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COM Ghalib and the revolution of 1857

Rauf ParekhFebruary 05, 2008

(Ghalib`s death anniversary falls on February 15)

Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, one of our greatest poets, was in Delhi when the uprising of 1857 was at its
peak. He observed the revolutionary changes taking place during his lifetime. And his travel to Calcutta (now
Kolkata) in 1830, the then capital of the British India, had broadened his mental horizon. But no change or
revolution, no matter how great, could reflect in his poetry.

There are barely a few of Ghalib`s couplets that can truly be attributed to any political or social upheaval. A
few of his ghazals and couplets are sometimes unscrupulously reproduced and quoted as portrayal of the
political revolution that saw Indians losing the war of freedom and Mughals their throne. But the fact is that his
poetry has got nothing to do with the events of 1857 as he had composed such ghazals and couplets much
before the rebellion.

But Ghalib`s Urdu letters reward anyone who is lucky and wise enough to read them. Many of them give an
account of the events of 1857 and, besides carrying some biographical details about Ghalib, make a good
reading, too.

He began writing letters in Urdu in or around 1847. He quit the old-fashioned way of writing letters that
essentially meant long salutations and tortuous language and instead went for a very lively and frank style. The
language of his letters is simple yet literary and sounds like the conversation of a person of highly developed
tastes and knowledge. His ability to smile at his sorrows and brighten up at the gloomiest moments has made
these letters a good example of decent humour.
Ghalib talked of the 1857 revolution in many of his letters which portrayed the pain and sorrows that he had
felt. However, he was careful enough not to say anything that could offend the British. His attitude towards the
`rebellious` Indians was not sympathetic at all and at least on one occasion he denounced the Indians that
killed the persons of British origin during the revolution. Ghalib had many friends among British officers. He
had been trying all along to earn more favours particularly an award and pension from the British.

In fact there had been bad blood between Ghalib and his literary opponents much earlier. The literary circle
that celebrated his imprisonment in 1847 for running a gambling den at his place was among the front-runners
in the revolution of 1857. Renowned among them were Ustad Ibrahim Zauq and Maulvi Muhammad Baqar
(who was later hanged by the British), editor of Delhi`s paper, Urdu Akhbar, and father of Muhammad
Hussain Azad.

Zauq, Muhammad Hussain Azad`s teacher and mentor, was his foremost literary opponent and he could
become the last Mughal Bahadur Shah Zafar`s Ustad (one who `advises` the king on his poetry) only after
Zauq`s death.

The literary group that opposed Ghalib was pinning their hopes on the `mutiny` of 1857, expecting the defeat
of the British and full restoration of Mughal monarchy. On the other hand, Ghalib had sensed a defeat of the
revolutionary forces at the hands of the British as the rebellion was neither well-organised nor powerful
enough to counter the military might of the foreigners.

Among his Urdu letters written during the war of independence, many were addressed to the ruler of Rampur,
a friend and benefactor of Ghalib. As the letters contained some political advice and spoke on the aftermath of
the revolution, apparently not too sympathetic or reverent towards the revolt and the Mughals, Ghalib had
requested that the letters be destroyed once read.

This was the time when he wrote Dastamboo as a personal diary or journal in Persian. It records the events
from May 11, 1857 to July 31, 1858. The book not only carries chapters from Ghalib`s personal life but it also
speaks of the situation of Delhi and the British troops.

Ghalib tried to make his readers believe that the book offered the true picture and nothing had been added or
omitted though he feared for his life when anyone found near or dear to the Mughal king was being
prosecuted. He remained attached to the Red Fort as Bahadur Shah Zafar`s mentor and his loyalty to the
British could have been questioned. In fact Ghalib wrote Dastamboo to show his loyalty to the British and, as
we know, truth is the first casualty of war.

Dastamboo was published in November 1858 from Agra when the sword of the Press Act had fallen on the
Indian press and the printing permission given for many newspapers had been cancelled. Dr Moin-ur-Rehman
has very rightly pointed out in his book Ghalib Aur Inqelab-i-Satawan that while the printing presses were
being forced to close down by the British for publishing `rebellious material` and newspapers were forced to
cease publication, how could any book be published that was not in favour of the British.

