It’s a sad reflection on how society treats its thinkers and writers when not an awful lot of people turn up to attend a condolence reference held in honour of a great poet.
On Saturday evening, an event was held by the Arts Council to remember one of the finest post-independence Urdu poets, Rasa Chughtai, who passed away on Jan 5, but much to the disappointment of some of Rasa sahib’s admirers and the Arts Council’s office-bearers the venue still had quite a few vacant seats.
On the other hand, it was the loss of those who didn’t show up because the first person that came to the podium was the poet’s young visually impaired granddaughter, Mehak, who sang her grandfather’s famous ghazal ‘Diyey jalaey thay hum ne wafa ke rastey mein’ in her delightful voice.
She - as the event's host Ajmal Siraj told the audience - was urged by Rasa sahib a few years back to learn the art of singing because she has a beautiful voice. And he was spot on. She is a talented vocalist.
‘He was consistent in producing impressive work for 50 years’
Poet Iftikhar Arif, who on the occasion spoke via phone from Islamabad, said after the likes of Aziz Hamid Madani and Mehshar Badayuni, Rasa was the most notable representative of the classical traditions of ghazal.
With the passage of time, as one grows old, a poet’s creations also suffer. However, this was not the case with Rasa. He was consistent in producing impressive work for 50 years. One of the late poet’s couplets became very popular in the 1960s. It was:
*Hum ne socha tha is ajnabi shehr mein, zindagi chaltey phirtey guzar jaey gi
Ye magar kia khabar thi ta’aqub mein hain aik nadeeda zanjeer-i-hamsaigi
[I had thought that in this unfamiliar city life would go on like it usually does
Little did I know I was being followed by a chain of unseen neighbourly ties]*
Mr Iftikhar said many poets touched the topic of Zanjeer-e-Hamsaigi at the time, but Rasa kept writing on the subject. Sometimes what happened was that the published works of poets diminished their worth a bit; again, that did not happen with Rasa. Another thing that Arif mentioned was that Rasa sahib used classical diction with a modern sensibility.
Prof Sahar Ansari recalled the time when a friend in London told him about how two couplets were being discussed in the Urdu circles in England. One was by Baqar Naqvi and the other by Rasa Chughtai. So, Rasa sahib’s name had travelled overseas before he himself could. This meant that what had a far-reaching effect was a creative person’s work.
Prof Ansari said Rasa sahib was one of those poets who frequented Karachi’s cafes where writers usually congregated in the past. The late poet wrote about human emotions and psychology [kaifiyaat aur nafsiyaat]. The professor also mentioned that recently an Indian friend on Facebook inquired him about one of Rasa sahib’s verses:
Aadmi kis kamaal ka ho ga
Jis ne tasveer se nikala mujhe
[He must be a exceptional man
Who pulled me out of the picture]
Poet Sarwer Jawaid said he had known the late poet since the 1960s when his presence was a must at mushairas. He pointed out that there were poets who became poets after acquiring certain social statuses in society but Rasa acquired a status because of his poetry.
Rasa sahib’s daughter Hasanat Ayesha said the poet became Rasa Chughtai after sacrificing Mirza Muhtashim Baig (his real name).
Arts Council’s president Ahmed Shah expressed his dissatisfaction over the way the media reported Rasa sahib’s death and the fact that people did not turn up at events organised in honour of Urdu poets.
Khwaja Razi Haider, Afsar Imran, Rehana Roohi, Anwar Ansari, A. H. Khanzada, Shahid Rassam and Prof Haroon Rashid also spoke.
Originally published in Dawn, March 5th, 2018