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15 August: Learn From Our Urdu Poets About India’s Independence

The events of 1947 were witnessed by some of the finest writers who saw and commented on what they had experienced.

Published
Opinion
7 min read
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Any talk of 15 August invariably takes us back to that muggy monsoon day 72 years ago when a nation came into being after a long and bloody parturition. The events of 1947 were witnessed by some of the finest writers who saw and commented on what they had experienced; in many cases, at first hand.

For many, those experiences coloured what they wrote. For the progressive poets and writers in Urdu, especially those who were members of the Communist Party, Partition and the freedom that came in its wake, was a ‘false freedom’.

Taking the Party's line, many poets spoke of the sense of inadequacy, the squandering of dreams that the dawn of freedom brought in. By far the most famous comment on the Partition is contained in Subah-e Azaadi by Faiz Ahmad Faiz:

Yeh daagh daagh ujala yeh shab-gazida sehr
Woh intezar tha jiska yeh woh sehr to nahi

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

Questioning The Bitter Fruit Of Partition

There was a great deal of questioning among poets, writers and thinkers about what was, still, for many, the bitter fruit of Partition. For instance, here is Akhtarul Iman voicing the disquiet and despair of an entire generation in his Pandrah Agust ('15 August'):

Yahi din hai jiske liye maine kati thee in ankhon mein raatein
Yahi seeli aab-e baqa, chasma noor hai, jalwa-e toor hai?
Issi ke liye woh suhane, madhur, rasbhare geet gaye they maine?

(Was it for this day that I had spent so many sleepless nights
For this damp water of eternity, this stream of light, this mountain of miracles
Was it for this I had sung all those sweet, melodious songs...)

With time, however, the poet and the writer began to take note of the immense possibilities of social transformation that freedom from colonial yoke allowed a new nation finding its feet, and taking the first steps towards a post-colonial modernity.

Even those who clung to the progressive fold, increasingly found little reason not to join Jawaharlal Nehru’s rousing call towards the nation-building project.

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‘Chhorho Kal Ki Baatein...’

When the Prime Minister talked of building the new ‘temples’ of India – namely, the schools, colleges, dams, factories – the poets and writers responded with full-throated abandon.

The film lyricists in particular, helped in spreading the idea of independence and the possibilities it offered. The IPTA poet Prem Dhawan wrote:

Chhorho kal ki baatein, kal ki baat puranii
Naye daur mein likhenge hum milkar nayi kahani,
Hum hindustani, Hum Hindustani...

(Forget about yesterday, yesterday is old news Let us together write a new story in this new age We are Indians, we are Indians…)

‘Faasle Sab Dilon Ke Mitaatey Chalo’

Even after Nehru’s death, the vestiges of a buoyant, optimistic Nehruvian India, committed to secularism and social justice continued to be found. In K. A. Abbas’s Saat Hindustani (1969), for instance, we see the film lyricist Kaifi Azmi exhorting his fellow countrymen and women — almost in Soviet style — to move forward and build a new and prosperous India.

Faasle sab dilon ke mitaatey chalo
Apne seene se sabko lagatey chalo

(Move forward, removing distances between hearts
Meet others, embrace them as you move forward)

Firakh Gorakhpuri, the quintessential ghazal-go, is optimistic about independence and all that it entails.

Even his choice of words is indicative of a bouncing effervescence and youthfulness:

Lahu vatan ke shahidon ka rang laaya hai
Uchhal raha hai zamane men nam-e-azadi

(The blood of the country’s martyrs is showing its results
The name of freedom is bouncing in the world)

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United In The Spirit Of Service

For Arsh Malsiyani, the fervour for independence and all the joys it brings remains unadulterated in this nazm entitled ‘15 August’ written in 1949.

