Mottled Dawn, Night-Bitten Morning: Partition Poetry In Urdu

June 5, 2012 at 9:15 PMJun (Literature, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The year 2011 was the birth centenary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and this year (2012) happens to be the birth centenary of Sadat Hassan Manto. While Manto is more known for his partition sketches one of the most celebrated poems of Faiz is Subah-E-Azaadi and it happens to be one of my favourite (of many) Faiz poetry. The coming of birth centenaries one after the other and my love for the partition sketches and Subh-E-Aazaadi made me wonder about partition literature in Urdu poetry. While I was revisiting my readings and trying to see partition poetry and while trying to learn more on partition poetry in Urdu I chanced upon a wonderful article by Rakshanda Jalil titled ‘Partition Poetry in Urdu’. It made me happy and envious at the same time. Happy because the author writes about the subject with great hold on the subject and provides interesting insights apart from introducing me to partition poems of which I was not aware. I was envious for reasons obvious. Here I reproduce the entire text of Rakshanda Jalil’s article and the comment I made on her blog. As I told some of my friends, I have no disagreements to voice in my comment/response nor do I have anything new to add to what Rakshanda Jalil has written. My response, I guess, is just an attempt to be a part of what she is saying, out of envy, as the topic/theme of the article she has written about has been in my mind from sometime. A.K. Ramanujan in an interview said that one translates because he/she is jealous and wants to become a part of that creative process. So he/she translates. May be responses are also like that, at times 🙂

Partition Poetry in Urdu

While there is a great deal of Urdu fiction dealing with the Partition, there is comparatively little in Urdu poetry that directly addresses the taqseem or the partition. There is of course Faiz’s Subh-e-Azaadi and Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi’s Phir Achanak Teergi Mein Aa Gae but given the corpus in prose these seem like slender pickings. Moreover, when I went looking for something specifically on the Partition by the Indian Urdu poets, I found a great deal on azadi, and in fact came across several poems titled ‘Pandrah August’, I found it difficult to find something that addressed the issue of partition in the same gory detail as, for instance, the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto. It set me thinking. Is the Urdu poet more squeamish than the Urdu short story writer? Or is it the very nature of poetry that clothes itself in the indirect, the oblique, the allusive?

Persistent and sustained readings within the narrow definition I had set for myself – Partition Poetry — eventually revealed certain poems by Josh Malihabadi, the firebrand revolutionary, the Shair e Inquilab as he was called, by Akhraul Iman, by Jagannath Azad, by Sahir Ludhianvi, and Sardar Jafri. These, I believe, need to be retrieved and read once again. More importantly, In a poem written long before the Partition, Inquilab (Revolution) Asrarul Haq Majaz had predicted a bloody end to imperial rule:

Khatm ho jaane ko hai sarmayadaron ka nizam
Rang lane ko hai mazdooron ka josh e inteqam
Khoon ki boo le ke jangal se haiwan aayeinge
Khoon hi khoon hoga nigahein jis taraf ko jayeingi
Jhopdiyon mein mahal mein khun, shabistaanon mein khoon
Dasht mein khoon wadiyon mein khoon

Kohsaraon ki taraf se surkh aandhi aayegi
Jaabaja aabadiyon mein aag si lag jayegi…
Aur iss rang e shafaq mein ba- hazaaraan aab o tab
Jagmagayega watan ki hurriyat ka aaftab

A red storm shall come from over the mountains
Setting the settlements on fire
And on the horizon, amidst a thousand tumults,
Shall rise the sun of our land’s freedom

Taken chronologically, these poems began to reveal a certain pattern. As we inched towards Partition, when the possibility of freedom became clearer, poets like Sahir Ludhianvi began to seize on the immense possibilities of social transformation:

In kali sadiyon ke sar se jab raat ka aanchal dhalkega
Jab dukh ke badal pighlenge, jab sukh ka saaghar chhalke ga
Jab ambar jhoom ke naachega, jab dharti naghme gayegi
Voh subha kabhi to aayegi

A similar sentiment is echoed by Faiz Ahmed Faiz when he too looks forward with hope:

Hum dekhenge
Laazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge, hum dekhenge
Jo lau-e azal pe likha hai
Humdekhenge

That which is inscribed on the parchment of life
We shall see, we too shall see

All through the 1940s, several members of the Progressive Writers Movement wrote songs of freedom that linked the anti-colonial struggle with the freedom movement. The dawn that was awaited was going to be a red one. And, so, there is Makhdoom Mohiuddin, the poet from Hyderbad writing:

Lo surkh savera aata hai, azaadi ka, azaadi ka
Gulnaar tarana gaata hai, azaadi ka, azaadi ka
Dekho parcham lehrata hai, azaadi ka azaadi

But as we shall see in the poetry being written after the partition, the red storm that Majaz had predicted became the red tide of blood as the country plunged into a horrific bloodbath, and the dawn of freedom became a night-bitten dawn.  The most famous comment on the partition is in Subah e azaadi by Faiz:

Ye daagh daagh ujala ye shab gazida sehr
Voh intezar tha jiska yeh who sehr to nahi

This patchy light, this night-bitten dawn
This is not the dawn we had been waiting for

Not content with this dawn of freedom, Ali Sardar Jafri in Subh e Farda (The Morning of Tomorrow) speaks of standing on the border waiting for a new morning, the morning of tomorrow:

Yeh sarhad khoon ki, ashqon ki, aahon ki, shararon ki
Isi sarhad pe kal dooba tha sooraj ho ke do tukde
Isi sarhad pe kal zakhmi hui thi subh e aazadi
Jahan boi thi nafrat aur talwarein ugayin thi

Yeh sarhad jo lahoo peeti hai aur sholay ugalti hai
Hamari khaak ke seene pe nagin ban ke chalti hai
Saja kar jung ke hathiyar maidan mein nikalti hai

Josh Malihabadi in a poem called Matam e Azadi written in 1948 strikes a somber note:

Ai ham nafas! Fasana e Hindustan naa pooch
Apna gala kharosh e tarranum se phat gaya
Talwar se bacha, to rag-e gul se kat gaya

O friend, don’t ask me for the tale of Hindustan
Our throats were torn by the scratching of our songs
When we escaped the sword, we were beheaded by the vein’s of the rose

Majaz too had lost some of his youthful ebullience by 1948 when he writes:

Hindu Muslim Sikh Eesai aman ke moti ro lenge
Khoon ki holi khel chuke hain rang ke dhabbe dho lenge

By the time India celebrates its first Republic Day, Sahir Ludhianwi’s disenchantment with the new republic is already palpable. In a poem titled Chhabees Janwary, Sahir writes:

Aao ke aaj ghaur karein iss sawal par
Dekhe thhe hamne jo, woh haseen khwab kya huye?
Bekas barehngi ko kafan tak nahi naseeb
Voh vaada haa e atlas o kamkhwab kya huye?
Jamhooriyat-nawaz, bashar-dost, amn-khwaah
Khud ko jo khud diye the, who alqaab kya huye?

Come and let us ponder on this question
Whatever happened to all those beautiful dreams?
The helpless cannot even afford a shroud to cover their nakedness
Whatever happened to those promises of silks and brocades?
Democrat, humanist, pacifist
Whatever happened to those titles we had conferred upon ourselves?

Then there is Pandrah Agust by Akhtarul Iman, which I think deserves to be reproduced in full here:

Yahi din hai jis ke liye maine kati theen ankhon mein raatein
Yahi seeli aab e baqa. Chasma noor hai, jalwa e toor hai?
Issi ke liye woh suhane, madhur, ras bhare geet gaye theymaine?
Yahi mah wash nisa, husn se choor, bhar poor, makhmoor hai woh?

Suna tha nigahon pein woh qaid e aadab e mehfil nahi ab
Woh paabandiyan deedah o dil pe jo theen uththi ja rahi hain
Who majboriyan uthth gayin, walwale raah pane lage muskurane lage ab
Muhabbat kathin raaston se guzar kar lahakti mahakti hui aa rahi hai

Wohi kas ma pursi, wohi behisi aaj bhi har taraf kyon hai taari?
 Mujhe aisa mehsoos hota hai yeh meri muhabbat ka haasil nahi hai
 Abhi toh wohi rang e mehfil, wohi jabr hai, har taraf zakhm khurda hai insaan
Jahan tum mujhe le ke aaye ho yeh wadi e rang bhi meri manzil nahi hai

Shahidon ka khoon iss hasina ke chehre ka ghaaza nahi hai
 Jise tum uthai liye ja rahe ho yeh shab ka janaza nahi hai

The wounds of partition were revived after every war with Pakistan. Each time, the poet cautioned against war. Sahir, the most vocal pacifist says in a nazm called Ai Sharif Insanon:

Bartari ke saboot ki khatir
Khoon bahana hi kya zaroori hai?
Ghar ki tareekiyan mitane ko
Ghar jalana hi kya zaroori hai?

