Poet Ali Sardar Jafri revisted by Syed Muhammad Ashraf

Syed Muhammed Ashraf talks about Mera Safar, a poem by Ali Sardar Jafri

By Bushra Alvi, TwoCircles.net,

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Phir ek din aisaa aaega
Aankhon ke diye bujh jaaenge
Haathon ke kanval kumhalayenge
Aur barg-e-zabaan se nataq-va-sadaa kii
Har titlii udd jaaegii.

Insaan amar hai, woh mar jata hai par fanaa nahin hota. Life is just a pause; I will take rest and start my journey again. I will die but I will not be destroyed. I will come in different forms said Ali Sardar Jafri in his famous poem Mera Safar.

Mera Safar was brought alive last Thursday evening through a talk, recitation and discussion by Syed Muhammad Ashraf, Commissioner, Income Tax, and prolific Urdu short story writer.

Syed Muhammad Ashraf talking about Ali Sardar Jafri’s nazm, Mera Safar

This talk was an initiative of Hindustani Awaaz, which in collaboration with The Attic, New Delhi, is presenting a series of monthly monologues.

“Each one of us has a favorite piece of literature, a text, a poem, or a favorite author, a novelist or a poet. The idea of this event is to create a public space where a series of eclectic speakers present/sing/recite their favorite Urdu text and explain why that particular text ‘speaks’ to them the way it does. What is it about that particular piece of literature, short story, poetry, play, essay, nazm or ghazal that touches their heart and impacts their mind; how is it different from anything they have ever read before,” said Dr Rakhshanda Jalil of Hindustani Awaaz. “We hope this series, called ‘Why it Speaks to Me’, highlights a neglected aspect of the Delhi’s cultural scene,” she added.

Elaborating on the journey of the nazm, Muhammed Ashraf said that nazm, has always been a part of Urdu shaiyri. The ghazal has gained immense popularity due to which we tend to ignore the nazm but still nazm has its own importance which writers very early on came to recognize.

Ashraf elaborate on the different kinds of nazms like masnavi, marsiya, qasida, waasookth , shehar ashook, etc. The forms of expressing a nazm were many like rubayyat, qatat,musaddas,muqammas, etc. The theme of the nazm would be expressed through these forms. And this continued more or less until 1857. But after this everyone was shaken up; there was a change in the political field and in the society, and people in the field of literature too wanted to be a part of that change. Poets sought to talk about fresh problems in their nazms. A need was also felt at that time to introduce a wave of English thinking in Indian literature.

But it was only in 1867 that Maulana Mohammed Hussain Azad, author of Aab-e-Hayat and Altaf Hasan Hali (a disciple of Ghalib who in a way reintroduced him) together formed an anjuman – Anjuman -i- Punjab, Lahore. It was from this platform that for the first time emerged a new style of poetry writing with new ideas, new thoughts with themes related to social issues. At that time there were writers like Shibli, Zafarullah Khan, Akbar, Trilokchand who expressed their favourite thoughts through nazms, but in the old form. Iqbal too concentrated on changing the theme without changing the form of the nazm.

In 1936 Taraqqi Pasand Tehrik, the Progressive Movement, started with the efforts of a few young men. The fundamental changes they wanted were in the field of politics. There was a revolution by the youth with a rise in communism. Many people were communists; they became agents of change in Literature too. The form of nazm, however, continued to be the same.

And it was in this environment that Ali Sardar Jafri entered the field of literature in a big way. He was one of the pioneers of the Progressive Writer’s Movement. He was the most potent critic and theorist of the progressive school. He was also a skilled literary journalist and edited the magazine Guftugu which was a leading organ of the Progressive Writers’ Movement. With him came a change in form and quite a few of his poems are in free verse, some being counted among the best poems in Urdu literature.

The creation of imagery was his forte which is the base of his writing. He wrote extensively on issues related to the common man. His poems also bring forth his intense love for his country and its diverse cultures. He spoke outright against the partition of the sub-continent. Not surprising then, he came under a lot of criticism.

