Javed Akhtar has many facets to his persona: reputed scriptwriter and lyricist, he holds a record breaking number of Filmfare awards for his contribution to Bombay Hindi films. Member of the upper house of Indian parliament, (Rajya Sabha) he is a fearless spokesperson for secular values and minority rights. A prominent media person he argues for rational thinking and is an icon or “guru” for the Indian youth. Hailing from a six generation family of writers, he is also an Urdu poet and his first book of poetry “Tarkash” (Quiver) today is the most sold book of verse in India. “Tarkash” was rapidly translated into several Indian languages (I was involved in the Bengali translation) and finally to English. Fifteen years later, Javed has published his second book of poems LAVA ( Star Publications, India). Master wordsmith, he forges new images into the traditional forms of ghazal and nazm. He also writes long poems which are modern in sensibility, powerful in rhythm and meter.
Javed Akhtar read his new poetry at an exclusive event presented by Baithak UK on 10 July in London. Urdu poetry recitation has a traditional style, where the poet recites his “shayri” from memory and the audience is vocal in its appreciation. Javed presents that performative style of recitation, bold, vigorous and occasionally emotional and poignant. Like the title suggests, there is fire and brimstone in the poetry and as the lava cools we find tranquillity, reflection and a painful loneliness. The poetry is less nostalgic than Tarkash, perhaps more objective, but at the core there is an artist grappling with his thoughts and emotions and the process is part of the resultant verse. An angry atheist bids farewell to God in “Khuda Hafiz” , an ageing father looks for his son’s support in the wonderfully moving “Mela”, the husband and companion salutes his partner in “Shabana”.
” I took more time than I should have with my second book as the first was so successful and had raised audience expectations. Writing poetry is also a lonely task and I need to find the space for that in a rather hectic lifestyle. Contrary to romanticised ideas about a poet, poetry writing is a craft and needs hard work to hone it, to fine tune it. There are personal poems but there are also poems about the world I live in, the society which I inhabit.”
Shabana Azmi spoke to the audience after the reading and humorously observed that her husband has a particular facility with writing songs very fast and although he has written many romantic songs and verses, there is nothing necessarily romantic about being married to a poet.
BAITHAK brings the artist close up to the audience. The art of “shayri” delighted the elders, the younger members were struck by the dramatic vigour of the poetry recitation. That evening it was particularly inspirational to present two artists who not only excel in their own fields of work but continuously strive to improve the social fabric within which they work and engage in. One of my favourite poets, Javed Akhtar, in his LAVA poems come across as the man he is – alternately passionate, gregarious, angry and then reflective, pensive and melancholy. The ideas and words flow, the craftsman and “shair” shines like a bright star.
Sangeeta Datta is Director of Baithak, UK, Filmmaker( LIfe Goes On) and Cultural Commentator
Photo Credit: Vipul Sangoi ( Courtesy: Baithak, UK)