By Intizar Husain
IN Harris Khalique’s poetry collection, Ishq ki Taqveem Mein, we see poetry hovering around the borders of fiction. Indeed these poems may be read as pithy short stories. This is not an attempt to deny or belittle their poetic merit. Rather, I am applauding Harris for his bold attempt to make a departure from the usual expression and employ the mode known as social realism.
It was during the 1930s and 1940s that a revolt was staged against the Romantic school of thought in fiction, epitomised by writers such as Lam Ahmad and Niaz Fatehpuri. Realism was held up as the valid mode for expressing social realities. With the Progressive movement it came to stay as the only effective manner of portraying our socioeconomic conditions.
However, this mode of expression remained confined to fiction. There is no doubt that short story writers showed boldness in candidly depicting what had hitherto remained hidden. However, poets in general stuck to their old habits and romantic expression. Of course, there are a few exceptions.
But it was largely left to a poet from a later generation, namely Khalique, to employ this mode of expression in poetry meaningfully. He has to his credit mainly the kind of poetry which carries no romantic flavour as he believes in depicting things as they actually are and people as they actually live. They are in wretched conditions. Living in the same city with them, Khalique feels one with them.
Khalique is among those writers who fall in love with the city they belong to. Its streets and lanes and bazaars, along with those living and roaming in those streets, have an attraction for these writers. And while depicting them, it feels as if they are depicting an entire age. Khalique seems to have developed this mysterious relationship with Karachi. He seems to know and love this city through the people living in its narrow, dingy and dirty lanes, away from the expensive neighbourhoods and splendid mansions. For him, this is the real Karachi. He identifies himself with it, develops an intense love for it, and aims to portray it as it has revealed itself to him.
Kahlique seems to have observed his characters from very close quarters. Each portrayal comes alive along with all its failings — addictions, frustrations and mischief. But their saving grace is an air of Karachi that they carry with them. The poet, through his portrayal, tries to capture the elusive spirit of Karachi. How realistically and with what relish he enumerates the typical foods of Karachiites — gur ki gazak, revri, til kai laddu, gola kabab. Such descriptions remind us of Nazeer Akbarabadi, who excelled in creating deep meanings by talking about seemingly insignificant things.
The city portrayed here is an unhappy place. A sense of fear pervades the air. The social conditions are hardly congenial to the finer human expressions and tender feelings that are surging in the hearts of the young. And yet we see time and again an upsurge of what is human which speaks of the resilience of the human soul. And we find a spontaneous expression of these tender feelings in the finely written love poems which add some colour to the dismal picture of life as lived by the people here.