Sardar Jafri came from a small zilla, Balrampur in UP of a family of landowners. At a very early age he became a writer who liked to speak against oppression. He went to Aligarh to study and spent a lot of time in the library. When he returned, he had a copy of Das Capital with him. He became a very intense communist. He came to Bombay around 1940 and after the death of Sajjad Zaheer he became the leader of the Progressive Writers’ Movement. He felt that society needed to be changed and it was communism alone which could bring about that change, and literature was to be the agent of that change. He said that literature should be written on the foundation of the manifesto of the communist party.

He wrote ghazals but was more known for his nazms. Some of his famous works are Patthar ki Deewar, Awadh ki khak-i-haseen, Mera Safar Of these, Mera Safar is perhaps his best work. It is different from all his other works. All of his poems were in some way or the other related to communism. They touched upon matters related to the labour class, oppression and the like.

Mera Safar is a poem on a different theme. It talks about life and death. Even after death, a man lives on. He dies, but is not destroyed.

Elaborating on the poem, Ashraf says that Jafri has used beautiful imagery and beautiful metaphors. The theme of this poem has been spoken about by almost all religions of the world. All of them have spoken about life after death.

In Islam, people believe they will get a new life after the Day of Judgment. Christians and Jews also endorse this view of heaven and eternal life. Hinduism, which is a combination of many philosophies, also has as its fundamental concept – birth/death and swarg/narak. Buddhists believe that man is reborn as he has many desires and cannot fulfill them in one birth. Multiple births allow him to fulfill all his desires after which he attains moksha or total freedom. Those who don’t subscribe to any religion and simply believe in humanity are of the view that there is only one life and when a person dies, that is the end of him.

But Sardar Jafri has his own take on this issue. He says that a day will come when he will die. But in his death he will not perish, he will come back in different forms; like a bird, flowers, streams, laughing leaves. Man is the most wonderful creation on this earth; he can die but he will not get destroyed. The poet has used several tools to create a magnificent effect. His poem is magnificent due to its imagery. The foundation of the success of his poems is its vivid imagery.

The poem is divided into three parts. The first deals with human tragedy, i.e., death, the second part talks of human hope and the third part contains the philosophy of the poem – man is everlasting, he will experience death, but he will never be destroyed.

Muhammed Ashraf equates Mera Safar to an architectural masterpiece. The first part is filled with a line of metaphors, the second part has a lot of imagery and similies. He has created a painting with words. Though it is written in blank verse, it sticks to a particular meter. It has a beautiful rhythm running through its length and can also easily be put to music.

Apart from the content, Sardar Jafri contributed significantly to the form of the nazm as well.

Syed Muhammad Ashraf belongs to a family of devout scholars and Sufi saints of Marehra Shareef, district Etah, UP. Presently posted as Commissioner of Income Tax in New Delhi, he has steadfastly pursued his career as a senior officer in the Indian Revenue Service as well as his literary and academic interests. His major work includes two collections of short stories: 1994 Daar Se Bichchre (1994) and Baad-e Saba Ka Intizar (2000) for which he received the Sahitya Akademi Award; and a novel Number Dar ka Neela (1997).

Muhammed Ashraf says that apart from being a brilliant piece of writing, Mera Safar ‘speaks’ to him for another very personal reason as in the images mentioned in the poem by Jafri, of the different forms of coming back to the world, he sees the image of his dearest younger sister whom he lost to small pox at a very tender age.


‘Why it Speaks to Me’ is held on the last Thursday of every month at The Attic, Connaught Place, New Delhi.

In the next talk entitled ‘Tum Mere Paas Raho’, to be held on Thursday 25 April, Dr Saif Mahmood will talk on why Faiz will always stay with him.

(Bushra Alvi is writing & editing professional based in New Delhi.)