Thursday, October 1, 1998


Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad- 40

By Narendra Luther

Hyderabad has always attracted Men of letters in Urdu who wanted to make a decent living—and a name. Amongst the famous ones is Shaukat Ali Khan ‘Fani’.

He was born in U.P. in 1879 in a well-to-do family and graduating in law, started practice half-heartedly. Spendthrift by nature, he lavished his patrimony on fair-weather friends and consequently was reduced to dire circumstances. Then, like many other men of letters before and after him, he looked towards Hyderabad in search of fortune. He visited the city first in 1926 and again in 1927. Maharaja Kishen Pershad, prime minister of the State gave him some financial help.

The famous poet Josh Malihabadi who was serving in the Bureau of Translation of the Osmania University at Hyderabad in 1925 was fond of summoning souls of deceased poets and others on planchette. Once he summoned the great Persian poet Hafiz Shirazi, and asked him if he should call his friend Fani who was in straitened circumstances, to Hyderabad? The planchette scribbled: "Yes. He will get a job here but will have to wait." Emboldened by that advice, Josh met Maharaja Kishen Pershad and with his blessings asked Fani to come to Hyderabad. On his arrival in 1932, the Maharaja sanctioned him a stipend of Rs.200 a month. Considering his background, it was proposed that he could be appointed in the judicial service. There were two hitches in that: firstly, he was a "non-mulki", that is, an outsider and there was a ban on the appointment of outsiders to jobs which did not call for a special qualification not locally available.

Secondly, he was over 50 while the maximum age for recruitment to government service was 30. Fani also did not want to join the judicial service, because that entailed an appointment outside the city which he did not relish. The Maharaja therefore proposed that he should be appointed as headmaster in the City High School. However, while the appointment was within his powers, a relaxation had to be obtained from the Nizam for the appointment of a `non-mulki'.

The Nizam rejected the proposal for the relaxation of the rule. After sometime, the Maharaja resubmitted the proposal dwelling on the poetic talents and attainments of Fani and recommended that the Nizam also might consider hearing his compositions. This time the Nizam relented as a special case and Fani was appointed headmaster of the Dar-ul-Shiffa High School on a salary scale of Rs.250-500 per month.

With that salary and the stipend of Rs.200 from the Maharaja, Fani was now well-off. But the spendthrift that he was, he took a loan for the purchase of a car. Because of the deduction for the repayment of the loan, expenses on petrol and the salary of the driver, his take-home income was not adequate for him.

At this point another incident took place. He became a courtier of the Junior Prince Moazzam Jah. According to some, Josh pushed him into that while others say he himself was keen about it. Moazzam Jah used to hold his court at night and so all his courtiers had to keep awake the whole night. Fani attended the ‘nocturnal court’, went home at the crack of dawn, tried to make up for his lost sleep and then go to school. In the circumstances, he was not able to do justice to his duties in the school. But since he was a known favourite of the Maharaja, he could not be pulled up. However, his life-style was not only injurious to Fani's health, it also resulted in the neglect of his family, particularly his wife.

On his reaching the age of retirement, the Maharaja gave him an extension for five years. But after the latter ceased to be the prime minister in 1936, the authorities also became strict with Fani. He was transferred to a remote place in Nanded district. He went there for a week but came back and applied for sick leave on half-pay. The sanction took time and the disbursement of the amount was irregular. The courtiership of the Prince did not mean any monetary benefit for him. So his sole source of income was the stipend from the Maharaja.

Fani enjoyed his association with the mighty and the great in the State. But this was a hollow relationship. When his wife died, very few of them came to attend the funeral or sent any message of condolences. Fani did not even have enough money for her treatment and for her funeral.

Fani was a pessimist and fatalist all his life and the events of his life strengthened his belief that man was helpless and that the Fate determined everything. Man was free only outwardly. In reality he was a slave of circumstances. All his poetry is permeated by this dark mood of pessimism, morbidity and excessive self-pity. However, in portraying that he was unmatched. His style is firm and concentrated combining scholarship with austere simplicity. In one of his well known poems he says:

"Meri hayat hai mehroom-e-muddaai-e-hayat
Woh rahguzar hoon jise koi naqsh-e-pa na mila"

(I have no aim or object in life;
I am a wayfarer who could find no footsteps to guide me.)

Again, he says:
"Diyar-e-umr mein ab qahat-e-mehr hai Fani
koi ajal ke siva mehrban na mila"

"In the land of life there is a dearth of kindness,
I can't find any friend except death"

Fani also translated some of his own poems into English but they are not many and his command of English doesn't match that of Urdu.

His most famous and oft-quoted couplet is:

"Fani hum to jeete ji woh mayyat hain be gor-o-kafan
Ghurbat jis ko ras na aai aur watan bhi chhoot gaya"

(I am a living corpse sans coffin or grave
Exiled from native land it gained nothing from its new abode).

The late Prof. Sadiq Mohammad, and Prof. Mughani Tabassum, who did a doctoral thesis on Fani, categorize him with Ghalib. The latter extols him as a genius.

Heavily indebted, heart-broken and in poor health, Fani died in utter penury in 1941 and was laid to rest in Hyderabad. To-day the city is proud that he stayed and died here.

* * *
Archived by