The man behind thousands of love stories
Karachi: Being young and in love can leave one short of the right words that can truly express their feelings to the person their heart aches for. When that happens, many turn to the man whose words work like a love potion – the king of romantic Urdu poetry Amjad Islam Amjad.
For countless lovebirds, had it not been for Amjad’s poetry, they would not have ended up together. In fact, he ran into eight such couples at the Karachi literary festival alone.
“Actually when one is young, the intensity of emotions is there, but the mind is naïve. Youngsters are unable to convert their feelings into words. I couldn’t have done so back then too,” the poet said at a jam-packed hall during a session titled “Chashm-e-Tamasha: Readings and Conversation with Amjad Islam Amjad”. “When I matured with age, it was only then I could put the words into that form.”
Amjad identifies himself basically as a poet, but also relishes his achievements as a playwright. “Some people specialise in only one particular field. Others are like bees that move from one flower to another. I can be placed among the latter.”
Reading out his poetry, Amjad wanted the audience to hear something different for a change – deviate from romance to other emotions. He read out a poem he had written about how it pained him to see the current state of Karachi. Its opening stanza went: “Aye waqt gawahi de, hum log na they esay, hein jese nazar aatay” (Testify O time, we were not how we appear to be today).
And then came the best part: “Deewar na they rastay, zindaan na thee basti, aazad na they rishtay, aashob na thee hasti, yoon maut na thee sasti” (The paths were not walled shut, the town was not a dungeon, ties were not severed, the soul was not in tears, death was not so cheap).
Muhammad Ahmed Shah, the witty moderator of the session, kept reminding the poet that it was “his romance” that everyone adored and identified him with. “Has your age and family matters worn you down?” he quipped.
“No the ‘engine’ hasn’t shut down,” Amjad replied with a laugh.
The poet also shared his experience of invigilating a monthly test during his time as a teacher. The cheating students brought about an idea for a poem: “Bay nigha ankho say daikhtay hain parchay ko, bay khayal haatho say un banay say lafzo per ungliyaan ghumatay hain, ya sawaal namay ko daikhtay hi jatay hain” (They stare at the test paper with expressionless eyes, unconsciously circling their fingers over the words on it or constantly staring at it).
The poem that begins with the description of a scene wherein students are cheating beautifully ends with how life is also a test containing daunting questions that every person keeps deliberating over.
Another intriguing poem is the one Amjad wrote about his son, Ali Zeeshan. “Mere bete ne aankhain ik naee duniya main khauli hain, ussay who khwaab kaisay doon jinhay tabeer kernay mein meri umer guzri hai” (My son has opened eyes in a new world, how should I give him the dreams which I have spent my life to fulfil).
The touching poem artistically defines the generation gap that has always existed in an ever-changing world. However, one of its concluding lines is: “Azal se ek manzar hai, faqat aankhein badalti hain, meri nazro ka dhoka tha key yeh cheezein badalti hain (It has been the same scene since time immemorial, I was only under the impression that things change).
Amjad finally had to cave in to the moderator and audience’s demand and read out his poems that act like cupid including his all-time classic: “Zindagi ke mele mein, khaawishon ke rele mein, tum se kya kahein jaanaa, iss qadar jhamele mein” (In the carnival of life, among the waves of desires, what should I say to you my love, amid all this commotion). The “wah wah” and applaud were louder this time.
The moderator asked Amjad as to why he had not chosen to rebel during Zia’s military rule like other poets, Ahmad Faraz and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
“It’s believed that when suppressed, the only options left are to rebel or go into a shell. I think that there is a third way. Trick the suppressors and make the exit.”
To explain how he actually managed to pull this off, Amjad recalled that he would deliberately insert lines into his drama scripts that were bound to be censored. “I would debate over the lines until the censor officials became tired and then consented to their removal. This allowed the actual matter in the script that would have been otherwise censored to make it through.”
For discussion’s sake, the moderator asked Amjad as to why he often repeated stanzas in his poems. He replied that poetry is not just for the mind and eyes, but it should also appeal to the ears. “I try to give it the shape of a melody.”
And that is perhaps the secret to Amjad’s magic. Budding lovers will keep using his words to win over the ones their hearts desire, there will be several successful love stories to come.