Tete-a-tete: Nothing carry ‘resistance’ like a poem does

Published: March 31, 2014
Aftab Iqbal Shamim talks on poets, poetry and everything 
in between.

Aftab Iqbal Shamim talks on poets, poetry and everything in between.

RAWALPINDI: An answer on an exam sheet was so perfectly worded that it was accepted as is by the opinion pages of a national daily, thanks to the examiner.

Aftab Iqbal Shamim was the student. Soon after this incident, he was made editor of the college magazine. The encouragement given by Dr Safdar Hussain went a long way in making Shamim what he is today.

He now has four collections of nazms (poems) to his credit  “Farda Nizhad”, “Zaid se Mukalma”, “Gum Samandar” and “Mein Nazm Likhta  Houn” and one of ghazals entitled “Saya Naward”.

Born in Jhelum in 1933, eminent poet Aftab Iqbal Shamim did his masters in English and Urdu from Gordon College, Rawalpindi. Later, he taught at the same college for over quarter of a century.

Talking to The Express Tribune, he spoke on his literary journey, encouragements, and disappointments with contemporary literature.

Giving his preference for nazm, he said, “I prefer nazm over ghazal. The world has changed. We are living in a global village now. The human being is being dehumanised. We can’t resist it through ghazal. Nazm is the answer.”

Continuing, he said, “I was under the influence of the progressive movement. Those were the days when ghazal-writers held sway and nazm-writers were denied invitations, even to literary meetings. Nazms never got any response. I still remember the audience used to listen to nazms with no reactions whatsoever.” But he never lost heart and kept writing nazms that were regularly published in literary magazines such as Adabi Dunya and Funoon. “After five decades, finally the nazm has found acceptance. Things have changed to that extent that nazm-mushairas (recitals) are now held frequently. Even the best ghazal-writers have started writing nazms now.”

In response to a query on why he turned to ghazals, he explained, “I taught at Beijing University for twelve years. There I turned to ghazal-writing. The reason was to fill the cultural gap which I felt there and this was also an attempt to integrate myself with our own centuries-old cultural tradition of ghazal.”

Recounting his early days, Shamim said, “I developed a taste for poetry during college days. In those days, teachers were more than just teachers to students.  Professor Rafique Mehmood and Professor Ikramul Haq gave me two books and asked me to tell them which one I liked the most. One was Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Daste Saba and the other one was Noon Meem Rashid’s Maavara. That’s how my interest in literature grew, and thus began my literary journey.”

Critiquing the critics, he said today’s literary criticism has no direction. Progressives found good critics in Ehtesham Hussain, Ale Ahmad Suroor and many others. Later on, Dr. Wazir Agha also joined their ranks.

He said “a poet must also be a critic. In Urdu, poet-critics were in abundance in the past. In English literature there were Coleridge, TS Eliot and others. A critic must be very honest and impartial. They must be aware of the contemporary criticism being written and must have deep knowledge of literature.”

“A continuous wave of newly-published books of poetry and fiction, which can hardly be termed as works of literature, gives rise to suspicion of collaboration between the publishers and their agents to mint money,” said Shamim, while at the same time expressing hope by quoting the novels such as “Ghulam Bagh” by Mirza Ather Baig.

“Literature is the real history that captures life in the streets and its most minute details,” he said as a parting note.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2014.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Aneeka Hussain
    Apr 1, 2014 - 9:43PM

    If Aftab Iqbal Shamim’s idealistic vision suits nazm, it doesn’t lessen the importance of ghazal. Ghazal is more suited to express the complexities of the modern age than nazm. One line of Ghalib’s ghazal is more expressive than a long modern nazm blown out of proportion. Recommend

  • Abdul Hayee Shah
    Apr 1, 2014 - 9:57PM

    Just novel literary techniques used in nazm can’t express the contemporary sensibilities. Ghazal does it better than nazm. Weaving poems in a complex fabric makes the theme ambiguous. Of course, I am not talking about Aftab Iqbal Shamim but other poets writing nazms these days.Recommend

  • S. Yousaf
    Apr 2, 2014 - 8:48AM

    The central theme of a ghazal is love but it is capable of producing an extraordinary range of expressions with seemingly simple and ordinary words, Gazal divides into complete verses which give complete meanings. By reading individually any verse doesn’t lose its meaning and is not dependent on each other. But nazm is more complex and bound to convey the complete theme. Its verses cannot convey complete theme individually as they are interlinked.


