Buried under forewords
I have received a strange book of poetry. I started reading it: a foreword, a second foreword and another foreword. After that, yet another foreword. What kind of poetry can it be, I wondered, to need so many prefaces (and where is it hiding).
The book is called Satre Nau, the author is Manzar Hussain Akhtar.
Having encountered several forewords one after the other I thought maybe these were originally written for separate books and have now been compiled in a single volume. But then I turned another page and to my surprise came upon poetry. Why, I wondered, should poetry that looks so fresh have been lying under so many layers of preface.
Next, I realised that there was no need really to have read all the forewords for after all their scholarly talk the conclusion was one: Manzar’s poetry is influenced by his late father Akhtar Hussain Jafri.
Khurshid Rizvi said he had inherited the creative genius from his father. Aqeel Rubi even quoted a verse about the sapling growing into a tree and the son wearing his father’s clothes. I was confused. Did the critic mean to compliment or satirise the poet? Rubi has elaborated the point: “Manzar is no doubt wearing his father’s dress for this is his only inheritance but he has himself chosen the collar and the cuffs on the shirt, as well as the buttons.”
I hoped that this explanation would make the poetry more accessible. That is what the forewords are for. The reader can follow the critic and not have to worry too much what the poetry is about. Having read all these forewords I was particularly in need of such support. But soon it seemed that not all buttons may have been picked by the wearer.
Let me concede that while Rubi is great with his analogies, having little understanding of tailor-speak I am not particularly confident I quite understand its subtleties. It is a whole independent body of knowledge and not given to everybody.
Writing of forewords in our literary tradition is far from objective criticism. Foreword writers look for a signal from the poet or author for how to compliment him. Poets should avoid the trap but Manzar has been too forthcoming with them dedicating the book to his father and writing vividly about missing him. Quick on the uptake, the foreword writers have complimented him for being a wonderful son and true in his poetry to his father’s style.
Zulfiqar Hussain Anjum has even written “Manzar had so merged himself to his father’s person while he lived that Akhtarism has become an integral part of his personality.”
Now all that may be right and the son’s unusual love for his father too may be a wonderful thing but somebody also needed to say that poetry is different. Unlike music or wrestling it has schools, not families. There are no Rustam and Sohrabs in poetry.
From the foreword writers’ reading of it, and it’s not all that wrong, it would appear that Manzar’s poetry is just an extension of Akhtar Hussain Jafri’s. I have been amazed in reading the poetry at how the son has obediently followed wherever the father has led. For this he deserves the praise he has got. But next we await the son’s coming of age. A father’s shadow is a great blessing for the son but living an entire life in that shadow is neither natural nor makes for great poetry.
The young poet should disregard Rubi and actually grow into the tree he was meant to be.