When Ghalib asked in a letter written on August 1, 1858, his friend Mirza Tufta to see if Dastamboo could be
published in Agra, he was surprised and asked how in those circumstances (when the press act had been
enforced) any press would be willing to print a book that could invite the anger of the government. Ghalib
replied “I will present a copy of the book to Nawab Governor-General Bahadur (Lord Canning) and another
through him to Malika-i-Muazzama Inglistaan (the Queen of England). Now you should understand what will
be the style of writing and how any press could dislike its printing.”

In a letter addressed to Mir Mehdi Majrooh in October 1858, Ghalib wrote “The owner of the press had shown,
with the help from Munshi Hargopal Tufta, the manuscript of the book to the authorities in Agra for the
permission to print. The authorities gladly permitted.”

The British authorities must have been glad to see it in print form as the book covered up the truth and the
writer conveniently forgot what happened in the aftermath of the failed `mutiny` and how the British ran amok
with a desire for revenge.

It is beyond any shade of doubt that Ghalib had written Dastamboo to save his skin and to show his loyalty.
ho says books don`t sell in Pakistan?
Rauf ParekhMarch 11, 2008

A seemingly unimportant event in 1981 made me realise that books do sell in Pakistan. A small advertisement
appeared in a leading Urdu newspaper informing the readers that Mukhtar Masood`s new book, “Safar
Naseeb”, had come out. I went to Urdu Bazaar the following day and, entering Punjab Book Agency, which
sold literary titles, asked for the book.

Nazeer Sahib, the shopkeeper with whom I had struck an acquaintance over the years, smiled and informed me
that the new arrival had already sold out. When I pointed out that the advertisement about the book had
appeared only the previous day, he laughed heartily and, looking at his fellow shopkeeper who stood nearby
and was equally amused, said “Mukhtar Masood ki nai kitab itni tezi se biki hai, kamal ho gaya (It is great that
Mukhtar Masood`s new book has sold so fast).”

“Books do sell here,” I thought and left for the other bookshop. Mukhtar Masood`s first book, “Awaz-e-Dost”,
had won accolades from readers and critics alike for its elegant prose, literary style and musings on history. It
had established its author as a successful man of letters. So, his second book`s brisk sale was not surprising,
yet it was a literary travel account and its astonishingly quick sale stood at odd variance with the oft-repeated
lament that literary books only gather dust at bookshops.

Afterwards, I got hold of some surveys on the reading habits of Pakistanis. The surveys were published by
some government institutions. They told me that books did sell in Pakistan, though not as much as they should,
or at least not in proportion to the country`s huge population. But keeping in view Pakistan`s low literacy rate,
the sale of books was not too bad. Religion and fiction sold well, followed by humour, history and poetry.
“These government statistics are not meant to be believed,” I told myself.

But then there were books like those of Shafeeq-ur Rehman that sold steadily and were printed over and over
again. Looking at the list of best-selling titles, you would agree with me that even today books sell well and
people read a lot. “Khuda Ki Basti”, Shaukat Siddiqui`s novel that earned him name all over the world and was
translated into more than 25 languages, is a case in point. Its Urdu version has run into 50 editions, though
most of them were unauthorized and even the original publisher printed several editions without the author
knowing it. The author later sued the publisher - and that`s one reason why publishers don`t speak about huge
book sales. Then there is “Shahab Nama”, the ever-green memoirs of President Ayub Khan`s secretary and
writer Qudrat-ul-lah Shahab. The 1994 edition that I possess is its 13th and a lot of water has passed under the
bridge since then.

To meet their ever-rising demand, Ibn-e-Insha`s books were recently reprinted umpteenth time. Though most
of the Pakistani editions of Qurat-ul-Ain Hyder`s books have been unauthorized, they have been a source of
great joy - and money - for publishers. Apart from these modern writers, masters like Ghalib have never been
out of print. Urdu`s classical works too attract a lot of readers and are printed over and over again.

When Harry Potter took the reading world by storm, the local market was also flooded with its sequels,
although only a few hundred copies were imported and the widening gap between supply and demand was
filled by ever-so-creative and ingenuous local publishers with pirated editions.

