KITCHENS by Taufiq Rafat: an In-depth Analysis

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Taufiq Rafat (25 October 1927 – 2 August 1998) was an author and poet. His work influenced other Pakistani poets and is credited with introducing the concept of a "Pakistani idiom" in English literature. Rafat conducted poetry workshops, which influenced many younger poets. After surviving a stroke in 1984, he did not take to write until his death after 14 years in 1998 in Lahore at 71.

 

Pakistani literature, since Independence, has come a long way from its early roots in post-independence English writings in the subcontinent. Over some 50 years or so, it has evolved from its imitative, slavish cast into an original and rather dynamic mode. Today it has a distinctive 'Pakistani' color or flavor, different from other English pieces of literature written in other former colonies where English was initially introduced by the colonizers but was soon adapted into "native" or "local" cultural ethos. Pakistani English literature claims to have its idiom reflecting Pakistani culture, society, and mannerisms. 

In the early stages, they also followed the British English writers like Indian writers did and took time to understand that they also had a distinct culture, tradition, and colors to fill their pictures with. This idea emerged with Taufiq Rafat in the 1960s but became popular in the 1970s. Taufiq Rafat introduced a distinctive idiom known as 'Pakistani Idiom,' which became a standard for Pakistani poets to compose poetry that can reflect Pakistani society, culture, tradition, and ideology. The English literature in this part of the Sub-continent tends to achieve its color from the 1970s, different from that written in other parts of the world. Pakistani English literature, like Indian English literature, realized very later that the main objective of the literature is to depict what one encounters throughout one's life and that it is not something like building castles in the air or a shot in the dark. This idea emerged with Taufiq Rafat, who created a distinctive idiom for Pakistani poets; later, it became the standard. In this paper, the poems ("Arrival of the Monsoon" and "Kitchens") under discussion indicate that the images employed by Taufiq Rafat are culture-specific and different from that Western images.


"According to Taufiq Rafat, poetry emanates from the very land in which it is written. The cultural substratum that gives anchorage to its roots remains a variable source from which it gains nourishment and defines the self of the poet."

The landscape, the seasons, the smells, and the characters are all local and give the very essence of Pakistani society and culture.

 "Pakistani literature claimed to have its idiom reflecting Pakistani culture and society and emerged more visibly in Pakistani poetry than fiction, and no other Pakistani poet has contributed more, in shaping a distinct Pakistani idiom, than Taufiq Rafat."

The imagery of Taufiq Rafat reflects Pakistani society. His poetic style, imagery, and symbolism are precisely related to the context of Pakistan. He has not sacrificed his idea for the sake of the rhyme scheme. For him, content is more important than form. He has accurately depicted Pakistani society by using natural imagery like animals, flowers, grass, birds, insects, and seasons (Tariq Rahman). Taufiq Rafat's distinctive idiom can be observed in his collection of poems, "Arrival of the Monsoon," comprising 116 poems.


The images of kites, pigeons, gliding, rainy water, mud, and clouds represent Pakistani culture. Many Pakistani poets follow his style and distinctive idiom. The most famous of his poems are Soil, The People, Raindrops, Rain, Seasons, Pigeons, Lights, Eid, Ramadan, Mango Trees, Grass, Loneliness, Family, Aunts Uncles, and Cousins. Regarding his distinctive style and language that shows Pakistani culture, language, society, traditions, and religion, he has been rightly called the Ezra Pound of Pakistan by Imran Aslam, one of his disciples.

The poem "Kitchens," though, according to some, is a comparison of the life we had in the past and what we have now. To others, it might be nostalgia for traditions. One other prominent thought is that it is a comparison between urban and rural ways of life; however, it is a poem that gives us unique and specific images. So let us see what sort of culture these images reflect. The tense used in the poem is, of course, 'simple past,' but even today, we feel the same situation in most parts of Pakistan.

 

In the first lines, we are introduced to a specific kind of kitchen where we grew up. It might be shocking to Westerners. What kind of kitchen would that be, where people grow? But when it comes to Pakistani culture, we realize that 'yes,' it is being said about the kitchens we have even these days. 

This image of the kitchen becomes a particular rather than a general term used everywhere, and the theme related to it makes it so. In Pakistani villages, where 70 % of our population lives, we have kitchens where we prepare meals and dine. In that sense, it has enough space to serve as a dining room. It has such a rich cultural color that its taste attracts us. We don't care how much spicy and smoky the environment over there is, and we like to sit in it.

"Kitchens were places

We grew up in

High-roofed, spacious,

they attracted us

with the pungency

of smoke and spices."

We see in the poem that after getting up from the beds in December, we at once rush into the kitchen to seek fire, the kettle depicted as black, and the curry of the previous night in the breakfast. These are all very common in the context of Pakistan. The bowls for tea are also particular, because throughout the world cups are used, although, we also use cups nowadays once we were familiar only with bowls, and still in most parts of the country they are used to take tea. 

