A shining star

January 5, 2020

Profile of poet and ghazal writer, Seemab Zafar

A few years ago, a contemporary poet was asked in an interview to name some younger poets that he considered promising. His reaction was: ‘Why should I? Did my seniors ever take note of me?’ This counter-questioning might point towards an injured ego but there could be other explanations for this avoidance as well.

One reason often given for this reluctance is: “They should just wait and watch the shape their creative processes would take.” Another is: “To name some might result in the others feeling left out or ignored.” Could this avoidance also be due to the fact that in the new, vigorous and innovative newcomers, the senior writers can vividly see their own decaying, stale and degenerate writing systems?

The relationships between writers belonging to different generations but practising in the same genre could be linear, causal or dialectical, all at the same time. TS Eliot’s famous theory of tradition is primarily based on the relationship between the writers of yore and those of today.

Seemab Zafar is a new poet more inclined towards ghazal writing, though she has written some poems as well. From Meer to Ghalib to her favourite Faiz, there is a long luminous streak of poets and writers, that glitters in her ghazals. To balance the cloying romanticism of Faiz, she has access to NM Rashed too. Other modern poets like Irfan Siddiqui, Sarwat Hussain etc can find their echo in her voice as well. But all of this happens in a subtle manner. She has infused them all into her own voice which is soft, strong and penetrating.

Despite being a prolific ghazal writer Zafar shows no urgency to get her ghazals published in periodicals, let alone publishing a collection of her poetry. Firaq Gorakhpuri termed poetry Ehsass Ki Riaazat – an exercise in refining one’s feelings.

This self-restraint seems to have already blossomed in her lines that are chiselled to perfection – laden with the enunciations that are simultaneously fresh and mature.

Having rained when the cloud departed, the land effused fragrance
When he stepped out from my dream, he entered my poetry

Zafar’s ghazal has a soft feminine aura that takes love as its point of departure. Mostly expressed in undertones and monologues, her poetry raises questions about interpersonal relationships as well as social conditions that determine them. But in doing so, she doesn’t lose sight of the prerequisites for any sublime verse.

I am a scene from the sky filled with darkness
Yet he seeks my presence in the season of soft sun-light
This night will pass in mourning some dream
Again I have seen a still moon over that roof-top

Her verses despite portraying a bleak panorama, have a certain soulful yearning about them. They unsettle and console the reader, all at once. One can observe that the poet puts herself in different personas and tries different periscopes to look into the multi-layered manifestations of life.

Given the substantial and profound progression that Zafar has demonstrated since she started writing ghazal, one can visualise in her a significant and powerful poet – a bright star in the literary firmament of Pakistan.

The writer is an Austria-based poet in Urdu and English. He teaches South Asian Literature & Culture at Vienna University

Pakistani poet and ghazal writer Seemab Zafar: A shining star