The role of Urdu poetry in the Indian independence movement.
Any struggle across the world for freedom or rights reverberates with “We shall overcome”. It was the unofficial anthem of the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the United States. In the subcontinent, that honour would go to Inqilaab Zindabad. It was the poet Hasrat Mohani (1875 – 1951) who coined the phrase Inqilaab Zindabad, which became the chant of Indian revolutionaries. Though Mohani is remembered today for his romantic ghazal Chupke chupke raat din, his poetry reflected his passionate love for his country and his goal of total freedom from the British rule. He was in fact the first person to demand Azadi-e-Kaamil or complete independence for India in 1921.
Rasm e jafa kaamyaab dekhiye kab tak rahe,
Hubb e watan mast e khwaab kab tak rahe,
Daulat e Hindustan qabzah e aghyar mein
Be adad o be hisaab dekhiye kab tak rahe!
(How long will tyranny succeed, let us see
Till when will freedom be a dream*, let us see
Hindustan’s riches are in the clutches of plunderers
Till When will this continue, let us see)
[*dream here alludes to awakening of Indians from their slumber]
Art and literature—and in particular, revolutionary poetry—have always played a significant role in any movement for independence. African – American protest poetry is accepted as a complete genre in itself. Yet bar a few books in Urdu—which means limited readership—the role of Urdu poetry and poets in India’s freedom struggle has been sadly neglected. Urdu poetry is renowned for its romantic ghazals and it has unfortunately become the victim of its own image. We rarely read about the inspirational nazms and ghazals written on social issues of the day.
Whether it is Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai, which Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev were humming as they marched to the gallows or Allama Iqbal’s Saare jahan se achcha Hindustaan hamaara, which became an anthem of the freedom struggle, Urdu poetry played a huge role in our freedom struggle. The most well-known poets of our freedom struggle in the last century were Altaf Hussain Hali, Brij Narain Chakbast, Hasrat Mohani, Zafar Ali Khan, Mohd Ali Jauhar and his brothers Shoukat Ali, Allama Iqbal, Durga Sahai, Suroor Jahanabadi and Trilok Chand Mehroom.
The first major poet to put forward the theory that literature should be harnessed into the service of the community was Altaf Hussain Hali (1837–1914). He used poetry to advance the cause of social welfare and betterment. His poem Hub e Watan emphasised the virtues of patriotism and became very popular with children.
Teri ek musht e khaak ke badle
Luu’n naa hargis agar bahisht mile
(In lieu of one fistful of your dust
Refusal of Paradise in exchange is for me a must)
Though Akbar Allahabadi (1846 –1921) was a leading intellectual of his time, his satirical style of writing meant that often people didn’t get the very deep, underlying philosophical message in his words. The initial years of Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful movement coincided with Akbar’s later years. He embraced Gandhian philosophy and worked hard to bridge the gap between Hindus and Muslims, which was widening in the early twentieth century.
Budhu miyan bhi hazrat-e-Gandhi ke saath hain,
Go khaak-e-raah hain magar aandhi ke saath hain
(Even those without much sense are convinced by Gandhi,
They may be specks of dust but are with this powerful philosophy)
Chandrashekhar Azad (1906 –1931) was a mentor to many revolutionaries including Bhagat Singh. His unforgettable lines inspire soldiers even today.
Dushman ki goliyon ka hum saamna karenge
Azaad hi rahe hain, azaad hi rahenge
(The enemy’s bullets we face and feel no pain,
Free we were and free we shall remain)
One of Azad’s contemporaries, Ram Prasad Bismil (1897-1927) wrote patriotic poems under the pen names Ram, Agyaat and Bismil. He inspired the masses with both his words and deeds.
Naujawaano ye hi mauqa hai, utho khul khelo!
Khidmat e qaum mein aayien jo balaayein, jhelo,
Phir milengi nay eh mata ki duayein le lo,
Qaum ke sadqe mein mata ko jawaani de do!
Dekhun kaun aata hai irshaad baja lane ko!
(O Youth, this chance, wake up, you won’t get it again,
You must face all perils that come your way, in the service your nation.
Ask for you mothers’ prayers for you may not have them in future.
Sacrifice your today for your motherland’s tomorrow.)
Equally powerful were the words of Bismil’s fellow revolutionary, Ashfaqullah Khan(1900 –1927). In his last poem Shorish e Junoon (Roar of Frenzy), he described his chosen path setting an example for others who followed him.
Sabhi samaan e ishrat thay, maze se katti thi
Watan ke ishq ne hum ko hawa khilwaai zindaan ki
(All the provisions of pleasure for a good life, had I
I bore tortures of jail for the love of my country)
In contrast to Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan, Brij Narain Chakbast (1882–1926) was a moderate. But he also used his pen to inculcate patriotism in his fellow countrymen.
Yeh khaak e Hind se paida hain josh ke aasaar
Himalaya se uthe jaise abr-e –daryabaar
(Hark, the swell and surge of youth on Indian dust,
As if from the Himalayas it was a cloud burst)
While remembering revolutionaries, it is hard to forget Josh Malihabadi (1894 -1982) who was known as Shair-e-Inqilaab or poet of the revolution.
Kaam hai mera taghayyar, naam hai mera shabab
Mera naara, inqilaab o inqilaab o inqilaab
(My name is Youth, my job to bring about change,
My slogan: revolution, revolution, total revolution)
Ali Sardar Jafri (1913 – 2000) joined the national movement and went to jail several times because of his political activities. It is behind bars that many of his early poems were penned.
Raqs karai rooh e azaadi, ke raq sam hai hayat
Ghoomti har waqt ke mahwar pe saari kainaat
(Dance, O spirit of liberty, for life is eternally dancing,
The universe revolves in the orbit of times, in an eternal dance.)
Urdu poetry has witnessed and recorded the struggle for Indian Independence since 1857. Whether the shahr e ashob (laments) written after the fall of Delhi in 1857 or the subsequent protests against the British, Urdu poets, through their verse have faithfully recorded the tyrannical oppression by the rulers and given voice to the aspirations of the masses. It is time people realised that there is more to Urdu poetry than just the romantic ghazals. To quote Faiz Ahmed Faiz, aur bhi dukh hain zamane mein mohabbat ke siwa (There are more concerns in this world other than love).
Rana Safvi is the founder and moderator of #Shair , a forum for poetry lovers on Twitter.