People associated with bookselling for long would tell you several rags-to-riches stories of book importers.
One of the largest importers of books used to have a kiosk-like bookstall in a narrow lane in Karachi`s Saddar
area where once stood a cinema called Capitol. There are numerous publishers of Urdu books who started from
scratch and are doing a roaring business these days.

So, what about all the fuss created by publishers and booksellers? “Books don`t sell, people don`t read
anymore, the electronic media and the Internet have made books irrelevant, all people want are fast food and
DVDs.” This is the stock reply you receive when you discuss the issue with publishers and booksellers. “So
why don`t you wind up and do something else instead, selling burgers for instance,” ask them and they will be
more evasive, conveniently forgetting that it is their second or in some cases third generation that is involved
in publishing or bookselling or both.

The recent international book fair in Karachi saw an overwhelming public response. On the very first day of
the fair, I entered the hall at about 11 in the morning and headed straight to the stall that sold Indian books,
looking especially for Urdu books published in India and patting myself on the back for being an early bird. I
was dismayed and overjoyed in equal measure when I realised that bibliophiles like Prof Rafeeq Ahmed Naqsh
had already helped themselves to the fare available at the bookstall. By 1pm, about half the books on that stall
were gone and book lovers like Prof Sahar Ansari, Asif Farrukhi, Prof Dr Zafar Iqbal, Aqeel Abbas Jafri, and
Mubin Mirza were seen triumphantly carrying away their prized buys.

Where are people who say books don`t sell in Pakistan? But, yes, if by books they mean some wretched poetry
collections by equally wretched poets who know nothing either about poetry or about language, then they are
right books don`t sell in Pakistan. But, then, we should not worry about such books.

Sketch-writing and Ashraf Suboohi

Rauf ParekhApril 15, 2008

WHEN Hakeem Faseehuddin Ranj Merthi compiled `Baharistan-i-Naaz` in 1864, he did not know that he had
pioneered a concept in Urdu that would be developed as a genre. Though `Baharistan-i-Naaz` was a tazkira, or
an account of lives and works of poets, due to its style and treatment it became the first step towards the genre
of Urdu literature that later developed as sketch-writing. That it was a tazkira recording the lives and works of
female poets of Urdu and Persian makes `Baharistan-i-Naaz` even more unusual.

Mohammad Hussain Azad intended his `Aab-i-Hayat` to be a history of Urdu language and literature but his
highly ornate style makes many parts of it look more like tazkiras and sketches than literary history. Later on,
Mirza Farhatullah Baig wrote a lovely and lively sketch of his teacher Moulvi Nazeer Ahmed Dehlvi that
marked the birth of modern sketch-writing in Urdu. Farhat made sketch-writing a genre to reckon with and
prominent among those who followed in his footsteps are Moulvi Abdul Haq, Rasheed Ahmed Siddiqui,
Khwaja Hasan Nizami, Saadat Hasan Manto, Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi, Mohammad
Tufail, Ashraf Suboohi and many others.

Born as Syed Wali Ashraf in Delhi on May 11, 1905, Ashraf Suboohi Dehlvi was a sketch-writer, humorist,
short-story writer, dramatist, broadcaster, translator and writer of children`s stories. But it is his sketch-writing
that has preserved a seat for him in the hall of fame.

Ashraf Suboohi has made the city of Delhi come alive through his sketches. His sketches describe the people,
colloquialism and culture of Delhi in a delightful manner. What sets him apart from other sketch-writers is his
choice of personalities as subject for sketches. He wrote sketches of common folks such as a butcher, a barber,
a kebab-seller and common inhabitants of Delhi. When one thinks of the writers who penned common people`s
sketches, the only other name that comes instantly to one`s mind is that of Moulvi Abdul Haq, who wrote
memorable sketches of people doing menial jobs such as a gardener and a chowkidar.

Having passed his matric exam in 1922 from Delhi`s Anglo-Arabic High School, Suboohi Sahib later on did
his BA from Punjab University as a private candidate.

