Anti-ghazal, meta-ghazal, free ghazal and English ghazal

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Rauf Parekh

Ghazal, the most popular genre of Urdu’s lyrical poetry, has not only survived attacks from critics but has in fact grown in popularity. Originating from Arabic ‘qaseeda’, or panegyric ode, ghazal became popular as a poetic genre unto itself in Persian, Turkish and Urdu.

Readers from some other languages, such as Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, too, developed a taste for ghazal and the literatures of these languages now have some samples of ghazal.

Strange is the fact that some Czechoslovakian poets tried their hand at ghazal. Even stranger is the publication of an anthology of English ghazals composed by many western poets. Edited by the Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali and titled Ravishing DisUnities: real ghazals in English, the anthology was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2000 with an afterword by Sara Suleri Goodyear.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, some critics, including Altaf Hussain Hali, criticised Urdu ghazal for its traditional approach, limited imagery and peculiar diction. However, ghazal stood steadfast against all odds and even survived a late-20th century trend that supported anti-ghazal. Anti-ghazal is in fact a kind of ghazal, or very much ghazal-like, as far as the form is concerned, that is, the metre (‘behr’) and the rhyming scheme (‘qafiya’ and ‘radeef’). But anti-ghazal is very un-ghazal like when it comes to diction, imagery and thought. Though anti-ghazal was a revolt against ghazal’s traditional diction and limited imagery, it was, perhaps, a reaction to the depressive mood, too, that the 20th century’s commercialisation had brought with it. Saleem Ahmed was one of the Urdu poets who wrote anti-ghazal and the trend took the fancy of readers as well as some poets.

One of the poets who drastically changed the Urdu ghazal in the last quarter of the 20th century is Zafar Iqbal. This poet from Okara, Punjab, revolutionised Urdu ghazal with the second collection of his poetry. It was titled Gulaaftaab, a portmanteau made of ‘gul’ (flower) and ‘aaftaab’ (sun). As the title suggests, the poet was not afraid of experimenting with poetry and the language. It not only won him kudos but many fans and followers as well.

For want of space we cannot quote many couplets of the anti-ghazals but at least a few of them merit the inclusion.

And these are rather ‘soft’ examples; otherwise some of the vocabulary in anti-ghazal is quite shocking and cannot be quoted here.

Prof Dr Tabassum Kaashmiri in his article published in the October-December issue of Lauh, a literary journal published from Rawalpindi, has beautifully analysed the experimentations with Urdu ghazal in the 20th and 21st centuries with special reference to Zafar Iqbal and the “new ghazal”. Dr Kaashmiri says many of Zafar Iqbal’s couplets are so remarkable that they have created “a whole new world of Urdu ghazal”. But at the same time, says Dr Kaashmiri, “Zafar Iqbal’s experimentation with the language and thought in his recent ghazals has made the tradition of ghazal bleed badly. He has not only broken his head by striking it hard against the tradition of ghazal but has also injured the readers. The question is: what have we got after all this ‘bloodshed’?” His answer to the question is: “We have got thick, voluminous collections of Zafar Iqbal’s poetry that have changed ghazal into meta-ghazal and have created a new world of prospects for Urdu ghazal in the 21st century”. Looking at the linguistic twisting that Zafar Iqbal’s recent works present, one has to agree to the criticism, but Dr Kaashmiri’s hopefulness is also heartening.

In the same issue of Lauh, Dr Abid Sial’s article too discusses the experimentations with Urdu ghazal’s form. Dr Sial has discussed the issue of ‘azad ghazal’, or free ghazal. The concept of free ghazal is based on the idea of free verse or ‘azad nazm’ in which the rules of prosody (‘arooz’) are followed but the variation in the length of a poem’s lines is allowed. Therefore, azad ghazal is styled as the normal ghazal but the lines may vary in length. Some examples of free or azad ghazal are reproduced here, through the courtesy of Dr Sial:

Dr Kaashmiri has also discussed in his article the prospects of the ghazal in the 21st century and has concluded that though ghazal will never be the same again, it will not be able to do away with some of its traditional colours either, since one cannot think of a ghazal totally detached from its past. Dr Kaashmiri has also offered some glimpses of the ‘new ghazal’ that has blended the usual tone and traditional mood of ghazal with the contemporary sensitivity. The poet of this new ghazal has not only got rid of the cliché but has also shown his awareness of the changing socio-political realities.

Rauf Parekh, “Anti-ghazal, meta-ghazal, free ghazal and English ghazal,” in Dawn, May 11, 2015. Accessed on May 11, 2015, at:

The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on May 11, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on May 11, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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