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HASRAT MOHANI – Poet and beyond

Volume: 11, No: 05 ; May-2017

We have known Hasrat Mohani as a poet whose Ghazals most of us have heard and keep hearing quite often. The one sung by Ghulam Ali, “Chupkey Chupkey Raat Din Ansoon Bahana Yaad Hai….” Is all time favourite and have been sung by some great singers including Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hassan and so many of their repute. One fact that we have not known well or may be that we have not appreciated, is about the poet’s role in the independence struggle of India that got us freedom from the British Raj in 1947.

Hasrat Mohani was actually a pen name of Syed Fazl-ul-Hasan, born at Mohan a bordering town of Lucknow on 1st January 1875. His ancestors belonged to Nishapur, in Iran and possibly had come to the Moughal courts as many from Iran had migrated to assist the emperors in the administration of the vast Moughal Empire. In his student days, he was quite brilliant and hardworking and had also topped the state level exams in those days. For higher studies he went to the Aligarh Muslim University, where some of his colleagues were Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali. His teachers in poetry were Tasleem Lucknawi and Naseem Dehlvi the two remarkable poets themselves of their times.

First war of independence took place around 160 years ago. All communities in India, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and others not only took part in this war but also made supreme sacrifices for this cause. This war of independence created unprecedented unity between people of India from top to bottom, from the ruling classes to the common ones, uniting all to mount greatest challenge to the British rule. Fighters who rebelled against the British rule paid heavy price as upon failing the British wrath descended on them. From emperor to ordinary peasants to priests and intellectuals all were severely punished for taking part in the Mutiny, as the British chose to call it. Zamindars lost their jagirs (estates) and large numbers of intellectuals and priests were exiled to places like Malta (an island near Italy) and Andaman Nicobar Island.

Probably the events of 1857 left an indelible mark on his mind and in later years these translated into Hasrat Mohani’s inclination towards the freedom struggle of India. Prolonged and unending British atrocities on the families of those who revolted in 1857, even their next generation, had moved this eminent scholar, an intellectual and a litterateur, Hasrat Mohani to join the freedom struggle of Inda. He was a great uncompromising freedom fighter who rose in the early twentieth century, and was one of the greatest admirers of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (also known as Lokmanya Tilak) for Tilak’s strong statement, “Freedom is my birth right”. Hasrat always referred Lokmanya Tilak as Tilak Maharaj, even in his poetry.

jab tak vo rahe dunyā meñ rahā ham sab ke diloñ par zor unkā

ab rah ke bahisht meñ nizd-i-khudā hūroñ pe kareñge rāj Tilak

har hindū kā mazbūt hai jī, Gītā kī ye bāt hai dil pe likhī

ākhir meñ jo khud bhī kahā hai yahī, phir āeñge maharāj Tilak.

(When he was here in this world he ruled the hearts of all of us; And now in Paradise, in God’s embrace, he rules over the houris. Every Hindu’s heart is strong; on it are carved Gita’s words, And also what he himself said: Maharaj Tilak shall come again)

He was so absorbed in the freedom movement that he became totally indifferent to any suffering, pain or pleasure. He maintained equanimity in all conditions. He could live on very little income or sometime no income at all. He was repeatedly jailed by the British but never complained about the imprisonment. His greatest quality was that standing and speaking for truth without any fear of consequences thereupon. He was totally uncompromising on this quality of his. He never went back on his word. Once he published an article in his magazine. The writer had requested anonymity. The article was against the British rule. The authorities demanded to know from Hasrat, the name of the writer, which was not revealed by him. The British authorities threatened to confiscate his security deposit and stop his publication. He still refused to disclose the name and not only his security deposit were confiscated, he was arrested, his precious library was destroyed and he was put in jail. Yet he kept his promise of not revealing the name of the actual writer.

Though Hasrat was a very orthodox Muslim but at the same time he was also a communist. He used to call himself in his ghazal verse a ‘Sufi Mu’min’ and ‘Ishtraki’ Muslim’ (a Sufi believer and a communist Muslim). He was one of the founders of the Communist Party of India in 1925.

It is important to note that even his wife Nishatunissa Begum, a woman who had always lived in purdah, also participated in freedom movement along with her husband. When the Indian National Congress held its session in Kanpur in 1925, Hasrat and his wife Nishatunnissa Begum came to the Congress Pandal with a procession of workers and peasants and wanted to enter into the Pandal but were stopped by Sevedal volunteers led by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. Nehru asked Seva Dal volunteer to lathi charge them. Hasrat’s wife got furious and scolded Nehru for such a dictatorial order. Later Nehru realised his mistake and apologised to the lady for his deed.

Hasrat was involved in the freedom movement right from his college days and constantly faced problems during his college days for his uncompromising attitude. After coming out of college he started apparently an Urdu literary magazine called Urdu-e-Moalla but, as pointed out before, he used to publish articles of political nature supporting freedom struggle. He joined the Indian National Congress in 1904 and continued to participate in its session as a delegate until 1907 (Surat session). He also used to publish the reports of various Congress sessions like Calcutta, Benaras, Bombay etc. in his Urdu-e-Moalla.  He also never accepted pro-British stance of Muslim League. He severely criticized it in his article in Urdu-e-Moalla. The Muslim league leaders used to highly praise the British government and what it was doing for Indians. On this he wrote an article in his magazine saying it is not necessary to thank the British for some incidental and temporary benefits accruing to Indians. He maintained that real thing is to judge what the intentions of the British are. He was challenging the speech of Nawab Waqarul Mulk in this article as the Nawab had praised the British government for what it was doing for the Indians.

He is also credited for starting a Swadeshi Store in Aligarh to support the civil disobedience movement of early twenties. He started this store when his magazine was confiscated by the British and he was such great supporter of Swadeshi (all that’s made in India) that he even refused to use a foreign blanket during cold December night when he had to sleep in Suleman Nadvi’s office (historian, biographer, litterateur and scholar of Islam. He co-authored Sirat-un-Nabi and wrote Khutbat-e-Madras). Hasrat Mohani spent whole night shivering but did not use the blanket.

He was very diligent in observing all Islamic rites and used to fast during Ramadan in Jail when he had to grind one mound of grain every day in the hot month of May. But at the same time he was very active in the Communist movement and played a very important role in founding the Communist Party in 1925.

After 1947, in order to reward his contributions towards the freedom of the country, the government decided to make Maulana Hasrat Mohani a member of the constituent assembly which was given the task of drafting the constitution of independent India. But Hasrat Mohani was intelligent enough to see the politics behind choosing him in the role. He was sure that the move was made to give greater representation to the minority Muslims; a fact which Hasrat Mohani felt was hypocritical and unnecessary.

Maulana Hasrat Mohani lived and died for the freedom of India and a just social order in the independent India after its independence in 1947. His last day came on 13th May 1951 in Lucknow.



Credits : Asghar Ali Engineer (edited) : Asghar Ali Engineer was an Indian reformist-writer and social activist. Internationally known for his work on liberation theology in Islam, he led the Progressive Dawoodi Bohra movement.


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