With the setting up of the Delhi Radio station, Ashraf Suboohi began broadcasting talks. He also wrote plays,
features and women`s programmes for radio. In 1929, he joined the postal department, but kept on writing and
launched `Armaghan`, a literary journal, from Delhi.

Another aspect that makes Ashraf Suboohi`s sketch-writing stand apart is his diction and the milieu he paints.
He was not only brought up in Delhi but was also a keen observer of the culture and history that permeated
through the city. As a child he would for hours listen to the elders, especially women, relishing the stories and
historical events of a city that was the capital of the Mughal Empire. Their local idiom and regional accent
enticed him so much that when he began creative writing his portrayal of the local patois and colloquialism of
Delhi women was so perfect that many believed Ashraf Suboohi was a woman. Once he even received a letter
addressed to `Madam Ashraf Suboohi`.

When Baba-i-Urdu Moulvi Abdul Haq moved the offices of Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu from Aurangabad
(Deccan) to Delhi in 1938, he began sending manuscripts to Ashraf Suboohi for pre-publication review. It was
a sort of tribute to him as Baba-i-Urdu was very meticulous about Anjuman`s publications.
After partition, Ashraf Suboohi migrated to Pakistan and settled in Lahore. Hakim Mohammad Said befriended
him and on his retirement from the postal department in 1962, Hakim Sahib asked Ashraf Suboohi to join
Hamdard, Lahore, which he did. Later on he moved to Karachi. But he missed Lahore a lot and yearned for the
city he loved most after Delhi.

`Dilli ki chand ajeeb hastiyan` and `Ghubaar-i-Karawan` are collections of Ashraf Suboohi`s sketches.
`Jharoke` is a collection of his sketches and short stories. He translated a few novels from English. Ashraf
Suboohi wrote many interesting episodes in a series `Kahawaton ki kahaniyan` for children, which explained
the meaning and background of proverbs and described the stories behind them. These stories and many of his
sketches published in different magazines are in fact buried there and need to be collected in book form so that
they are preserved for posterity.

Though Ashraf Suboohi deserved recognition, his contribution has not been properly acknowledged. In the late
eighties, Mubeena Begum, a student of Delhi University`s Urdu department, did research on Ashraf Suboohi
for her MPhil. The dissertation was later published in book form. Although scholars do not have a very high
opinion of the dissertation, at least it paid long-overdue tribute to Suboohi Sahib. Other than that, not much has
been written about him.

Hasan Askari, while eulogizing Ashraf Suboohi in his book `Jhaliyan`, wrote “Writing `purple patches` is not a
great art. Even schoolboys can do that. But a good prose writer is one who writes good prose constantly.
Ashraf Suboohi relishes writing good prose and you may relish reading it”.

Ashraf Suboohi died in Karachi on April 22, 1990.
















Eminent critic Kashfi dead

Rauf ParekhMay 16, 2008

KARACHI, May 15: Eminent critic, research scholar and former chairman of
Karachi University’s Urdu department Prof Dr Syed Abul Khair Kashfi died on
Thursday afternoon. He was 76.

His funeral prayer was offered at Karachi University’s mosque and he was buried in
the varsity’s graveyard.

Kashfi was admitted to hospital on Sunday, but the following day he had to be
shifted to the intensive care unit when he lost consciousness. Born in 1932 into a family that had a tradition of
scholarship and literary tastes, Kashfi had a chance early in his life to meet the subcontinent’s renowned
scholars, intellectuals and writers who used to visit Kashfi’s father, Saqib Kanpuri, an eminent poet of his

Having migrated to Pakistan after independence, Kashfi did his BA (Honours) from Sindh University and
masters and doctorate from the University of Karachi. He joined Karachi’s Islamia College and Urdu College
before joining his alma mater in 1959.

Later, he obtained degrees in linguistics and ESL (English as a Second Language) from Columbia University.
Kashfi had vast experience of teaching Urdu at higher level, including at Osaka University for about three

Known for his extensive reading and sharp wit, Kashfi was considered an intelligent and erudite critic and held
in high esteem among scholars and critics, especially for his doctoral thesis that explored political and
historical background of classical Urdu poetry.

His books that made ripples in the literary circles include ‘Jadeed Adab Ke Do Tanqeedi Jaeze’ and ‘Hamare
Ahad Ka Adab Aur Adeeb’.

