It is generally believed that Urdu poetry is predominantly lyrical and romantic, concerned primarily with the emotion of love, or with a philosophic contemplation of life and its dualities — pain and pleasure, flesh and spirit, good and evil, the ephemeral and the eternal. The most popular form of Urdu poetry is ghazal, and its one central theme is love. Wali Deccany, one of the founding fathers of Urdu poetry, had long ago pointed to the centrality of love in life and art:
Shugal behtar hai ishq baazi ka,
Ho haqeeqi ya ho majazi ka.
Of all pursuits love is best,
Be it sensuous or sublime.
As a consequence of this over-emphasis on the importance of love in Urdu poetry, a bulk of the poetry lying outside the domain of love and romance has remained unappreciated or has been dismissively treated. But the fact remains that Urdu poetry is a multifaceted mirror, reflecting in its tone and texture, the whole range of human experience, social and political, cultural, religious, and secular. In one of his memorable couplets Dr. Iqbal has underscored the many-sidedness of the poet’s genius:
Hain hazaaron iske pahloo, rang har pahloo ka aur,
Seene mein heera koi tarsha hua rakhta hoon main.
I keep a chiseled diamond deep inside my heart,
Multihued, multi-faceted, flashing many thoughts.
Even the greatest of our lyrical poets, including Mir and Ghalib, are not exclusively poets of love and lyrics. They have been highly sensitive to the spirit of their times and fully responsive to the traumatic events of the day which have entered into their poetry, sometimes overtly and sometimes in a surreptitious manner, through symbol, suggestion and imagery. Mir Taqi Mir, a poet of thwarted passion, who has written lines like:
Mere rone ki haqeeqat jismein thi,
Ek ntuddat tak woh kaghiz nam raha;
The page which bore my tale of tears
Remained wet for several years…
was fully alive to the turbulence of his times which he has used as a metaphorical equivalent for his own state of personal deprivation. Read, for instance, the following lines of Mir where he is referring both to the state of his heart, and to the state of Delhi, ravaged by marauders like Ahmed Shah and Nadar Shah:
Dil ki weerani ka kya mazkoor hai,
Yeh nagar sau martba loota gaya.
What to say about the desolation of this heart,
This city has been ravaged a hundred times, alas!
And in the following couplet; the poet is referring explicitly and deploringly to the atrocities perpetrated on king Shah Alam and the blinding of the king.
Shahan ke kuhal-ul-jawahar thi khak-e-pa jinki,
unki aankhon mein phirti sulaaean dekheili.
We have seen those kings blinded with iron spikes,
The dust of whose feet was deemed collyrium for the eyes.
The experience of seeing the incarceration of kings and noblemen at the hands of their own kith and kin becomes a matter of consolation for the poet, for if the great and mighty can be thus humbled and mauled, a poor man like Mir has no business to bewail his own lot:
Tu hai bechara gada, Mir, tera kya mazkoor,
Mil gaye khak mein yaan sahib-e-afsar kitne!
Mir, you are a humble beggar, not worth a thought
Many a man of high renown has here been done to naught.
For a more detailed commentary on the sufferings of Delhi and her citizenry at the hands of the foreign raiders and local hoodlums, one should read Mir’s Shahr Ashob, the lament for Delhi, which contains sure evidence of the poet’s patriotic sentiment and compassionate temperament. It has been rightly said that Mir hasn’t written ghazals, but marsias (elegies) of his heart and his beloved Delhi.
What is true of Mir is also true of Ghalib, though in a less overt way. When Ghalib inserts, right in the middle of his lyrical and philosophical ghazal, the following disconcerting lines:
Hai maujzan ik qulzam-e-khoon, kaash, yehi ho!
Aata hai abhi dekheiye kyn kya mere aage.
May it prove to be the last, the spate of blood I see,
God knows what dreadful sights lie in store for me!—
he is surely thinking of the murder and mayhem let loose by the British soldiers to crush the revolt of 1857, and the equally ruthless reprisals of the angry mobs against the white men and women. Ghalib has also referred directly and in greater detail to the post- revolt situation in Delhi in one of his letters addressed to Allaudin Alai. Quoted below are some of its lines:
Ghar se bazaar mein nikalte hue,
Zahra hota hai aab insnan ka
Chowk jisko kahen woh maqtal hai,
Ghar bana hai namoona zindaan ka,
Shahr-e-Dilli ka zarra zarra-e-khak.
Tishna-e-khoon hai har musalmaan ka.
Koi waan se na aa sake yaan tak,
Admi waan na ja sake yaan ka.
Main ne mana ke mil gaye, phir kya,
Wohi rona tan-o-dil-o-jaan ka.
Apprehending risk of life,
Men are afraid to step outside,
The Chowk is now the hangman’s park,
Every house is a dungeon dark.
