July 20, 2003
Review: Between loneliness and solitude
Reviewed by Peerzada Salman
“I SUFFER therefore I am. When someone hurts me, only I feel the pain.” This is a famous Jaun Elia dictum. One may not go along with that, but Yani, his second collection of ghazals and nazms published posthumously, endorses the fact that ‘suffering’ is the centripetal force towards which Jaun Elia’s seemingly colloquial words (and high-falutin phrases) move.
Jaun Elia died last year at the age of 71. His first collection of poetry, Shaed hit the newsstands in 1990 when he was 59. Why he was averse to the idea of getting his poetry printed, only he knew best. The reason for Shaed’s publication was that some of Elia’s diehard fans, including late Saleem Jafrey, had railroaded him into doing so. Yani has appeared for more or less the same reason. However, inexplicably, the foreword (or preface) to the book couldn’t be published, something that Elia aficionados were zealously looking forward to. He was busy penning it for quite a number of years, delineating his philosophy of life and repudiating others.
An understatement: The ghazals that have been included in Yani are stupendous. It was Jaun Elia, the blood-expectorating poet. He was bound to produce such stuff. Shaed had made everyone anticipate astounding verse(s) in his next collection. And he didn’t disappoint them.
The ghazals in Yani are suffused with an acute sense of loneliness. It is poetry that has emanated from being alone. For almost a decade Jaun Elia hadn’t been living with his immediate family. Nor did he have any permanent abode. He sorely missed his children, his ex-wife and some of the friends who used to circumambulate around him in order to learn how to fit a line into a certain metrical composition or to know the root of a particular Persian or Arabic word. He found none around him.
Not asking how I am; nor even a greeting/Am I that close to your heart?
I am in the business of longing for you/My request: Please give me more
O’ the party of life, strange are your people/First they never came; then they went away annoyed
The cut is deep, comrades, friends/Hold me! What, have you all left?
Remarkably, this sense of loneliness, just when it begins to have a placebo effect, turns into a longing for solitude. This particular aspect of Jaun Elia is a tad difficult to fathom. He was a perpetually dissatisfied individual. Happiness to him was an evanescent commodity. Surprisingly, he despised grief with no less disgust. This is an aspect that’s not to be found anywhere else in Urdu literature, but in Elia’s poignant poetry. One of Shaed’s ghazals carries the couplet:
These moments begrudge each and every condition/Don’t put your trust in sorrow
With the same creative force Jaun Elia yearns for solitude, albeit implicitly, in Yani.
Desire for empathy and favour is oppression indeed/And oppression it is to be proud of these
That someone who set time to see me today/Made me happy by not making it
Strange is my nature; see, today/I felt relieved when you didn’t come
What needs to be noticed minutely is when two lines of a couplet contradict one another in a poetic manner, imperceptibly sliding loneliness into solitude.
I await myself day and night/Now, you send me back to me
This ‘tanhaee’ leads him to compose poetry. And when he dips his quill in ink to doodle, Jaun Elia actually expectorates blood — his definition of writing verse. Even in his first collection, the most unique poet of Urdu language churns out many a couplet involving the phrase ‘khoon thookna’ (spitting blood). Yani is no exception.
O’ blood-spitting Jaun/ What trick are you going to show now?
Blood I have spat in mocking always/Do always mock me for it
Those who harbour the notion that they were close to Jaun Elia or knew him intimately are deceiving themselves. He was a loner; a compulsive one, but a poet to his fingertips who constantly needed to know that he was a creative entity and that his suffering was not a futile exercise. He used those who wanted to achieve immortality by attaching their names to Jaun Elia by making them help him in everyday chores. And his aversion to other poets was no secret, for their grief was/is being marketed to optimum success.
The short-sighted now make all decisions/That is to say the far-sighted are well
Skill has been destroyed quite skillfully/And the skillful are well
But this is nothing. Jaun Elia commits intellectual blasphemy in Yani.
Though Ghalib was utterly ignorant/But original he was among us many
One shouldn’t take offence here. There is some semblance of reverence underneath the crude exterior of blasphemy. It’s not that Yani is replete with bleak creations. The incorrigible romantic that Jaun was doesn’t lag behind the grief-nurturer that we know. He manages to produce the weirdest, yet convincing, of praises for his beloved that one can imagine in Urdu poetry.
Why do you look into the mirror?/You’re more beautiful than yourself
Who would say to his beloved that ‘you are more beautiful than yourself?’ What would that signify? Still, it appears to be the most powerful way to eulogize the ‘mehboob’. The nazms in Yani are explicitly personal, but equally articulate. There are also some pieces that tackle delicate issues of existence in an overly profound and exaggeratedly eloquent fashion. “Boodish” and “Wilayat-i-Khaiban” are two nazms that would need a man of T S Eliot’s learning to unravel their meaning. Having said that, a commoner should not refrain from delving into them.
Despite not being Jaun Elia’s true representative work, Yani is a masterpiece. That’s why it pains his admirers to know that the bulk of Jaun Elia’s unpublished ghazals and nazms (which would amount to at least half a dozen collections like Shaed and Yani) has been missing ever since he passed away. Whoever has kept it is an enemy to a genius — a genius who was neither a skeptic nor an agnostic, but a God-fearing perpetual sufferer.
The day I rendezvous with End/All decked up shall I be sent off n
English translation of verses: Murtaza Razvi
By Jaun Elia
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