Rococo and Other Worlds translation launched
KARACHI: A book of Afzal Ahmed Syed’s poetry collection, Rococo and Other Worlds, translated from Urdu to English by Musharraf Ali Farooqi, was launched at the Alliance Francaise Karachi on Monday evening.
A conversation between Syed and writer Dr Asif Farrukhi enabled book lovers to understand fundamental themes in the collection and the genesis of some poems. Before the talk, Dr Farrukhi claimed that Syed was a great living contemporary Urdu poet who had a unique style.
Since the 1970s, the poet had maintained ‘equilibrium’ between the genres of ghazal and nazm, writing poems from the points of view of the victims of history, from whom history had been taken away.
The first question that Dr Farrukhi put to Syed was about his style, as to whether it was there from the beginning or got developed later on. Syed said he began with writing ghazals but it was more of an amateurish attempt. It was not until he was 28 years that he started writing a bit more seriously.
He said it was difficult to find one’s own expression that was why initially he thought his style was not up to standard. Subsequently, he confessed, it was with prose poems that he ‘felt comfortable’ because the genre gave him ‘expression’.
Dr Farrukhi commented that it seemed as if the poet was born with a certain style because it was in the treatment of his poems that never lost sight of the man from whom history was snatched. Syed replied it was so because he had been directly associated with the historical events that he had penned in his poems: he used to live in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and had himself seen how humanity was ill-treated there, therefore when he set out to write poetry, his first-hand experiences became part of it.
Doing that, he explained, he seldom resorted to verbosity, and only occasionally experimented with syntax.
At that point, Dr Farrukhi brought up the issue of the three cities — Dhaka, Beirut and Karachi — which were integral to his growth as a creative individual. Syed said in all the three places, once the (socio-political) situation deteriorated, he never saw the cities recover from them.
On the question of agony being an inseparable part of his love poetry, Syed admitted that it was true, and reasoned since a poet experienced a whole gamut of feelings it [agony] was also something experiential.
Dr Farrukhi then shifted the focus of the discussion to the fact that Syed had read and translated quite a few western poets. The poet said although it had not had a direct effect on his poems, it did instil confidence in him.
He said he was impressed by the ‘subtlety’ with which western verse-wielders expressed themselves. In that context, he touched upon the Holocaust and the literature that it spawned. He said western poetry that he read was the poetry written by survivors, and he too was a survivor.
Expanding on the subject Syed pointed out in his poems he had remembered characters who were victims of the Holocaust because he could identify with them.
He remarked that whatever the conditions might be poets would never accept wrongdoings. Similarly, the Karachi characters in his poetry, he added, were part of his personal experiences as he once lived in the downtown area and used to go for long walks.
Replying to a question about how his style was received by critics in his early days, Syed said he had been fortunate enough to have people around him who always appreciated his work. He claimed he never directly received any criticism from anyone.
This made someone else inquire about the days when prose poem was not looked at in favourable light.
Syed informed the younger members of the audience that the practice of writing prose poems originated in Karachi, led by Qamar Jamil. There was a time when no one would publish his (Syed’s) poems, but afterwards people such as Ajmal Kamal and Kishver Naheed published them.
Between the conversation, Afia Aslam and Farheen Zehra of the Desi Writers’ Lounge, which organised the launch, read out Syed’s poems in English and Urdu.