Jon Elia : A wasted genius

A wasted genius

By Syed Husain Bin Khamis
Jaun, verily, was a philosopher, a scholar, an intellectual, a learned man and, above all, a poet. And he would have done much more had we taken care of him. Whatever he had done could be better understood and utilized if we knew him better

MY heart sinks in grief — and in shame. Another man wasted — Jaun Elia died on 8 November 2002. But who was Jaun Elia?

In a society where cast, creed, religion, and ethnic background is the primary determinant of one’s rights, duties, and stature — indeed the name might evoke surprise, incompatibility, and for some, even animosity.

But who am I to write about Jaun? I am a penitent — the favourite pastime of my kind for over a millennium — for I never had the courage to atleast walk upto him and say, ‘look — you are one of the most learned persons of my country — why don’t you share your anguish, if not your knowledge, with your countrymen’ — leave alone owning and patronizing him.

This article is only an attempt at redemption — an effort at atoning the guilt which I feel as a member of this society, which I shared with Jaun Elia — by simply talking about him. My knowledge of his work is limited to his only readily available published book of poetry — Shayad.

He was a perennial skeptic — for doubt is the first step towards certainty. Yes — I enjoy reading his poetry for it stirs in me emotions which take me a step closer to humanity and it smoothers cracks in my soul, which I never even knew existed. But what is even more fascinating in this book is the poem which is so unique in its style and content that it duplexes the pleasure of his verses. It is as if he has taught the reader what to expect in his poetry. And even more impressive is the fact that you find exactly what he teaches you, to expect in his poetry.

What we should expect in his poetry emanates from his discussion on poetry and its comparison with other areas of intellectual activity like religion, philosophy, and science. Let us first see how he defines poetry.

According to him ‘when someone rises above temporal needs and rhymes his own silence — then he is writing poetry’. He goes on to say that ‘all art is natures attempt to rise above itself’ and that ‘art is the spontaneous skilled expression of an artist’s desires’.

This is quite different from Faiz for whom ‘a poet writes under the influence of an unknown irritation or sentiment’ but similar to William Wordsworth for whom, ‘poetry is the instantaneous overflow of powerful feelings’. This spontaneity is evinced in his poetry in all its colours:

About rising above nature:

Explaining the Urdu word for verse, shair, he says that it is often mistaken by people to be an Arabic word — but the fact is that it comes from the Hebrew word, skier, which means rhyme, musical voice, or rhythm. The primary condition for poetry that he lays down is iambic rhythm (Vazn) which for ease of understanding may be referred as harmony. ‘I cannot think of poetry without harmony and musical rhythm’ he says.

The two elements of poetry which Jaun Elia has expressed i.e. ‘transcending nature and spontaneity of expression’ could not be more true. In fact all creativity that communicates is about going beyond the obvious — whether it is science, philosophy, history, or religion. We cannot say anything (except for stating what every one already knows) till we go beyond the obvious — and poetry provides us the best medium for going beyond the obvious. Because poetry is a form of expression which is free of most external influences. Prose, in any form, whether fiction or non-fiction, is demarcated and delineated. Fiction is bound by characters and fact is leashed by the confines of the writer. Poetry is almost free of connectivity, reference, and context.

Even nazm has less connectivity than prose — because it may be connected in motif (mazmoon), but is still free in locution (Tarz-e-biar).

Metaphysically speaking, there are two parts to mans existence — the spiritual and the temporal. In the words of A.K. Brohi ‘to begin with he (man) is of the earth — earthly, but in him is lodged the spirit of God which is the transcendent element’.

Whatever Jaun might have said informally — his concept of rising above nature, transcending the earthliness in poetry is only manifest of his deep understanding and recognition of the spiritual part of man.

But this does not mean that poetry is bereft of logic. Jaun says, ‘poetry is related to mind, and the purest condition of mind is manifested in logic’ — and thus poetry is not beyond logic. While he wants poetry to be free of confines of prose at one end — he also does not want it to be lost in the limitlessness and obscurity of metaphysics at the other.

