Top positive review
Poems of tremendous intensity and profound sorrow
Reviewed in India on 12 August 2017
There is tremendous pain in Javed Akhtar's poetry, and perhaps the only thing that is greater in its power than that pain is the poet's ability to look at the pain face to face and not flinch. In that honesty, there is a passion and aliveness which no escape from the sufferings of life can give us, and which, perhaps, as Akhtar seems to suggest through his poems, makes the pain of life truly worth experiencing. The very culmination of this pain seems to be the powerful aliveness that permeates this poetry. This is not a piece of writing meant to entertain, to lighten your mood at a difficult time, to engage you on a boring afternoon. Rather, it is meant to intensify and bring alive all that is within the heart, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and wipe away any mediocrity of feeling.
'Lava' is very much an extension of Akhtar's previous collection, the equally extraordinary 'Tarkash'. The title 'Lava' is entirely apt, for here is the volcanic intensity of a life lived fully, and the burning fire of questions that don't seem to have answers. Questions about unexplained tragedies that befall one, about undeserved injustices in one's own life and in the world, about the lack of meaning in what one thought would be the fulfillment of one's dreams, and most of all, perhaps, questions about this undying impulse to live, and unvanquished by the sufferings of life, to ask these very questions.
For many of us Akhtar has come to be identified as a song writer for Hindi cinema, where he has written some of the most beautiful songs in the cinema's history. However, the themes for such song writing are often confined to particular kinds of life experience. In his two poetry collections, Akhtar emerges as a writer of serious inquiry into life and profound existential concerns, with a power and sincerity that is not overshadowed by the considerations of the art and trade of cinema.
The poems reveal a rootedness in Urdu poetry and in the modern experience of living. In the old tradition of Urdu poetry, there is the pure joy that arises from the appreciation of beauty and wonder at mysteries of existence - of which one gets a glimpse in the company of the beloved, and perhaps more often for Akhtar, in genuine contemplation of the vastness of the universe, its unending silences, of the enigma that we call time, and the simple beauties of nature. In these, the poems touch a profound metaphysical dimension without ever giving themselves to what one may call 'spirituality'. This is an atheist's contemplation of the mysteries of the universe, and one which is as alive and inspiring as some of the best mystical poetry. The other root of these poems, and the larger one, lies in the existential concerns with meaning, with dissonance between two well-intentioned human beings, with our longing for and our inability to love - in short, the limits of human existence and the possible heights it can touch, from time to time.
And finally, there is another beautiful juxtaposition here - that of the simplicity of language - such that one need not be an expert of the Urdu language to understand these poems - and great depth of feeling. The latter gives Akhtar a place among the great poets of Urdu over the centuries, and the former makes him perhaps its best ambassador of that tradition to those uninitiated into it.