Jung to khud hi ek masla hai
Jang kyon masalon ka hal degi?
Aag aur khoon aaj bakhshegi
Bhook aur ehtiyaj kal degi

War itself is the problem
How can it then provide the solution?
Today it will give fire and blood
Tomorrow it’ll bring hunger and beggary

It is interesting how, nationalism increasingly began to be evident in Urdu poetry. From Partition came the wars, and the subsequent need for dialogue and bhaichara. I will rest my case with two poems by Ali Sardar Jafri – Guftagu and Dushman Kaun Hai?

Dialogue shouldn’t cease;
let the talk go on,
let the evening of [our] meet persist till the arrival of morn,
let this starry night pass on joyfully.
Let the stone of abuse be in the hands of words;
let the cups of poison spill ridicule;
let the sights be irate;
let the eyebrows be raised;
[yet, we must see] that our hearts, somehow, keep beating.
The helplessness shouldn’t be allowed to chain the words;
no killer but he should be permitted to murder the voice.
Some vow of loyalty, fully moulded, will arrive by the morn;
the love will arrive, albeit limping, yet it certainly will;
the sights will elude meeting sights [out of modesty],
the heart beats will increase,
the lips will tremble;
the silence will turn into a kiss and go astray;
only the sound of the blooming of buds will linger;
and the need of words and voice won’t remain
[for] the liaison of love will be carried on with [the help of] the signs of
eyes and eyebrows;
the hatred will vanish, the kindness will arrive.
Holding hands in hands;
in the company of the entire world,
we’ll go across the deserts of repugnance;
we’ll cross over the river of blood.
Dialogue shouldn’t cease.

Here is Sardar on the riots

Ai watan khake watan woh bhi tujhe de denge
Bach raha hai jo lahoo abke fasaddat ke baad 

And lastly, Dushman Kaun hai?

You were slaves till yesterday, so were we.
And then came the season of freedom bathed in showers of blood…
Between you and us rage rivers of fire
Tall frowning barriers of hate
With a mere glance, however, we can tear them down;
We can forget, forgive the cruel part;
And again embrace you, yes we can.
But first you will have to break your swords,
And cleanse these bloodied garments;
After that we shall become no more strangers.
You bring us flowers from the gardens of Lahore,
We bring you light from the dawns of Benares,
Freshness of the Himalayan breeze;
And thereafter we ask each other:
Who is the enemy?

— Rakhshanda Jalil

Response

Thanks for this wonderful article 🙂

Interestingly Makhdoom has one poem titled ‘Azaadi-E-Watan‘ where he has lines like ‘kaho Hindustan ki jai‘ which, to me, sounds more like a slogan than poetry. This poem, if i am not wrong, was written before ‘Jang-E-Azaadi‘ which you have quoted. But what interests and pains is his one of his later poem titled ‘Waadi-E-Fardaa‘ where he cries, ‘dil ki afsurdah kali, aise waadi mein bhi aakar na khili‘ after describing many trees and flowers that were seen on the way. This, to me, shows the transition and, more importantly, the disillusionment.

Majaaz (sorry i havent read the poem that you’ve quoted i.e. Inquilaab) was too sensitive to foresee what was to come. His poem on the assassination of Baapu, titled ‘Saaneha‘ is not just about Gandhi, it appears to me, but also the chronicle of time and every other murder that took place at the time of partition. His line, in that poem,: “Hindu Chala Gaya Na Musalmaan Chala Gaya, Insaan Ki Justajoo Mein Insaan Chala Gaya” is about every murder and not just the murder of Baapu. His poem captures the bloodshed and also the disillusionment equally. His other poem ‘Andheri Raat Ka Musaafir‘ though appears like a poem with hope, with the repetative line, “Magar Main Apni Manzil Ki Taraf Baadtaa Hee Jaata Hoon,” i have a feeling it is not a song of hope as such. To me it, partially because of the title making reference to ‘raat‘, is about the inevitability of stopping the flow of history and time. A similar inevitability of what was happening is reflected  in the Kaifi Azmi poem ‘Farz‘ where comparing the partition time to Kurukshetra where Krishna pushes Arjuna to fight saying body is ephemeral and soul eternal etc etc, Azmi sahab, compares the natives to Arjuna who is being forced to battle his own brother reluctantly. These poems which speak of the helpless individuals, who got carried away by the flow of history, are rare documents, i assume, of socio-psychology, located in history.

