Fragrance of phantasm

Ahmad’s second collection of poems uses the language of silence to narrate stories of personal loss, identity and nostalgia

Fragrance of phantasm

We live in an age of noise. We are being torpedoed by unstoppable clatter from all sorts of media. Silence and solitude have not only been forcefully displaced from our cultural landscape but also maligned. The more we get accustomed to postmodern gadgets, the less we understand the language of silence and solitude. The only language which is taking centre stage is the language of violence and noise.

Once language was assumed to be a soft means of communicating ideas, feelings, concepts et al, now it has turned into a lethal tool of suppression and violence. In such a depressing and bleak socio-political landscape, it is poetry -- and perhaps fiction too -- that seems to present us with a ray of hope. Poetry abhors noise, despises roaring hubbub. True, unadulterated poetry originates from the sanctuary of silence and solitude -- the remote regions of the human self. So, it says less yet conveys a lot. Martin Heidegger seems to point to the language of poetry in The Way to Language where he puts, "One can speak, speak endlessly, and it may all say nothing. As opposed to that, one can be silent, not speak at all, and in not speaking, say a great deal’’. Mind, silence doesn’t necessarily characterise the absence of words, rather it is such a use of language in which gaps, spaces and ruptures are masterly created.

Mauhoom ki Mahek (Fragrance of phantasm), Abrar Ahmad’s second collection of poems marvellously uses the language of silence. As an accomplished poet, he not only knows well the communicative power of silence, gaps, spaces and ruptures but also ponders over how simple, ordinary, commonplace words get transformed into modern poetry. He takes a risky path as simple, ordinary words can give an air of cliché. Cliché murders poetry. To avoid cliché, some poets resort to coining new words or new phrases. Ahmad knows the perils of coining new words. Though new words give a strong impression of newness and defamiliarisation, they fail to convey the sense of marvellousness which is characteristic of a poetic text.

Ahmad goes on framing a fairly good number of new phrases, but mostly he keeps using ordinary language in a way that its ordinariness is overturned. To achieve the purpose, he uses common words adroitly in his poetic text -- silencing their usual denotations while voicing their connotative value. He builds imagery out of these words, plies them into metaphors of a paradoxical nature and delicately uses them in narrating his journey back to his past and self. His art of poetry is not alienated from his quest for known and unknown worlds which he names as mauhoom or phantasm. In his poetry the word mauhoom doesn’t designate something unreal or merely a fantasy, rather, it seems to suggest that the reality the poet seeks to portray is problematic or Dasein. Last few lines of the poem ‘Muahoom ki Mahek’ run as:


[Despite being resourceless, I remain in pursuit of you, no matter how thundery are my days and nights; you are neither close to me, nor away from me -- you, who are such an entity that remains simultaneously known and unknown (to me); you like a fancied star, if exists somewhere (in imagination), doesn’t exist (in reality)]
In a depressing, bleak socio-political landscape, it is poetry -- and perhaps fiction too --that seems to present us with a ray of hope.

Though these lines remind us of the traditional mystical bond between I and Thou where identities of both would be interdependent and self-negating, Ahmad’s perception about the nature of the relationship between Man o Tu or I and You is modern --meaning their relation is sensual and earthly. It is true that the memories of the past keep haunting him and he comes to know that these memories are the only things that can be termed as the only treasure in the whole scheme of things. Yet he knows the past cannot take the place of the present; like other modern poets, he too is compelled to bear the fomentation of the inferno of his times. ‘Sairbeen’ and ‘Bahut Kam Hae Umr-e-Rawan’, two longer and best poems of the collection delineate the characteristics of the inferno where people of the 21st century are bound to breathe. In these poems, ‘personal’ seems to be metamorphosing into ‘political’. However, narrating small yet powerful experiences tinged with a subjective approach is what can be called the forte of the poet. ‘Sara ki Potli’ needs a special mention. The things, places, people, texts that touched his heart appear in his poem nostalgically.

[That the city I left, had abandoned me (too); while holding fistful dust of mine under the shining moment of present you passed through the uneven paths of past, you saw that there existed nothing]


World (and reality) of modern poetry is but a paradoxical; intricate, blurred, uncertain and ambiguous. Present immerses in past while past remains distant, inaccessible, catapulting poets into an existential state of to-be-and-not-to-be. Har Chand Kahain ke Hae, Nahi Hae (though it can be asserted that it exists, it doesn’t) or Mauhoom ki Mahek. So, boundaries of known and unknown, existence and non-existence, imagination and real, feelings and thoughts concrete and abstract, personal and political, present and past get blurred. Modern poetry seeks to paint, narrate and describe what is cognitively felt and sensually thought.

The most compelling feature of Ahmad’s poetry is homecoming; going back to places where he first experienced the fragrance of Matti -- earthly pleasures and beauties of soil. What was once real -- his home, home town, people, friends and foes, trees and paths, real and cultural landscape -- has now turned into a phantasm, mauhoom. The paradox is that he is bound to live in this Mauhoom world while the experience of such sort of living is authentic. So, he finds no other way except to keep narrating the story of homecoming. And every time he comes across a sense of loss too.


ہم ہوج[We have returned from that town, which has no boundary; have rambled in the world where one can stay for an unlimited time. We are back and vexed. On return we find ourselves surrounded by walls that were built and felled by us]

In addition to a sense of loss, sense of displacement ensues from homecoming. Every modern writer has to embrace feelings of displacement at some point -- estrangement to his home, times and the people surrounding him. Their writings come to rescue them, becoming their home. Ahmad too seems to find solace and consolation in and from his poems.

Mauhoom ki Mahek
Author: Abrar Ahmad
Publisher: Sanjh
Pages: 248
Price: Rs450/-

Fragrance of phantasm