Every grain of Delhi’s dust,
Is thirsting for the Muslim blood.
None can come or go at will,
Movement has been stalled and stilled;
Even if we meet our friends,
Weeping, wailing will not end.
The purpose of giving these quotations is to underscore the point that even the pre-eminently lyrical poets were spurred by patriotic sentiment to turn from lyrical reflection to an objective delineation of the happenings around them. Patriotism is, in fact, a deep-rooted instinct in the nature of man. Love for the land of your birth which has nurtured you with its air and water, fed you with its crops of wheat and rice, and regaled you with its sights and sounds, is a strong natural impulse calling upon us to serve our motherland, to protect her honor and liberty, and work for her all round betterment and uplift. Sir Walter Scott, an English poet, has given a powerful expression to the value of patriotism in one of his famous poems:
Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself has said;
“This is my own, my own native land”!
Tabai, one of the very early poets of Golconda, has highlighted the virtues of a patriot by describing its opposite, the unpatriotic man:
Jakoi yaad karta nahi apna watan,
Woh murda hai parahan hai uska kafan
He who doesn’t love his country’s sacred dust,
Is a moving corpse, in coffin sheet dressed.
Another Urdu poet, Nihal Seoharvi has unambiguously declared in his poem, Watan, that patriotism is the soul of humanity, the essence of goodness and virtue:
Agar jahan mein mazaq-e-hayaat past nahin,
Woh aadmi hi nahin jo watnn parast nahin.
If the higher values haven’t lost their sheen
He who doesn’t love his country is not a human being.
The Revolt of 1857 marks for all practical purposes the first flowering of the crop of patriotic poetry in Urdu, and the poet- patriots like Bahadur Shah Zafar and Wajid Ali Shah Akhtar, may be counted among its pioneers. This is not, of course, to deny the importance of their illustrious forebears, men like Shah Hatim, Mir and Sauda, who, by writing their Shahr Ashobs, had done their bit to rouse the conscience of their readers against the forces of destruction and deception that were out to plunder the cultural and material wealth of Delhi. Mir has tellingly commented on this situation:
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Chor, uchakke, Sikh, marathe, shah-O-gada zar khwahan hain,
Chain mein hain jo kuchh nahin rakhte, fuqar hi ik daulat hai ab.
Thieves and robbers, Sikhs, Marathas, kings and beggars lust for gold,
Blessed are the folks penurious, begging is the gainful course.
But the real battle was to be fought against the British power, which came to India insidiously under the garb of the East India Company, and stayed to rule over India for more than a hundred years. The revolt of 1857 which was championed by men like Bahadur Shah Zafar, marks the beginning of the battle of freedom. The wail of sorrow heard in the verse of Zafar:
Murgh-e-dil mal ro yahan aausoo bahana mana hai,
Is qafas ke qaidion ko aab-o-dana mana hai;
Cry not here, O bird of heart, the place admits no tears,
Do not look for food or water in this cage, O dear!—
derives itself from a combination of personal and general causes, for Bahadur Shah Zafar, as is well known, had undergone acute personal suffering for the cause of his country, and had lost in this struggle not only his empire, but also his life and liberty, and the precious lives of his sons and nephews. Wajid Ali Shah who has written such haunting lines as:
Dar-o-deewar pe hasrat se nazar karte hain.
Rukhsat ai ahl-e-watan, hum tau safar karte hain,
Lo! we cast a lingering look on these doors and walls,
Fare thee well, my countrymen, we are going afar!— — —
had also been a victim of the British oppression, and had passed through the purgatory of imprisonment, exile, and death. It may be mentioned that despite his luxury-loving temperament and his sensual propensities, Wajid Ali Shah was loved by his people who mourned his exile in the following popular refrain:
Wajid Ali bechara kalkutta ko sidhara,
Sarken nikal rahi hain, sooni gali gali hai.
Wajid Ali, the helpless king, is forced into exile,
New roads are being dug; the streets deserted lie.
It may be mentioned that apart from the ruling aristocracy of rajahs and nawabs, many an important poet of Delhi had to bear the brunt of these terrible happenings in one way or the other. Azurda who was the Sadr-ul-Sadoor of Delhi, and a friend of Ghalib, had to Iosc his job and property; Shefta’s property was confiscated and he was sentenced to 7-year imprisonment by the lower court, which, however, was condoned after an appeal. Ghalib lost his hope of becoming the laureate of the Queen, and his pension case was kept hanging for several years because he was a Muslim, suspected to be a supporter of Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Sahbai was done to death and 21 members of his family were similarly incarcerated and killed. Majrooh too had to live in exile in Panipat from where he wrote anxious letters to Ghalib inquiring about the state of Delhi. The verse of Ghalib quoted above is not a mere poetic exaggeration, but telling description of the state of horror and fear that haunted the hearts of the people in Delhi.
