Mushtaque Barq’s “Withered Petals” Reviewed by Perveiz Ali

It is the poet’s obligation, wrote Plato, to bear witness. Fortunately or unfortunately, living in a part of a world that is highly militarised and caught  between various conflicts- local or non local there are many a variables that determine what a person is thinking, what stimulates him to think and more importantly how he reacts to the airs of chaos whirling around him day in and day out. As a reaction to the stimuli of the society that is at crossheads differs from a person to person, taking in consideration those who chose pen too differ in using the brush to paint the canvas reflecting the bruised and abused land. Withered petals, an anthology of seventy-four poems and a set of nine nonets by Mushtaque Barq, divided into four sections, is a kind of mirror reflecting different aspects of the conflict torn vale especially from last three decades from different perspectives.

Poetry relates to whatever gives immediate pleasure or pain to the human mind, writes William Hazlitt, this immediate pain of a poet is self explanatory across the verses he has chosen in this collection.

If at all visited were which I saw:
Suppression in the disguise of the sin
Sin in disguise of severity
Severity in coffin of sighs
Sighs in the garb of that criminal silence
Silence in that long black cloak of AFSPA. (Virgin paradise)


Heavier than lead
Dead body of a son
On the shoulders of a father
Salute to his nerves for a cause
He dumped his son (lament)


let us keep demanding
that historical debris of our son
who wrote what bards fail
like a slapdash broken word
by an innocent
on the wet sand of a beach willfully.    (Remains of Afzal Guru)


What melody its songs sans?
A talk of the town now
For vibrant vultures violate
What Haws had set
As rule in the blue. (Song that sans melody)

There isn’t any dearth of literature being written on conflict in general across the globe but the poetry seems to be an ideal medium to carry the energy and emotions of people who are literally supposed to inhale and exhale the extra burden of pain and agony. Short yet intense and deep; ambiguous yet exact – what else can one call it but poetry? Withered petals by and large by-passes the direct descriptions of events and feelings instead it resorts to analogies and extended metaphors. He writes,

Of dawn fragile petals be lily white
And dew drops let dry at rims as love sign
All again thy badly lit stars be bright     (Villanelle)


On the horizon why do streaks weep?
Tulips down in dale open their cups
For how eve in this vale was ravished
Under the garb of uniform
Kunanposhpora, a fissure of might
That engulfed soft morsels of human flesh. (On horizon)


Crows at dusk sing what song for crimson roof?
Tulips in dales hoist bleeding frill to bate (Eager eye’s gait)


In ropes two my mass hangs
A pull of Satan, a push divine
Prolonged tussle of two ideas
One on the throne of thorns
Petals of velvet on the other. (A tussle)

“Poetry”Wordsworth reminds us, “is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” and in a land where the clouds of uncertainty are always looming and you never know which nook and cranny is next to be painted in red; when a poet experiences such an episode of bloodbath, the banks of emotions are ruptured as the energy of the emotions buried deep down in subconscious too wells up to let it flow like our own mighty Jhelum without caring of barricades of fear.

In general perception, poetry is taken as personal or even autobiographical. Reading Withered Petals makes one feel (no doubt only in bits and pieces) that it has much to do with the life a reader has lived or is living.

I’m what I never used to be
I was what I should be
between two folds
of vice and virtue
I was buried
I was beautified. (Confession)


I wonder what if she knows
That on the city wall
I have inscribed her name twice,
Once when I met her at Dal lake
And the other when her veil
Was stolen by a wandering gush. (Grim face)


I am eve of this Paradise
Where my tresses wander in pain
Where a sinister gaze fixes me
On the cross and tosses my head
To ooze the water of faith. (Eve)

Introducing a new form of poetry not only proves the poet’s talent but reflects how dedicated he is to his passion- literature. It is a short poem with seven beats in each verse aided with binary. The first word of the third line serves as refrain throughout the poem followed by an exclamation mark in the last line. Mostly ABCA rhyme scheme is used in first stanza and the stanzas following don’t strictly follow any rhyme scheme, but each stanza is closed with a rhyming word of verse first/fourth of stanza first. The tone of the poem is satirical, sad, humorous or sarcastic. “SEPTAREFBIN” is the name given to this new form of poetry. Septa-for having seven beats, Ref– for having the refrain and Bin– for binary. For instance,

Spring, a passive polite pause
Summer, a breve by bullets
Wind of Dal why so wayward
Ah! Game of delicate flaws.

Meadows, graveyard of shepherds
Waste lands, assembly of wits
Wind of Dal silently sighs
Ah! A clueless crafty clause. (Poem I of the series)


The sun, vast ocean of gold
The moon, river of silver
Now that the soul in both bathes
Ah! The sinner’s mundane fold.
The dawn, bride of the ether
The dusk, bridegroom of the sea
Now that on the horizon
Ah! What short story untold. (Poem  III)

When one pays more attention to the world, both interior and exterior, it makes one understand one’s own intricate intricacies more accurately and thus allows the flow of inner thoughts effortlessly. Saqi series, third section of the book, comprises seven poems which seem to be an output of this own understanding. So, this section of the book can be taken as a reflection of poet’s inner being. In this section, the poet not only opens up his inner being before his beloved/saqi but pleads as well in front of him to set him free from the clutches of allthe pains he is suffering. He writes,

O Saqi! Shall I on the doormat of tavern wait
Or fill this fractured goblet with salt mine
Tell me O Saqi! How this emotional state of Sufi
Be in voice; put a razor edge of love,
Poetry in my goblet like my unrest
About to surpass the brim, to dance in wilds. (Poem III)


Shake thy drums and nourish this garden
Of love, these little hands are bruised
For thorns have kissed the frill of my fingers
Do drop here a few drops in this cup
To lift me again like hope’s flight
Over dull clouds and loathing dust. (Poem IV)


Run down the crimson sea
Through my vale violent,
Tart of the last drought
How mercilessly drops its signature
To label me ‘drunkard’ (Poem VI)

At the end of the book is a set of nine nonets, which act as an epilogue of this wonderfully woven poetry collection. He writes,

What shall I write tonight, tell O! moon
Frill of thy hem is dancing there
Like a grotesque silhouette
Scaring battered senses,
Offer nay me verve
To hold this reed
Amid fear

All in all, summing it up with the words of Jean Cocteau, “The job of the poet (a job which can’t be learned) consists of placing those objects of the visible world which have become invisible due to the glue of habit, in an unusual position which strikes the soul and gives them a tragic force”.

© Perveiz Ali

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