Ek jaam, Akbar ke naam

The genius of Urdu poet, Akbar Allahabadi and his political sagacity.

Why did a religious teetotaller like Akbar Allahabadi write Hungaama hai Kyun Barpaa,  something that has become an anthem for boisterous parties where alcohol and wine flow freely? Curiosity and research yield interesting results, pertinent in today’s politically charged atmosphere, where once again, communal passions are sought to be stoked.

 Quill pen

Akbar Allahabadi  was born in  1846 and lived through turbulent times. He witnessed the First War of Independence in 1857, World War I  and the initial part of Gandhi’s peaceful movement and died in 1921. He was a spectator to the post 1857 “divide and rule” policies of the British and opposed them along with the decadence of the Indian culture through his satirical verses. Most of his topics addressed the moral, social and religious issues in the Indian community. He saw the alienation of the nobility from the British who had usurped their power and he also saw the fawning of those currying favour with the new rulers. Both in his eyes were unwelcome. He talked of the cynicism of the political leaders of the time and their doubles speak:

“Qaum ke Gam mein dinner khaate hain hukkaam ke saath
ranj leader ko bahut hai magar aaraam ke saath “

(They cry over the community’s woes with rulers over fine dinners
The leaders talk of sorrows but in comfort)

He was initially opposed to western education as espoused by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who was a constant  target in his verses. Though he had great respect for Sir Syed, he worried about western culture destroying the ancient Indian culture.

“Hindu Muslim hain  hairan dono gharbi daur mein
shokhi e atfal khud sar qabil e izhar neest”

(Hindus and Muslims are both in state of shock in this era of Western civilisation.
The behaviour of the arrogant children cannot be put in words.)

He realised that Sir Syed was acting unknowingly as per Macaulay’s plan for India. As Ralph Russel  and Khurshidul Islam say, Akbar “Is not the wooden, unimaginative, obstinate conservative that some have made him out to be… Essentially, he is a man intensely aware of change, and the irresistibility of change.”

He spoke out against the ills plaguing the society of that time, and the political changes taking place affected him deeply. Towards the end of his life, he was deeply attracted to Gandhi’s political movement for independence and the unity of Hindu’s and Muslim’s in India. He wrote his thoughts on Gandhi, called Gandhi Nama (The Book of Gandhi). The Gandhi Nama (1919-1921) was printed only once, in 1948, and has since been out of print.

Buddhoo mian bhi Hazrat e Gandhi ke saath hain
Go khake rah hain magar aandhi ke saath hain

(Even simpletons have joined Gandhi
Though themselves particles of dust they are with the storm)

Buddhoo Mian, is a term he used to refer to himself ( as a representative of the  Indian Muslims.)

Some of the most brilliant commentaries on political and social change has often come through satire. Akbar used humour to convey his messages and his verses should be read keeping in mind the social and historical context of the times too. The fall out of the Khilafat Movement had exacerbated the rift between the Hindus and Muslims with many Muslims aligning themselves with Muslim League.  Akbar Allahabadi lampooned one of the most influential Awadh landowners, the  Raja of Mahmoodabad who had been supporting the Congress for years but was veering towards the Muslim League which was gaining strength among Muslims of Uttar Pradesh:

Muzakkar ‘He’ ko kehtey hain
Muannas ‘She’ ko kehtey hain
Voh ek marde-e-Mukhannas hain
Na ‘heeon’ main na ‘sheeon’ mein

(The masculine gender is a He
The feminine gender is a She
But he is of a neuter gender
Neither among the he’s nor among the Shias)

Mahmoodabad Raja Sahib was a Shia.

This growing distance between the Hindus and Muslims of India perturbed Akbar Allahabadi and he advocated for Hindu – Muslim unity. By then the Muslim league was growing in power and was completely at odds with the Congress.

Hindu wo Muslim aik hain donon yani ashiyaae hain/
Ham watan ham zuban, wa ham qismat kiyon na kahdoon ki
Bhai bhai hain ?

(Hindus and Muslims are one, friends
They belong to same country, speak same language, have common destiny
So why shouldn’t I say they are brothers?)

His attempts at propagating Hindu – Muslim unity led to allegations that Akbar had been bribed / influenced by the Hindus and perchance seduced by alcohol.  It is in this context that the ghazal Hungama hai kyun Barpa should be read and enjoyed.

Conventionally in Urdu shayri, alcohol was taken as a symbol of devotion. However here Akbar is equating it to the love for a community which permits drinking as opposed to Islam which prohibits it. Akbar often used allegory and symbols in his poetry to convey a deeper message than what was read read superficially.

The verse uss mai se nahi matlab is a reference to the intoxication of power , resulting in  the  hateful divisiveness of those days, and leading ultimately to partition. Thankfully Akbar didn’t live to see that day.

Hungaama hai kyun barpa thodi sii jo pii lii hai
Daaka tau nahin daala, chori tau nahin kii hai
(Why the furore if a wee bit imbibed have I,
Neither have I looted nor robbed anyone have I)

Naa tajurbaa kaari se vaaiz ki yeh baatein hain
Is rang ko kyaa jaane pooch tau kabhi pii hai?
(The inexperience of the preacher reflects in these insinuations
How could he recognise this hue, ask has he ever tasted it ?)

Uss mai se nahin matlab dil jis se ho begaana
Maqsuud hai uss mai se dil mein jo khinchti hai
(Useless is the wine which is a stranger to my heart
I seek the wine which springs from my heart’s well)

Vaa’n  dil mein  ki sadame do yaa’n  jii mein ke sab sah lo
Un kaa bhii ajab dil hai meraa bhii ajab jii hai
(There the intent to hurt, here to bear it
Her heart is also amazing and mine also astonishes)

Har zarraa chamaktaa hai anvaar-e-ilaahii se
har saans ye kahtii hai ham hain to Khuda bhii hai
(Every speck is illuminated by Divine brilliance
Every breath proclaims, I am here is a testimony to God’s existence )

Suraj mein lage dhabbaa fitrat ke karishme hain
butt ham ko kahe kaafir Allah kii marzii hai
(The specks on the sun are Nature’s miracle
The idol calls me an infidel, tis God’s will)

The next time you hear this ghazal, do spare a thought for the genius of Akbar Allahabadi and his political sagacity.

Photo: Anonymous Account