him but were to be containing the high melodiousness of music. It was as if borrowing that quality from music and infusing it into poetry. The geets usually were invested with this quality and being indigneous were closer to the local expression and sensibility which were also evident in languages like Punjabi.

And since he was a Punjabi, born in Gujranwala and educated there and in Lahore, the interiority of the language was fused into the expression of Urdu. Furthermore, he was well-versed in a number of languages like Arabic, Persian, Hindi and there too he tried and successfully to widen the poetic vocabulary of Urdu poetry.

His diction is different from the traditional Urdu poets and there is more to pick from due to his understanding; it was not merely an academic understanding but he was in touch with the spirit of the language. Since these languages too were extensively used here, even if they all did not spring from the soil, the potential to express the sensibility was there for the very astute to see. Mukhtar Siddiqui did exactly that and there is no evidence of a forced expansion of diction in his poetry.

He also wrote plays and if one is associated with mediums like television and radio it was inevitable that one was forced to write for those mediums as well and he did that though it was not his forte. But he excelled in writing prose, both as translation and criticism. His translations actually display the extent of his knowledge about the various intellectual disciplines. It is possible that he translated to earn a living as many were forced to do in those times when writing, creative writing, was not considered a profession or was paid meagerly.  It showed the extent of his grasp of language as well as the subject that he was translating. And this wider intellectual understanding served him well when he took to writing criticism. Of course he did not subscribe to any one school of criticism and the age that he was living in was famously divided into many schools of writing and criticism and it was not seen with any degree of kindness if one was seen crossing the line. But Mukhtar Siddiqui wanted to know and evaluate the work according to the creative processes involved rather than issue the edict of a value judgment based on any some ideological format.

Since Mukhtar Siddiqui — Hayat aur Khidmaat is based on a PhD thesis, it has more in it than would be considered necessary for a book. But the information on him, his influences, his formative years and the various professions that he took up throws ample light on the man himself and it makes it easier for us to place his work against that perspective. This was the main thrust of Dr Sabira Shaheen and in that she did not fail. She is convincing in drawing a straighter link between the poet and his environment.

Mukhtar Siddiqui
— Hayat Aur Khidmaat
Dr Sabira Shaheen
Publisher: Waqar Publications, 2014
Pages: 324
Price: Rs895

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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