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Firaq Gorakhpuri and Stephen Gill as Poets
essay [ ]

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by [kksrivastava ]

2010-04-24  |     | 

Words and ideas rarely make ideal bedfellows. When they do, they give birth to excellent literary pieces. To me, poetry is the highest form of art that requires a rare quality of intellectual skills. In the pursuit of their Nirvana, poets are haunted by what haunted Kafka for long, wondering where his words would lead him. Poets are haunted, intermittently, by the unknown of their works. Their voyage and sojourn grapple with the inter linkages of ideas. They explore these inter linkages by employing the technique that philosopher Bosanquet describes as "penetrative" imagination. That penetrative imagination is the base of this comparative study between the poetry of Stephen Gill and Firaq Gorakhpuri, though comparisons are difficult, risky and often odious.

Firaq was born in Gorakhpur, a village in India and that is how he became known as Gorakhpuri that means one who belongs to Gorakhpur. The real name of Firaq was Raghupati Sahay; Firaq was his pen name. A notable Urdu poet, Firaq wrote ghazals, non-ghazal poems and couplets, called rubayees. He was recognized for his collection Gul-e-Naghams with Jananpith Award. Jawaharlal Nehru, first prime minister of India, nominated him as a member of Rajiya Sabha (upper house) of India for his efforts to promote harmony and literature.

Stephen Gill, who was born in Pakistan and raised in India, is also a literary critic like Firaq. Both started writing poetry during their teens. Unlike Firaq, Stephen Gill, writes occasionally in Urdu. His poetry reflects a vision of that intellectual wizard who lives to read, survey, interpret and convey his experiences through his pen. Not long ago, I sent a copy of Ineluctable Stillness, my first collection of poems, to Stephen Gill. Twenty days later or so I got an email, offering his comments and encouraging me to keep writing, a quality that I have noticed in poets of great eminence, including Jayant Mahapatra from India.

I met Firaq under strange circumstances in early seventies when he was living in Gorakhpur, a city in Utter Pradesh, India. With my uncle, Shri Ganesh Prasad Srivastava, a poet of Urdu, we reached the house of Firaq at about seven in the evening. It was a hot summer day. The house was dark, so was the room in which he was laying on the ground. He was a dark, impressive man. He was drunk. While we helped him in getting to his bed, he regained his consciousness. He was mentally alert to respond to our talk. Meanwhile, a few persons came to visit him. On my uncle,s request, Firaq recited some of his poems and then switched over to English poetry, particularly the poetry of Wordsworth and Donne. He enjoyed speaking. While speaking, he often sipped his drink.

While leaving when I touched his feet, a mark of respect in India, he blessed me, advising "whenever you are in a company of people some of whom may not be equal to you, behave in a manner that makes them realize that they are equal to you." A lesson I always followed. He was a thought- provoking man whose words weighed heavily. His politeness was not easily visible to every one, but his respect for others was clear from his behavior.

Firaq was aware of his greatness that is reflected in these lines:

Aab aksar chup-chup say rahen hai, youn hi kabhi muh khole hain.

Pahele Firaq ko dekha hota, aab to bahut kam bole hain.

Now a days he continues keeping mum, rarely opening his lips.You should have seen Firaq earlier, now he speaks very occasionally

Stephen Gill rarely comes out in open like these lines. His poetry reflects the sadness of humanity. He is a deep reflective poet. Find the depth of his reflection in these lines:

Storms hide the glow with dust

when the albatross of violence

flies over the flowers. (You Are Not There)

War is a serious enigma of modern civilization. Both Firaq and Stephen Gill share their concerns about war and its annihilating powers. Both consider war as an anathema from which an escape needs to be found before it destroys all. Below are some pieces about war from Firaq and Stephen Gill:

Karigar, majdoor, kisan

kariyal aur bigral jawan

kandhe se kandha jorengey

duniya per dhawa bolenge.(Nai Duniya)

Workers, wageearners, farmer

tough and rough soldiers

would stand together

and would attack the world.)

