Noon Meem Rashid - The Poet of poets
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

THE passage of three decades since the death of Nazar Muhammad (Noon Meem) Rashid has dimmed the memory of a poet who, according to some people, was the greatest poet since Allama Iqbal.

However, his poetry could not have a wide stamp of approval because he forsook the conven¬tional style, content and diction of Urdu poetry.

Unlike Faiz or Faraz, he was neither mellifluous nor melodious. And what was worse, he could not be sung.

Rashid had to pay a big price because he could not become popular in his lifetime nor could he be remembered with adoration after his death. The influence of the West is discernible in the contents, the style and the metaphor of Rashid's poetry. This has lent a certain amount of quaintness to his poetry which can neither be understood nor appreciated easily.

Rashid will be remembered for experimenting and exploring new genres of poetry. Free verse was part of this experimentation. He believed that the traditional rhyme was bound to lead to cliches. For new ideas a new form had to be adopted.

His early poetry is full of pessimism, which lasted, though in a lesser degree, throughout his work.

His poem "Dilsuzi" is a good example of that genus. He is bitter and bemoaning over the plight of man in "Insan". Both the poems are, however, rhythmic. "Saba Veeran" effectively depicts an environment of all pervasive gloom. His poetry paints the loneliness of man searching for identity against a hostile backdrop and laments that he had moved far away from his own self.

 

He takes account of social and political problems differ-ently. His main focus is  how these problems influence the inner world of an individual. Poems like "Numrood Ke Khudai" and "Veeran Kasheed Gahain" exemplify this trend. He is an introspective poet who ruthlessly analyzes his motives, his confusions and indolence. Poems like "Khud Kushi" and "Maray Bhee Hain Kuch Khawab" can be quoted in this regard.

Rashid is a realist and not a romantic, in any sense of the word.

His love for the fair sex is once again a departure from the traditional love of Urdu poetry. It is not the ethereal adulation for the beloved. He mostly talks of physical con¬tact, only seeking sexual grati¬fication and release of libidinal forces. Often in the process the fulfilment and satiety which are born of mutual satisfaction dissipate. Poems like "Mrs Sala Manka" "Huzn-e-Insan", "Ruqs" and "Honton ka Lams" can be quoted as examples. Despite the prominence of gloom in his poetry, at least one poem can be called humor¬ous. In this particular piece, Rahid shows Sherzade narrat¬ing a story of a barber who pos-sesses a unique talent of cut-ting the skull of his patients, bringing out the brain and cleansing it. Once, while the operation was being done on a Vazeer, he was called by the king. Leaving behind his brain, he rushed to the king. When he returned the next day, he found out that the brain had been eaten up by a cat. As a substitute, the barber placed the brain of a bull in Vazeer's skull. And, Allah be praised, the Vazeer became wiser and more proficient.

Noon Meem Rashid was born on November 9, 1910, exactly after 33 years of Allama Iqbal's birth. His place of birth, Gujranwala, was a small town then and was too small a turf for his enormous talent. From primary to intermediate, he stud¬ied in the same town. However, for doing his BA, and later MA, he shifted to Lahore and got admitted to the Government College. This move proved a boon for Rashid. Lahore of the  late '20s and early '30s was the hub of culture and literary mainly due to the presence of stalwarts like Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj, Patras Bukhari, Ghulam Abbad, Chirgh Hasan Hasrat, Abdul Rahman Chughtai and Meera Jee.

By the time he finished his Masters degree in 1932, Rashid was already a well-known poet. Aesthetes recognized him as a poet who broke new ground.

When his poem "Itifaqat" was published, Patras was so appre¬ciative of it that he visited humble abode to con-gratulate him on its publication.

In his early adulthood, Rashid joined Allam Mushriqi's Khaksar Movement It was, perhaps, the disciplinarian in him which needed an expression and which made him join the movement. His association was intense as he rose to the rank of Salar, performed his duties gently, even tried to convert    people to the credo, but soon got disillusioned with it and resigned. For some time after completing his education, Rashid remained unemployed and was impoverished. For some years, he drudged to a publisher who cheated him and did not pay for his services at all. Later, he worked asa a clerk in the commissioner's office in Multan. Perhaps these experi-ences were the angst and the gloom which are found so often in his poetry.

