Javed Akhtar’s new collection of nazms, “Lava”, beautifully delves into the deep, inner secrets of human life.

Javed Akhtar’s fame precedes his poetry for his long association with the world of simulacra. But most of those who claim to know him hardly recognise him as a poet. A descendent of Maulana Fazle Haq Khairabadi who was exiled for life to the Andamans (Kalapani) for rising up against the British, grandson of Muztar Khairabadi — a master-poet of his time, the son of Jan Nisar Akhtar and Safia Akhtar of ‘Zere Lab’ fame and maternal nephew of the progressive firebrand Majaz, Javed Akhtar belongs to a family where the legacy of poetry and literature has passed on uninterrupted.

Despite such a background, Javed Akhtar had to face the vagaries of life from the very beginning, especially after he landed in Bombay and found himself on the footpath. The times he lives and lived in and his successes and failures only added to his unique body of experiences. Once the molten lava raging inside spilled out in the form of golden speech it began shaping itself into effective verse. He did benefit from the legacy of his forefathers but his own creative dexterity didn’t allow any of it to influence his poetry. His poetry is his own everywhere; it has his own voice, his own style and idiom.

What stands out in his poetry, especially nazms, is his curious mind and ability to think. His ideas are fully geared up for finding answers to problems, to uncover the mysteries of world — the deep, inner secrets of human life. This is the common thread that runs through the nazms such as ‘Ye Khel Kya Hai’ (The Game of Chess), ‘Kaaeynaat’ (The Universe’), ‘Ajeeb Qissa Hai’ (A Strange Tale) and others, forming part of his new collection, “Lava”.

The nazm in the book, ‘Ye Khel Kya Hai’ is not about the game of chess but life. The victory and defeat is that of the struggle of life. Chess is merely a metaphor. Also, this battle is not only for self-defence, security and safety but against the fangs of social oppression and injustice:

Is men is tarah ka usool kyun hai

Pyada jo apne ghar se nikley

Palat ke wapas na janey paye

Agar yahi hai usool

To phir usool kya hai

Agar yahi hai khel

To phir yeh khel kya hai

Main in sawalon se janey kab se ulajh raha hun

Merey mukhalif ne chal chal di hai

Aur ab meri chal ke intezar men hai

(Why does it have such a rule?

Which restricts pawns from going back?

Once they step out of their home

If this is the rule

Then what are the rules meant for

If this is the game

What kind of game is it!

I have been grappling with these questions for long

While my opponent has made his move

And now he awaits mine.)

‘Kaaeynaat’ is also marked by inquisitiveness. We often tend to ignore the mysteries of the universe and go over in a routine way. But thinkers, philosophers, Sufis and men of God all have tried to grapple with it. Quantum physics has been unearthing secrets after secrets ever since Einstein said, “God doesn’t throw dice”, yet, secrets have not been revealed. But the vision and passion of the poet reaches places where light-years of endeavours can’t. Here too, Javed Akhtar scans every vista, ponders over it, and by raising deep meaningful questions engages the reader in conversation about human predicament, discernment, wonder and amazement. And in the end, the most potent question comes to the fore:

Sawal yeh hai

Wahan se aagey koi zamin hai

Koi falak hai

Agar nahin hai

To yeh “nahin”, kitni door tak hai

(Let’s ask the real question,

Is there a land beyond?

Or even any horizon?

If ‘Not’, then how far

And wide is that ‘naught’)

‘Zabaan’ is a very different kind of nazm. Like time and space, language is also a mystery unresolved —indifferent to beginning and end, self-constructed, self-creating, self-aware and independent. Upanishad says, Shabdah Brahm (‘the word is Brahman’. Modern thinker Heidegger says, ‘Language is being’. Post-modernist Lacan, a defiant disciple of Freud, argues that the human subconscious is constructed like the language and language is constructed by the human subconscious. Javed Akhtar tackles this question layer by layer in his own poetic style and unties it knot by knot:

Soch raha hun

Ye jo ek awaz alif hai

Seedhi lakeer men

Yeh akhir kisne bhar di thi

Kyun sab ne ye man liya tha

Samne meri mez pa jo ek phal rakhha hai

Isko seb hi kyun kahte hain

Is awaz se is phal ka jo anokha rishta bana hai

Kaise bana tha

(I wonder

Who imbued

The sound of ‘Alif,’

In a straight line?

And why at all did everyone endorse it?

The fruit on the table before me,

Why do they call it apple?

The unique bond between this sound and this fruit

How was that accomplished!)

Javed Akhtar has also composed ghazals which are equally thought-provoking and beautiful but his magic works really in nazms.

There are many more nazms such as ‘Jhopadpatti’ (The Slum), ‘Ghar Men Baithey Kya Likhtey Ho’ (Sitting Back), ‘Mela’ (A Fair), and ‘Ped Se Lipti Bel’ (A Creeper Clinging to a Tree) that demand attention — the last one more so for its positive outlook as a metaphor of enduring creativity

The restlessness of heart and the ability to think and perceive is the most important gift a sensitive soul can be endowed with. It is this ability to endure the agonies and deprivation of childhood and the survival spirit of a deeply wounded soul that helped create a fine mind capable of blunting assaults from the world as we witness in the poetry of Javed Akhtar.

The nazms are translated and abridged by Nishat Zaidi.

Keywords: Javed AkhtarLavanazms