A few weeks ago, Jamia had organised an Indo-Pak mushaira.
Since I was heading towards Jamia in any case - to visit Qurratulain Hyder's grave - I decided to attend. The main draw, for me, was that Nida Fazli was one of the featured poets, but there was the undeniable anticipation of watching a real, live, mushaira with famous contemporary poets from both sides of the border. As it turned out, many other people had been just as eagerly anticipating just such an event.
I knew it would be a packed audience because, despite begging and pleading with the media relations office, there were no more passes to be had. The gentleman who picked up the phone very politely, very insistently let me know that the organisers were already nervous because they just might have distributed more cards than there were seats.
But what I walked into, that evening, was too much like a mob for my comfort. There was a crowd of about 300 students gathered outside the Ansari auditorium though I arrived half an hour early. The watchmen stood in a group to one side, allowing you past only if you waved your invite. As I stood in queue, listening to several elderly ladies arguing about how they definitely had an invite, they just couldn't find it at the moment, the crowds swelled and roared.
Once seated inside, the roar filtered in every few minutes. Cries of murdabad. Cries of angry, impatient, excited youth. Frightening cries. And from behind the empty stage's curtains, a firm, polite voice repeatedly requested the waiting students to go to the back, where the open-air audi was, and where a large screen had been set up, for those who did not have an invite. What I wish I could communicate here, right now, is the sweetness of that firm request. How, in Urdu, you can say 'Auditorium mein gunjaish kum hai.... hum jaante hain ke aap kitne mushtaq hain, kitne betaab hain' while sounding deeply... civil (?), and how you just cannot match that with a translation. "There's no space here" is just not the same thing, is it?
The announcement must have been repeated at least a dozen times, before some of the mushtaq-betaab crowd budged. Once some had budged, some more budged. Eventually, enough of them budged to dispel the organisers' fears and the program could begin. Some of the promised poets did not attend (Javed Akhtar was missing, for instance)
Nida Fazli was, well, Nida Fazli. His poetry was lovely in its simple themes and he was as direct as clear-throated as his verse. And while I'd read some of his longer poems, this time he concentrated on 'dohas' which were a revelation. (Today, incidentally, is his birthday.)
Asgar Nadeem, a visiting Pakistani poet, presented a new one about sixty-year old travelers. Or possibly, travelers who had been on the road for sixty years and cannot find their way home.
"Musafir saath barso.n ke abhi tak ghar nahin pahunche...
kahin par raaste ki ghaans mein.... taarikh ki jadein khojte hain....
musafir saath barson ke bade pareshaan hain..."
(Travelers of sixty years have not reached home yet...
Somewhere along the way, they stop to look in the grass
for the roots of history...
these travelers of sixty years are very troubled....)
Popular Meeruthi warmed up the evening considerably with easy, jocular shers like "Raaz ab samjha jhuki nazro.n ka, jisko sharmili samjha, vo bhai.ngi nikli". The students were delighted. I was not, especially after he took pointless potshots at Mallika Sherawat's clothes. However, I do love funny poetry, and one of my favourites is Popular's take on a famous Zafar sher.
"mahabuub vaadaa kar ke bhii aayaa na dosto
kyaa kyaa kiyaa na ham ne yahaa.N us ke pyaar me.n
murGe churaa ke laaye the jo chaar "Popular"
"do aarazuu me.n kaT gaye, do intazaar me.n"
[Zafar's original was: "umr-e-daraaz maang ker laye the chaar din
do arzoo main kat gaye, do intezar main"]
The other highlight of the evening, for me, was the oldest poet who had turned up in a white sherwani, his skinny legs looking even skinnier and more bent in a white churidaar, a red rose in his button-hole, a scurrying walk, a cap tilted on his bald head, and a flamboyance that quite made up for the lack of brilliant poetry. He joked about how he'd been instructed to read poetry, but not something as old as himself. He read second-rate romantic shers, and then paused to state "saste sher zyaada chalte hain" (the cheaper verses are more popular) and go right on reading! He scampered. He lolled against the gao-takia. He almost rolled over backwards. He spoke loudly, interrupted when he chose, and gallantly insisted that the women poets also come up on stage to sit 'humare pehlu mein' (Which is not the same as sitting next to somebody, is it?) "Meherbaani kar ke zahmat farmayein", he said, and spoke of how he had not seen the white-haired Zahra since the 50s, and how very beautiful she was. Zahra, despite the coaxing, did not come to sit in his pehlu, but the much younger Kishwar, did.
I hadn't read much of Kishwar Naheed and the little I found on the net might be early work that does her little justice. Hers seems to be strong, feminine voice that knows the art of gentle combat.
Half-way into the evening, I decided to leave the auditorium and sit at the back, with the others who did not have passes. And there, awaited the real surprise. There must have been at least two thousand people there. Almost all young men, almost all students of Jamia. So this had been the roar that that demanded to be let in, to hear the poets live, instead of watching them on a television screen.
And of course, they made crude comments, especially when the women poets stood up to read. And of course, they were snide about the more serious shers. And of course, they treated romance with as much disdain as they could summon, but reveled in it nonetheless.
For all that, my only reaction was a befuddled 'wow!'. The very idea was overwhelming. Two thousand or maybe more! At a poetry event!