It needs to be remembered that the concept of India as one nation was not existent in the times of Mir and Sauda, nor, for that matter, in the days of Bahadur Shah Zafar or Wajid Ali Akhtar. For Wajid Shah the country meant the state of Avadh, and for men like Mir and Sauda the country was contained within the bounds Of Delhi, The Shahr Asbobs of Mir and Sauda, while they specifically lament the deprivation and destruction of Delhi, are in fact, the outpourings of a patriotic heart which finds its country ruthlessly ravaged by the alien invaders or by the new British masters who came as traders and soon spread their stranglehold over the entire country.
The patriotic urge for the liberation of the country from the hands of the alien masters found its first powerful expression in 1857, the year of the Revolt which also marks the beginning of the nation-wide struggle for Independence.
The struggle for Independence continued with unflagging zeal, despite the rough and tumble of the journey, till the goal of independence was achieved in 1947. The first three or four decades of the 20 century saw this movement passing through its most turbulent phase. This was a period of intense political activity, Of protest marches and rallies, of bandhs and boycotts, of sabotage and subversion which were dealt with ruthless repression by the agents of the British empire.
Urdu poetry responded to this scene of political turmoil by producing a host of firebrand poets whose poetry of protest and patriotic fervor mirrors the mood of the nation in those days. Most of these angry poets were not arm-chair philosophers but active players in the battle of independence. Poems of Ram Parshad Bismil and Ashfaq Allah Khan, the brave martyrs of the Kakori case, became a rage with the Indian youth and were sung in the streets and bazaars Of the country by the young and old alike.
Bismil’s poem, ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna’ had acquired the status of a national song, and such was also the case with Ashfaq Allah Khan’s: Shorish-e-Junoon. These poems were proscribed by the powers that be but have now been restored to their rightful place in the pantheon of poetry. These poems, along with many others, are now available in the anthology of the proscribed poems, Zabat Shuda Nazmen, (1975), edited by Khaliq Anjum and Mujtaba Hussain. In addition to the two poets mentioned above, a host of other political writers, some of whom were poets of outstanding merit, jumped into the political fray and lent the services of their pen and patriotic zeal to the cause of Indian independence.
Foremost among these writers who were also fighters of freedom, were men like Mohammed Ali Jauhar, Zafar Ali Khan, Shibli Numani, Durga Sahay Saroor, Firaq Gorakhpuri, and Josh Malihabadi. Besides them, many other poets including Hasrat Mohani, Briji Narain Chakbast, Tilok Chand Mchroom, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, and Majaz Lucknavi made a significant contribution to the cause of Indian independence. All these poets used poetry as an instrument of public awakening, and rejected the fashionable dictum of ‘art for art sake’
Although patriotic poetry received a major stimulus from the freedom movement in India, it didn’t confine itself to this single theme, nor did it end with the attainment of freedom in 1947. Urdu poets have been engaged, both before and after this event, in the writing of social, radical, and reformatory verse, born out of their commitment to the country’s welfare.
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As we all know, the advent of Indian independence brought with it the ugly event of the partition, which forced millions of people to migrate from one side of the border to the other, and left the country badly scarred. And then there arose the more intractable problems of refugee rehabilitation, bureaucratic and political corruption, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and the like. Above all, the winds of’ religious fundamentalism, both home-grown and imported, began to blow in this country which has always preached the message of love and brotherhood.
The poet who is an unusually sensitive being, cannot be a mute spectator to the dangers looming in the horizon. Sahir Ludhianvi, in one of his poems, Ai Shareef Insaaan, (O Gentlemen!) warns us against the dangerous potential of war, whether you lose it or win it:
Khoon apna ho ya paraaya ho,
Nasl-e-Adam ka khoon hai aakhir
It may be ours or Others’ blood,
It is the blood of human race.
The anti-war note struck by Sahir in the above lines is repeatedly heard in the poetry of the ‘progressives poets including Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ali Sardar Jafri and Kaifi Azmi. These poets spend their Patriotic fervor espousing the ideals of love and friendship. In his poem, Kaun Dushman hai? (Who is the Enemy?) Sardar Jafri invites his Pakistani friends to come to India with flowers rather than with bombs and bullets:
Tum aao gulshan-e-Lahore se chaman bardosh,
Hum aaen subali-e-Benares ki roshni le kar’
Himala ki hwaaon ki taazgi lekar,
Aur is ke baad yeh poochhen ke kaun duslunan ha?
Come, we invite you, from the garden of Lahore,
With the fabled morn of Benares we’ll flush your floor,
And let the Himalayan breeze in your path blow,
This done, we’ll ask thee, “Who is now the foe?”
