Our thanks to Alok Bhalla for sending us this column, originally published on March 10, 2013, in Dawn.
Nasir Kazmi’s Salaam to the Trees and Birds of Lahore
by Initizar Husain
We celebrated the 41st death anniversary of poet Nasir Kazmi by gathering at the Punjab Postal Department’s auditorium in Lahore. This gathering included the poet’s old friends, contemporaries, admirers, and his son, Hasan Kazmi. Senior officers at the department hosted the event and paid tribute to the poet by announcing the department’s decision to issue a special postal ticket in his memory.
The postal department recognises the contributions of poets and artists who have enriched the intellectual life of the nation through special tickets issued in their memory. Josh, Faiz, Hafeez Jallandhri, and Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi have already been honoured in this manner. Kazmi is the latest in the line of luminaries. A number of participants spoke and paid glowing tribute to the poet for his contribution to Urdu poetry.
These compliments tempted me to recall Kazmi’s early years, or speaking precisely, the crucial year when he started off as a poet with a new sensibility. Kazmi was in the process of discovering himself as a poet when he found himself in the midst of the upheaval brought along by Partition. The sufferings he experienced and observed around him became a blessing in disguise for his poetry and brought about a change in his outlook as well as in his expression.
At the end of 1948, leading critic Muhammad Hasan Askari wrote in his column in Jhalkian that in Kazmi’s ghazal, a reference to the riots is no longer a reference to an event but is transformed into a collective experience in which we see the frontiers of the past, the present and the future mingling with each other. With this interpretation, Kazmi’s ghazal appears to make a break from the traditional ghazal and towards a new mode of expression. This mode of expression seems to be a departure from the tradition of taghazzul, borrowing from nature instead.
Bulbul in ghazal is just a metaphor. It has long ceased to be a living bird. So Kazmi would rather talk of the koel and fakhta. They are living birds and remain living even after they develop a metaphorical meaning in his ghazals. Birds and trees don’t come to him via a literary tradition but through his relationship with nature. This relationship was so powerful for him that on one occasion, feeling bored with his contemporaries Kazmi declared, “the blooming mustard flower is my only contemporary.”
Trees, birds, seasons, stars, the moon and the sun all come alive in his verses. Thanks to his imaginative eye, they all share friendly relationships with him. He is the most happy when in their company. Perhaps it is because his personality appears to be a continuation of his poetry. He writes poetry and at the same time lives poetry. He is a pedestrian wandering from street to street. It is at night, or to be more exact, in the hours after midnight that he feels free and hence happy wandering aimlessly, appearing to be in direct communion with the stars and the moon.
One of Kazmi’s last interviews was conducted when he was confined to bed in Lahore’s Mayo Hospital. During the interview he seemed revived and talked animatedly. But at the end of the interview he seemed sad and requested that his “salaam to the trees and the birds of Lahore” is conveyed.
As he breathed his last after a month or so I was reminded of his care to convey his salaam to the trees and birds, his dear friends in the city. And then I sadly realised that it was a goodbye from him not only to the trees and birds of Lahore but also through them to aalam-i-rang-au-boo, as we call this terrestrial world in Persian.