"The good earth in our cities is confined to small pots"
Mubarik Ahmed had focused his attention on young women poets.
Where are such scatterbrains to be found today? I mean people like Mubarik Ahmed, the poet. A selection of his poetry has been published recently and I am reminded of so much: about his poetry, about his bicycle, about his concern and his efforts for the Movement for World Government.
Meera Ji, free verse, Halqa Arbab-i-Zauq, his bicycle, prose poetry, the Movement for World Government were the elements that together defined the poet’s personality. Of course, seeing the parts as disparate is just a mental block. Let me say nonetheless that together his many interests piled up so much stuff that the poetry was all but lost.
Originally though, Mubarik Ahmed had been a poet and nothing but. Meera Ji was a towering influence but the poet was bound to eventually emerge out of the shadow. This coincided with his taking leave of the free verse. The new Mubarik Ahmed was determined to found a new style. He raised the standard of prose poetry. The rest is history.
The poet was now a missionary, prose poetry being his holy mission. If he did not have many supporters early on, at least he had his bicycle. Prose poetry had many detractors then. The acceptance it got subsequently is a credit to Mubarik Ahmed’s perseverance (and his bicycle’s). The fact that the new genre has more women than men among its adherents is also down to his influence.
Despairing of his male contemporaries, Mubarik Ahmed had focused his attention on young women poets. That proved a boon for prose poetry, as well as these poets. Once he was convinced there was real talent, Mubarik Ahmed would praise the poet to high heaven. Restraint in this regard held no merit for him. Azra Abbas, he ruled, was TS Eliot’s better; Sara Shagufta, he said, could be compared to Mirza Ghalib. One marvelled at how the unselfish pioneer of prose poetry in Urdu never even thought of reserving one of the great comparisons for himself.
Now that his son Eraj Mubarik has sifted the poems from such exaggerations and published them, one finds it amazing that the kind of poet should have been occupied with such stuff. Imagine what may have been on Mubarik Ahmed’s mind when he declared that Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’, a poem he had himself translated into Urdu, was a lesser work than an Azra Abbas poem. And what was the harm, I wondered while reading the translation, in letting the last two lines stand in Sanskrit, the way Eliot himself had done.
The translations provide clues however to the influences that shaped Mubarik Ahmed’s new poetry.
The fact is Mubarik Ahmed was committed to just too many causes. His admiration of Benazir Bhutto had caused him anxiety about restoration of democracy in Pakistan. He worried also about the emerging problems for global peace to the east as well as the west. One evening he came to the Tea House with a comprehensive plan for a world government. I had no part in the World Government formed by Mubarik Ahmed – Abid Hassan Minto and Ejaz Hussain Batalvi were given key positions – so it did not bother me much that its writ never got very far. What bothered me was how this distracted the poet.
It’s wonderful therefore that the son has retrieved the father’s poetry from the junk he had accumulated, complied it tastefully and made it accessible. Let me conclude by sharing a very short poem in the selection:
The good earth in our cities
is confined to small pots.
Above it, sterile branches
long for red flowers.
*Translated from Urdu
Published in The Express Tribune.