Academic journal article South Asian Studies

Political Renegotiation of Scriptural Spaces in Alamgir Hashmi's Poetry

Academic journal article South Asian Studies

Political Renegotiation of Scriptural Spaces in Alamgir Hashmi's Poetry

Article excerpt


A careful examination of some of Alamgir Hashmi's poems with Muslim, Buddhist and Christan frames of reference such as "Gautum"(MSK88-89), "A Life"( NTTNTP58-62), "Lot's Wife" (IOP38),and "The Prophet"(IOP12-13) indicate that he effects a complex process of desacrilegising and humanizing of sacred space (charted in the scriptures). This does not in any way debunk, decrease the importance of, or challenge the validity of the sacred space or the persons in the scriptures. It in fact, enriches, personalizes, and thus widens it. It is in this way that the established sacred space is widened as it is re explored to construct humanist space.

There is a similarity in the slices of scriptural space which Hashmi chooses to examine and reframe in his poetic narrative. The focus is on those moments in the lives of the proponents of various religions, such as Siddharta Gautama , Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH), when they have made their decision to accept the ministry of God (in the case of Christianity and Islam),or their own higher faith(in the case of Buddhism). The motivation is to find salvation and help people to ease their suffering. It is the moment of their greatest strength because they have realized their true vocation, but ironically it is also this decision which alienates and isolates them from their community of either non- believers or the people who cannot comprehend their following or faith.

Other Pakistani poets writing in English also draw on scriptural space. Shuja Nawaz in "The Stone Buddha" writes, "Strong/smooth ambassador of the frozen hours/you revive memories of a sacred past...You are moulded by all that precedes/and all that follows" (3-5, 11-12 J), and M. Athar Tahir in "Birthday Sutra" also seeks expression in sacred space with :

When sun's re-entry

into the domain of the bull

conjures up those weeds

I had rooted out last year;

then do I dare mount a crucifix

or make for a cave

or like Gautum go into saffron exile?(3.29-32,41-43 JBTP)

The poem "Gautum' (MSK88-89) frames the decision of the Shakya prince Siddharta, to abandon the life of ease and luxury in his father's palace and find a way to end the cycle of human suffering or "samsara' reinforced by birth and rebirth .The poem arrests in particular ,the moment of hesitation Gautum must have had when he crossed the threshold of the palace (when he was approximately 30), leaving his young wife Yashodhara and his infant son Rahula behind. But it also marks a point of decisive action in which an individual has made the decision to be true to his calling and even fulfilled the prediction made by the great seer Asita at his birth ,that Siddharta would be the man to find an end to human suffering by discovering "the extinction of birth" (Conze 36).

The frame of reference in Hashmi's "A Life"( NTTNTP 59-62) is Christ's ministry and crucifixion .After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and was tempted by Satan. On his return from the wilderness John was arrested and Jesus took up the message of God. The poem charts the space of approximately three years in which, after being rejected by his own people in Nazareth, Christ began his ministry in Galilee, Judea ,Jerusalem, Perea (between 27 and 30AD), and then returned to Jerusalem where he was crucified. "A Life" is divided into 3 séchons titled "Galilee', "Bethsaida' and "Golgotha' which have significant connotations as biblical spaces. Galilee comprises the largest northern region of Palestine. In fact this region forms the locus of much of the three gospels of the New Testament because much of Christ's ministry occurred on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Four of Christ's apostles were recruited here, and the Sermon on the Mount was also delivered on a hill overlooking this sea. Moreover, Christ also performed many miracles in this region such as walking on water, calming a storm, and feeding 5000 people with only five loaves and two fishes. …

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