Lahore - The Dragonfly and Other Poems is a poetic feat of Sahibzada Riaz Noor. It unfolds dilemma of a Pakhtun, riven between an imminent existential threat and an irresistible yearning for survival. His maiden work covers varied themes but the title poem written in the genre of epic at times reminds of Odyssey and Iliad of Homer, which even after three millenniums are so refreshing. In Homer’s world there is a respite after the long battle of Troy but in Riaz Noor’s turbulent times a spell of uneasy peace is whisked away by the simmers of unending war and the circle moves on. Drones hovering over the hillocks and patchy pastures, mud splashed habitats of the Pakhtun lands, are there for the kill. To the ordinary folk they are, however, like the dragonfly, Zanga, or’ Pirparak’, the colourful wide winged moth, as called in the colloquial parlance. Pakhtun has a primordial instinct, squaring with the life threatening challenges, and that he would do by trivialising the imminent threat. Riaz Noor is no exception to that streak. Gravity is lessened, treat it as a Pirparak. Vast barren expanses with a visual break of idyllic foliage had been under constant pounding. Ravages in Shawal, Birmal, Kaitu and Damadola are witness to that. The villain however is not without an accomplice. It is none other than all of us who kept nurturing and blooming the seed of deep discord in the laid back lands.

The poet is at a loss as how could a friendly coloured moth speak the language of flame, fire for him. But then there is a so touted legality behind this lethality. There is a legal ploy behind lethal overtures. From Obama to the minions sitting at Bagram and Shamsi air base, all were into it. Dragonfly indeed is a mélange of sorrow, desperation, helplessness, rage and above all a yearning for a forlorn hope. Riaz displays knack of a consummate portraitist and seeks inspirations from rare creative feats. In some of his works he seems to have been inspired by the camera work of internationally-acclaimed photographer Sami Ur Rehman. In ‘ Reality and Fancy’, Riaz spots a line of buffalos plodding away by the stream, having half drink of water. It is a power packed metaphor of human dilemma where a man in the dark is zig zagging from nowhere to nowhere. In the ‘ Beach’, foamy white waves of the sea give him a pause to reflect and finally recede and become unnamed part of the infinite sea. ‘The woman Brick carrier’, is a portrayal of a sweat encrusted toiler with bricks on her head, going to and fro while on the back there is three months old cherub baby as part of her toil.’

‘Stairs to God’, is another inspirational poem, thanks to Sami Ur Rehman who continues to be a grounds well of creativity. Spiralling stairs to Sistine Chapel, reaching the summit of sky, man in search of God. Riaz at this point finds a natural empathy with the grand masters of Sufistic poetry, Bulleh Shah, and Mian Muhammad Bakhsh. A mystic streak impels him to question, whether he, the God, dwells in far away heavens or in the inner recesses of his heart! In Tigris where Truths have their own way of life, he has deftly used the imagery of Cross of the Christ, hemlock of Socrates and amputated limbs of Hallaj to underline his deep sense of civilisational history. ‘ Monsoon’, is yet another handy work of imaging, where dark swollen breasts of undulant cloud, whirl winds past Himalayas are indeed harbingers of boon . The downpours put balm to soothing cool on the burning wounds. ‘Gulloo Khan’ and ‘They brought him home’, the two poems, are immersed in the anguish of loss of a brother, Sajjad and a friend, Gulzar. Both of them physically faded away but do have an indelible presence deep in his mind. Blinded sons of Kashmir, an amalgam of remorse, indignation, rage and resolve where Riaz is so for sure, ‘where you gouge my eyes with pellets of foul, their light is the undying sun.’ While on lynching of Mashal Khan he cries out, ‘where shall my tears take refuge’? Even that could fall under blasphemy. Three years old Alan Kurdi’s escape from home in Syria to seek refuge in Europe, his prostrated body on the shores of a Turkish beach has a question for him and for all the rest, ‘why did I feel your face was turned from me’! Riaz did have the answer, ‘we failed you, as you had a cause in death to face away.’ Finale of the book converges on a fascinating lyrical prose, Mohalla Sanghar. Riaz takes the reader through the memory lanes of Kohat, reminiscent of guava and apricot trees when in his childhood, siblings from outstations would visit the place like on a pilgrimage. He connects with his nativity and heritage so well. The reader also finds fading glimpses of captain coke, Brigadier Chamberlin, Molly Elis and Ajab Khan Afridi, a larger picture of a sedate colonial past which continues to haunt even today. An oral history permeates through generations. Riaz Noor, in his work, has made it so evident that he is poet with modern sensibilities and is so well rooted in traditions. He plays with the words with ease. His diction and craft is nuanced with sharp observations, with an apt flow and throw of ideas with remarkable empathy cascading enriched themes. As an accomplished civil servant, he has been exposed to diverse situations throughout his career. He has so successfully internalised that experience in his creative pursuits. One has no doubt that through a rich maiden poetic endeavour Riaz Noor stands way ahead of widely acclaimed contemporary English poets from this part of the world.

 

The writer can be reached at tmahmud-pk@hotmail.com