"Tere liya duniya hai, duniya ke liya tu hai,

han, khud per nazar karke, duniya per najar kar. (Ha, Ay Dile- Afsurda)

The world is for you, you for the world,

yes, first have a look at yourself, then at the world.

Jab-jab jung chiri desho men,

jo bhi pari hum per hi pari,

bhus mein chingi dekar, sathi,

dekh jamalo dur khari. (Majdooren, karigaro, shipkaro ki larkar)

Whenever war broke out among nations,

only we had the adverse impact,

see friend, Jamalo having set house on fire,

stands afar.

Stephen Gill goes to the extent of inviting beasts to work for peace that indicates the extent of his zeal to get rid of chaos around him.

Let us ask all beings

even the beasts

if they would

give us their hands.

Let us not surrender. (Seeking The Dove Of Peace)


harmony was fused

into my mind, soul, heart

and every other organ of the body,

the human was created. (When)

For which of those sins

offences and crimes

have we lost the time to breathe?

No hope, no spark

to own your tranquil eyes. (Harmony And Peace)

Stephen Gill adds:

If the nuclear bombs drop

will the dawn be born again?

Will the players play again?

Will the children swim again. (A Question)

Compare these thought provoking lines with what Firaq writes:

Hamne tumne

apni he betiyon ka suhag mitaya

apne beto ko khud he

kiya hai yateem

bhai nay bhai ke khoon se

holi kheli

kaya hume mill gaya

kaya tumhe mil gaya (Hind-Pak Jung)

We gave you our own daughters and also made you widows /we ourselves made our sons orphans / brother played holi with the blood of brother what we got/ what you got.

This is like Wilfred Owen who describes the state of affairs of the mind of soldiers who suffered mental breakdown in wars.

These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.

Memory fingers in their hair of murders,

Multitudinous murders they once witnessed." (Mental Cases)


Remember the vision that conveys the meaning of war, as Owen portrays:

To miss the march of this retreating world

Into vain citadels that are not walled.

(Strange Meeting)

Violence impinges these two poets so intensively that they could not help writing about it:

Sadiyon kay bane kam bigad jain gay,

Dharti par alam maut kay garn jayenge.

"Works of centuries will get spoilt,

the shadows of death will get rooted in the soil.."

Stephen Gill writes,

The willful ghosts of sorrow

have not dissolved

nor have the fogs of ignorance

which float over the cold tombs.


They have grown in strength

in the gloom of violence."

(New Year)

Something along these lines T.S. Eliot says: For last year words belong to last years language/ And next years words await another voice. (Little Gidding). Stephen Gill as a poet of universe is in search for a new system that can cure the ills of society. He advocates a voice that is spoken and heard throughout the world-- the voice of peace and love-- the voice of universal unity. His poems create an impressive array of meanings that in turn convey a variety of feelings.

Both Firaq and Stephen Gill are the poets of love, humanity and peace. Both are concerned about the unity of people. Emotions do play an important role in their poetry. Both remember their mothers. Firaq lost his mother the day he was born and the sadness in his childhood brings into play some of the best sentiments and emotions in the lines that he wrote in "Jugnu":

wo man jo dudh bhi apna mujhe pila na saki

wo man jo hath se apne mughe khila na saki

wo man jo mere linya titaliyan pakar na saki

jo bhagte huain mere baju pakar na saki. (Jugnu)

"The mother who could not offer me her milk,/ the mother who could not feed me./ The mother who could not catch butterflies for me,/ The mother who could not catch my arms."

Matching these sentiments are the lines from Stephen Gill, which reflect his love

and respect for his mother.

Images of sacrifice

message of hope

you are highly prized.