The image of the last night's curry is also unfamiliar to Westerners because, in critical situations, it might be possible for them. Still, in everyday situations, they will take it as something not desirable. Still, in Pakistan, in everyday situations, we have last night's curry for breakfast. We consider it desirable; even we offer it to guests if it is a particular dish.

"From December beds

we hurried to the cheer

of wood-fire, above

which sang black kettles.

Once there, we dawdled over last night's curry

and fresh bread dripping from the saucepan,

eggs, and everlasting bowls of tea."

Discuss minor activities like the death of someone, marriages, births, and the new crop of the season are prevalent in villages, but in cities, it is tough to find such stuff. Mother takes the position of presidency, and we act as sub-ordinates. She takes on a specific topic, and we start talking over it. 

Later, the mother confines us to serve and leaves the topic to us. It is the exact depiction of Pakistani society, but by this point, the poem takes a turn where we can say the poem is only about rural versus urban life. On the other hand, the statement that over 70% of the total population comes from rural areas might claim that it is a clear depiction of Pakistani society. In other words, people come to the city under compulsion, and the central part of their families lies behind in the rural areas.

"Discussion centered on primaries:

births, deaths, marriages,

crops. Mother presided,

contributing only

her presence, busy

ladling, ladling. Noise

was warmth".

The second part of the poem reflects the city life, which the poet condemns, and that is why we realize that the first part of the poem is dependent upon the second part to prove the depiction of Pakistani culture. In this part, the poet reveals that the society imported from elsewhere has not brought us closer. Instead, it has contributed to our farness from each other. The society depicted in the first part was the essence of our national and cultural heritage, and it was better for us to maintain that societal standard. Still, unfortunately, we have adopted the western way of life, and that's why we cannot share our happiness and grieves.

 

This was possible in the old kitchens, where we would come to "savor our triumphs or unburden our grief." The traditional slats have been replaced by the chair, which is insular, and the texture has been replaced by chromium and Formica, which are not familiar to us, nor can we immerse into our culture. All images in the poem's second part are found in the West. Even the poem condemns the clock, which has replaced the picture of Grandfather once used to hang on the wall.

 "The surrealistic clock, where once the eloquent grandfather swung."

The last four lines contrast with the kitchen of the poem's first part, where we would take our breakfast along with the previous night's curry sitting together in the presence of our mother making bread for us. Now we have electric toasts instead of fresh bread, and we are in such a hurry, while taking the last gulps, rush out of the dining hall.

"We are differential to the snap pleasure of electric toast, and take our last gulps

standing up."


Considering the images employed in the poem, one can easily trace Pakistani culture, either in the first or second part of the poem. In the first part, we see such imagery, which we mark as typical Pakistani imagery. In contrast, in the latter part of the poem, we come across such images which, on their claim to be Western rather than Pakistani. For this reason, the poet condemns it, and again, for this reason, we say that the poem, in a broader sense, reflects Pakistani society. On the other hand, in a restricted sense, one can interpret it as the reflection of Pakistani village life versus Pakistani city life. Pakistani city life is not the life led by its inhabitants; therefore, we say it has been imported from the West.


In the poem "Kitchens," by comparing the two different types of kitchens, the poet reveals to us our own culture. He sheds light on the two ways of life— Pakistani and Western, and by comparing the two, he allows us to select the one which is the very essence of our tradition and culture and the only thread that can bind us together. Apart from what the message is, by focusing on the images, we come in contact with a society that is our own. We realize that there is some difference between the writers of the West and Taufiq Rafat. 


This research aimed to focus on the imageries employed by Taufiq Rafat to justify the claim that "The writing of Taufiq Rafat is the reflection of our culture—Pakistani culture. This point might be sought out through stylistic analysis of the poems. Still, it needs further research, and the present research paper might play a vital role for those researchers who are interested in studying Pakistani English literature, especially Taufiq Rafat.

One notices the simplicity of language encoding a wide range of experiences that branch from the local to the universal. For example, in 'Kitchens' with a personal nostalgia for a childhood spent in a rustic kitchen that is "high-roofed" and "spacious," permeated with "the pungency/ of smoke and spices," he escorts the readers to a contemporary and sterilized kitchen that is both sterile and unreal, just like modern existence:

Chairs are insular; they do not encourage intimacy like slats...

We would not dream of coming to this place…………

 

Needless to say, the vacuum which brackets the lives of the characters of The Wasteland seems to have noxiously penetrated the life of this Pakistani narrator as he watches the tradition of a joint-family system undergo deliquescence before the icy radiation of modern Independence. As a "man speaking to men," Rafat is less verbose and therefore yields a more direct but startling impact.

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