Creativity in times of distress | Pakistan Today

Creativity in times of distress

A voice to unite, a voice to inspire, a voice to rally

Loneliness like a familiar comrade of old

Came by to quaff my desolate soul

Together we wait for the moon to rise

And see your image glow in every shadow

One often hears people say that they would like to be left alone, and one wonders whether that is really a state they would want to embrace.

But, then, being alone is not really akin to a feeling of loneliness- a disposition which is born out of enduring pain. In that event, it could be a most excruciating state to be in, and not many people may be able to cope with it without experiencing varying degrees of physical, emotional or psychological damage.

There have been a number of artists who transformed such feelings into creative work and helped people understand the challenges of inhabiting a different world– a world they would want to be in without the fear of what it may bring. Such is the kind of poetry that Faiz Sahib penned for us to read, and continue reading. This form of poetry generates a languid feeling which transforms into a permanent state of mind. It is as if one is intoxicated in an ethereal, unreal condition which refuses to melt away. Instead, with time, one delves deeper into its myriad reflections and meanings. It is an endless curve which, simultaneously, is a source of pain and hope:

Beyond the scaffold, in the haze of the distance,

The red of your lips kept simmering,

Your hair dancing with abandon,

The silver of your hands kept glistening

But, creativity does not end with the writing of an evocative work. It is for the readers to take it further and mould it to connect with their feelings and experiences because there is no one kind of pain. It lives in countless forms and shapes, each different from the other in substance, meaning and effect. Great writings have been the product of such experiences of pain. Poets, story tellers, fiction writers – all of them have their tales to tell which inspire many more to try their hands at creativity, but the going can get immensely tough:

Let the sails not be unfurled

Of the ship of wine

Let the hurricane of life

Subside first

There being nothing but lethal poison

In the tavern tonight

Only those who are fit to die

May stay to drink

Creativity can also not be limited to a certain frame of mind, a certain time period, or a certain manner of thinking. It has this absolute power to adapt to all of this, yet create an aura solely of its own to savour. The repertoire of Eliot’s poetry, a fathomless reservoir of varying phases of creative work, is an apt testament to mind’s dominance over substance. It can create, it can chisel, and it can adapt. It can do whatever may be essential to compose a piece that tells a story – a story with the power to move, to inspire:

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

Creativity it is which would help one transit to an entirely different mould, a different way of looking at things, and a different manner of thinking. It is a singular state which is laced with an intricate interplay of multiple feelings and impressions:

And we all go with them, into this silent funeral,

Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you

Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,

The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed

With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of

Darkness on darkness…

But, while creativity may be born out of a process of enduring pain, it is also a means of easing its impact. It is not just a source of alleviating suffering, but could also become the means of near permanent healing. There is this intertwining relationship which binds creativity and pain together in an eternal embrace. It is like each flowing from the other, each sustaining the other, each nurturing the other, and each being the other’s terminus.

An endless flow of creativity is needed in these times of distress. People need reassurance that this pandemic shall pass and they shall come out of it. This is the time for creative writers to come forth as a bastion of support and inspiration for them. Is there anyone around? Do I hear a sound, a stir? What deafening silence! What tragedy!

Beauty, nature and its manifestations have also been the source of a mountain of creative works across many genres. A mere sight of something, or somebody, may generate an irrepressible desire to probe the web of words. Greats like Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Byron, Blake, Coleridge, and a host of others from an incomparable period stand out as torch-bearers of various facets of creative writing, shaping indestructible tales with lasting impressions.

Times of war and distress have generated their own creativity. The epic works of Homer are rare examples of this phenomenon. The profusion of inspiring poetry and singing in the wake of the 1965 war is a testament to distress stirring juices of creativity. The alternate cinema is an exciting medium employed to communicate societal discrimination and disparities.

Moving from one period to the other, the art of creativity has worn different colours. This depended on the challenges of the time. Great Russian writers worked in an age of suffocation. But, their creative faculties were never dulled and they did not feel constrained in their desire to write. Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Nabokov, Gorki, Pasternak, Gogol and others were all riddled by oppression and fear, but they produced some of the finest literary masterpieces of all times.

In present days, the ideological narrative apparently has taken the sheen off creativity. The creative process seems to have stalled and we are witnessing a period of near famine. This is contrary to what has been the norm through various times and phases. Creativity never dries up. It is always spurred by efforts to put it in chains. It is never a hostage to anything. It creates its own space even under the most stressful conditions. In fact, the very best literature has been a voice of rebellion against the shackles which were put to stifle it. Where are our poets, our writers? Where are the likes of Faiz, Manto, Jalib, Sheikh Ayaz, Faraz, Munir Niazi, Bapsi Sidwa, Ibn-e-Insha, Mumtaz Mufti, Krishan Chandar, Parveen Shakir, Noon Meem Rashid, Ghani Khan, Ismat Chughtai, Fehimda Riaz, Rajendar Singh Bedi and other such luminaries? What are they writing to evoke a reform movement, to espouse a progressive culture? Their job is out in the front. They can’t be hiding in some dark alleys, blocking the flow of light. They should take on the existent challenge of freeing the people from the shackles of a regressive narrative. They have a role cut out for them, but they are missing from the arena.

An endless flow of creativity is needed in these times of distress. People need reassurance that this pandemic shall pass and they shall come out of it. This is the time for creative writers to come forth as a bastion of support and inspiration for them. Is there anyone around? Do I hear a sound, a stir?

What deafening silence! What tragedy!

One may grow old, but creativity is not impacted by the passing of years. It resides within you and will continue to find ingenious and elevating ways to surge forth, clad in a different cloak, disseminating a new meaning:

I grow old, I grow old

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled

The writer is a political analyst and the Executive Director of the Regional Peace Institute. He can be reached at: [email protected]; Twitter: @RaoofHasan.



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