The poet speaks of the much-awaited day of independence, and how everyone should come together amidst cries of ‘Jai Hind’, and that spirit of service that has become listless:

Jab ḳhurshid-e-azadi ki phuTi thi kiran woh din aaya
Chamke the ziya-e-ḳhas se jab kohsar-o-daman vo din aaya
Jab qaid-e-qafas se chhuTe the murġhan-e-chaman vo din aaya
Be-teġh-o-sinan jab badli thi taqdir-e-vatan vo din aaya
Hangam-e-tarab hai ahl-e-vatan hangam-e-tarab hai ġham na karo
Ahista-ravi hi manzil hai manzil ka yunhi matam na karo
Bimar-e-vatan ne paa.i hai mushkil se dava-e-azadi
Kanon ko suna.i deti hai har samt nida-e-azadi
Har ḳhurd-o-kalan har pir-o-javan hai aaj nida-e-azadi
Yeh koshish sab par lazim hai daa.im ho baqa-e-azadi
Azadi-e-nau-maulud ko ab parvan chaḌhao to janen
Mushkil hai baḌi is mushkil ko asan banao to janen
Aġhyar ki ta.alimat pe to sar dhunna kar-e-tiflan hai
Avara-mizaji ke sadqe avara-mizaji asan hai
Rah-e-pur-ḳhar-e-amal men jo pa-mard rahe vo insan hai
Sahil se use kuchh kaam nahin jo vaqif-e-ishrat-e-tufan hai
Iss yaum-e-mubarak par mil kar jai hind pukaro ahl-e-vatan
Jo jazba-e-ḳhidmat sust hai ab phir us ko ubharo ahl-e-vatan

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Drawing New Courage For New Direction

Nazeer Banarasi, who wrote several nationalistic poems and was extremely popular in his day, writes in yet another poem entitled ‘15 August’, using imagery culled from pastoral and romantic poetry, speaks with unabashed hope and optimism of drawing courage for new directions:

GhaTa hai ghanghor raat kaali faza men bijli chamak rahi hai
Milan ka siina ubhar par hai birah ki chhati dhaḌak rahi hai
Hava jo masti mein chuur ho kar qadam qadam par bahak rahi hai
Kamar hai har shaḳh-e-gul ki nazuk Thahar Thahar kar lachak rahi hai
Hava pe chalta hai hukm in ka ghaTa.en bharti hain in ka paani
Inhin se surḳhi bahar ki hai inhin se barsat ki kahani
Inhin se chashme inhin se jharne inhin se jharnon ki naġhma-ḳhvani
Inhin se parbat inhin se dariya inhin se dariyaon ki ravani
Fareb de kar chali na jaa.en baḌi dhuen-dhar hain ghaTa.en
Jab aa ga.i hain to jam ke barse baġhair barse na lauT jaa.en
Miley naya sab ko ek jivan chaman khilen khet lahlaha.en
Hava mohabbat ka raag alape kisan dharti ke giit gaa.en
Yahan pe hai sab ka ek darja koi bhi chhoTa baḌa nahin hai
Jahan pe ho imtiyaz is ka vo mai-kada mai-kada nahin hai
Nikal zara ghar se ġham ke maare urus-e-fitrat ke kar nazare
Saza samajh kar na kaaT pyare ye zindagi hai saza nahin hai
Kiya hai jis jis ne duur andhera use use raushni men laao
Jahan jahan dafn hai ujala vahan vahan par diye jalao
Qasam hai azadi-e-vatan ki adavat aapas ki bhuul jaao
Kiya ho jis ne gila tumhara use bhi baḌh kar gale lagao
Qadam jo aage baḌha.e sab ki zaban se doharao vo kahani
'Nazir' pandrah august se lo na.e irade na.i javani
hava se kah do ki saaz chheḌe amar shahidon ke bankpan ka
Sunao yaaro vatan ke naġhme ye din hai azadi-e-vatan ka

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Javed Akhtar’s Definitive Poem, ‘Pandrah August’

The most definitive poem on 15 August can be said to be the one penned by Javed Akhtar and recited on 15 August 2007 at the very place in the Parliament from where Jawaharlal Nehru declared India's independence from the British Empire on 15 August 1947.

