Sunday, May 07, 2006

Rules of Creativity

"Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem."


Today when I read these lines, they seem very obvious to me, but when I started dabbling with poetry almost a decade and a half back, I had no idea of the important role that 'limitations' play in poetry. Heavily influenced by the poetry of Ghalib (thanks to Gulzar’s TV Serial, Mirza Ghalib), and Mir, I tried my luck with Urdu poetry. Admittedly, it was quite awkward in the beginning because Urdu doesn’t come naturally to me. After learning the script and a lot of reading, I felt reasonably confident that I could write in Urdu. And I started writing ghazals and nazms. It was a very satisfying experience and I felt proud of my creativity and spontaneity.

However, when I compared my poetry with anyone else’s I found something lacking in mine. It wasn’t the language; it wasn’t the thought, but something else. Somehow, the musical quality (tarannum) that one finds inherent in a ghazal as a poetic form was lacking in my poems. I didn’t give it much thought till many years later when I just happened to read about the 'rules' of Urdu poetry. I found it strange that poetry, which to me was the ultimate expression of spontaneity, could have very rigid rules. I knew of the concepts of qaafiya (rhyme) and radif (refrain), but I wasn’t aware of the extreme importance of behr (meter) in Urdu Ghazal. It was a surprise to me that all Urdu ghazals need to follow a few pre-defined metrical patterns. So I read more about meters and looked at my poems again. And now I knew exactly why the musical element was missing in my ghazals!

To my horror, I realized that almost every single ghazal I had written did not conform to the rules of meter. My instant reaction was – how does it matter? My poems were not for public consumption anyway; and I had written them for my personal satisfaction only. So if I was satisfied with what I’d written, how did it matter if it was in behr or not? But was I really satisfied, now that I knew that whatever I had written had inherent imperfections?

Now I had a huge task in front of me. I had to correct (or 'clean', as I like to call it) more than 100 couplets. And when I actually started doing it, I realized that it was not as simple as it seemed at first. It called for some tough choices. In many cases it meant that to convey the same thought as my original she’r I had to use a different set of words, which was painful because there were certain word constructions that I had been very fond of and I couldn't use them. In some cases I had to completely get rid of a few couplets because no matter what I did, I just could not retain their original 'brilliance' and still fit them into the same meter as the rest of the ghazal. If I didn't want to get rid of them due to my fondness for the original couplet, I had to compose an entirely new ghazal in the meter of that couplet. It was a whole lot of hard work!!

See the two couplets below. They have the same thought, almost the same words but one is definitely more musical than the other. Can you guess which the 'cleaned' form is?

डरता था मैं न आए वक़्त-ए-फ़िराक़ मुझ पर
कुछ वस्ल से तेरे अब हौल-ए-दिमाग़ निकले

हौलज़दा था दिल कभी ख़याल-ए-फ़िराक़ से
कुछ तो तेरी वस्ल से वहशत-ए-दिमाग़ निकले

It has taken me almost 2 years to complete this mammoth task, but now that I’m almost done I feel really proud of this achievement.

Now I can say that I’m 'satisfied' with my creativity!

Creativity that has arisen out of the 'tension between spontaneity and limitations'