|URDU POETRY ARCHIVE
Progressive Movement and Urdu Poetry
by Ali Sardar Jafri
The Progressive Movement widened the horizon of Urdu poetry;
liberated it from the classical cliche, and added fresh modern imagery
structure to the poem; used the rhyming scheme with fresh vigour and introduced
and developed new forms like free verse, dramatic and allegorical poems,
with experiments in meters; gave it an ideological content and used it
as a weapon in the freedom struggle for India; denounced decadence and
cynicism, yet discovered in this attitude also an element of protest against
existing conditions; enriched the treasury of poetic diction by using ordinary
and common words which the older classical poets had banished form the
realm of poetry, and thus came closer to the people.
Many progressive poets actually participated in the freedom
struggle with their poetry on their lips, and wrote very good poetry in
prison as well. They were the poets of a country where great patriots had
mounted the gallows reciting poetry with proud defiance, like Ram Prasad
Bismil who immortalized these lines of a poet from Bihar of the same pen
sar_faroshi kii tamannaa ab hamaare dil me.n hai
dekhanaa hai zor kitanaa baazuu-e-qaatil me.n hai
rah_rav-e-raah-e-muhabaat rah na jaana raah me.n
lazzat-e-saharaa_navardii duurii-e-manzil me.n
- Bismil Azimabadi
(We are prepared to sacrifice our head,
Let us see the power of the executioner's arm
Do not linger behind, O traveller of the path
The pleasure of wandering in the desert lies in
They had identified themselves with a patriotic movement
whose slogan was Inquilab Zindabad (Long live the revolution) given from
the height of the gallows by another martyr, Bhagat Singh, who used to
quote poetry freely in his letters that he wrote from his death cell. And
this slogan Inquilab Zindabad was used by all freedom-fighters including
Nehru and Gandhi. Their meetings, attended by thousands of people, at times
by hundreds sof thousands, resounded with this slogan, and the word Inquilab
became a household word in India.
This Progressive Movement was a spectrum of different
shades of political and literary opinions with Prem Chand, a confirmed
believer in Gandhism at one end, and Sajjad Zaheer, a confirmed marxist,
at the other end. In between them were various other shades including non-conformists,
but every one of them interested in the freedom of the country and glory
The basic and fundamental postulate of the Progressive
Writers Movement is the unity of art, use and beauty. It is not a violent
departure from the past or an angry revolt against tradition as such, although
we did reject certain unhealthy and obscurantist trends. And that is how
our path was new. What we tried to do was a reiteration of the values getting
lost in modern commercial age, or distorted under the weight of the decaying
social systems. It is a rediscovery with a new experience and consciousness,
and new artistic additions giving fresh vigour to Urdu poetry and literature
as a whole. The false notion should be discarded that a few hot-headed
men can get together and launch a literary and artistic movement of such
a dimension as the Progressive Movement. Poets and writers are like the
seeds holding the heart; the movement provides them the good soil and the
right climate to blossom.
Poetry is song as well as declamation; whispering of the
breeze in a rose garden, and the rage of the storm that uproots the trees;
the soft fall of dew on the green grass, and the torrential rain with thunder
and lightning; a sweet smile on a pair of lips, and the shriek of a martyr
tortured in prison; the slogan of the nation breaking the chains of slavery,
and the symphony of the march of history. It is wrong to presume that poetry
is only this and not that. Yet a categorical statement can be made. Poetry
is not absurd.
The theme of poetry is neither religion nor politics nor
recording of events. It embraces all aspects of human life, because the
basic and the only theme of poetry, as that of all literature and art,
is Man. But the emphasis changes from age to age, and the flavour of language
and the beauty and style of images according to the country and its people.
The people is Man and Man is people in all its aspects, colours, races,
names, professions, running into millions. In the words of the great American
poet, Carl Sandburg:
The people is the great canyon of humanity
and many many miles across.
The people is pandora's box, humpty dumpty, a clock
of doom and an
avalanche when it turns loose.
The people rest on land and weather, on time and
the changing winds.
The people have come far and can look back and
"We will go farther yet".
The people is a plucked goose and a shorn sheep
of legalised fraud.
And the people is one of those mountain slopes
holding a volcano of retribution.
Slow in all things, slow in its gathered wrath,
slow in its onward heave.
slow in its asking: 'Where are we now? what time
-The People, Yes; by Carl Sandburg
A terrible question that could be put to the poets also:
"Where are we now? What time is it?" Poetry is an autonomous Republic of
Letters within the sovereign State of Human Civillisation but not a law
Since the dawn of civilisation the poet has been considered
as some kind of a prophet as expressed in Persian: "Shairi juzwest az paighambari".
And prophets as founders of religions always spoke in a poetic language
and changed the course of history and destiny of Man. And we in the East
are the inheritors of the great traditions of the Vedas, the Gospels and
When mankind had just started lisping, in the so-called
black Yajurveda the highest principle was manifesting itself as food (Annam).
Here are three awe-inspiring stanzas from the Taittirya Brahmana:
I am the first born of the divine essence.
Before the Gods sprang into existince, I was.
I am the naval (the centre and source) of immortality.
