Dr. Ahmad Ali Barqi Azmi-The true flag-bearer of Urdu poetry
— Dr. Shahzad Rizvi
I met Dr. Barqi, of all places, on social media – on Facebook. If I’m not mistaken, Muslim Saleem Sahib, another leading poet of our time, catalyzed this meeting. Dr. Barqi publishes his poems on Facebook regularly. As I began to read them, I found them very enjoyable. There are two reasons for this: first, his poems are unique expressions of his sentiments; and second, they coalesce traditional and modern approaches to poetry-writing in Urdu literature. When I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Barqi in Delhi at the Ghalib Academy, my views of him, as a poet and a person were jelled. I found him personable, a man of great humility, with formidable talent – all the building blocks of greatness.
It has been observed that many of the great poets of Urdu have each created a niche for themselves. For instance, you can always recognize Mir’s poetry even without his name being attached to it. It contains pessimism, pathos, sadness. On the contrary, Sauda seems to be in command of his destiny and no one can shake him—his confidence is like the Rock of Gibraltar. In other words, many greats of our Urdu literature have a realm, a domain, from which they rarely stray. Dr. Barqi, however, defies that tradition; his extensive body of work may make occasional—and beautiful—forays into the domains once ruled by great poets of the Urdu tradition, where his poems honor their work and make him one with them, but then he gracefully withdraws, reentering his own unique territory. He writes in a way that defies simple categorization or description.
Poetry, while it is a vehicle of a poet’s very personal sentiments and feelings, also necessarily reflects the times in which it is written. For a long time, Urdu poetry was suspended, like a fly in amber, in an endless reiteration of certain themes: the lover and the beloved, the preacher and the tavern-keeper. The poet was constrained by these thematic limitations. The Progressive Writers’ Movement changed all that, freeing poets to write on social and political issues. Some went so far as to utterly reject the traditional subjects, considering them taboo. This was a revolution that changed the literary vista of Urdu. As you read Dr. Barqi’s poems in his recently-published collection, Roohe Sukhan, it becomes evident that he has absorbed this modern thematic freedom and taken the opportunity to bring his poetic sensibility to bear on a wide variety of topics and themes.
In the 21st century, this technological age, young people are often more knowledgeable about technology than their elders, which inverts traditional social dynamics. Dr. Barqi is aware of this problem. In humility, he expresses his bafflement about the confusing events of our times. He says: HAIN YEH AFKAR PARESHAN MAZHARE SOZ DARUN – GARDISHE HALAAT PAR MAIN TABSIRA KAISE KARUN. He, however, is pioneering a new kind of poetry which is just right for the times.
Sometimes he joins hands with Iqbal and, like that poetic master, exhorts us to raise our self-respect to great heights. Recalling Iqbal’s well-known lines, KHUDI KO KAR BALAND ITNA…, Dr. Barqi writes: RAAH APNE LYAY BAY KHOF-O-KHATAR PAIDA KAR – JO KISI DAR PAY NA JHUKTA HO VOH SAR PAIDA KAR. Later in the same poem, he assumes the role of a leader and reformer of society as he writes: HAI AGAR RAH TARQQI MAIN TIRI YEH HAYAL – AZME MHOKAM HAI TAU DEEWAR MAIN DAR PAIDA KAR.
As a fellow poet and creative writer—a novelist—I do not often turn my hand to literary criticism, but I feel confident that the fame of Dr. Barqi will increase with time, as it did with Ghalib and Iqbal. I look eagerly forward to reading his new poems, and I enjoy them immensely. It is also indubitable that he is rendering a great service to Urdu when that language is at a crossroads, fighting for its identity. He is like a beacon, showing new paths to poets of succeeding generations. He is slowly and steadily bringing about a revolution in Urdu poetry. I regard myself as fortunate to know him, and enriched by reading his creations. My feelings can be expressed by Dr. Barqi’s excellent couplet: “BARQI KI JO HASRAT THI DIL HI MAIN RAHI USKE – KUCH USNE KAHA HOTA, KUCH MAIN NE KAHA HOTA.”