Also entitled ‘Pandrah August’, it stresses the historical importance of that very spot from where the centuries-old black night was defeated. It also reminds us of how we, as a nation, had vowed to heal the wounds on our collective psyche. All the oppressed who were ‘without a tongue’, have found a tongue in the decades since that day; today, they ask questions and demand answers.

While much has been achieved, a lot still remains to be done as Javed Akhtar says in this lyrical, joyful yet cautioning poem:

Yahi jagah thi yahi din tha aur yahi lamhat
Saron pe chhai thi sadiyon se ik jo kaali raat
Isi jagah isi din to mili thi us ko maat
Isi jagah isi din to hua tha ye elaan
Andhere haar ga.e zindabad hindostan
Yahin to ham ne kaha tha ye kar dikhana hai
Jo zaḳhm tan pe hai bharat ke us ko bharna hai
Jo daaġh mathe pe bharat ke hai miTana hai
Yahin to khaa.i thi ham sab ne ye qasam us din
Yahin se nikle the apne safar pe ham us din
Yahin tha guunj uTha vande-matram us din
Hai jur.aton ka safar vaqt ki hai rahguzar

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‘Jo Zulm Sahte The, Woh Ab Hisab Mangte Hain’

Nazar ke samne hai saaTh miil ka patthar
koi jo puchhe kiya kya hai kuchh kiya hai agar
To us se kah do ki vo aa.e dekh le aa kar
Lagaya ham ne tha jamhuriyat ka jo paudha
Woh aaj ek ghanera sa uncha bargad hai
Aur us ke saa.e mein kya badla kitna badla hai
Kab intiha hai koi is ki kab koi had hai
Chamak dikhate hain zarre ab asmanon ko
Zaban mil ga.i hai saare be-zabanon ko
Jo zulm sahte the woh ab hisab mangte hain
Saval karte hain aur phir javab mangte hain
Ye kal ki baat hai sadiyon purani baat nahin
Ki kal talak tha yahan kuchh bhi apne haath nahin
Videshi raaj ne sab kuchh nichoḌ Daala tha
Hamare desh ka har kargha toḌ Daala tha
Jo mulk suui ki ḳhatir tha auron ka muhtaj
Hazaron chizen vo duniya ko de raha hai aaj
Naya zamana liye ik umang aaya hai
KaroḌon logon ke chehre pe rang aaya hai
Ye sab kisi ke karam se na hai inayat se
Yahan tak aaya hai Bharat ḳhud apni mehnat se
Jo kamyabi hai us ki ḳhushi to puuri hai
Magar ye yaad bhi rakhna bahut zaruri hai
ki dastan hamari abhi adhuri hai

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‘Musafiro Abhi Baaqi Hai Kuchh Safar Apna’

Bahut hua hai magar phir bhi ye kami to hai
Bahut se honThon pe muskan aa ga.i lekin
Bahut si ankhen hai jin men abhi nami to hai
Yahi jagah thi yahi din tha aur yahi lamhat
Yahin to dekha tha ik ḳhvab sochi thi ik baat
Musafiron ke dilon men ḳhayal aata hai
Har ik zamir ke aage saval aata hai
Woh baat yaad hai ab tak hamen ki bhuul ga.e
Woh ḳhvab ab bhi salamat hai ya fuzul ga.e
Chale the dil men liye jo irade puure hue
Ye kaun hai ki jo yadon men charḳha kat.ta hai
Ye kaun hai jo hamen aaj bhi batata hai
Hai va.ada ḳhud se nibhana hamen agar apna
To karvan nahin ruk paa.e bhuul kar apna
Hai thoḌi duur abhi sapnon ka nagar apna
Musafiro abhi baaqi hai kuchh safar apna

Perhaps the best way to celebrate 15 August this year would be, as this poem shows us, to bear in mind that independence is a goal, not a destination; it is always a journey towards a greater good.

Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, translator and literary historian. She writes on literature, culture and society. She runs Hindustani Awaaz, an organisation devoted to the popularisation of Urdu literature. She tweets at @RakhshandaJalil. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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