A Tribute to Naseer Turabi (1945-2021)

Photo: Geo TV

By Raghibul Haque

“If this young man develops his poetry the way he does, he will shine over Urdu poetry,” had replied Josh Malihabadi to Nadim Murabadi on being asked about his expectation regarding a young poet of his time. And this young man was Naseer Turabi who proved this prediction true by taking Urdu ghazal to a new height with his unifying sensibility, classical style and diction, and thought-provoking paradoxes.

Naseer Turabi was born on 15 June 1945 in Hyderabad which is now part of Telangana in India. He migrated to Pakistan well after the Partition. Turabi completed his Masters program in mass communication from Karachi University in 1962. Though he began writing Urdu poetry from a very early age, the first collection of his poetry Akas-e-Faryadi was published in 2000. Afterwards he published a book on poetics, Sheriyat, followed by Larib, which is a collection of na’at o manqebat and salaam, and Lughatul Awam, a dictionary of slang and colloquial language.

His interest in poetry developed when he was still a young boy because of the poetic atmosphere at his home. His father Allama Rasheed Turabi was a great Sufi poet and religious scholar of his time. In one of his interviews Turabi said that at a very early age he met Ustad Bukhari with whom he practiced meter and mastered rhyme and rhythm. In his almost six decades long career, he wrote both poetry and prose. He experimented in several poetic genres including nazms, qasida and hamad o salaam. Nevertheless, his popularity rests on ghazals where he discovered a number of new meters and forms with his unifying sensibility.

Nasir Kazmi once suggested that Turabi was ruining nazms with the meter and sensibility of ghazals and recommended him to remain focused on the latter. Kazmi added that only poets like Faiz could merge the two. After this, Turabi remained focused on ghazals. Later Turabi and Kazmi became life-long friends. He was also one of those who influenced Turabi as a poet, along with Faiz, whom he considered his real master, and Josh Malihabadi as well as Hafeez Jalandhari. They all shaped his thoughts and influenced his writing, helping him to be a common man’s poet.

In his poetry one perceives profoundness of thought, and a careful craft. His poems are gems of thought, emotion, and language at times in harmony and at times in complete contrast with each other. Turabi has explored every aspect of paradox in his poetry His poems abound in oxymorons and antitheses. This is because of his ingenious wit and minute observation, along with the influence of his masters.

His ghazal “Woh Humsafar Tha”, expressing his sadness at the great tragedy of separation of East Pakistan, was later used as a theme song for Humsafar drama series. Few know that the poem was written on the Fall of Dhaka.

Wo humsafar tha magar us se humnawai na thi
Ke dhup chao ka alaam raha judai na thi

He was a companion but didn’t have amity
The situation was of lightness and shadow, wasn’t ever real separation

He continues:

Adawati’n thi’n taghaful tha ranjishai thi’n magar
Bichadhne wale mai sbkuch tha bewafai na thi

There was enmity, negligence, and annoyance
Separatists had everything except treachery

One can easily notice the contrast within and beyond lines, and also in thoughts. For example, humsafar is contrasted with humnwai, and dhup chao can best be described as an oxymoron in figurative language. The paradox between Adawatin thin… and Bichadhne wale mai… where the poet complains about the revengeful nature and ignorance of his beloved, and yet commends the beloved for being faithful, represents a striking contrast between the two.

That the poet was a staunch classicist is evident in the theme and meter of his poetry. While presenting the contradictions in ghazal (where a poet generally talks to his beloved), he did not move far beyond its basic theme. He says in a matla’ (opening line),

Milne ki trah mujh se wo pal bhar nahi milta
Dil uss se mila jis se muqaddar nahi milta

He doesn’t meet me even for seconds the way a meeting should be held
My heart encountered whom my destiny dodged  

Turabi presented the contrast of nature in his poetry. Not only did his poetry show the irony of nature but also presented the paradox of human nature:

Hai’n mohabbato ki amanatai’n yahi hijratai’n yahi qurbatai’n
Diye bam-o-dar ksi aor ne to raha basa koi aor hai

The deposition of love is separation and union
Someone else provided the shelter and someone else stayed in it

Being an optimist in nature, he was outraged by the ironies in nature as he passively protests:

Kabhi ksi ka taharna kabhi guzar jana
Mery sukut mai kya kya khalal raha hai miya’n

Someone’s staying at one time and passing at another time
My peace has so much chaos, dear

Turabi also exposed the hypocrisy of his society in his ghazals, as he writes,

Jab aino mai thy to koi dekhta na tha
Aaina kya hue k tamasha sa hogya

When I was in the mirror no one even noticed me
When I turned into the mirror, I became an exhibition

His poetry was not oblivious of post-war crisis of isolation and loneliness, a major theme in modern poetry. He presented them in his own unique way:

shahr mai kis se sukhan rakhie kidhr ko chalie
Itne tanhai to ghar mai bhi hai ghar ko chalie

Whom to communicate and where to go
This much loneliness is at home too; let’s go back home 

In another couplet he writes:

aakhir k wahshato ka saliqa sa hogya
Chalty rahe to raasta apna sa hogya

I was accustomed to melancholy at the end
As I kept going, the way became mine

Turabi became a household name in Pakistan, when he wrote the theme song, “Dil Ka Jo Mol Chukatay Honge” for Mol and songs for Zindagi Gulzar Hai drama series. He has also written lyrics of “Dil Aitebaar” for Khwab Saraye and Yaqeen Ka Safar.

For his great contribution to Urdu literature, he was honored with the Allama Iqbal Award by the Pakistan Academy of Letters. Turabi also served as an executive member of Pakistan Writer’s Guild and a member of the Board of Governors for ‘Area Study Centre for Europe’.

Turabi died on 10 January 2021. His contribution to Urdu literature in general and to ghazal, is immense. He developed the ghazal form further from where his ancestors had left it; he also provided a new shape and wings to ghazal for the next generation. His mastery over syntax and use of inventive zamin, along with his swift addition of Persian phrases, ensures his place as a pioneer in Urdu literature. Turabi instigated and made his readers curious, encouraging them to investigate further. His popularity through drama and serials provided him with immense fame and gave the ghazal a new life in the modern world. He will be remembered not only among academics for his scholarly work but also among common people for his lyrics and songs.

Mohd Raghibul Haque has completed masters in English literature from the University of Lucknow. He was Fulbright FLTA at Michigan State University in 2019-20 for Urdu. You may look up his Facebook page here.


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