Kashfi won many awards for his literary pursuits, including Dawood Literary Award and National Seerat
Despite having retired from Karachi University in 1992, Kashfi pursued his literary interests actively and
recently published two books on criticism and education. He was also supervising research projects and many
students used to benefit from his vast knowledge and insight.

His funeral was attended by a large number of his colleagues, admirers, friends and the university staff.



Syed Altaf Ali Barelvi: educating the nation

Rauf ParekhSeptember 19, 2017

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan established All India Muhammadan Educational Congress, later renamed as All India
Muslim Educational Conference (AIMEC), in 1886, with the aims of bringing the Muslims of India on one
platform, educating the Muslims on modern and scientific lines, promoting research and publications and
reforming the Muslim educational systems prevalent at that time.

The AIMEC indeed changed the shape of education in India as well as politics since an extension of the
AIMEC was All India Muslim League, the party that was born during AIMEC’s 1906 annual meeting and that
ran the Pakistan Movement.

After independence, a part of Sir Syed’s movement moved to Pakistan and continued the mission.

Among the prominent figures that carried the torch in Pakistan was Syed Altaf Ali Barelvi.
Recently, Dr Kehkashan Naz’s PhD dissertation Syed Altaf Ali Barelvi ki taleemi, ilmi aur siyasi khidmaat has
appeared in book form — with amendments and additions. Supervised by Prof Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed and
published by Karachi University’s Pakistan Study Centre, the book evaluates — and eulogises — the
educational, academic and political services that Altaf Barelvi rendered.

According to the author, Syed Altaf Ali Barelvi was born on July 10, 1905, in Bareli, UP, India (page 120).
But this date is incorrect as Altaf Barelvi himself had mentioned in his diary, which the author quotes, too. It
reads: “According to high school certificate, which is not correct, my age today Dec 14, 1950, is 45 years, 5
months and 4 days” (p121). This corresponds exactly to his date of birth mentioned by the author and quoted
above, but she did not delve further to investigate what his correct date of birth was. She then quotes Altaf
Barelvi as saying “I was born in 1905” which leaves the reader guessing if the year is correct and the day and
month are inaccurate.

Having passed his BA from Aligarh Muslim University, Altaf Barelvi took admission to LLB but could not
finish it since he had begun taking part in local politics. Soon he started rendering social and educational
services in his native town Bareli. At the same time, he penned an authentic work on the life of Hafiz Rahmat
Khan, the 18th century ruler of Rohilkhand, northern India. First appearing in 1934, the book, Hayat-i-Hafiz
Rahmat Khan, proved to be an important and authentic source on the history of Rohilkhand. The book became
immensely popular and shot its writer to fame. Later, the book was translated into English and was published
from Karachi in 1966.

Altaf Barelvi was selected office secretary of All India Muslim Educational Conference’s Aligarh office. In
Aligarh, Altaf Barelvi established ‘Anjuman-i-musannifeen’, or writers’ association, to promote literary
activities. He launched Musannif, a literary magazine from Aligarh. But after independence, the atmosphere at
Aligarh had changed. According to Dr Naz, Dr Zakir Hussain Khan had become Aligarh Muslim University’s
vice chancellor and he was politically inclined to Congress, so Altaf Barelvi, a supporter of Muslim League,
developed some differences with him. Because of the political pressures, she writes, the working of Muslim
Educational Conference, too, suffered which disheartened Altaf Barelvi and he resigned from the conference.
In 1950, he migrated to Pakistan, settling in Karachi.

In January 1951, Altaf Barelvi established, on the lines of the AIMEC, All Pakistan Muslim Educational
Conference at Karachi. Major Shamsuddin Mohammad, an old friend of Altaf Barelvi and former minister in
Bahawalpur State, who had settled in Karachi, played a vital role in re-establishing the movement in Pakistan.
In fact, it was Shamsuddin Mohammad’s house where the conference was founded and initially ran with his
financial support. Later, the word ‘Muslim’ was dropped from the nomenclature of the conference. The All
Pakistan Educational Conference (APEC) played an all-important role in the educational, literary and cultural
life of the nascent country generally and the city of Karachi specially.

