Going Native Authors

A poet who talks in riddles

IN A NEW LIGHT Gopi Chand Narang   | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy

Unlike Semitic religions, the devil does not have overpowering presence in Indian tradition; hence various art forms betraying a marked sense of salaciousness and irreverence to the sacred are well liked here. Strong emphasis of the day by so called self-righteous people proscribing all titillating expressions must be resisted with a counter narrative produced by one of the foremost examples of Indian mind Amir Khusro as early as in the 13th Century. His creative dexterity expressed in riddles, word puzzles and other forms of folk poetry wrapped in soft core represents an unmatched intellectual temperament, argues eminent theorist and critic Gopi Chand Narang in his astutely researched and perceptively analysed book, “Amir Khusro ka Hindavi Kalam”. Professor Narang recently revisited his seminal work on Khusro’s Hindavi poetry based on the manuscript possessed by an orientalist Dr. Spingler.

Unconventional form

Despite Muslim scholars’ unease with his riddles indicating smuttiness, Khusro made it a point to talk in riddles as this unconventional form of poetry explored new possibilities of actual self-assurance. According to Narang, many Urdu scholars have serious doubts about the authenticity of the text as it unfolds many layers of indecency. This is downright subjective and normative attitude mired in erroneous notion of morality and Professor Narang aptly remarked that the contemporary social and moral norms cannot be imposed on a poetry that was produced 700 years ago which was meant for entertaining people at large.

Folk literature differs significantly from highbrow literature as it zeroes in on elemental human instincts which cannot be expressed through recognised literary genres. For Narang, discordant streak inherent in poetry is nothing but a safety valve through which the society expresses its surreptitious penchant for erotic pleasure. Amir Khusro’s poems written in a language very close to Hindi/Urdu cannot be judged from the standpoint of myopic notion of public morality. His riddles do indicate a sense of coarseness still they are very much part of public memory. They are inevitably associated with the collective need for cultural aspiration and they map out new terrain of a vibrant creative habitus ever ready to respond to multi-cultural concerns of a deeply fragmented society. Professor Narang’s close study of vocabulary and semantic variations of Amir Khusro spells out the contours of his awe-inspiring creative dexterity that identifies itself with people’s literature. Narang, through insightful analysis of distinct poetic diction of Khusro, points out that he was the first and perhaps the last Indian poet who was well versed in root languages or dialects such as Biraj Bhasa, Awadhi, Maithili, Rajasthani, Haryanvi, Punjabi, Bhojpuri and Saraiki and Khusro with a marked sense of playfulness subverted all our beliefs that had become platitudes. Narang is at best when he compares Khusro with Kabir and says that Khusro ridiculed dogma much before Kabir, Nanak and Meera Bai and that too in more subtle way.

Love for India

Khusro’s long poem “Nusupher” indicates his true love for India and he wrote more than 400 couplets in which he heaped praise on intellectual, religious and academic concerns of Indians and languages, social norms, cultural convictions, fruits, flowers, season and bird all came in for adulation. Professor Narang also asserts that Khusro gave more importance to Hindavi as compared to his parental languages Turkish and Persian.

Professor Narang’s books sets an informed and erudite debate not only on Khusro’s Hindavi poetry but also prompts us to ponder over our outmoded concept of obscenity in the post-truth era.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 7:42:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/a-poet-who-talks-in-riddles/article18261773.ece

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