The gift of this life

I owe to you. (To Mother)

Beloveds do visit the poets when they are alone. These beloveds do make poets go haywire, off and on. This cycle of love is alive throughout their poetry. Firaq and Gill share these lonely moments with their readers. The similarities are strikingly noteworthy in terms of their simplicity and trauma of self-introspection.

Wo chupchap ansu bahane ki rate,

wo ek shaksh ke yad aane ki rate.

Shabe mah ki wo thandi anche wo shabnam

tere hushan ke rasmasane ki rate. (Gulenagma)

That night of shedding tears, surreptitiously, /that night of remembering her.

That icy moonlit night fire/ that night of your body movements

In the ruin of lonesome hours

she knocks

at the doors of my dreams

and shyly sits

beside me. (Haunting Melody)

In "Hindola, Firaq visits his childhood days and recounts his experiences perhaps, applying "stream of unconsciousness method". His dreams seem to have been broken. His desire for the mirage continues.

Mujhe guman parstaniyat ka hota tha,

har ek chij ki wo khabnak asaliyat

mere shawr ke chilman se jhankta tha koi

liya rabubiyat-kayanat ka ahsas

hjar-ek jalve men gabo-sahood ka wo milap

har-ek nagara ek aina khan-a-harat.(Hindola)

I used to imagine a fairylend/ in these glittering sights/ the dreamy essence of everything

some person is peeping through/ my imagination/ filled with the feelings of the divinity

of creation/ each sight a mirror of wonder,/ each sight a source of surprise.

Gill also imagines the same fairyland. Like D.H. Lawrence, Gill endeavors to search a link between the individual and the cosmos:

I wish to harvest

a ripened manna of wonders

of the youthful bloom

for the court of enlightenment

to validate the claim

those outgrowths

from diversity of landscape

stem from the cosmic order

of the same source. (To Be)

History has fascinated Stephen Gill. Meaningful lines like these are difficult to find anywhere:

Just by the murmurs of the clock/ history does not alter, /life will not wear another mantle (New Year)

These lines have the colour of T.S. Eliot who says:

History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors

And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions"


Gill echoes the same sentiments in his above quoted poem perhaps to imply that history has been replete with many good things, as well as bad things.

A believer in democracy, Stephen Gill writes,

I am aware of the dangers,

from the east and the west.

I know I am surrounded

by the demons of repression.

He continues,

From the ocean

I bring out the pearls of freedoms.

With my own strength

and patience

I shall continue postponing

each Armageddon. (The Voice Of Democracy)

In similar fashion, advocating socialism, Firaq writes:

Wo ilm kaya zo zamine Firda na ho sake,

zo aine me aaz ke kal ko na dekh lay."

“What is that knowledge which cannot predict tomorrow

which cannot see tomorrow of today in the mirror. (Khiraze Akidat)

Mathew Arnold once said that to understand a poet one should have a heart of poet. Walt Whitman remarked that to have superior poets, we must have superior audience. This is what a reader needs in order to enjoy properly the poetry of Stephen Gill, whose vision covers the dreams of humanity. His poetry speaks, silences and invigorates. His poetry never tires readers. Stephen Gill's poetry is about human feelings, emotions, ambitions and layers of memory. His poetry reaches out to readers cutting across all continents, bringing him accolade. He touches hearts of millions and millions of people touch his heart. The imageries that he employs are the imageries of a poet whose poems conflict with neither comprehension nor absorption. His message is lucid, candid, thought- provoking and simple. His poetry, like that of the philosophy of Benedict de Spinoza, urges for unity of all things. Stephen Gill combines the role of a poet, a seer, and a seeker in an exquisite way.

PS-- Firaq Gorakhpuri, a well known Urdu poet was from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh in India. He was awarded Jananpith, the highest literary award in India. Dr Stephen Gill is a Canada based poet. He is Ansted Poet laurete and Adjunct Professor of European American University.

This article was published in Pakistan Christian Post and also in Glimpses from Canada as edited by Dr Stephen Gill.

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