His first real break came when he got a job at All India Radio. He worked at New Delhi Station for four years in various capacities. In 1943, he got commission as captain in Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate, India. Those were the days of Second World War. He was posted to a number of cities in the Middle East, including Tehran, a city he fell in love with and which set up the title of his second book "Iran Mein Ajnabi". At the end of the war, he returned to the radio. After partition of the subcontinent, he opted for Pakistan and served at Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi stations of Radio Pakistan.

In 1951 he joined the information service of the United Nations and worked in various capacities in New York, Jakarta, Washington, Karachi, and finally in Tehran. He retired from service in 1974, decided to settle in London where he died on October 9,1975.



Rashid's first marriage was to his cousin. Though it was an arranged marriage, some infat¬uation did exist between the two. She was educated up to intermediate, which was a sub¬stantial qualification for the women of those days. But, of course, intellectually she was no patch on Rashid's mental calibre. Temperamentally, they were different also. Rashid was a social being who loved to assert his presence in any company. She, on the other hand, was domesticated and devoted her entire being to raisng up children and efficiently running the household. These differences notwithstanding their married life was harmo¬nious, as reported by Rashid's late son, Sheryar. Five children were born of the union, includ¬ing Sheryar, who composed poetry in English and joined the foreign service. He died prematurely in the '90s. Another offspring was Tamzeen through whom he met his second-wife-to-be, Sheela.

 

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His first wife suffered from arthritis for a long time. She died in 1961 due to a wrongly dispensed injection. Sheela was the teacher of his youngest daughter in New York. She was a spinster in her mid thir¬ties. At that time Rashid was in his mid fifties. More than love, it was the need which drove them close to each other. After some hesitation, due to the dif-ferences between their ages and cultures, they got married in 1964.

Sheela brought about a complete change in his lifestyle, which he was very happy about. But he grumbled about her misplaced parsimony and disdain for his intellectual pur¬suits. She never liked to live in Pakistan and was the reason for Rashid's decision to settle in London after his retirement. Living in London, he felt, had cut him off from his intellectu¬al base in Pakistan and many a time regretted it. His smoking, his other habits and his heavy built made him a heart patient which drove him to an early grave. His brother-in-law (wife's brother) tragically died in a car accident in Itlay. He and his mother-in-law decided to go to Italy together. To reach her house, situated on an incline, he walked for 15 minutes. By the time he reached the house he was out of breath, and died of heart failure with¬in minutes. It was the passing away of a noble soul who left this world without causing trouble to any one.

Rashid was not buried but cremated, ostensibly because he had expressed a desire to this effect. But the circum-stances surrounding this fact are befuddling. Let us try to examine them. The most important aspect of the episode is that Rashid did not leave a written will and there is no documentary evidence to his alleged desire. He was cremated only on verbal statements and circumstantial evidence. Saqi Farooqui, a noted poet who was friendly with Rashid during his last stay in London reported in his article Hasan Koozagar that Sheela told him that he had expressed this desire twice to her and once to his son, Sheryar, when he visited him in Brussels a few months before his death. Farooqui and some other admirers of Rashid were flab¬bergasted when told that both his wife and his son had decid¬ed to carry out the desire. Another evidence which Farooqui mentioned in his arti¬cle is that Rashid's father-in- law was cremated and Rashid was fascinated with the whole procedure undertaken at the crematorium. Farooqui also quoted Rashid's fascination with fire and recounted a piece of his poetry in which Rashid termed fire as cleanser of sins.

Sheryar, in his article on his father, laconically accused Farooqui of absolving himself of the responsibility, although he was the one who actively promoted the idea of cremation. Sheryar did not elabo¬rate and, alas, he is no more here to do so now. The only conclusion which can be drawn now is that circum¬stances leading to Rashid's cremation are murky.

 

Rashid's collections

1.  Mavara                       Published in 1941

2.  Iran Main Ajnabi           Published in 1955

3.  La = Insan                  Published in 1969

4.  Guman Ka Mumkin        Posthumously published in 1977

 

Written by Shamim Ahmad