What’s become of my Uttar Pradesh! I spent my childhood and adolescent years in and around Lucknow. Today it is absolutely painful to see the deterioration spreading out, with the mafia overtaking, intruding into vital spheres in the state. Yet, like mute spectators we are letting the entire Awadh stretch crumble, fall prey to the right-wing goon brigades holding sway, murdering an entire culture, the basic tahzeeb, the very fabric.
Yes, they are even killing a language, Urdu. Its speakers and listeners and renderers! Many human structures are dying a low death too. Yet, the actual murderers will never be caught nor punished. Old cases slapped against such criminals are being dropped overnight! Hardened criminals have been set free to roam about and spread around anarchy and terror. Nah, now they can no longer be called criminals. All those tags removed, with the new order holding sway, where one is not too sure who is a murderer and who is the victim!
In fact, several years back, an auto driver driving me around Srinagar city, had told me that in Kashmir if A murders B then it will be C who would be caught and hanged. Never mind if that hapless C was only a bystander! Well, today this grim reality is not confined to the conflict-hit region of Kashmir, but spreading out to even the Awadhi belt. Signs of decay are writ large.
A headmaster was rebuked, threatened and almost ousted from service for making school children sing Mohammad Iqbal’s beautiful verse! Complaints coming in from one of the right-wing brigades, which were actually acted upon by the administration! There is little to guess who is ruling the state of Uttar Pradesh! What if the targeted headmaster, Furqan Ali, was found reciting one of those more heady verses of Kaifi Azmi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Josh Malihabadi, Ali Sardar Jafri …? Sure, the hapless man would have been lynched by the goon brigades, if not imprisoned for reciting revolutionary verse!
This makes me wonder why didn’t all the present-day poets of the country stand up in support of Furqan Ali! Where are the rebel poets and writers of the day! They ought to have been marching in support of such poetry and lovers of it! Also, progressive education enthusiasts like AAP’s Manish Sisodia should have offered Furqan Ali a job in one of the government-administered schools of New Delhi. In fact, even now he ought to do so, because though Furqan Ali has been reinstated but he has been transferred to another school and he is no longer a headmaster! Yes, rebuked and threatened and even downgraded because he made the school children recite or sing a verse or two in Urdu written by none other than respected poet Allama Iqbal!
It’s not a question of one schoolmaster or headmaster but there’s that bigger and bleaker picture that looms large. Which school teacher in the State of Uttar Pradesh will now have the guts to make his students recite any of the Urdu verse? After all, he cannot risk his livelihood and even his life!
Aren’t we depriving an entire generation and future generations of the best of poetry, brimming with varied emotions and intense passion; poetry that encourages one to think much beyond the mundane?
Perhaps, this particular verse of Sahir Ludhianvi relays much -
“If there is a reason for my angry songs, it is this
That when I see the hungry farmers
The poor, the oppressed, the destitute, the helpless
My heart cannot participate in assemblies of pleasure
Even if I wish, I cannot write dreamy songs of love.”
We, the mute spectators of the day have only two options – Either we stand up and speak out, loud and clear, as these lines by Sahir Ludhianvi suggest:
“Before your body and tongue die
Speak, for truth still lives
Speak up, say that which you must.”
Or as Faiz Ahmad Faiz says in his poem Bol (Speak)
“Speak, for your lips are still free/
speak, for your tongue is still yours
your body, though frail is still yours
speak, for life is still yours
look, in the blacksmith’s workshop
the flames are hot, the steel is red
the mouths of the locks are beginning to open
the links of the chains are coming undone
speak, for the little time you have is enough”
Faiz does not leave at that but says further-
“So what if my pen has been snatched away from me
I have dipped my fingers in the blood of my heart
So what if my mouth has been sealed; I have turned
Every link of my chain into a speaking tongue.”
The other option is to sit back and wait for that change to come into play, that is if at all that change takes place. These lines by Gulzar, perhaps express a strange paradoxical setting …
“Nothing is permanent, nothing at all
Days and nights fall on the chausar board
Like kauri shells, some face-up others down
The months and years dealt out to you
Slip through your fingers
Nothing is permanent, nothing at all
And what is permanent is me
I, who is changing at every instant.”
There is a certain restlessness that’s brewing in the society which exhorts me to chant these lines by Ahmed Rahi-
“Our lives were spent in despair; hope had begun to stir in our hearts
We thought our destiny would change, but alas, we were deceived.”