Arsh Sehbai: Jammu’s last Classical poet

Lalit Gupta
Literature is time and culture-specific. These two specificities typify Arsh Sehbai Jammu’s matchless poet-craftsman, who passed away on 20th December 2020.
A poet’s poetry is never a matter of his choices but his commitments. Arsh Sehbai’s poetry is the reflection of an ethical commitment to society, mutual co-existence, secular aspiration of a developing nation, contemporary happenings, longing for a better life and better humanity.
Arsh Sehbai was the second son of Madho Ram Abrol and Ramrakkhi who hailed from village Jib, in the Udhampur district. He was born on 6th December 1930, at his maternal grandfather’s house in Bhakhtan of Pallai Battal, Seri village, situated in the north of Cchamb, Akhnoor. He lost his mother when he was only 22 days old and was raised by his grandmother. Later, his father moved to Jammu. He had early education at a school in Dhounthali and after passing matriculation from Ranbir High School, completed F.A. from the GGM Science College, Jammu.
In the year 1951, Arsh Sehbai left his first job in Regional Research Laboratory, Jammu, as the lab used animals in experiments. In 1955, he took up a job in All India Radio. Rising through ranks and postings to places like Jodhpur, Delhi, Siliguri, Rohtak, Jammu, he retired in 1988 as an administrative officer from Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar.
Arsh Sehbai lived a long life and enjoyed an active literary life spread over seven decades. He witnessed great changes, trends, and fashions, disruptions in politics, literature, and society. He inherited Urdu as part of his education and used this language as a vehicle of aesthetic pleasure and instruction. Principally a moralist, Arsh Sehbai’s world view is that of a thinker and an aesthete in the classical mould. In his works “there is a rare blend of art for art sake and art for life’s sake”. But he does not sacrifice the aesthetics of poetry for art for life’s sake. Showing an amalgam of both timeless as well as temporal, his couplets being simple, deep, and communicative are often hummed by aficionados:
Dil (TO) Kya cheez hai, hum rooH meiN utter hote
Tum ne chaha hi nahin chaahne wallooN ke tarah
Arsh Sehbai was the inheritor of the grand tradition of classical Urdu poetry. When he began his career as a young poet, he had the good fortune to sit in the company of stalwarts poets. He had early guidance from Josh Malsyani (Pandit Labhu Ram from Malsyani, Punjab and who had remained a student of Daag Dehlavi). As a result, his style has roots in communicative simplicity and classical neatness. But after initial directions from Josh, Arsh Sehbai did not take anyone else as a master for correcting his poetry and trusted his own taste and craft.
Though, he adapted all major genres to express his beliefs and commitments of life and society, it was ghazal that emerged as his forte. Poetry is a way of thinking. This is true of Arsh Sehbai. His Ghazals are verbal compositions, compressed, commonplace and conversational in tone. It is mostly a language of the common man and close to prose. His ghazals are simple, idiomatic and come out as direct utterances:
Tum jo chhuo ge to badh jayen gi keemat apni
Geeli mitti hoon khilona hi bana daalo mujhe
As a romantic, having inherited a different set of values, Arsh was not attracted to the depiction of the amorous but to the beauty of poetic expression. For instance:
Arsh Un ki jheel si aankhon ka iss mein kya kassor
Doobne waalon ko gehraayi ka andaaza na tha
Tu bade shouk se hum ko nazar andaaz kare
Hum tare saath rahein ge tera saaya ban kar
Noticeably ’making a departure from classicist like Daag Delhavi’s thematics, Arsh Sehbai’s poetic sensibility was alive to the post-Independence decay of the high values espoused by the freedom fighters:
Kabhi Saabat qadam rehte nanheen parvarda e zulmat
Sitaare kaampte hain jab saher nazdeek hoti hai
An author of more than 18 books and one of the most celebrated poets of the J&K, he was three times bestowed with the State Award and many other honours. His selected poems were included in Urdu school text books in J&K. His artistic oeuvre has been taken up for research by M.Phil and Ph.D. by scholars of local as well as outside universities. Dr. Kaushal Kiran Thakur’s M.Phil, thesis on Arsh Sehbai has been published under the title Arsh Sehbai –Urdu Ghazal Ki Ahedsaaz Shakhsiyat. Other books written on his poetry include Shaad Sharfi’s Arsh Sehbai –Shakhsiyat aur Shayari, Gulam Gilani’s Ashri Aagahi ka Shaayer—-Arsh Sehbai. There are many books on the works of Arsh Sehabai by researchers and scholars which are underprint.
A refreshing combination of traditional and the contemporary, he was not committed to any political ideology, which saved him from being dogmatic. It is the sympathetic humanism that shines forth in his works.
Nonetheless, he is never loud in his poetry and does not overstate his ideals: Waqt ki ye sitam zareefi hai/ varna insaaN bura nahin hota
In his Ghazals, along with soft sentiments, the harsh realities also find equal emphasis. He is the moralist who is in search of transparent truth like a classicist:
Mahelon mein kya milega vafa ka sUraag Arsh/
YE cheez jhonpadon ki hai, un mein talaash kar/
This linguistic discipline is the hallmark of Arsh Sehbai’s poetry.
Iss ki fitrat main nahin hai rukhna,
Waqt daryaa hai behta rehtaa hai
A sympathetic humanist, he was particular about the use of words. He used them with a jeweler’s precision. He wrote poetry with a purpose, with the intention to educate and polish the taste of the reader.
Is ke har manzar per mit jaa, iss ka pasmanzar na dekh
Zindagi Ik khol hai Is khol ke ander na dekh
Kya zaroori hai ke yeh dukh baAntne waalae bhi hoUn
Milne waalon se kabhi mil kar pareshaani na kar
In a ghazal, a genre so mysterious, flexible, timeless, and popular, even if one couplet turns out to be of some worth is a tribute to the genre. Happily, in the case of Arsh Sehbai, there is a parade of such couplets which elevate him as a master poet-smith and etch his name on the firmament of modern Urdu poetry of the sub-continent.
Kiss ghaat par utarna hai mujhe nahin maaloom
Kagaz ki hoon ik naao samandar mein rawan hoon
Kya zaroori hai ke yeh dukh bantne waalae bhi hon
Milne waalon se kabhi jikar pareshaani na kar

