Literature · politics · Thoughts

An Islamist and a Drunkard

Poets and writers use imagery to convey their points. This isn’t such an extraordinary point to grasp. Even if you are not a literature enthusiast, you have heard and sung songs. Bollywood songs, at least? Pardon me, my examples might be slightly old because I can’t seem to recall the lyrics of more recent songs. But “maine poochha chaand se ki dekha hai kahin” does not mean that the hero of the movie actually asked a question to the moon. It would make him delusional. He intends to convey that what he thinks about his beloved’s beauty must be believed because it isn’t just his bias, everyone – even those who may be famed for their beauty – agree with him. When they sing in the movie Border that “hamare gaon ne, aam ki chhaon ne, purane peepul ne, baraste badal ne” have asked them when they are returning, they didn’t really mean that they had received a letter written by their village, mango or peepul trees, or the clouds and rain. They are really talking about the people back home.
 
I feel stupid that I am even trying to explain this. But the world has come to this. I have to make these arguments so that I can extend it to Faiz and his famous poem “Hum Dekhenge”.
 
The poem uses Islamic imagery to actually convey the ideas of revolution. But oh, what about sentences like “sab but uthwaye jayenge” and “bas naam rahega allah ka”? Well – read the full poem
 
जब अर्ज़-ए-ख़ुदा के काबे से
सब बुत उठवाए जाएँगे,
हम अहल-ए-सफ़ा मरदूद-ए-हरम
मसनद पे बिठाए जाएँगे,
सब ताज उछाले जाएँगे,
सब तख़्त गिराए जाएँगे।
 
On “sab but uthwaye jayenge”, what will the icons removed from Kaba be replaced with? With pure-hearted (अहल-ए-सफ़ा), but hitherto powerless people (मरदूद-ए-हरम). The icons in Kaba represent not the actual, physical statues, but the powerful rulers who are repressing the people. And if there is any confusion still, read the last two lines. All the crowns will be thrown away, all the thrones smashed. There is *nothing* religious about it! It is a very strong revolutionary political statement, however.
 
बस नाम रहेगा अल्लाह का,
जो ग़ायब भी है हाज़िर भी,
जो मंज़र भी है नाज़िर भी।
उट्ठेगा अनल-हक़ का नारा,
जो मैं भी हूँ और तुम भी हो।
 
And “bas naam rahega allah ka” comes after that. Representing not an Islamic rule, but that just state of the world where people would be important, not the powerful rulers. “Jo gayab bhi hai, haazir bhi, jo manzar bhi hai naazir bhi” might actually make Islamists raise their eyebrows. The later part of this stanza is even more telling. “Uthega anal-haq ka naara”. Anal-haq translates roughly to “I am the truth”. And guess what, the Sufi who had spoken this had been executed by the orthodox keepers of Islam because they found it blasphemous. If Faiz were an Islamist, what on earth was he doing with Anal-haq? You know who should identify with Anal-haq? Those who understand “Aham Brahmasmi” (अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि).
 
Faiz was actually a communist. He may or may not have been a card-carrying atheist but he definitely was not an Islamist in any sense of the word (positive or negative).
 
Why did Faiz have to use Islamic imagery though, you ask? My answer is why should he not? Using imagery well is a poet’s craft. Faiz was a terrific poet, great at his craft, he knew Islam and Islamic traditions well, and he has used the imagery to convey his point powerfully. There is nothing to be judged here.
 
Talking of imagery and a poet’s use of imagery not representing anything personal about him, I can’t help but talk of Harivansh Rai ‘Bachchan’ and his famous creation – Madhushala. If you are young or unfamiliar with Hindi literature, you may have to know him as Amitabh Bachchan’s father. But much before Amitabh Bachchan, the actor, was this national hero, Harivansh Rai ‘Bachchan’ was a stalwart of Hindi literature. His most famous creation is Madhushala – a book-length poem written as a collection of “rubai”s. Rubai is a specific form of verse. Some people may be more familiar with it because of Manna Dey’s rendition of the part of the book. The thing with this book is that it uses the imagery of a tavern throughout. And Madhushala is not the only book in which Bachchan employs this imagery. If you were to extend the logic that declares Faiz or “Hum Dekhnge” to be Islamist, Madhushala would be a book promoting unfettered drinking, and you would think that the writer would have been a career drunkard.
 
But Bachchan was as much of a drunkard as Faiz was an Islamist. Bachchan was a teetotaller.
 
And Madhushala is as much about drinking as “Hum Dekhenge” is about religion. See a few verses here –
 
Need a lesson on focus?
 
मदिरालय जाने को घर से चलता है पीनेवला,
‘किस पथ से जाऊँ?’ असमंजस में है वह भोलाभाला,
अलग-अलग पथ बतलाते सब पर मैं यह बतलाता हूँ –
‘राह पकड़ तू एक चला चल, पा जाएगा मधुशाला।’
 
This could be an entrepreneur’s anthem.
 
बहती हाला देखी, देखो लपट उठाती अब हाला,
देखो प्याला अब छूते ही होंठ जला देनेवाला,
‘होंठ नहीं, सब देह दहे, पर पीने को दो बूंद मिले’
ऐसे मधु के दीवानों को आज बुलाती मधुशाला।
 
And if you want to hurt Hindu sentiments.
 
बने पुजारी प्रेमी साकी, गंगाजल पावन हाला,
रहे फेरता अविरत गति से मधु के प्यालों की माला’
‘और लिये जा, और पीये जा’, इसी मंत्र का जाप करे’
मैं शिव की प्रतिमा बन बैठूं, मंदिर हो यह मधुशाला।
 
Or in general the keepers of religion.
 
कोई भी हो शेख नमाज़ी या पंडित जपता माला,
बैर भाव चाहे जितना हो मदिरा से रखनेवाला,
एक बार बस मधुशाला के आगे से होकर निकले,
देखूँ कैसे थाम न लेती दामन उसका मधुशाला!।
 
Why would Bachchan use imagery of a tavern to talk about the complexities and lessons of life? Well, because he was great at his craft and could do a phenomenal job at it.
 
Madhushala was a comfort book during my time at IIT Kanpur.
 
In today’s world, it would perhaps be banned.

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