Poetry cannot be divided into times. It transcends time and space. It is neither old nor new, or local or foreign. This is what eminent Urdu poetess Zehra Nigah had to say when she sat together with contemporary intellectual Dr Arfa Syeda Zehra for a conversation on ‘Urdu Poetry: Then and Now’ organized by the 6sf, Sixth Sense Forum, at the Aga Khan University, Karachi.
It was the start of a conversation between two iconic figures on classic and modern Urdu poetry.
Zehra Nigah was one of the two women poets to gain prominence in the male-dominated world of Urdu poetry in the 1950s. With roots in a literary family, she started writing at a very young age, when women poets were few and thought incapable of serious poetry. She went on to prove her critics wrong and gained equal recognition for her mesmerising recitals at mushairas.
A renowned scholar of Urdu literature, educationist Arfa Syeda Zehra is one of the most prominent women of the sub-continent, playing a unique role in the realms of teaching and learning for past 40 years. She has served as Member, Punjab Public Service Commission and Chairperson, National Commission on the Status of Women, Pakistan. But most of all she has advocated passionately about the Urdu language and literature and its ability to be a more binding force than history.
The thought-provoking discussion focused on the timelessness of poetry. Zehra agreed with Nigah’s idea that a poet understands the complications of life. He wants to communicate about the happiness, the sadness and all the other feelings that he is passing through – it is his fate that he is bound to express it all.
“A good poet is one who sees a hundred years ahead of his time. When we read Mir and Momin, we feel as if they are alive today and writing on the most current happenings,” said Ms Zehra, quoting an example:
Hamesha kia ghanay pairon men rehna
Parinday ghar banaen ub kahin aur
Why always live under green shades?
Birds should make their new homes elsewhere
The young will always move around in search of better prospects.
Both Nigah and Zehra agreed that a poet values human experiences and understands that as long as there is life, these experiences will occur over and over again, no matter if they are good or bad. The real test lies in how we go through them. So in a sense a poet reflects a universal insight or truth, of great value to those who can relate to them.
For every human endeavour gets strength from hope, and not from pity and pain.
This was the Sixth Sense Forum’s 29th session. These events have been organized since December 2009 in which personalities belonging to a variety of fields including art, music, poetry and history have been invited to speak on an array of topics.