If we compare poetry to a landscape, it would be one that is constantly but gradually evolving with its contours keeping on changing. Features that may have once loomed large may later be barely indistinguishable from the remaining terrain - or perhaps, it is our perception and focus that has changed.
In English poetry, there were times when Sir Philip Sidney, John Donne, Alexander Pope, Robert Southey, Christina Rosetti or Edna St Vincent Millay (and many others) were the best-known but now may only be known to a handful of connoisseurs, or dedicated literary scholars. Urdu was no different.
Mirza Asadullah Khan 'Ghalib' is today the most well-known Urdu poet, but in his own time, his contemporary Sheikh Ibrahim 'Zauq' was much more well-regarded and followed though now virtually eclipsed. There were scores of others, much feted in their times, but now banished to the boundless void of obscurity - though hopefully not gone so far as they can't be brought back into current consciousness.
Like, perhaps, this representative from an illustrious cultural city, and credited with being among those who gave a new lease of life to the ghazal.
In his time, Mirza Muhammad Hadi 'Aziz Lakhnavi' (1882-1935) was esteemed highly by both peers like Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Allama Shibli Nomani, Abdul Halim 'Sharar', the incomparable biographer of Lucknow, Mirza Muhammad Hadi 'Ruswa' of "Umrao Jaan" fame and Allama Mohammad Iqbal and Akbar Hussein Rizvi 'Akbar Allahabadi' who even wrote couplets - in Persian - extolling his art. But now, few will recall his name.
As his sobriquet indicates, Aziz chose to be identified with the "Dabistan-e-Lakhnau" or the Lucknow School of Urdu poetry. It was however often criticised for its "shallowness", "undue focus" on linguistic acrobatics and wordplay, expression of sentiments, like love, at a basic, profane level, and a certain coarseness but is this criticism justified?
No, says prominent scholar Khaliq Anjum, who has brought out a selection of Aziz's works, noting these features were never a representative of the whole school and are mostly seen in a part of the work of a trio of early 19th century poets associated with it. And then these characteristics can also be found in some associated with the rival Delhi school too. And Aziz, even if he dealt with issues of love, brought to it a certain refined sensibility to his verse, he says.
Details about the poet's life are sketchy, but we know he was born in Lucknow in February 1882 to a family originally from Iran's Shiraz, was the son of Mirza Mohammad Mehdi, studied at the city's famed Firangi Mahal seminary, and later was private secretary to deputy commissioner Mirza Mohammad Abbas Khan.
In poetry, he was a protege of Syed Ali Naqi Zaidi 'Safi Lakhnavi' and his own proteges included Shabbir Hasan Khan 'Josh Malihabadi' and Nawab Jafar Ali Khan 'Asr Lakhnavi'. His sole published work was his collection "Gulkadah" (1915), which drew appreciation from Iqbal when the second edition appeared in 1931, with him specially singling out this couplet: "Apne markaz ki taraf maayil parvaz tha husn/Bhulta hi nahi alam teri angdai ka".
As said, Aziz wrote on love and all its phases in his characteristic style - be it its effect: "Aag to dil ki bujh lene do phir kuch puchna/Hosh kisko jo bataye kya raha kya jal gaya", the sorrows of parting: "Thi subah aur sitaare kuch jhilmila rahe the/Bimaar-e-shaam-e-furqat duniya se ja rahe the", its lingering pain: "Shama bujh kar rah gayi parvana jal kar rah gaya/Yaadgar-e-husn-o-ishq ek dil par daagh rah gaya" and so on.
He could be playful too: "Yeh mashvara bahm uthe hain charah jo karte/Ke ab mareez ko achcha tha Qibla-ruu karte" begins one ghazal and its second sher could be familiar to those in romance: "Zabaan ruk gayi aakhi sehr ke hote hi/Tamam raat kati dil se guftagoo karte" and the difficulties could be no better encapsulated as in the ending: "Pahunch ke hashr ke maidan mein haul kyun hai 'Aziz'/Abhi to pehli hi manzil hai justju karte".
Aziz could get lofty too: "Batla rahi thi ahl mohabbat ki justju/Jitna voh qareeb tha, itna hi door tha" or "Hujoom shauq ka bas qissa mukhtsar yeh hai/Ke main jo chahta hoon voh kaha nahi jaata" or even "Khuda mahfuz rakhe ishq ke jazbaat-i-kaamil se/Zameen gardun se takraai jahaan dil mil gaya dil se".
This was brief selection with the hope it interests some towards Aziz, who is a delightful and thoughtful poet, and once wrote: "Kab akele is jahan se ham gaye/Le ke apne saath ek aalam gaye".
Not many could claim this privilege!
(28.02.2016 - Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at vikas.d@ians. (IANS)