Urdu poetry is needed in this revolutionary era

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I have repeatedly said that the massive socio-economic problems of India ( in which term I include Pakistan and Bangladesh, as I regard them as part of India, only temporarily separated ) i.e. massive poverty, record unemployment, appalling child malnourishment, lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, soaring prices, widespread corruption etc can only be resolved by a Revolution (see my articles ‘India’s moment of turbulent revolution is here’ published in, ‘A French Revolution is coming to India’ published in, ‘India needs modern minded revolution to become a first world nation’ published in, ‘Eight steps to a revolution’ published in etc).

Such a revolution requires inter alia a revolutionary poetry and songs to inspire patriots like ‘La Marseillaise’ in the French Revolution, and Gorki’s ‘The song of the stormy petrel’ and ‘ The Internationale’ in the Russian Revolution (see my articles ‘The Song of the Stormy Petrel’ published in and ‘Revolutionaries prefer Urdu poetry as it has power and punch’ published in

Of course there are many languages in India, and all of them have produced some good poetry. However, in my opinion none of them have the revolutionary spirit and ‘dum’ (power) which Urdu poetry has. I have explained the reason for this in my articles ‘What is Urdu’ and ‘Great injustice to Urdu in India’, which can be seen online. By its very nature, Urdu poetry is a poetry of protest, protest against the afflictions of the common man, and against injustice.
Some people think that Urdu is the language of Muslims alone, but this is totally false. Urdu is a totally secular language, and till 1947 Urdu was the language of educated people of all communities, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh etc in large parts of India. It was part of the British divide and rule policy to propagate the idea (through their local agents) that Hindi is the language of Hindus, while Urdu is the language of Muslims.

The propaganda that Urdu was a foreign language was also false. Persian and Arabic are no doubt foreign languages, but Urdu is a desi (indigenous) language.

I had once been invited to an Urdu poetry function in Lucknow, where a young Muslim woman said that she wants her children to learn Urdu, so that they could read the Quran. To this I responded, “Ma’am, the Quran is in Arabic, not in Urdu. And there are more Ramayanas in Urdu and Persian than Qurans.”
It was obvious this woman knew nothing about Urdu.

It is a common misconception that Urdu is the language of Muslims, and many Muslims think that Urdu is their jagir (fiefdom), though they know little of this great language.

In fact, Urdu poetry is anti-Islamic ( in the Wahabi sense ). For instance, Mirza Ghalib writes:

Imāñ mujhe roke hai jo khīñche hai mujhe kufr

Kaaba mere peeche hai kaleesa mere aage

(Faith is blocking my path, but atheism is pulling me forwardK

Kaaba is behind me, the church is in front)

Here, ‘Kaaba’’ represents feudalism, and kaleesa (church) represents modernity. So, Ghalib is rejecting religion as it represents backwardness and feudalism, and is approving of modernisation.

Masjid ke zer-e-sāya ḳharābāt chāhiye

(Beneath every mosque there should be a wine shop)

Now, Islam forbids drinking, but this is what the greatest Urdu poet says.

He also writes:

Kahan mai-Khane ka darwaza ghaalib aur kahan waiz

par itnā jānte haiñ kal vo jaatā thā ki ham nikle

(A pub and a religious scholar are poles apart/but yesterday when I entered the pub he was leaving).

The great Urdu poet Mir writes:

Mīr’ ke dīn-o-mazhab ko ab pūchhte kyā ho unne to

qashqa khīñchā dair meñ baiThā kab kā tark islām kiyā

(Why do you ask the religion of Mir? He has put a kashka (tilak) on his forehead

Sat in a (Hindu) temple, and has abandoned Islam long ago)

Another great poet Sahir Ludhianvi writes:

Aqaid waham hai, mazhab khyaal-e-khaam hai saaqi Azal se zehen-e-insaan basta-e-auhaam hai saaqi

(Faith is superstition, religion is an inferior idea)

Since the dawn of time, human imagination has been imprisoned by these falsehoods.

And here are a few verses from the Urdu Ramayana of the great Urdu poet Chakbast:

Ruḳhsat huā vo baap se le kar ḳhudā kā naam

Rāh-e-vafā kī manzil-e-avval huī tamām

Manzūr thā jo maañ kī ziyārat kā intizām

Dāman se ashk poñchh ke dil se kiyā kalām

Iz.hār-e-be-kasī se sitam hogā aur bhī

Dekhā hameñ udaas to ġham hogā aur bhī

(He [Rama] said goodbye to his father taking the name of God

The first step to fidelity’s tough path his feet had trod

Now for a meeting with his mother he began to plod

Wiping his tears he spoke inward keeping his shoulders broad

I dare not let her see my pain it will cause her unbearable grief

Better I show a smiling face that may give her some relief)

I can quote from this Urdu Ramayana on and on. One feels he is reading Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas, it is so touching. I also can quote countless shers by revered Urdu poets like Mir, Ghalib, Faiz, etc., attacking Islamic fundamentalism, just like Kabir did.

Urdu poetry follows the tradition of Kabir and the great Sufi saints who believed in universal brotherhood and humanitarianism, and attacked religious extremism and bigotry. As mentioned above, by its very nature, Urdu poetry is a poetry of protest, protest, both against human despots ( e.g. Faiz’ poem Hum Dekhenge which was sung by Iqbal Bano against the despotism of Gen Zia, and also in the recent Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi ) and against inhuman rigid social and religious customs.

I venture to submit that no poetry in the world expresses the voice of the human heart in the manner, and with the elegance, as Urdu poetry does.

By attacking religious bigotry of the Wahabi type, or the kind currently being preached by religious fanatics and bigots in our sub-continent (both Hindus and Muslims), Urdu poetry is even more relevant and needed in India today.

As Kabir wrote:

Kankar pathar jod ke, masjid liye banaye

Ta chad mullah baang de, kya behra hua khudaye?

(With stones and bricks a mosque was built

From its top the mullah has to shout [the azaan]

Has God become deaf?)

In my opinion all Indian patriots should learn Urdu, and write verses like ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai’ to inspire the Indian people who will have to make great sacrifices in the coming revolutionary storm.

Markandey Katju

Written by Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is the former Chairman, Press Council of India. Prior to his appointment as Chairman, Press Council of India, he served as a Permanent judge at the Supreme Court of India.

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