The APEC began a publishing house, a library, a free reading room and Sir Syed Girls’ College at Karachi.
Though later the government and its various departments began supporting the APEC, it had begun working
on education front when even the government of Pakistan was struggling to chalk out and implement its
education policies. The conference has so far published over 100 books on education, literature, culture,
philosophy, science and history.

It launched a literary and research journal Al-Ilm in July 1951, which continued its publication for over 60
years. The book discusses in detail Altaf Barelvi’s books and his articles. Some of his other books include The
struggle of Muslims in education, Talib-i-ilm ki diary, Rahi aur rahnuma, Taleem-o-tallum, Aligarh tehreek
aur qaumi nazmen and Maqalat-i-Barelvi.

The book is an authentic source not only on Altaf Barelvi’s life and works but the political and educational
history of Indo-Pak subcontinent. Dr Kehkashan Naz has referred to an amazingly large number of research
works and has drawn conclusions supported by the evidences. This kind of sifting through source material and
painstaking research is becoming rarer by the day among our research students and scholars. So one can safely
say that Pakistan Study Centre has maintained the standard of research for which its publications and research
works are known.

Syed Altaf Ali Barelvi died in Karachi on Sept 23, 1986.


Literary Notes: Muneer Niazi — the poet, the

Rauf ParekhUpdated December 22, 2014

‘O Muneer! Is this country haunted or something wrong has happened to it? It moves very fast, but travels
very little!’

No, Muneer Niazi (1922-2006) was not around when the demons took over Peshawar’s army school last week
and tried to stop the country’s journey ahead. But Muneer Niazi had seen so many demonised episodes that
took place in this country that his sense of wonder had turned into the sense of despair. Many of his couplets,
as the one quoted above, sound relevant even today and remind us how sensitive and visionary he was.

Muneer Niazi was a poet, short story writer, columnist, journalist and a songwriter, but it was his Urdu and
Punjabi poetry that made him so popular.

Though poets are somewhat notorious for their inflated egos, some poets are unjustifiably known for their
egoism and conceit. Muneer Niazi (1922- 2006) was one such poet. Some rumours and isolated incidents
quoted out of context painted Muneer Niazi as someone with an attitude problem. But a recently published
book by Misaal Publishers Faisalabad has cleaned all the haze surrounding Muneer Niazi and has made him
look like a man from the real world instead of a mere poet lost in an arcane, imaginary world.

As is evident from the title of the book, it is an endeavour to rediscover a poet who was a friendly and down-
to-earth person, far from what is usually perceived about him. Written by Dr Sumaira Ijaz, Muneer Niazi:
shakhs aur shaer is a book that not only tries to understand the real message of Muneer Niazi’s poetry but also
tries to see through the persona that somehow created false impressions about the poet who had suffered a lot
in many ways and many of his personality traits were nothing but reaction to those painful incidents. Tracing
the poet’s childhood memories and early life, Sumaira has first tried to establish the poet’s correct date of birth
and has concluded that 1928 could not be Muneer Niazi’s year of birth, though it is commonly believed so.
She insists that Muneer Niazi was born on Oct 14, 1922.

Digging up details about Muneer Niazi’s early life, she says that Muneer Niazi’s real name was Muhammad
Muneer Khan and his father died when Muneer was quite young. Muneer Niazi passed his matriculation in
1939. His uncle sent him to Bombay (now Mumbai) to join the Royal Navy. There he was introduced to the
beauties of literature through some friends, though his mother too used to read classics of Urdu prose, which
must have influenced him.

In Bombay, he would sit on the seashore and read literary magazines that his friends passed him. The latent
poetic talent had been bolstered but the navy’s strict disciplinarian environment was a bit too much for his
tender, poetic nature. He deserted the navy but was caught and severely punished for running away. It only
heightened his desire to flee and soon he got away, reaching to the safety of his hometown this time around.
Then he decided to enhance his educational qualifications and took admission to Sadiq Egerton College,
Bahawalpur; Dayal Singh College, Lahore; and Amar Singh College, Srinagar.

