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Gauging the ghazal

Could the incredible and multi-layered tale of social fraternising and spiritual intermingling be easily comprehended through a verse form which seemingly has the bearings of a foisted and derivative mode of creative expression? Could a chequered, vibrant and historically complex story of cultural fusion and intellectual borrowings, spreading over more than seven centuries, be made palpable through a literary genre? Here one must not grope for the answer and instead look up to the celebrated author and literary theorist Professor Gopichand Narang who says it is the Urdu ghazal and that no genre of any Indian language could vie with it on this count. The answer is cogently articulated in his meticulously researched study,"Urdu Ghazal: A Gift of India's Composite Culture”, recently published by the Oxford University Press.

The book is a thoroughly revised and updated version of the seasoned critic’s Urdu book, “Urdu Ghazal aur Hindustani Zehn-o-Tahzib” (2013), rendered into English by Surinder Deol, a well-known translator and author, with remarkable ease.

Many attempts have been made to bring forth a chronological and linear narrative of ghazal. Several critics have heaped praise on it by describing it as the most cherished art form but its thematic mannerism that refuses to be bogged down by the singularity of thought has come in for a scathing attack. For them, the ghazal is hardly more than a barbaric and wild form that always seeks to rejoice in self-afflicted pain. It talks about a wound of separation that never heals. Tearing apart the widely-held perception about ghazal, Professor Narang manifests how it has become a phenomenal opus that remarkably maps the cross-cultural terrain and soft power of India.

There is no denying the fact that ghazal continues to be adored for being a melancholic expression of unrequited love or a deeply felt exercise in nostalgia wrapped in ornate and clunky idiom with a frequent rhetorical flourish but Narang's analyses how the most-sought-after form of Urdu poetry juxtaposes the narrative of loneliness, despair and ever-soaring personal desires with the social practices of inequality, discrimination and atrocities of all sorts in a metaphorical diction.

Divided into three parts, the 500-page book, betraying a strong sense of academic rigour, dwells on the key concepts unfailingly used as nuanced tropes by the exponents of ghazal and grabs the reader by the neck and keeps his interest fully alive to the end.

Narang pertinently observes, "The ghazal is a marvel of the magnetic dynamism of husn-o-ishq in highly charged metaphoric idiom. It is a celebration of love and freedom in an ambience of pure ecstasy and unremitting joy as well as a profound capacity for enduring pain and suffering. The ghazal is the soul of Urdu poetry and the play of creativity at its peak.”

The first chapter discusses the genesis and evolution of India's composite culture and spells out what constitutes the unprecedented fusion. Employing frame by frame approach for elucidating the historical evolution of this verse form, Professor Narang turns our attention to those aspects which escaped the attention of historians of Urdu literature. For instance, seldom does one know that Chander Bhan Brahman (1574-1662) was the first poet who composed Urdu ghazal. The author says, “Chander Bhan Brahman was also the author of the first regular Urdu ghazal. Inspired by the proto-Rekhta model of Amir Khusro, the hybrid Urdu based on the Khari dialect of Hindi had reached a stage of development by the time of Shahjahan when Urdu ghazals could be written in it.”

He has produced three of five extant couplets of Brahman. “Khuda ne kis shahar ander hamien ko laaya dala hai/n dilbar hai n saqi hai n shisha hai n piyala hai" (in what kind of a city / God has brought me?/There is no beloved,no saqi /no cup, no wine. ) The author sounds convincing when he asserts that a composite culture requires a common language and Urdu came into being for this reason but different faiths and cultures could bear fruits without being tangled with a common language.

The second chapter proffers an insightful debate on the classical foundation of Urdu ghazal and here three seminal concepts -- love, beauty and self -- are elaborated with the verses produced by the prominent Urdu poets such as Sauda, Meer, Qayam Chandpuri,

Siraj Aurangabadi, Dard, Shah Niyaz Ahmad, Aasi Ghazipuri, Meer Taqi Meer, Mirza Ghalib, Momin, Nasikh, Bhadur Shah Zafar, and Haali. Narang does not restrict himself to uncritical paraphrasing of themes but takes pains in delineating the narrative strategy of ghazal and sets in motion a dispassionate and focused debate on metaphors, smilies, symbols and the imagery of the Urdu ghazal.

The critical acumen and refined aesthetic sensibilities are fully manifested in the last chapter where Professor Narang examines the works of the neoclassicists, the progressives and the modernist and the postmodernist with even-handed attention. The author has included many poets whose ghazals are not given recognition by the highbrow critics.

The book is a fascinating read for all who seek to get a deeper understanding of the cardinal values of India. It is perhaps the first and most rewarding attempt to construct the cultural history of the country through the most popular genre of Indian poetry and Professor Narang deserves accolades..

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 8:09:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/gauging-the-ghazal/article30931829.ece

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