Whoever bestows me on others - thereby keeps me
I am Food. I feed on food and on its feeder.
The foolish man obtains useless food.
I declare the truth: it will be his death.
Because he does not feed either friend or companion.
By keeping his food to himself, he becomes guilty
when eating it.
I the food am the cloud, thundering, and raining
They (the beings) feed on ME -- I feed on everything
I am the real esscence of the universe, immortal.
By my force all the suns in heaven are aglow.
- from Heinrich Zimmer in Philosophies of India
The German Orientalist, Heinrich Zimmer has called this
hymn the Cosmic Communist Manifesto. It is not difficult to discover the
echo of this hymn in Mahatma Gandhi's utterance: "Even God dare not reveal
Himself to the hungry except in the form of bread."
Krishan Chander's famous short story, Anna Daata (Food
Giver) which influenced the fictional trends of many Indian languages in
the continuation of the same thought, is as old as the Vedas and as new
as the progressive fiction. The terrible experience of the Bengal famine
in the wake of the Second World War gave it new poignancy. It was also
the turning point in the creative life of a romantic who had started with
Tilism-e-Khayaal published in 1938. Surendra Prakash's "Bajuka" (The Scarecrow),
although inspired by Prem Chand's "Godan", has vage reflections of the
same thought. Both, the progressive Krishan Chander and 'jadid' Surendra
Prakash, have depicted reality through symbolic images.
No great poet has ever forgotten his mission as a prophet,
the denunciator of evil and upholder of virtue. Every one of them is a
nightingale in a garden not yet created (andalib-e-gulshan-e- naafrida).
Every one of them is the voice of today as well as the voice of coming
tomorrow. His poetic mission has a message, and there is no dichotomy between
the message and the word, between the content and the form. Use and beauty
are not divorced from each other. Many poets have been treated as sages,
and even tyrants bowed before them with reverance, and listened to them
with awe. Yet there are poets who have been hounded, imprisoned, tortured
and executed for speaking the Truth. They did not recant, and went on murmuring
like Galileo, "But the earth does not revolve around the sun".
No poet of any worth in the past ages could have said
what a modern professor at a university who is also an Urdu poet and critic,
"Real poet does not pursue meaning and sense. He cannot
become so low and stoop to this non-poetic level. He opens his inner eye
and sees the unconcious happenings within his soul in a state of trance.
His job is only to give words-images to these happenings...As such poetry
has nothing to do with clear meaning and sense. Therefore it is not necessarily
- Dr. Hamdi Kashmiri in Kargah-e-sheeshagaran
The very idea of enjoyment of meaningless poetry is the
reflection of a state of mind created by the decline of civilisation and
vulgarisation of culture. The situation is not new. Some fifty years ago
a well-known art critic, Ananda K. Coaraswami, wrote in his Introduction
to The Art of Eastern Asia:
If we are to make any approach whatever to an understanding
of Asiatic Art as something made by man, and not to regard it as a mere
curiosity, we must first of all abandon the whole current view of Art and
Artists. We must realise and perhaps remind ourselves again and again that
that condition is abnormal in which a distinciton is drawn between workmen
and artists, and that this distinction has only been drawn during relatively
short periods of the world's history. Of the two propositions following,
each explains the other: viz, those whom we now call artists were once
artisans; and objects we now preserve in museums were once the common objects
of the market place.
Here I would like to add a footnote to Ananda Comaraswami's
statement that even today in the villages of Bhihar, Uttar Pardesh, and
Gujarat in India the most artistic things of daily use are very common,
and that they are the work of ordinary peasant women who do not know that
their craft can decorate the museums of the world. To come back to Comaraswami
"During greater parts of the worlds history, every product
of human workmanship, whether icon, platter, or shirt button, has been
at once beautiful and useful. This normal condition has persisted in Asia
longer than anywhere else. If it no longer exists in Europe and America,
this is by no means the fault of invention or machinery as such; man has
always been inventive. The art of the potter was not destroyed by the invention
of the potters wheel...If beauty and use are not generally seen together
in household utensils and businesman's costumes, nor generally in factory
made objects, this is not the fault of machinery employed by us; it is
incidental to our lower conception of human dignity and consequent insensibility
to real values."
Ananda Comaraswani drew this conclusion after a deep study
of five thousand years of Indian sculpture and well-defined principles
of Hindu iconography. Without having read this celebrated art critic, Majrooh
Sultanpuri also came to the same conclusion. When he came to Bombay in
1944 he was writing traditional style ghazals. But after a visit to Ajanta
and Ellora he was transformed and he joined the Progressive Writers' Association.
He was no more in search of eternal themes which used to be generally traditional.