  • Ahmad Niaz
    Apr 2, 2014 - 8:53AM

    Let me quote Jaun Elia. “I do not have any bias against either ghazal or nazm. Poets just follow inspiration, which keeps shifting from nazm to ghazal and back. However, I feel that the complicated problems of the present day call not for a simple language, and therefore ghazal rather than nazm.”


  • Zahid Hussain Ali
    Apr 3, 2014 - 9:23AM

    Nazm has just one main theme and lacks brevity (Koozay mein darya bund karna sirf ghazal ka kaam hai), while ghazal is thematically strong and is unique at least when compared with the western poetry. Even English and Italian literature doesn’t have anything like ghazal.


  • Nabeel Sheikh
    Apr 3, 2014 - 9:42AM

    I disagree with some commentators including Jaun Elia. Ghazal is more about the mood than the theme I think. Although Urdu nazm is very much like English poem but it has progressed phenomenally and can be compared with any masterpiece of world literature. Iqbal, Miraji, Noon Meem Rashid, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Majeed Amjad and even Aftab Iqbal Shamim’s poems can be quoted for example. Even free and prose poetry in Urdu language is about to hold sway soon.


  • Obaid Ejaz
    Apr 4, 2014 - 1:14PM

    I think gazal influences you more if your social problems are simple and straight, and if your feelings of alienation are just theoretical rather than being an intense personal experience, then comes the nazm turn.


  • Qanbir Rizvi
    Apr 6, 2014 - 10:04AM

    There is another great reason to like ghazal. It’s is the only Urdu poetry genre which is unique. I say this because virtually all other genres of Urdu poetry have their equivalents – actually their betters – amongst the world literature, but ghazal hasn’t any.


  • Tasneem Qazalbaash
    Apr 6, 2014 - 10:15AM

    Right from Miraji, all nazm writers have admitted the feelings of indebtedness and gratitude towards their English mentors. This influence has refused to fade out – apparently due to the dominance of English language. When will our own cultural atmosphere impact Urdu nazm writers?


  • Muhammad Zubair
    Apr 6, 2014 - 10:32AM

    Apart from his literary quality, Aftab Iqbal Shamim wants to push the oppression and exploitation out of our lives. He seems intensely distressed against the mistreatment by the powerful and the depression faced by the oppressed, but his tone is soft and is not at all defiant.


  • Tahir Obey
    Apr 8, 2014 - 9:16AM

    Aftab Iqbal Shamim’s poems are apparently supple but inherently raucous and tumultuous, and mirror decent atmosphere while olden times and myths scurry summarily as shades.


  • Abdul Salam
    Apr 9, 2014 - 1:25PM

    The poet ET has written about is a very significant poet who has tried his best to give more grace and variety to Urdu nazm. He has given more credence to this genre and has added to the treasure-house of its thematic, emotional and philosophical aspect.


  • Shazia
    Apr 14, 2014 - 12:37AM

    The poet of the ghazal is at liberty to talk about love in the first verse, death in the second, envy in the third, mysticism in the fourth, and so on. Such is not the case with the nazm which owes its strength and identity to the logical evolution of thought and theme. Aftab Iqbal Shamim’s nazm has a beauty of its own.


  • Ahmad Meerza
    Apr 14, 2014 - 12:44AM

    One cause for the popularity of nazm was the growing realization among the poets and readers that the traditional ghazal was too narrow and restrictive to serve the larger interests of life and society. No doubt, the ghazal, in the hands of the master-poets like Mir, Sauda, Zauq or Ghalib, has demonstrated its capacity to deal with the whole range of human experience; but its main subject has been love.


  • Tehmeena
    Apr 14, 2014 - 12:48AM

    The foundation of the modern nazm was formally laid on 30 June, 1874, when, under the aegis of the “Anjuman-e-Urdu”, a new kind of “mushaira”, called “Munazama” (literally, a symposium of nazms), was organized at Lahore. This was a unique symposium for the reason that it gave to the participating poets not a “tarah misra” (a line of poetry which was to serve them as a model for their poetical exertions, in terms of mood, metre, and rhyme), but a specific topic to build their poems upon.


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