A new book seeks to locate Urdu poet Shahryar's body of work in the trajectory of contemporary Indian writings and evaluates his contribution to not merely modern Urdu poetry but more significantly to modern Indian poetry.
Tracing his journey as a poet, Rakhshanda Jalil in Shahryar: A Life in Poetry demonstrates how Shahryar evolved a set of symbols, images and metaphors that, while seemingly personal, transcended the self and the individual.
She also evaluates his work in the light of the two major literary movements that shaped his poetic sensibility - the Progressive Writers' Movement and modernism - while he consistently refused to belong to any one group.
Included in the book is a selection of some of Shahryar's best poems - ghazals, nazms and film lyrics - translated by Jalil.
She dwells on Shahryar's life only insofar as it shapes and affects his work.
My concern here is to write a critical biography, one that places Shahryar's poetry in the continuum of modern Urdu poetry. Therefore, this book is as much a study of a poet's life and work as it is an attempt to write the literary history of contemporary Urdu poetry, Jalil says.
Shahryar explored meaningful ways of communication and, in the process, gifted Urdu literature with a unique lexicography, a whole new set of images and symbols, she says, adding his poetry mirrors the evolution of symbols that, while seeming personal, transcend the self and the individual and speak of universal concerns.
I think it is this that lifts his poetry leagues above his contemporaries and it is this singular ability to speak for himself while also speaking for the world that defines his entire poetic oeuvre, the author writes in the book, published by HarperCollins India.
She says Shahryr also never bemoaned the futility of communication or resort to the use of dense, impenetrable images and idioms.
She also says that the image was very important in Shahryr's poetry. He cloaks it in a magnificent robe of words, words that have a mesmeric spell of their own.
Writer, critic and literary historian Jalil also tells about Shahryar's penchant for cooking, his favourite dishes being aloo gosht, qeema do-pyaza, kaleji and istoo. He took great pride in telling about his near-perfect balance of ingredients like spices, chillies and salt in the dishes he cooked. Like poetry, he maintained, good food should be perfectly proportioned with not the slightest bit of excess.
Shahryar (1936-2012) is regarded as one of the most important voices in contemporary Indian poetry. He cast a mesmeric spell since the publication of his very first collection, Ism-e Azam, in 1965. In a career spanning five decades, Shahryar always managed to remain topical and his poetry could always be called the call of the time'.
This ability to remain relevant and to always have something to say consistently over a period of time is a singular quality.
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