by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
WRITING IS ALL ABOUT EXTENDING: When I was a child, I heard the story of the scholar jinn disguised as a boy, who once extended his arm all the way to the end of the palace courtyard to reach his ink pot, thus exposing his identity to his human tutor and risking rejection. Was he that absorbed in what he wrote, how he wrote? The tutor forgave his pupil’s deceptive guise on the grounds of his deep attention to the work at hand.
BEFORE LITERATURE, CAME WRITING: Penmanship was a dying art even in my school days, but luckily I learned to use a traditional bamboo pen at home; forming letters of the Nastaliq script of Urdu in jet-black ink. Layering the hand held wooden board with white clay paste, drying it in the sun, and writing with a reed pen that needed to be filled every few minutes, was messy and frustrating. As I fumbled with the materials, I began to acknowledge the muscles that are engaged in the physical work of writing. Forming letters became a fascinating study of lines and curves, symmetry and alignment. Soon I began to have a deeper appreciation for the calligraphic pieces hanging in the house. I noticed how well the artists conformed to rules and how gracefully they deviated, playing with form to create visual effects that influenced the meaning of the words. In learning to see patterns and variations, I was learning to extend myself, to make imprints of my inner life onto the outer reality of the page. Words had created visual fields for me—allowing endless possibilities for expressing meaning.
AND OF COURSE, MUSIC: There were the sonic fields too, the textures of my mother tongue Urdu, as well as the other languages around me, chiefly English, but to varying extents: Arabic, Persian, Pushto, Punjabi. I heard each or a mixture of these languages on the street, in the class room, on TV, on tapes of Shakespeare’s plays, recited or sung on my parents’ LPs. Words collided, chimed, made leaps across different worlds: from the abstract to the concrete, emotional to intellectual, imaginary to the palpably real. Words became a means of extending experience into expression.
I've learnt that poetry picks up from where dreams get interrupted; it extends our inner lives by allowing us entry into mystique, a space we navigate not only through the sound and meaning but also the shape and form of the written word.