Dil ka lahu na nachod fun ki talaash kar
Iss be shau’r daur mein fiqr mauash kar

Arsh jo dard mein dubae huye dil se nikle
Chand’ shol’e bhi lapakte hein iss aawaz ke saath
Hum safar hai aafton ka ik hajoom
Zindagi mein main kabhi tanha nahin

The list of books by Arsh Sehbai
1. Sikasht-e-Jaam————- 1958
2. Anjum Kada—(Tazqara)—— 1963
3. Sagufa-e- Gul————— 1964
4. Jeh Jaane Pehchane Log—– 1966
5. Saleeb ———————– 1971
6. Asloob———————— 1976
7. Jeh Jhonpade Jeh Log——— 1991
8. Reza Reza Vajood———- 1991
9. Assab—————————– 2002
10. Naayaab Hai—————- 2004
11. Tawaazan———————– 2005
12. Cheshm-e-Neembaaz———— 2007
13. Aks-e-Jamaal——————– 2007
14. Kushboo Tere Badan Ki——– 2009
15. Tere Bin Chain Kahan–(Dohe)- 2009
16. Di Ke khawab Adhoore———-
17. Khad-o-Khal———————— 2008
18. Shabnam Teri Yadoon Ki—– 2010
19. Saaye Teri Yadoon Ke——— 2010
20. Jawaaz—————————- 2011
21. Dastaras————————– 2017
22. Teri Purfashoon Nigahein—— 2019