How would you react if I told you that I am going to review a book by Javed Akhtar? Yes, the same Javed Akhtar who has written scripts for more than a hundred Bollywood movies, who has composed some of the most lyrical songs you’ll ever come across in a Hindi movie, who has penned numerous collections of poetry. Yes, the same Javed Akhtar who has participated in dozens of national and international poetry reading events where he has read poems written by Kaifi Azmi, a world renowned name in Urdu poetry and his mentor and father in-law, and yet, he is the same Javed Akhtar who has been accused of writing filth like Dard-e-Disco. These extreme sides of Akhtar’s writings forced me to pick up one of his books of poetry to look deeper into what one can say, his real thoughts. “Tarkash” or “Quiver”, as it is called in its translated version, was published almost 20 years ago, in 1995, but no word or thought expressed in this collection of fifty poems has become outdated.
“Tarkash” is a piece of art which takes years of patience to perfect. From struggle in Bombay for a livelihood to marital problems, from the riots in the filmy city to the joy of watching his kids growing, every emotion which the poet went through during the writing period, is explored in the most poetic way.
The book begins with a self-written note where Akhtar tells his readers about the happy and sad moments which contributed in making him what he is. Poems like Ek Mohre Ka Safar (The Journey of a Pawn), Bhookh (Hunger), Mother Teresa and Subah Ki Gori (Morning’s Maiden) are the ones where Akhtar’s creativity is at best. Who would not like these lines from Ek Mohre Ka Safar:
Jab vo kam umr hi tha
usne ye jaan liya tha ki agar jeena hai
badi chaalaaki se jeena hoga
aankh ki aakhiri had tak hai bisaate-hasti
aur veh maamooli-sa ik mohra hai
ek ik khaana bahut sochke chalna hoga
which translates roughly to
When he was still quite young
He learnt that if you want to stay alive
You have to be cunning as you can.
The board extends as far as the eye can see,
And he is just an ordinary pawn.
He has to go from square to square, with utmost thought.
The book is basically a narration of Javed’s life. The poems dive into different phases of his childhood, the nostalgia he feels for the times gone by, the struggle he has faced and ultimately, his success. Each poem is different from the others in the collection, in structure and rhyme, rhythm and theme. Every poem is followed by a couplet which despite of being smaller than a poem, has almost the same depth, if not more.
Since Akhtar hails from an Urdu background, there are a lot of Urdu words weaved carefully and artistically in the mesh of Hindi, but this does not make the book inaccessible to people who don’t know Urdu. Every difficult word is explained at the margin of the page, just in line with the original text. Ghazals and couplets, which form a significant part of the book, will surely make a reader jump with happiness or bring a smile on his face or force him to clap for the poet’s economic choice of words. As an example, here is something which became a part of my memory, the moment I read it first:
Aaj ki is duniya mein jeene ka kareena samjho
Jo bhi milein pyaar se un logon ko zeena samjho
“The way to live in this wide world is very clear;
Count those who greet you with their love a useful stair!”
Life is unpredictable and it has its ups and downs. Many a poets before Akhtar have expressed these thoughts and many will continue to do so even after Akhtar is gone. The beauty of Akhtar’s writing lies in the subtle yet poignant way he has expressed the same age old thoughts through his poetry. This is one of the few books which has been the pride of my bookrack for years. From mesmerizing me to inspiring me to pushing me into the reality of things unsaid, this book has affected me in more ways than I care to remember.