Though his poetic nature and keen interest in sports, especially hockey, interfered with his regular education,
he met some teachers during his studies that were known for their literary works and they inspired the young
Muneer a lot. They included Allama Tajver Najeebabadi, Syed Abid Ali Abid and Dr Khalifa Abdul Hakeem.

After independence, his family moved to Montgomery (now Sahiwal) and here he met Majeed Amjad, the
well-known modern poet, who later became his mentor and friend. Here Muneer Niazi’s sense of loneliness
and love of solitude waned but when he departed with Majeed Amjad and settled in Lahore, his utter sense of
loneliness returned and he felt that “there was no friend to talk to and to recite poetry to”.

Dr Sumaira Ijaz has beautifully traced Muneer Niazi’s entire life, describing how the sensitive soul suffered
through setbacks in life. The book has been divided into five portions. The first chapter not only narrates his
biographical details but psychological and mental upbringing of the poet is also discussed in detail. It sums up
Pakistani society’s literary scene in the 1950s and 1960s as well. The second chapter gives details about
Muneer Niazi’s creative journey, his books, columns and his literary skirmishes with Urdu’s literary giants,
such as Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi.

Muneer Niazi is considered one of the important poets of modern Urdu poem and the third chapter evaluates
Muneer’s standing in this regard. The fourth chapter discusses Muneer’s ghazal. Geet, or song, is a genre of
Urdu poetry that is deeply influenced by Hindi’s literary traditions, Hindi lexicon and Hindu mythology.
Muneer’s geets too reflect this aspect. The final chapter of the book studies this aspect of Muneer’s poetry and
personality. The author has taken pains to discover and study some unpublished works of the poet as well.
One must say that Dr Sumaira Ijaz, who teaches Urdu at Sargodha University, has thrashed all aspects of
Muneer Niazi’s poetry and personality and, as Dr Ghulam Abbas has put it, she has meticulously worked out
and discovered a Muneer Niazi who is not a citizen of a mysterious, imagined world but a living, mundane
poet. By unknotting Muneer’s complex personality, she has opened the doors of understanding of his poetry in
true perspective.

Dr Syed Aamir Suhail has rightly mentioned that it is not easy to see the personality and the poetry of a poet in
a unity and entirety but when a researcher becomes a part of the poet’s universe, lives there and shares its joys
with the readers, both the writer and the reader are bewitched by creative magic. Dr Sumaira Ijaz has just done

Muneer Niazi died on Dec 26, 2006 in Lahore.

LITERARY NOTES: Did Zauq compose

Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry?
Rauf ParekhNovember 24, 2014


TRUE to its name, Aab-i-hayat is a book that lives on, even 134 years after it appeared. First published in
1880, this masterpiece by Urdu’s legendary prose writer Muhammad Hussain Azad is, in fact, a history of
Urdu literature and a commentary on some aspects of the Urdu language. Some very amusing events frame the
gaily-painted pictures of Urdu poets that Azad’s magic pen has created.

Its stylish prose notwithstanding, in some cases the authenticity of Aab-i-hayat becomes questionable as the
modern researchers of Urdu believe that anecdotal evidence that Azad proffers sometimes needs to be cross-
checked. In fact, Azad is responsible for promoting, if not initiating, some misconceptions about Urdu
language and literature. One such myth is about the origin of Urdu.

Among the other misconceptions that became popular because of Azad’s captivating prose in Aab-i-hayat is
the notion that Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim Zauq composed poetry for Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and most
of the verses attributed to the poet-king are in fact the creation of Zauq. Azad had great love and respect for
Zauq since Zauq was his mentor. In Aab-i-hayat, Azad has tried to prove that composing the king’s verses
consumed better of Zauq’s time and he could not write for himself what he wanted to. Azad also gave the
impression that Zauq would replace his ‘takhallus’, or penname, in his own ghazals with Zafar’s and hand
those ghazals over to the king. Azad edited Zauq’s divan and in its preface says: “There are four divans of the
king [Bahadur Shah Zafar]. The first one of them has some ghazals that are corrected by Shah Naseer and
some ghazals by Mir Kazim Hussain Beqarar. So, more than half the first divan and the remaining three divans
‘from head to toe’ are [composed] by ‘Hazrat Marhoom’ [Zauq]”.

