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The Arts

Farewell Naseer Turabi: The Unsung Poet Whose Lone Ghazal Struck Gold

Turabi may forever be known as the poet who never got his due in his lifetime, yet his most popular ghazal will ensure that he is in focus.

Kuchh roz Naseer aao chalo ghar mein raha jaaye
Logon ko ye shikva hai ke ghar par nahin milta

(Come, in our house for a few days Naseer, let us now remain
For he is not found at home, the people complain)

One had still not fully come to terms with the death of Shamsur Rahman Faruqi last Christmas, when news came on January 10, that Naseer Turabi too had left us, felled by a heart attack at 75. He was buried in Karachi on the following day.

Voh humsafar tha magar us se hum-navai na thi

(He was a fellow traveller but we did not speak in unison)

This popular ghazal is perhaps known to all. But how many of us know that Naseer Turabi was its author? In 2011, the popular television drama Humsafar attained spectacular popularity, and its soundtrack became evergreen. This ghazal by Naseer Turabi was part of it.

Vo ham-safar tha magar us se ham-navai na thi
Ke dhoop chhaon ka aalam raha judai na thi
Adaavaten theen, taghaful tha, ranjishen theen bahut
Bichhadne vaale mein sab kuchh tha, bevafai na thi

(He was a fellow traveler but we did not speak in unison
That there was a state of sun and shade, but not separation
There were animosities, negligence and a lot of indignation
The one who parted possessed everything, treachery was an exception)

If we review the words of this ghazal and the story of the Humsafar, one feels as if this ghazal is very much written for this drama, which was based on the story of two characters forced to separate. After the ghazal ‘Voh humsafar tha magar us se humnavai na thi‘ became famous, whenever Turabi went, people would request him to recite this ghazal.

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However if we analyse its background, this ghazal was written by Turabi after the creation of Bangladesh. Indeed ghazals are always written in this very manner. Direct matters are addressed in poems while in the ghazal tries to make the reader understand allusions and rhymes. For example if one considers the ghazal of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, he too had written on the separation of East Pakistan from Pakistan, ‘Khoon ke dhabbe dhulenge kitni barsaaton ke baad’ (After how many rains will the blood stains wash away). This ghazal too can be opened up to multiple meanings in that it has been very much composed for a lover; though a ghazal has its own treatment so it should always be seen from this view. In the same manner, Turabi too wrote this ghazal in the background of the emergence of Bangladesh.

In 1980 at least three decades before this ghazal became famous as the soundtrack of the Humsafar drama in the voice of Quratulain Balouch, it was sung first by Abida Parveen. She used to live in the same mohalla as Turabi and both were on genial terms with each other, after which this ghazal was moulded into song.

Turabi himself, while mentioning this soundtrack, had said that when it was finalised for the drama, the production house did not even know who its author was. Undoubtedly Naseer Turabi was a big name but he was never as popular as others.

Who was Naseer Turabi? He was born in Hyderabad Deccan on June 15, 1945, to eminent religious scholar and khateeb Allama Rashid Turabi. After the creation of Pakistan, his family migrated to Karachi, where he grew up. He obtained an MA degree in journalism from the University of Karachi in 1968. When he was studying at school, he began his journey with debates. In one such competition, he got the third position, upon which one of his teachers remarked to him, ‘Next time bring a better speech written by your father’. Turabi quit debates and said, “I get first position my father is given credit and if I obtain third position then my father’s name is defamed.”

He was intent on carving an individual personality from the beginning. He could have followed in his father’s footsteps because he had many qualities of an orator. But he said that a tiny plant will be unable to breathe below such a giant tree.

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To care about people, to help and worry for them was a part of his self. That is why he always used to say that one should love humans and use things. A few think that there was a contradiction in his personality and his critical vision with respect to work was the cause of differences with some people. This trait recently came to the fore when Turabi came down hard against his contemporaries Iftikhar Arif and the late Parveen Shakir on social and mainstream media.

His first volume of poetry Aks-e-Faryadi (The Supplicant’s Reflection) was published in 2000. Turabi’s other scholarly work Sheriyaat (‘Poetics’) published in 2012 begins with the definition of a verse. He deemed five elements essential for composing poetry: a balanced temperament, study of poetry, familiarity with language, construction of imagination, and poetic drill.

Then he classified four types of poets: great poet, important poet, congenial poet, and simple poet.

There were only five ‘great’ Urdu poets according to him: Mir, Ghalib, Anees, Iqbal and Josh. Whereas among ‘important’ poets he named eight: Yagana, Firaq, Faiz, Rashid, Miraji, Aziz Hamid Madni, Nasir Kazmi and Majeed Amjad.

Critics of poetry and literature can dismiss this list or rearrange it; but for a beginner of language and narration, and a fresh student of poetry, such a clear gradation and decisive division could prove very reassuring and useful.

The other chapters of the book have made prevalent genres of poetry, obsolete genres, correct dictation, pronunciation, masculinity and femininity, singular and plural, appendages, synonyms, prefixes and suffixes, commonly erroneous words and operative terminologies the topic of discussion.

Turabi, in his peculiar, pleasant and playful manner has made these dry basic topics so interesting that if this book is handed to some grammar-sick person, he will not get up before finishing it.

His uncharitable opinions about Iftikhar Arif and Pareen Shakir notwithstanding, Naseer Turabi may forever be known as the poet who never got his due in his lifetime, yet at least for a while, his most popular ghazal will ensure that he is the focus of renewed attention as the subcontinent prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the emergence of Bangladesh later this year.

Vo ham-safar tha magar us se ham-navai na thi
Ke dhoop chhaon ka aalam raha judai na thi
Na apna ranj na auron ka dukh na tera malaal
Shab-e-firaq kabhi ham ne yuun ganvai na thi
Mohabbaton ka safar is tarah bhi guzra tha
Shikasta-dil the musafir shikasta-pai na thi
Adaavaten theen, taghaaful tha, ranjishen theen bahut
Bichhadne vaale mein sab kuchh tha, bevafai na thi
Bichhadte vaqt un aankhon mein thi hamari ghazal
Ghazal bhi vo jo kisi ko abhi sunai na thi
Kise pukaar raha tha vo doobta hua din
Sada to aai thi lekin koi duhai na thi
Kabhi ye haal ke donon mein yak-dili thi bahut
Kabhi ye marhala jaise ke aashnai na thi
Ajeeb hoti hai raah-e-suḳhan bhi dekh ‘Naseer’
Vahan bhi aa gaye aḳhir, jahan rasai na thi

Also read: ‘Kishwar Naheed Must Live’: In Defence of the Urdu Poet

(He was a fellow traveler but we did not speak in unison
That there was a state of sun and shade, but not separation
Neither my own grief nor the others’ distress, not even your sorrow
We had never squandered like this the night of separation
The journey of love had been spent too like this
The traveler was broken-hearted but his feet were not broken
There were animosities, negligence and a lot of indignation
The one who parted possessed everything, treachery was an exception
While parting those eyes had our ghazal
A ghazal indeed which we had yet not revealed in narration
To whom that sinking day was calling out
The shout was indeed heard but there was no appeal of desperation
Now this state that there was great concord between both
Then this stage as if there was no connection
Strange is the poetic way, see Naseer
We arrived there after all, where there was no penetration.)

Note: All translations are by the writer.

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader, currently based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached at razanaeem@hotmail.com.