Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Urdu Poetry at a Funeral

“Isliye rah sangharsh ki ham chune/Zindagi ansuon me nahae nahin/Shaam sehmi na ho, raat ho na dari/Bhor ki ankh phir dabdabai na ho

(We must choose the path of struggle, so life shouldn’t get drowned in tears. The evening shouldn’t get enveloped by awe and night shouldn’t be fearful. And the dawn shouldn’t crack with tears welled up in its eyes)

I like revolutionary poets for some reason; especially the Urdu ones. The Urdu revolutionary poets were giants – Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and all the rest. I don’t know what it was in that generation that produced so many giants in progressive poetry; but their sheer power, beauty and idealism is itself awe inspiring, even if some of their Persian rich vocabulary is a bit difficult for those of us for whom Hindustani is not the first language.

I do not know who out of these eminences composed these verses that activists sang at the state funeral of Baba Amte the other day. The Indian Express does not report this, but I am amused and also touched that activists and the State who rarely sleep on the same bed ever, got together at the funeral of the giant that Baba Amte was. If I am correct, it was the first State funeral of a private citizen in a long time – perhaps the first after Mother Teresa. And while the Baba looked grand wrapped in the Tricolor, it is a bit ironic that no one thought in the establishment seems to be have thought of honoring him with the Bharat Ratna while they were squabbling abut other octogenarians who were in the race.

“Haath lage nirman me, nahi marane, nahi mangane (let’s use our hands to create, not beg or beat)

I don’t know who wrote that piece either. I read those lines about not using our hands to beg or to beat with supreme irony. While Baba Amte’s body was being lowered into a pit in Anandwan in Maharashtra, in the state’s capital of Mumbai; North Indians who had come to work in the city because they did not want to beg were being beaten into submission and occasionally into death and destruction.

Aggression is every where and those Urdu poets had it all wrong. They wrote poetry to inspire revolutions and willed struggle for themselves, so that there would be no tears for the others to drown in. but we have turned the phrases all upside down. We are in more and more moving towards a society where the others struggle and it is our design increasingly that if it is possible at all to live a life that is free of tears , than that life should be ours.

It is ironic that the last movement that Baba Amte was involved in was called the Bharat Jodo or the Knit India movement. Pity that he was too old by then for the movement to benefit much from his leadership and there isn’t any one it seems who will effectively take over that piece of the Baba’s work. For in the midst of a Bharat todo movement, a Bharat jodo movement is much more needed than ever. As discordant voices and slogans rend the air and people talk of distributing sticks and swords, Baba Amte must be turning over in his grave. Very literally.

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