Interestingly, Hafiz Mahmood Sherani proved that in addition to correcting Zauq’s verses, Azad himself
composed at least 16 ghazals and included them in Zauq’s divan without mentioning it. On the other hand,
scholars have proved that the poetry attributed to Bahadur Shah Zafar was composed by none other than
himself and what Azad has done is nothing more than an attempt to glorify his mentor. Not only scholars from
the last century, such as Shanul Haq Haqqee and Ziauddin Barni, and modern-day scholars such as Dr Abrar
Abdus Salam, have proved that Zafar’s poetry is his own creation but a person like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, too,
believed that Zafar composed his own poetry. Moulvi Abdul Haq has written in Chand ham asr: “Once the
debate about Zafar and Zauq began and the notion that Zafar’s poetry was composed by Zauq was repeated.
Syed Sahib got exasperated and said Zauq could not have written the king’s poetry, rather being associated
with the Red Fort made him learn the language”.

Researchers and critics agree that Zafar was a poet of distinct qualities and the intrinsic and extraneous
evidences prove that Zauq could not have said what Zafar’s poetry offers. Some of Urdu’s great scholars such
as Qazi Abdul Wudood, Hafiz Mahmood Sherani and Shyam Lal Kalra Abid Peshawari have criticised Aab-i-
hayat for its inaccuracies, including Azad’s statements about Zafar’s poetry.

Early this year, Bahawalpur’s Islamia University had organised an international Urdu conference. Prof Dr Qazi
Ahmed Qazi, a scholar of Urdu from Egypt, was among the delegates. One of his remarks in his speech made
me wonder. He said: “Urdu is the only language in the world whose poets include the fakirs as well as kings”.
He was referring to Wajid Ali Shah, some other rulers and Bahadur Shah Zafar, of course.

The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar (1775-1862), was a poet in his own right. Zafar’s poetry
reflects not only his innate gloom and despair that was a natural consequence of an apparent doom but it also
depicts the cultural, historical and political aspects of society he was living in. Delhi, the great Mughal capital,
had become a centre of cultural and literary activities and composing poetry was but natural for a person like
Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was immersed in this cultural environ. Being the king was no hindrance in
expressing the natural poetic and artistic talents.

Idiomatic expressions in Delhi’s chaste Urdu, the cultural nuances and an innate poetic sensitivity make Zafar
a remarkable poet. Of late, his works as well as selections of his poetry have been out of print, though he is
considered a major poet of the pre-1857 era. Oxford University Press Pakistan has recently published a
selection of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry in its ‘Urdu Varsa Series’. Compiled and introduced by Prof Dr
Tanzeem-ul-Firdous, the selection reflects Zafar’s true colours as it includes different poetic genres such as
Dohas, verses in Bhaka and ghazals. The series has been immensely popular and selections of over 50 poets
have so far been made available to poetry buffs. More are on the way.

Another interesting aspect that merits mention here is that while Zauq was credited with writing Zafar’s poetry,
a famous ghazal is wrongly attributed to Zafar, though he never composed it. It is the famous ghazal that
begins with the line ‘na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon, na kisi ke dil ka qarar hoon’. As the ghazal attributed to
Zafar was included in the Indian movie ‘Lal qila’ and the actor playing the role of Zafar lip-synched it in the
movie (Muhammad Rafi was the playback singer), it is still firmly believed that the ghazal is Zafar’s creation.
The said ghazal is not to be found in any of Zafar’s divans. Secondly, Jan Nisar Akhter had written an article
clarifying that the ghazal was composed by his father, Muztar Khairabadi, and was included in his divan.
Younus Hasni had described these facts in his article published in January 1963 issue of Nigar, Karachi.

What one must appreciate about this selection by Dr Tanzeem-ul-Firdous is that she has been able to see
through the popular myths and has not only mentioned the wrong attribution of Zafar’s poetry to Zauq in her
intro but has also been careful not to include the above-mentioned ghazal.

Bahadur Shah Zafar died on Nov 7, 1862, in Rangoon.

Minat Terkait