By Amrita Sharma
As I pass the quarantine days with my fascination for Urdu poetry, it is not an easy time that most of us face today. After I first wrote about the young Urdu poet Tehzeeb Hafi a few days back, it has led me to further elaborate on the subject. While you can easily mistake my first encounter with Urdu shayari with its undeniable focus on Hafi as an instance of ‘sheer fandom,’ here I want to focus more on a literary tradition and its changing trends.
While Urdu shayari remains an old and rich art form, people are now turning to its changing trends. I do not in the least intend to question the universality of the canonised Urdu poets such as Iqbal, Galib, Faiz and others. My point is how the contemporary forms are attracting public attention across the social media platforms. Urdu poetry, particularly in the past ten years, has witnessed the emergence of poets that have worked towards the establishment of a new trend that has somehow succeeded in attracting readers beyond the strict realms of the literary scholars’ community. It is particularly in this context that a poet like Hafi might be brought into focus.
Belonging to a small village, Taunsa (in Pakistan), obscure on the world map, Hafi, a practitioner of Urdu shayari for past many years, also remains one of the foremost poets to have openly emphasized upon the incorporation of the ‘everyday language’ within the poetic construct. It is a trend that has rapidly evolved, not just in Urdu poetry but also across other forms of spoken art. Poets like Hafi need to be acknowledged for their contribution in establishing such a trend by a poetic investment across many years.
With more than 38,000 followers on Facebook, and his January and July 2019 ‘Andaaz-E-Bayaan Mushaira’ videos on YouTube receiving more than six and four million views respectively, Hafi has undoubtedly gained popularity in reshaping Urdu shayari in its modern and contemporary forms.
I do not claim that these changing trends have divorced the traditional lexicon from the art form. Rather it is the amalgamation of the old with the new that has largely been significant in attracting the non-Urdu speakers. Both as a researcher as well as a common social media user, I do certainly continue to face a serious lexicon barrier at times. Yet it is my fascination with Urdu that makes me delve deeper into its charm.
It is also worth noting that despite all the technological help that we constantly benefit from today, the cultural barriers continue to both divide as well as fascinate. This is precisely what I experienced the most after writing about Hafi for the first time. While making a formal talk with an Urdu speaker, it remains impossible for me to simultaneously Google the Urdu words that might impair the intelligibility of the conversation, but it is my love for the art form that has helped me in crossing such barriers. And even as I Google an Urdu word and learn its English translation, my first preference naturally remains to connect with a ‘human’ speaker than a ‘digital’ aid.
The fact that needs a recurrent emphasis here is that it is more important to acknowledge the potency of an art form that is rapidly evolving the literary taste of the common social media users. It is more about appreciation than critique, more about poetic vibrancy than the poetic context, more about the transcendence of art across borders than its association with its place of supposed origin. The ‘connect’ that art forms across the man-made borders shall always continue to face intentional or unintentional biases. However, the power of aesthetics cannot be overlooked; the role of social media cannot be underestimated. The establishment of new trends in Urdu shayari by poets like Hafi that attract us to it cannot be denied outright.
As the creative act of writing, the literary act of reading, and the essential act of criticism form a complete nexus for our intellectual appetite, we need to encourage and embrace our desire to read and research on literary traditions that continue to evolve our sense of cultural legitimacy at large. While this article does not claim to be sufficient in describing Tehzeeb Hafi as a modern Urdu poet, who remains known to most of us only through the social media, it will hopefully provide incentive for further research in the subject.
Amrita Sharma is a Lucknow-based writer currently pursuing her Ph.D. in English from the University of Lucknow. Her works have previously been published in Café Dissensus Everyday, Muse India, New Academia, GNOSIS, Dialogue, The Criterion, Episteme and Ashvamegh. Her area of research includes avant-garde poetics and innovative writings in the cyber space.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.