Laazim hai ke hum bhi dekhen ge,
Woh din ke jis ka waada hai
Jo lauh-e-azal pe likha hai
We have no choice but to witness it,
The day that has been promised to us
That which has been written in our destiny
We will witness it
– Faiz Ahmed Faiz, 1979
Running free on the streets or sitting in the darkness locked up, there seemed to be only one unanimous notion signifying hope in the subcontinent at the time of partition- poetry.
73 years later, this particular anthem still echoes through the hearts and minds of people in the subcontinent- regardless of caste, creed, gender, or culture- people are often found humming it, remembering the ghazal as sung by Iqbal Bano and many others that came after her. It stands to be one of many, but its purpose stands to be only one: the truth. While the definition of truth is subjective, it served to unite people just the same.
In the traumatizing times of partition, poetry was equivalent to politics. It was critical that elements of our regional cultures be studied, documented, and pursued. Poetry stood as one of the main- if not the only- channels to do so. It was also a notion of nationalism. Muslims in the subcontinent wanted a united tool against potential cultural erasure and poetry very well served that purpose too.
Poetry was written in every shape and form and language. However, the most common form of poetry were ghazals. Ghazals date back to ages and just about everyone experiences the same feelings with regards to the content of ghazals. Needless to say, a significant amount of skill and ability is required to lay down one’s deepest emotions in the simplest of words have a style of uniqueness in their prose to hold any significance in the stream of history.
Another challenge is understanding Urdu ghazals, which can be hard for many. Especially the people that have not experienced life in the subcontinent. The subtle words and strong analogies build the very foundation of the poems, making it almost impossible to translate the thoughts into English. While there is no denying that the English language is extremely rich in vocabulary, it remains just short of expressing the subtle distinctions of a language and culture unknown. Which is why at the time of partition, poetry directed at the colonizers was written directly in English, and for the masses it was written in Hindavi (Hindi-Urdu).
However, the languages themselves never dictated the what course the poem was to take, or what motive it served. Even while pouring their hearts out in the form of poetry during desperate times, the reader- regardless of what position they held- was given leeway to interpret the piece of writing in front of them so they could resonate with it just like the poet did, which elevated its impact the most.
A very stark feature of these ghazals was that they were never written in direct language. They were written in analogies and innuendoes. They were written with either use gender neutral pronouns or same-sex pronouns so that the reader would not try to wrongly contextualize them in relation to the poet’s personal identity. Suffice it to say, a large component of poetry- especially partition poetry in Urdu- is contextualizing it correctly to assess the purpose of the ghazal. But even if one doesn’t, the proses are so subtly personalized that it can serve a person’s very own purpose.
Poetry is as distinguished a contribution to the freedom of our country as frontline fighting is because poetry didn’t make war seem like war- it made war seem like hope. Allama Iqbal, a poet, is held at the same stature as Quaid-e-Azam, a politician, because of his role in speaking and dreaming this country into existence through his poetry.
So we see that on the surface level, poetry doesn’t seem much but just words. However, a little introspection allows us to see that poetry is a way to see everything, from the geographical structure of the country to the resistance against oppression- poetry is the portal through which not only the history of Pakistan can be accessed, but it also allows us to relive the emotions of those that wrote them. Poetry serves as an archive and yet it remains timeless.