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A Ghazal for Telangana

Urdu poets had dreamt of the new state as long as 70 years ago

Written by Rakhshanda Jalil | New Delhi | Published: August 11, 2013 10:43:40 pm

In the euphoria over UPA’s endorsement of the formation of Telangana,the role of the Communist cadres of the pre-Independence era and Left-leaning poets such as Makhdum Mohiuddin has been overlooked. Perhaps,it is time to revisit the legacy of Makhdum,Hyderabad’s best-loved poet,who first brought the Telangana movement to the collective consciousness of the Urdu reader. The pen that wrote evocative ghazals such as Chand taaron ka ban,Ek chameli ke mandve taley increasingly began to produce overtly political poetry,thus catapulting a regional movement to the national arena. His Telangan captured the innocence of a rustic maiden in a manner similar to the Lucy poems by William Wordsworth:

Wandering and swaying on the edges of the fields Showering sweet and gentle gurgles of laughter Playing with her bangles,yet shy and bashful Don’t fall silent in front of strangers; sing on Sing on,O beauteous Telangan maiden,sing on!

It wasn’t just the beauty of the Telangana countryside and its people that Makhdum was drawing his readers’ attention to; his poetry was also a rousing call to redress the inequities of the existing social order. With the establishment of the Progressive Writers’ Association in Hyderabad in 1936 under the patronage of Sarojini Naidu,and the establishment of the Hyderabad unit of the then-banned Communist Party of India (CPI) in 1939,Makhdum,along with a group of the city’s intellectuals,turned their attention towards the long-neglected peasants and workers of the surrounding countryside.

Makhdum published his first collection Surkh Savera (Red Sunrise) in 1944; it made him a hero among peasants’ and workers’ groups. One of its nazms,Inquilab (Revolution),not just created a storm in Hyderabad but its ripples reached the entire Urdu-speaking world. The Nizam’s government took serious objection to its incendiary contents. The incitement to open rebellion became steadily more pronounced in the poem,Baghi (Revolutionary):

I am thunder,I am lightning Restless mercury,never still self-respecting,self-appraising,Bending others to my will.

And the sword which cut the tyrant was my own; and the spark,which burnt the wheat-stock is from me and me alone.

In Jang-e-Azadi,he announced the imminent “red” dawn of a new day: Look,the red dawn is coming,the red dawn of independence singing the red anthem of liberty,freedom and independence look,the flag is waving,of liberty,freedom and independence comprising eight districts in the eastern half of Hyderabad state under the Nizam’s rule and populated mostly by Telugu-speaking peasants,the Telangana region had suffered under an oppressive agrarian system. A people’s movement had been slowly gathering among the peasants of Telangana from the 1940s. It was supported by the intellectuals of Hyderabad,like Sibte Hasan,Akhtar Husain Raipuri,NM Jaisurya and Makhdum. In 1942,Makhdum left the City College where he taught Urdu to fully devote himself to party work along with Dr Raj Bahadur Gour,a doctor,communist and lover of Urdu. The period of 1946-1951 was not merely the high noon of the Telangana movement and the growth of organised communism in Andhra Pradesh,it was also the time Makhdum was forced to go underground in order to pursue the Telangana cause. By 1946,the CPI had set up communes in this area and left-leaning poets were being ‘encouraged’ to hold up Telangana as a model for revolutionary uprisings in other parts of the country. Zahir Kashmiri,another Urdu poet and a member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement,exhorted the Telangana model thus: Today,communes are sprouting from the land of Telangana Today,the scorched earth is bearing varieties of beautiful life

Today,Men of Telangana are spreading the glad tidings of conquering love,Today,Men of Telangana are giving the blessed news of the renaissance of East Today,Men of Telangana have joined in the struggle of Java and Greece After the toppling of the Nizam government in the face of police action in 1948 and its merger with the Indian union,while the objective of the nationalist movement was met,the aim of the Telangana movement remained a far cry. The CPI faced flak for its perverse stand on the annexation of princely states with the Indian union and its subsequent fostering of armed insurrection against the Indian state among the peasants of Telangana. The CPI’s about-turn seemed to fly in the face of logic: having aided and abetted the nationalist movement,its refusal to lend support to a united Indian state at a crucial time seemed perverse to say the least.

The dawn of freedom that brought independence to the rest of the country was,for the people of Telangana,a ‘false freedom’. Plagued by poverty,illiteracy and unemployment,it continued to suffer from a variety of ills: farmer suicides,child labour and other forms of social and economic backwardness. Makhdum’s prophetic words,written over 70 years ago,have been long in the coming. While a dawn is no doubt breaking after a long night over Telangana,it is not a red one. And in the babel of voices claiming “credit” for carving out a new state,the names of Urdu writers who took up the Telangana cause as their own — rising above jingoistic chauvinism — are all but forgotten.

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