A chronicle of an intellectual journey

April 2, 2023

Professor Khurshid Hasnain’s debut is a blend of emotions and analysis in free verse and ghazals

A chronicle of an intellectual journey


inar-i-Aab Ka Khawab is Professor Khurshid Hasnain’s debut book of poetry comprising 51 nazms and 39 ghazals. Prof Hasnain is a senior physicist, but his interest in poetry precedes his training and education in science. His academic skill and scientific outlook have proved to be an asset in his poetic achievements. He has subjected his emotional and artistic experience to reflection.

His writings are a chronicle of his intellectual journey. In his younger years, he had participated in student politics and witnessed and contributed to the battle of ideas that dominated the campuses of Pakistan’s educational institutions. His poem about Salvador Allende is a reminder of that phase in his journey. The striking thing about that early-stage poem is his ability to subject his revolutionary zeal to rational reflection. He does not mindlessly emblematise the tragic end of an elected revolutionary government and does not discern the demise of capitalism from the events. Instead, he mourns the loss and foresees some of the troubles later faced by the Marxist movements. His outlook has a subtle impact on his creative experience and expression but does not dictate it.

Over time this becomes an established pattern in his poetry.

His nazms are mostly in free verse. This form in Urdu was borrowed from Europe during the British rule and, at one stage, was seen as a break with the local poetic tradition. However, many major poets in the Twentieth Century adopted this genre. Carving a distinct identity for oneself in such a crowded space is always a challenge. Prof Hasnain has drawn influence from the luminaries of the previous generation but so far has not allowed any of them to be a dominant influence. His language is not loaded with Persian or Arabic vocabulary. His metaphor is not riddled with puzzles and does not refer to events in a faraway land. He does not utilise arcane associations to overwhelm his readers. Avoiding both banality and esotericism is an achievement in itself.

His poems are elaborate tales grounded in his experience. An external or internal trigger starts a chain of thoughts subjected to contemplation. The resulting poem is usually a seamless blend of evoked emotions and penetrating analysis. His poem Batain is one such example. The protagonist is the narrator in this story. The lovers are faced with the dilemma of staying together or parting. While going through intense grief and despair, they reflect on their situation in a dignified manner. Their ability to rise above their painful moments transforms them into participants and observers of their experience. Depiction of the complexity of the human situation makes the drama escape the categorical labels of tragedy and comedy. Shades of despair, sorrow, remorse and hope follow and merge into one another.

Death and dying are other universal themes in art. Hasnain deals with this motif in his poem titled Jism Taraj Hua. The author narrates his experience in the first person. The sound of anxious footsteps wakes him and he watches the world through his window. Outwardly, the description of the surroundings is meant to create a background for a tale to unfold.

However, the distinction between the context and the core content is skillfully blurred. The images of the narrow alleyway spreading like destiny and a blind fakir walking past the closed doors singing and imploring the residents for benefaction, evoke associations not mentioned in the text. The readers’ mind starts to wander into an eastern land. A nervous bird flies from the peepal (sacred fig) tree and enters the overhead wires. The juxtaposition of a centuries-old native tree and overhead wires symbolise the transience and permanence of the flow of time. The chime of the clock and the sound of the azan intensify the concept of the voyage of time. The receding sunshine exposes the vulnerability of the houses. The old eastern rivers give the city its humid and pleasant smell before they go to sleep. In the last few lines, the cycle of life is completed, energy dwindles and death is embraced. Many aspects of the style, including the pace, overt and covert associations and the sombre mood expressed through the description of the ambience, makes this an outstanding piece of art.

Hasnain employs contemporaneous images and indigenous locale. Many of his poems portray a nearby landscape. Sometimes he is present at the site to add his comments to enhance the impact; at other times, he allows the details of the setting to speak for themselves. Tobhay ki aik ratt is an example of the latter. This is a depiction of a nighttime scene in the moonlit desert. The glistening beauty of the sand is speckled with a muddy pond. The sounds of the bells at midnight announce the arrival of a tired herd. The eyes of a savvy reader can penetrate beneath the luminous surface to read mourning and melancholy represented by silhouettes of the exhausted animals, the dullness of the moon’s reflection and the dark shadows of the trees. It becomes a reference to the poverty and deprivation of the neighbourhood population.

The author grapples with some of the themes of the eastern tradition of thinking, like sufis and rishis; ageing, loss, death and a constantly changing world. Ik Seepi Ki Sada opens with the sun going down. The peak of the day has already passed and the pace of the activities is slowing down. The sounds are faint and energy is subdued. Then at nightfall, everything fades into silence. Darya Gali Mein Sham ends with the chair getting wet with the dew when the time comes to a close. The trail is silent as the song has halted.

Hasnain ceaselessly contemplates the significance of fleeting time and changing surroundings in our lifespan.

Kinar-i-Aab Ka Khawab appears simple but it took me more than one reading to appreciate its depth and beauty. I highly recommend it to serious readers of poetry.

Kinar-i-Aab Ka Khawab

Author: Prof Khurshid Hasnain

Publisher: Adab Publications, 2022

The reviewer is a poet and researcher. He is a senior research fellow at University College London, UK. He can be accessed at ayubawan@hotmail.com

A chronicle of an intellectual journey