The death of Musha’ira

There was a time when Lucknow, Rampur, Bhopal, Delhi, Hyderabad, Patna, et. al. witnessed Musha’iras and Kavi sammelan (gatherings of Urdu and Hindi poetry recitation). Eminent poets like Firaq Gorakhpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Sahir, Qateel Shifai and ‘Adam’ (from Pakistan) would regale the connoisseurs of Urdu poetry with their soulful ghazals, nazms, ruba’iyaat and couplets. Hindi poets like Harivansh Rai Bacchan, ‘Agyey’ and Gopaldas Saxena ‘Neeraj’ used to mesmerise the lovers of Hindi poetry with their fascinating masterpieces. Now seldom such soul-gladdening gatherings take place. Most of the people have no knowledge of either Hindi or Urdu. Their vocabulary’s woefully limited. And the only name they’ve heard in Urdu poetry is that of Ghalib, though they can’t even quote a single couplet penned by that doyen of Urdu poetry. The great ‘Firaq’ used to single out people from the audience and ask whether they understood the purport of the ghazal he recited or they applauded perfunctorily! ‘Yoon na ta’areef keejiye, kuchh samajhiye / Meri shayari nahin ahmaqon ke liye’ (Don’t appreciate just for the sake of it / My poetry’s not for the fools,’ said Raghupati Sahay ‘Firaq’ Gorakhpuri). At the same time, the level of the poets in both the languages has drastically gone down. They know that anything’s acceptable because the crowd’s not so discerning.

I remember, I read a couple of ghazals in an Urdu-Hindi Musha’ira  at Sagar, MP. There were tolerably good Urdu and Hindi poets. Those who came to hear, also appeared to have a smattering of both the tongues. But the poets came with possibly their worst poems and ghazals. After the gathering, I overheard a learned gentleman ask his friend, ‘Was it a Musha’ira or a display of pavement poetry?’ His term, futpaathee shayari, struck me. All the poems and ghazals were indeed pedestrian, if ‘futpaathee’ sounds too disconcerting to the readers. This is more or less the same scenario in all the Musha’iras and Kavi Sammelans these days. You don’t find truly good poets in both the languages. Moreover, creativity, especially poetry, needs patrons. Everything ultimately boils down to money. ‘Faqat daad se shikam naheen bharta/Jeene ke liye insaan ko imdaad bhi chahiye’ (Mere appreciation cannot fill the stomach/To live, Man needs other ‘supports’ as well).

When kings and nawabs patronised Urdu poetry in their courts, it flourished. Nawab Mustafa Khan Shefta (1806-1869, the sobriquet Shefta means ‘besotted’, ‘enamoured’ in Persian) of Rampur was Ghalib’s patron and he himself was a poet of high order. Lucknow’s Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was a poet and connoisseur of Urdu/Persian poetry and he patronised scores of Urdu poets in his court. Nowadays, organisers of Musha’iras and Kavi sammelans pay pittance to poets. Why should they come?

An organiser from Aurangabad promised to give me to and fro bus-fare from Poona (!) to attend a Musha’ira. His patronising, nay audacious, invite written in flawed Urdu’s still with me. I preferred not to go because the language and attitude of the organiser put me off.

‘A good poet is a sensitive person,’ said Dr Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), the great poet-critic of Victorian England. When established poets, though very few, aren’t paid well by the organisers, they don’t come. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Mind you, this adage has a widespread relevance encompassing all fields and spheres, not just creativity.           

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 December 2014 on page no. 2

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