Iqbal calls it ‘higher poetry’. For Jaun, ‘higher poetry’ is religion. In the same line of argument, while declaring the essence of the character of a poet to be moral he does not differentiate between morals and ethics in art. For him, morality which is extra-aesthetic is not morality — it is belief. Some might misconstrue this as lack of belief which could be wrong.

Mark his words, ‘I, as a poet, reject all inclusive concept of morality. Beliefs have a contradictory relationship with unconditional beauty, goodness, and art — therefore poets of metaphysical realities may deserve a higher position (as compared to a poet of the physical) but they could not be called poets’. And his argument is simple ‘because the most abiding and deep relationship of a poet is with aesthetics — and aesthetics are not beyond space-time’. How could one differ? But again — it must be reiterated that this is not a negation of the metaphysical. Note the words ‘metaphysical realities’. He does admit the metaphysical to be real but is not ready to admit in poetry what is not within the realm of esthetics. Even if he indulged himself in metaphysical motifs he ended up materializing it:

In fact he once said that all human beings are the same as far as reality, as perceived by our mind, is concerned. It is in fact our superstition (vahm) which makes us different from each other. Our signature and our identity are not the views which we express; because these are always the ones which we can defend — and we can only defend what we learn about reality through cognition. Our icon, in fact, is our superstitions which we do not share with anyone — for they are not cognitive — and hence not defendable. How honest, how purely honest was this man.

He was honest to admit the conflict of the physical and the metaphysical. The external association of our consciousness with reality is what we look — our superstitions are what we are.

Let us now turn to another aspect of his views on poetry. Jaun points out four elements of poetry. Cognition (Ta-aqqul), sensation (Ehsas), imagination (Takhayyal), and emotion (Jazba). Science, according to him, whether directly or indirectly, is related to sensations, or senses (which Iqbal calls ‘the manifest’ — julwat). Religion is related to conception, whereas philosophy deals exclusively with cognition.

Poetry, however, deals with all these and adds to them to the moisture of emotions, which blends the three into an amalgam, which is far more palatable to human mind and soul than the stand alone forms i.e. science, religion, and philosophy.

Explaining this amalgam he says that, ‘in poetry the mind acquires an extra-ordinary functionality which provides a qualitative jump to (bring) proportionality between sensation, conception, and cognition, which has the vein and tone of the quality and quantity of emotions’.

In simple words, he believes that emotions provide a synergy to sensation, conception, and cognition — and that poetry is in fact an expression of this synergy. It is this synergy which creates an element of wonder in poetry, and it is this wonder which is the hallmark of all art. Science is powered by research, religion by certitude, philosophy by doubt, and poetry by emotions and it is emotions which provide creativity to all research, certitude and doubt. All good art must create wonder, must fascinate, must fertilize minds, and must leave behind a lingering longing which forces us to create more.

Poetry must ‘surprise and delight’ at the same time. It must express, knowledge, certitude, and doubt in a manner so holy that analyzing it would be ‘as cruel as dissecting a humming-bird’.

About this dissonant nature of poetry Jaun says that poetry demands a bi-farious or twofold person, who could ‘creatively interact with reality through cognition and emotions’ (at the same time).

Jaun talks of three dimensional relationship of our consciousness with reality. In one dimension it creates philosophy, religion, and history (PRH). In the second dimension it creates science (Sc.) and in the third poetry (P). For him PRH, Sc, and P are three dimensions of interaction between our consciousness and reality. He also refers to these dimensions as past, present, and future and claims that poetry is the only art form that brings coevality to past, present, and future.

What has been stated above is a minuscule part of the poem of Shayad. Jaun has discussed politics, history, religion, philosophy, science, literature, linguistics, and many more disciplines. But the best thing about Jaun Ella is that he does not insist on his version of any thing. Having an opinion is one thing and considering it to be the last and correct is another. He was a diehard skeptic and could never be dogmatic. For him ‘dogmatism is the obscenity of mind’.

Jaun, verily, was a philosopher, a scholar, an intellectual, a learned man and above all a poet. What burns ones heart is the fact that our society abates what men bring to it. Jaun could have done much more if we had taken care of him and whatever he had done could be better understood and utilized if we knew him better. However, the stark fact is that except for Shayad we are not even sure of access to his other work leave alone putting it to constructive and educative use.

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