He found subjects of poetry scattered all around:
Dehr mein Majrooh koie javidan mazmoon kahan,
main jise chhoota gaya woh javidan banta gaya
(Where can you find, Majrooh, an eternal theme in
this world of flux
Whatever has been touched by my poetry has become
And Faiz who is one of the founders of the Progressive
Movement wrote from prison in the early fifties:
Hum ne jo tarz-e-fughan ki hai qafas mein iijad,
Aaj gulshan mein wohi terz-e-bayan therhri hai
(The style of wailing that we have created in the
Has been accepted as the style of song in the
And Majaz, a contemporary of Faiz said:
Iss mehfi-e-kaif-o-masti mein, iss anjuman-e-irfani
sub jaam bakaf baithe hi rahe, hum pee bhi gaye
chhalka bhi gaye
(In this assembly of ecstacy and intoxication, in
this gathering of
The revellers kept sitting with full cups in their
hands, we spilled
a little and drank to the last drop)
And Jazbi, another contemporary progressive poet, sang:
ghamon ki dunya ko raund daalen nishat-e-dil paaimaal
naaii muhabbat naya junoon hai khudaya kya apna
haal kar lein
(we feel like trampling upon the life of sorrow
and the ecstacy of the heart
Our love is new, our madness new,
we know not what to do with ourselves)
This was the poetry with a new temper, with a new ecstacy
born out of the turmoil of the freedom struggle of India. Earlier poets
had admired the crescent beauty of the curve of the sword hanging on the
head; here the progressive poet also held a sword in his hand. Here martyrdom
was part of the glory of the struggle. The poet deals with mental and emotional
experiences reflecting the climate of mind and the seasons of heart. It
is within his power to create gardens or produce deserts of the soul. That
is the reason why some of the greatest and most beautiful poetry has been
written in the worst periods of history. Tulips and roses have bloomed
in the blood-stained landscape.
rung pairahan ka kushboo zulf lehrane ka naam,
mausam-e-gul hai tumhare baam par aane ka naam
(What is color but your garment,
what is fragrance but your scattered stresses
We call it the season of spring when you appear
on the balcony)
mujhe sehl ho gaiN manzilen who hawa ke rukh bhi
tera haath haath mein aa gaya ke charagh raah mein
(It has become easier to reach the destination now,
the stormy winds have changed their direction
With your hand in my hand, the long path
is illuminated with lighted lamps)
The asthetic sensibility of progressive poets is not constricted,
it has a much wider range:
dast-e-sayyad bhi aajiz hai, kaf-e-gulchin bhi
boo-e-gul thehri na bulbul ki zaban thehri hai
Powerless is the hand of the hunter,
helpless the hand of the plund'rer of the flowers
The fragrance of the rose cannot remain imprisoned,
the sweet song of the nightingale cannot be stopped
Sutoon-e-daar pe rakhte chalo saron ke charagh
jahan talak yeh sitam ki siyah raat chale
go on putting on the top of the gallows the lamps
of martyred heads
As long as this night of injustice and tyranny
koh-e-gham aur giran aur giran aur giran
ghamzado teshe ko chamkao ke kuchh raat kate
The mountain of sorrow becomes heavier and heavier
O Comrades of sorrow, take up your shining axes
to cut the rocks of the night.
jab kashti saabit-o-salim thi, saahil ki tamanna
ab aisi shikasta kasti par sahil ki tamanna kaun
Who cared for the shore when the boat was unbroken
Now with this broken boat why should there be any
desire to reach the shore
Here I would like to point out that the progressive poets
have changed the connotations of old illusions and gave them new meanings
according to the temper of the times. Tesha (Axe) in Makhdoom's couplet
is an example. It is no more an instrument of suicide as in the old classical
poetry. Now it is the symbol of the triumphant working class. Actually
this process was initiated by Iqbal. Kohkan (The Mountian Cutter) comes
with Tesha (Axe) in his hand and demands the throne of Parvez, the King.
The progressive poets inherited this tradition and carried it forward.
They also created new symbols and poetic images that run into thousands,
but no research work has been done on them so far.
Once in Bombay, Faiz was surprised to see in the house
of a young progressive poet and journalist a picture of Lenin side by side
with an image of Christ on the cross. Both are symbols of progressive poetry.
Faiz has used Saleeb and Daar most effectively and beautifully. Once again
Karbala is emerging as a powerful symbol of revolutionalry poetry. Two
years back I wrote my epic poem Karbala and a bunch of other poems with
the same symbols. The caption of the recent poems of Faiz is From Karbala-e-Beriut.
A younger progressive, Iftikar Arif's poems are full of allusions of Karbala.
Hindu mythology and its great epics are also part of our treasury. Kaifi
Azmi has a special fascination for them. Earlier Josh Malihabadi combined
the two Islamic and Hindu traditions in his revolutionalry poetry. Heralding
the dawn of freedom just a few years before 1947, the year of Indian and
Pakistani independence, Josh said:
ban raha hai sarsar-0-sailab khoone-e-Hashmi
aaj Abu Sufian ke ghar mein charaghan hai to kya?
jaa rahi hai aag Lanka ki taraf baDti hui
aaj agar Ravan ka ghar Sita ka zindan hai to kya?
(The blood of Mohammad's family,
the Hashmi blood is turning into hurricanes and
How does it matter if the house of Abu Sufian
is bright with dazzling lights?
The flames of fire are rushing towards Lanka
How does it matter if the courtyard of Ravan is
the prison of Sita?
Source: From the archives of ALUP
Posted by: Umang Bali
Source: Urdu Poetry Archive, http://www.urdupoetry.com/articles/art9.html