Likewise, Jagan Nath Azad, in his poem: Ahbab-e-Pakistan ke naam, (To the Friends in Pakistan), exhorts his neighbors to eschew hatred and adopt the course of love and friendship. Yet there are some poems like Narcsh Kumar Shad’s: Shakh-e-Gul hi nahin (Not just the Floral Branch), and Kaifi Azmi’s Farz, (Duty), which justify the use of force against an intransigent enemy. Then there are poems concerning the welfare of the common man. Read, for example, Ahsaan Danish’s poem:
Fuqdaan-e-ma-aash, (Bane of Unemployment) which points to the inadequacy and inequity of the system of governance. And a good number of poems from poets like Sahir, Faiz, Majaz, and Makhdoom Mahiuddin express their patriotic instinct in championing the socialist cause, the cause of the proletariat, which was also endorsed, long before the “progressive” poets came on the stage, by Dr Mohammed Iqbal in his poem: Farmaan-e-Khuda, (The Edict of God):
Utho meri duniya ke gharibon ko jaga do,
Kaakh-e-umra ke dar-o-deewaar hila do,
Jis khet se dahqaan ko mayassar na ho ro rozi,
us khet ke har khosha-e-gandam ko jala do.
GO, rouse the earth’s poor from their slumber deep,
Pull down the palaces, stately tall and steep;
Burn away the fields and singe the stocks of wheat
That do not feed the farmer, nor serve his needs.
The socialist note struck in these lines sets the tone for the poetry of the ‘Progressive’ school of writing in poems like Sahir’s Taloo-e-lshtaraqeeat, (Rise of Socialism), and Mere Geet (My Songs). It has also entered into some of the famous poems of the age, such as Taj Mahal. Love of the country’s sights and sounds, of rivers and mountains, of seasons and festivals, is another manifestation of the patriotic spirit. To this category belong poems like Iqbal’s Himala, and Nazir Akbarabadi’s Barsaat ki Baharein
Furthermore, this anthology also contains poems which can be called memorials to the momentous events in Indian history, such as the hanging of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and the passing away of Jawahar Lal Nehru. In addition to the variety of themes and content, this selection also offers a rich variety of tone and style.
For the sheer force of word power and a fearless denunciation of the British we should read Josh Malihabadi’s poems like Baghawat (Rebellion), or, Shikast-e-Zindan ka Khwab (A Dream of the Falling Prisons); for persuasive manner and urbanity of tone, we should read Sardar Jafri’s Kaun Dushman hai (Who is the Foe?), and for pathos, we should turn to Bahadur Shah Zafar, Wajid Ali Shah Akhtar, and Ram Parshad Bismil.
It may also be mentioned chat most of the poems included in this book pass the test of good poetry. Making poetry out of the unpoetical material of swords and sabres, prisons and fetters is a difficult task. It requires an artist who is a man Of conviction and a man of guts. Mere political rhetoric cannot produce a lasting work of art. Read, for example, the following two lines of Hasrat Mohani, and see how he has produced impressive poetry out of the tedium of life in the prison cell:
Hai mashq-e-sakhun jaari, chakki ki mushaqqat bhi,
Ik turfa tamasha hai Hasrat ki tabeeat bhi.
Grinding the mill and poetic drill go hand in hand,
Hasrat’s disposition is a wondrous feat indeed.
The juxtaposition of mashq-e-sakhun and mushaqqat in the first line of the verse, and the alliterative phrase, turfa tamasha, which looks ahead ‘alliteratively’ to the word tabeeat towards the end of the second line, are the important source of strength in Hasrat’s verse. And then there is the clever yoking together of the two disparate exertions, poetic and punitive, which further enhances the attractiveness of the couplet. Only a master of poetic art can write such perfect lines Of verse. Many of the poets chosen for this anthology are masters of the act and have produced memorable pieces of patriotic poetry which no lover of poetry who is also a lover of his country, can afford to miss or forget.
Moreover, a good many of these writers had suffered incarceration at the hands of the erstwhile British rulers. Some of them were sentenced to death, some were sent to jail, and some subjected to all sorts of mental and physical tortures. They died so that we may live with freedom and dignity. Their poetry, born out of their personal suffering and sacrifice, has now become a precious part of our national heritage. To preserve this heritage and make it widely and easily accessible to the lovers of poetry is the main purpose of this anthology.
It may not be out of place to mention that both Hindu and Muslim poets have made their contribution to the rich fund of patriotic poetry in Urdu. And yet — this is especially relevant to our times — there is not a trace of communal or sectarian feeling in their verse. All poets, irrespective of their class, creed or colour, preach the lesson of love and universal brotherhood, a lesson which we urgently need to learn in our trouble-torn times.
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