When Independence Day and Krishna Janamashtami fall on the same day, one cannot but remember the maverick Maulana Hasrat Mohani, the most unusual of poet-politicians. This journalist and nationalist, freedom fighter and free thinker, who wrote some of the most romantic ghazals such as Chupke chupke raat din aansu bahana yaad hai, who took on the might of the powerful progressive writers when they sought to move a motion banning obscenity in literature, is also credited with giving Indians the cry of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.
He first used the slogan at a labour rally in Calcutta in 1928. As early as 1921, eight years before the Congress would push for poorna swaraj, it was Mohani who was unequivocal in his demand for complete freedom, mukammal azadi, for India. A member of the Communist Party of India from its inception, he subsequently joined the Congress and, after a brief dalliance with the Muslim League, chose to stay on in free India as a conscientious objector.
He was a Muslim, who had performed the Hajj 11 times, yet liked to call himself a “Sufi Muslim” and an ishtiraki momin (a “Communist Muslim”). To top it all, as though nothing was beyond the pale when it came to embracing seeming contraries, he was a devout Krishna bhakt who went to Mathura often to celebrate Janamshthami and also wrote the most lyrical ballads devoted to Krishan ji Bhagwan.
Some, written in chaste Urdu, others in the Awadhi dialect, these love songs to Krishna contain a combination of irreconcilables that melt away in the face of true piety. Calling the Blue God Hazrat Shri Krishna Alaihi Rahma (The Venerable Shri Krishna Blessed be His Name), he shows how it is entirely possible for a panch-waqta Musalman, one for whom worship of any deity is kufr, to adore the other:
Maslak-i ishq hai parastish-i husn Hum nahin jaante aazab-o-sawaab (The path of love leads to the worship of beauty I know neither reward nor punishment) Offering a clue to the light of love that lit his path — be it to Mecca or Barsana, Medina or Mathura, Ajmer or Nand Gaon, he writes of the fragrance, the boo-i uns, that permeates both:
Irfaan-e ishq naam hai mere maqaam ka Haamil hun kis ke naghma-i nai ke payaam ka Mathura se ahl-i dil ko woh aati hai boo-i uns Duniya-i jaan mein shor hai jis ke dawaam ka Labrez-i noor hai dil-i ‘Hasrat’ zahe naseeb Ek husn-i mushkfaam ke shauq-i tamaam ka (The name of my destination is Love’s Knowledge The message of whose melodious flute I carry The scent of Oneness wafts from Mathura to the people of heart And suffuses the living world It is Hasrat’s good fortune that his heart is brimful with the radiance And love of that musk-scented Beautiful one)
Seeing no duality between his assiduous roza-namaz and ardent Krishn bhakti, this bearded, shervani-clad gentleman from Mohan in the Unnao district of western Uttar Pradesh, resorts to the more rustic Awadhi register to express his grand passion when the chaste Urdu meter fails him:
Mann tose preet lagai Kanhai Kahu aur kisurati ab kaahe ko aayi Gokula dhundh Brindaban dhundho Barsane lag ghoom ke aayi Tan man dhan sab waar ke ‘Hasrat’ Mathura nagar chali dhuni ramaye (My heart has fallen for you, Kanhai How can it think of anyone else now? I searched for him in Gokul and in Brindavan I even went till Barsana looking for him Having sacrificed everything for him, I Hasrat Am now going to set up my abode in Mathura)
Locked up in the Yervada Central Jail in Poona, from 1923-24, in what was to be one of several imprisonments for his “seditious” activities, he can not contain his longing to go to Mathura during Janamashthami. He writes a spate of poems devoted to Krishna, whom he addresses as Braj Mohan, Maharaj, Hazrat-i Krishn, Manmohan Shyam, Nandlal, suave Giridhari, Murari and Banwari. one of the poems being:
Mathura ka nagar hai aashiqui ka Dam bharti hai arzu issi ka Har zarra-e sar-zamin-e Gokul Daara hai jamaal-e dilbari ka Barsana-o Nand Gaon mein bhi Dekh aayein hain jalwa ham kisi ka Paigham-e hayaat-e jaavidaan thha Har nagma-e Krishn bansuri ka Voh noor siyah ya ki ‘Hasrat’ Sar-chashma farogh-e-aagahi ka (Mathura is the city of love All my desires are centred on it Every particle of the dust of Gokul Possesses loveliness and comeliness Even in Barsana and Nand Gaon I have seen that certain someone’s splendour Whose message of reality is eternal As is every note from Krishna’s flute Like a dark radiance or is it Hasrat Like a spring of water gushing knowledge) Living in an India that requires us to be resolutely one or the other, the Maulana’s immense capacity to contain within himself many seemingly diverse ideologies and beliefs holds a lesson. It reminds us of the 18th-century mystical English poet William Blake who said: “Without contraries there is no progression”. Mohani died on May 13, 1951 in Lucknow and the Hasrat Mohani Memorial Society was formed so that we remember. Rakshanda Jalil is a Delhi-based writer, critic and literary historian.
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