The Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur has set up a panel to consider whether the poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ by the famous Urdu poet Faiz is anti Hindu. This followed the recitation of the poem by students of IIT Kanpur on December 17th, 2019 on their campus during their gathering in support of the students of Jamia Milia, Delhi who were assaulted by the police during their anti CAA agitation.
I need not go into the inanity of such a step by the IIT authorities who seem to have no understanding of Urdu poetry or of this particular poem. However, I am taking this opportunity to say something about Urdu poetry and mention my own connection with Faiz.
I have read the poetry of many countries of the world, England, America, France, Germany, Russia etc and I have read the poetry in many Indian languages, Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Bangla, Tamil etc.
In my opinion no poetry in the world expresses the voice of the human heart in such a powerful and yet elegant manner (andaaz-e-bayaan
) as Urdu poetry does.
I regard Mirza Ghalib as the greatest Urdu poet of all times, and Faiz the greatest Urdu poet of the 20th century.
I saw Faiz only once when he visited my home town Allahabad in 1981 and was honoured in a massive function in the Allahabad University lawns, about which I wrote an article ‘The power of Urdu poetry, in and out of court’.
In that article I also mentioned about some shers (couplets) which I used in some of my judgments in the Supreme Court of India, and how I dealt with a ‘dismissing judge’ (to use a vulgar expression) of Allahabad High Court, using one of Faiz’ shers.
Now before coming to Faiz’ poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ which has sparked of a fatuous controversy I would like to say something about Urdu poetry.
Urdu poets often express their thoughts not in direct language but indirectly, by hints and allusions.
Urdu shers (couplets) often have a literal, superficial meaning, but also a deeper, real meaning which is conveyed by indication, insinuation, suggestion and metaphors. It is this deeper, real meaning which the poet is seeking to convey, but to understand it one has to ponder deeply and apply one’s brains to understand.
This is particularly done by poets in times when it may be dangerous to talk directly such as during martial law (when this poem was written).
Take for instance Faiz’ sher:
Gulshan ka kaarobaar chale.’
Now the literal meaning of this sher is :
‘Among the flowers, a colored breeze of the new spring is blowing
Come, so that the work of the garden can be done’
But that is only the ostensible, superficial meaning. The word ‘gulshan’ literally means garden, but here it means the country.
So the real meaning of the sher which the poet is conveying is this :
‘The objective conditions in the country are ripe
Come forward patriots, the country needs you (for a revolution)’
Faiz and wife Alys with Lata Mangeshkar, Sultana and Ali Sardar Jafri, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Chitra and Jagjit Singh, Zoe Ansari, Padma Sachdev and others
Similarly, when we read Urdu poetry we must wrack our brains and try to understand what it is really what the post is seeking to convey.
Coming now to Faiz’ poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ one must remember it was written during Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s oppressive martial law regime when it was dangerous to talk too directly. So part of the poem uses traditional Islamic imagery, but it is used to attack Zia’s dictatorship and restore democracy, not for establishing orthodox Islam.
The poem was sung by Iqbal Bano, deliberately wearing a sari (regarded by some as an Indian and unislamic dress for Pakistani ladies), despite the ban on public recitation of Faiz’ poems at that time.
Some lines of the poem which are described as anti Hindu are :
‘Jab arz-e-khuda ke kaabe se
sab but uthwaaye jaayenge
Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-haram masnad par baithaye jaayenge.’
‘When from the abode of God (Kaaba) all idols will be removed
Then we the faithful, who were debarred from sacred places
Will be placed on the royal seat’
It is alleged that these lines are anti Hindu as Hindus worship idols, and these lines are clearly against idol worship.
Faiz and Vajpayee
But this is only a superficial understanding. Faiz was a life long communist, and he could hardly have meant that he wanted Islamization of society. In fact it was his antagonist Gen Zia who wanted this.
To understand these lines we must see the context, and also see the lines preceding and succeeding these lines.
Before these lines, the verses in the poem are :
‘Jab zulm-e-sitam ke koh-e-giraan,
rui ke tarah udh jaayenge
Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale,
yeh dharti dhad dhad dhadkegi.’
and the succeeding lines are:
‘Sab taaj uchaale jaayenge,
Sab takht giraaye jaayenge‘
It is obvious from this that there is nothing anti Hindu in this poem, and it is the height of stupidity to regard it so. It is a poem powerfully attacking the oppressors of the people, and expressing a conviction that one day the oppressed will become the rulers of their own destiny.
The administration of IIT, Kanpur, which is otherwise a reputed institution, have made themselves a laughing stock before the whole country.
Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.
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