Conveying wonder

January 23, 2022

Harris Khalique shares his unique experiences with his readers in shape of his new book, dedicated to character based poems

Conveying wonder

Wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand. A poet not only tries to understand the mysteries of life around him but also endeavours to convey that sense of amazement to others. Wonder, in fact, is the main characteristic that distinguishes a poet from non-poets: a non-creative mind simply can’t bear the enormity of wonder.

Accepting it as a challenge, our poet Harris Khalique sets out for a long journey, starting from Kashmir, going through Amritsar, Delhi, Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad, Karachi, Quetta and Waziristan. Watching everything with his wonder-struck eyes, and sharing his unique experience with his readers, the poet reaches as far as Damascus and Palestine.

The poet has certainly been a tour master in this journey, but more than that he has been our spiritual guide, giving us a new perspective and a different vision to look at things.

With six books of Urdu poetry and five collections of English verse to his credit, Harris is a bilingual poet in the real sense of the word. Now, bilingual skill doesn’t mean being able to translate from English to Urdu or vice versa …the real task is to transform the metaphor and cultural flavour of one literary tradition to another. Harris has been doing this successfully for the last 30 years.

He started composing Urdu verse regularly as long ago as 1985. His poems first appeared in the literary periodicals of Karachi and Delhi. His English poetry started in 1989.

“Being a bilingual poet, are you in a position to analyse your creative process: when you choose Urdu or English to express a certain set of ideas, what are the criteria for that choice”? Harris thinks for a while and says, “I don’t remember making a conscious decision about choosing a particular language to express certain ideas. Actually, ideas don’t come to my mind in isolation, there is no ‘raw shape’ of an idea…it comes with its full form in a certain language.”

“South Asian fiction in English is now a recognised category in literature, do you think our English language verse can also enjoy the same status at some point?”

“In my opinion South Asian Anglophone poetry – from Nissim Ezekeil to Taufiq Rafat to Maki Kureshi to Kamala Das and many more, is already a recognised category. In some ways there is more universality and expanse in our verse than in any other form”, says Harris Khalique.

A major part of his new book is dedicated to character-based poems. They are in fact short stories written in verse. Rashida Domni for example is a street singer, born in Bhopal, brought up in Lahore and perhaps demonstrating her art and skill everywhere. The opening and closing lines read:

Conveying wonder

Bilingual skill doesn’t mean being able to translate from Urdu to English or vice versa…the real task is to transform the metaphor and cultural content of one literary tradition to another.

“The young carefree girl

born in Bhopal

brought up in Lahore,

where she learnt her coquetry,

developed her whims and airs,

mastered the intricacies of Eastern music

and the singing style of folk lore,

so particular about the exact articulation

the correct pronunciation…”

“…after her death

In the months of Haar and Jeth

a strange flower grows at her grave

petals of which if the bards and singers chew

perfect their skills

tender their hearts…”

Niyamatullah Saeed Bangash is a Pakistani soldier in the 1971 military action, facing the dilemma of killing his countrymen in the Eastern wing.

Salamat Maashki is a waterman by profession and a Christian by faith. He is a great devotee of Imam Hussain (with whom Allah was pleased). When his small home is set ablaze in a religious riot, ironically enough, there is no water to quench the fire.

There are other characters like Sabira Naureen, Nadeem Ahsan, Ishver Kumar, Khameesu and Usman Maseeh…and every character has a story to tell.

Khalique’s keen observation and vast study of history, social sciences, politics and world literature make him stand apart from the general lot of his contemporaries. His mastery over English, Urdu and Punjabi languages facilitates him to compose his poetic thought exactly the way he likes. The book also includes some Urdu ghazals and Punjabi poems.

I would like to conclude this review with an Urdu poem in which the poet says,” I may have thought, at some point, of flowing along the mainstream of contemporary poetry, but this was not to be, as I was deeply under the shadows of Mir and Meerza; in the cosy refuge of the fluttering wings of Shah Hussain and Amrita; inspired by the relentlessly impatient souls of Borges and Lorca’’.

Hairaa’n Sar-i-Bazaar

Author: Harris Khalique

Publisher: Maktaba Daniyal, Karachi

Pages: 216

Price: Rs 700

The reviewer, a broadcaster, linguist and media teacher, divides his time between London and Lahore

Conveying wonder