But isnt it troubling that Gulzar, being a victim of partition, has not written much about partition? Correct me if i am wrong. But i think his ‘Subha Subha Ek Khwaab Kay Dastak Per‘ is his agony and longing for the lost. “Sarhad per khoon hua hai,” makes me assume so and also because ‘Subha‘ causing disillusion is a recurring element that we see in partition poetry. In Gulzar’s poem ‘Subha‘ actually kills the dream! But apart from this, i cant think of any other partition poems from Gulzar. If i am wrong please correct me.

It is said that many ghazals, later sung by many artists, like ‘Jaaney Kis Ki Thi Khata‘ (Sufi Tabassum), ‘Apni Dhun Mein Rehata Hoon‘ for its line ‘Aye Pichlee Rut Kay Saathi, Ab Kay Baras Main Tanha Hoon,’ (Fareed Kazmi), ‘Ranjish Hee Sahi‘ (Ahmed Faraaz) are related to partition. How true is this? But I would like to call the long poem by Faraaz, which i would like to quote in complete here, also as partition poem for the reason that the poem emerges because of a post-partition condition:

guzre kai mosam kai ruteiN badliN;
udas tum bhi ho yaaroN udas hum bhi haiN;
faqat tumhi ko nahiN ranj e chaak daamaani;
jo sach kahieN to dareedah libaas hum bhi naiN;

tumhare baam ki shameiN bhi taabnaak nahiN;
mere falak ke sitare bhi zard zard se haiN;
tumhare aainakhane bhi zang aaludah;
mere suraahi o saghar bhi sard sard se haiN;

na tumko apne khad o khaal hi nazar aaieN;
na maiN yeh dekh sakooN jaam maiN bhara kya hai;
basaaratoN pe woh jaale pade ke donoN ko;
samajh maiN kuchh nahiN aata ke maajra kya hai;

na sarv maiN woh kaseedah qaamati hai;
na qumriyoN ki udaasiyoN maiN kuchh kami aayee;
na khil sake kisi janab mohabbatoN ke gulab;
na shaakh e aman liye faakhta koi aayee;

tumhe bhi zid hai ke mashq e sitam rahe jaari;
hamieN bhi naaz ke jor o jafa ke aadi haiN;
tume bhi zoam ke Mahabharta ladi tumne:
hamieN bhi fakhr ke Karbala ke aadi haiN;

sitam to yeh hai ke dono ke marghzaaroN se ;
hawaa e fitna o boo e fasad aati hai ;
alam to yeh hai ke dono ko wehem hai ke bahaar;
udoo ke khooN maiN nahane ke baad aati hai;

to yeh ma’al hua is darandgi ka ke ab;
shikasta dast ho tum bhi shikasta paa maiN bhi;
so dhekhta hoon ke tum bhi lahoo luhaan hue;
so dhekhte ho salamat kahaN raha maiN bhi;

hamare shehroN ki majboor be nawa malkhlooq;
dabi huee hai dukhoN ke hazar dheroN maiN;
ab unki teerah naseebi charagh chahti hai;
jo log nisf sadi tak rahe andheroN maiN;

bhohot dinoN se haiN veeraaN rafaqatoN ke dayaar;
bohot udas haiN der o haram ki dunyaaieN;
chalo ke phir se kareiN pyaar ka safar aghaaz;
chlo ke phir se hum ek doosre ke ho jaaieN;

tumhare des maiN ayaa hooN dosto abke;
na saaz o naghma ki mehfil na shaairi ke liye;
agar tumhari ana hi ka hai sawal;
to phir maiN haath badhata hoonN dosti ke liye;

It would probably be interesting to look for the nationalistic angel that seeped into Urdu poetry too, if any. But even after the war of 60s and the coming of nationalistic elements in Urdu (My understanding is based in Aijaz Ahmed’s essay In The Mirror of Urdu) there was resistance within Urdu by Sahir, Habib Jalib etc. Because your article mentions of Sahir’s poem on 26 Jan and Akhtarul Iman’s poem on 15 Aug i feel like making a reference to the poem by Javed Akhtar, also titled ‘Pandrah August‘, which he read out on 15 August 2007 in Delhi, and ask you your opinion on the poem by Javed Akhtar, for it, locating itself within the tradition of the same Urdu poetry, is looking back at the journey of the same country which mourned fifty years ago for the partition which came along with the independence of the country. What is your observation from Majaz’s foreseeing and Javed Sahab’s looking back?

The comment went too long. Apologies for the length. Baat niklegi toh phir door talak jaayegi 🙂

In harmony,

Samvartha ‘Sahil’ 

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