The long wait for Punjabi poetry enthusiasts has finally come to an end. Renowned radio show host and poet Afzal Saahir – also known as Pakistan’s Shiv Kumar Batalvi – has published 63 pieces of eloquent poetry in “Naal Sajjan De Rahiye” (Live With Your Loved One).
The collection is a must read, for it coherently highlights the highs and lows of human life, with each verse emanating the powerful essence of Punjab. Published by Saanjh Publications in Lahore, the book has also been translated in Punjabi dialects Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi for the poet’s fans.
The title of his book has been extracted from the work of revered Sufi poet Shah Hussain, which should give readers a hint of the extent to which Saahir’s work is influenced by Sufi literature. Late Punjabi poet and short story writer Amrita Pritum once blessed the young poet with her words of encouragement and optimism, declaring him “a sapling” planted by great Sufi poet Hazrat Sultan Bahu. Pritum’s words are printed on the back of Saahir’s book as a memory to be cherished by him and Punjabi poetry fanatics for years: “Hun taan Bahu dee booti phulaan tay aa gai aey” (The sapling of Bahu is now blossoming).
For poetry to be honest and pure, it needs to be well-expressed. And in order for it to be well-expressed, the poet needs to voice it using his mother tongue, so that its integrity remains preserved. Fortunately, Saahir chose his mother tongue Punjabi as his medium of expression, which conveys sincerity that his readers greatly admire.
Essentially, his poetry speaks about malevolence and pain inflicted on mankind but it also teaches a lesson to demoralised and pessimistic victims at the same time. From his collection, “Waarta” (Distribution) can be termed his magnum opus – a poem on the bloody partition of the subcontinent. Unlike the great Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Saahir did not witness the hardships of the partition, yet he managed to create a masterpiece on the subject by making mere observations – sufferings of his parents who migrated to Pakistan and agonies of the old men of his village in Samundri Tehsil of Faisalabad.
The lengthy poem tells a harrowing and highly appealing account of partition. Some couplets from the poem go as following:
Our forefather licked the lines, how could we learn a lesson,
Our limbs hang on the naked wire, how could blood come in them,
We carved a “truth” out of the game of lies,
Then we painted this truth with religion,
Truth on the spear could not survive here,
Even Jesus could not be saved if he returns here,
Our breaths started getting broken as we wept out of hunger,
But we started again massaging the Chaudhry as he turned furious towards us,
We could not sense how losses and profits occurred,
We were beaten badly as we played the game of monkeys.
Saahir portrays partition as a truth carved out from a game of lies. He believes that man on the street had nothing to do with the severance of Hindustan, but still, his life was devastated by the partition.
In his poetry, we see the pain and agony faced by a common woman of the land. He beautifully describes the circumstance in which most girls married men who are not fit for them. His poem captioned “Sufney Reh Gaey Koray” (The Dreams Left Immaterialised) narrates the plight of those unfortunate women.
The heroin of the poem complains:
We damsels blessed with killer eyes,
Were yoked by the blind farmers,
Our desires were rotten in the mire of the heart,
Our life confined to four walls,
We only remained at the beck and call of husbands,
We kneaded our hearts in the pots
This issueless time has frozen our breaths like snow,
Our dreams left immaterialised.
One of his most moving poems is printed on page 20, titled “Peeraan Vikney Aaiyaan” (The Pain Is Up For Sale).
Through his commendable poetry, Afzal Saahir has proven that Punjabi is a rich, powerful and influential language. Let’s hope he continues to astound the world with his magical pen.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2012.