Saturday, April 1, 2000

Poet, Lover, Revolutionary

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad --56

Poet, Lover, Revolutionary
By Narendra Luther

A multi-faceted genius became a legend in his – and my -- lifetime in Hyderabad.

Makhdoom Mohiuddin was born in 1908 in a village in Medak district of poor parents. His father died when he was an infant. His mother left him in the care of his paternal uncle and got remarried. Makhdoom did not know for forty years that his mother was alive.

Life of deprivation

The orphan boy was brought up in poverty and orthodoxy. His uncle however narrated stories to him and one of them was about the Russian Revolution. Unable to grasp the metaphor, the child’s brain strained to imagine how everybody could be equal and what the size of the spread would be from which every one ate together!

Coming to the city for schooling, he had to earn his keep by selling calendars of film stars -- and gods.

In the Osmania University he became famous for his wit and repartee. He adapted George Bernard Shaw’s play Widower’s House in Urdu and earned the distinction of staging the first play in the University. He was also the first and the only student to appear before the Nizam without the formal dress of bugloos and dastar and earned praise from the ruler for his poem on the Peela Doshala (Yellow Shawl).

Religious instruction was compulsory for Muslim students in the University. The non- Muslim students were taught Ethics. Makhdoom failed in that subject and was shunted out to Ethics. He did part-time work in papers and the Deccan Radio to complete his MA in Urdu.

Choosing a career

Thereafter, armed with a recommendatory letter from Sarojini Naidu, he prepared to go to Bangalore for a job. Qazi Muhammad Hussain, who understood Makhdoom well, advised him against the plan. He recited a couplet from the poet Iqbal to drive home his point: ‘Thou art a seeker, an eternal traveller. Don’t accept a destination. Even if thou hast Laila for a companion, don’t enter the palanquin’. It was as if this piece gave Makhdoom a glimpse of his future.

He became a lecturer in the City College. There he was often caught by the principal for reciting poetry — mostly his own on popular demand — than teaching. In 1942, he left teaching and became a full-time member of the Communist Party. He played an important part in organizing the trade union movement in the State and, after 1946, was mostly either in jail or underground.

Muslim ‘princes’

Makhdoom ridiculed the doctrine of the Majlis-e-Ittehad e Mussalmeen party according to which, in Hyderabad, every Muslim was a sovereign. By logical deduction therefrom, argued Makhdoom that every Muslim child was a prince. Once Sir Mirza Ismail, the Prime Minister, visited a factory where children were manufacturing buttons. Makhdoom taunted the premier: ‘Meet our princes. You too have a Prince in the Bella Vista’. He was referring to the luxury-loving Prince of Berar. Sir Mirza left in a huff.

Makhdoom was a romantic idealist. That is what drew him to Communism. Though not bothered too much about the fine points of the ideology, he was a faithful worker of the Party and obeyed its dictat even when he disagreed with it. That was the case regarding the withdrawal of the armed struggle of the Communists in Telangana after the integration of the State with India. Makhdoom, favouring withdrawal, bowed to the Party’s decision to continue the movement.

Tremendous popularity

Because of his views and his poetry, he was immensely popular amongst all sections of society. If a policeman apprehended him when he was underground, he would let him go after making him recite his latest poem. His poetry did a lot to spread the message of Communism in Telangana – and indeed all over the country. He was conscious of his popularity when he wrote:

Shehar mein dhoom hai ik shola nava ki Makhdoom
Tazkare raston mein hain charchen hain pari khanon mein

(The city resounds with the thunder of one,
Who is the topic on footpaths and mansions alike)

He wrote poems on diverse subjects ranging from propaganda of the Party promising the ‘Red Dawn’, to pure lyrics. His poetic tribute to Bhagmati – the beloved of the founder of the city – after whom the city got its original name of Bhagnagar is a classic of its own type. In that poem, unlike Sahir Ludhyanvi’s satire on Taj Mahal, the romantic got the better of the revolutionary. He felt Bhagmati’s presence by his side and wrote:

Whenever your name escapes my lips
A lotus blossoms and my eye drips
.... Although you aren’t here, there is your supervision. (Tranlation)

One of his poems ‘Chambeli ke mandhwe tale’ (‘Under the Chameli Bush’) was sung everywhere. Later it was became popular as a lyric in a film. His poetry extended his appeal all over India and made him one of the leading lights of the Progressive Writers’ Movement. I sat beside him while a local singer, Jamila, then a young slim girl, sang his compositions at the house of the late Abid Ali Khan, founder of the Urdu daily Siasat. He looked young for his 50 years. I then approaching thirty asked him the secret of his youth. ‘Don’t worry about yourself. Take up bigger impersonal concerns’, he advised me.

Worker’s psychology

A few days later, in the discharge of my official duties, I issued orders for his arrest for defying a ban on unlawful assembly. He chided the Chief Secretary in the presence of the Chief Minister for not understanding the human need for being together in the face of collective danger of arrest or harassment. The Chief Minister, Sanjeevaiah, himself a political worker, understood and ordered his release. He then shook hand with a crestfallen Chief Secretary – and, with a conspiratorial wink, with me.

In 1957 he was elected to the State Legislative Council of Andhra Pradesh and remained the leader of his Legislature Party till his death in 1969. He had a tremendous sense of humour, which did not desert him in the most adverse circumstances. He named his first daughter ‘Asavari’- an evening raga. When his son was born during his underground days, he christened him ‘Second Front’. He is now known as Nusrat -- meaning victory.

Raj Bahadur’s daughter, Tamara, now a physician, was his particular favourite. In August 1969, V.V. Giri was contesting for Presidentship of the country. Makhdoom promised her a cone of ice cream if he was elected. Then he went away to Delhi.

On the morning of 25 August, felling uneasy, he woke up Raj Bahadur Gour. He was moved to the Pant Hospital where he passed away in the afternoon. That was the only time he did not keep his promise, says Tamara.

Hyderabad had not seen a crowd like that when his body was brought from Delhi. At the cemetery of Hazrat Shah Khamosh, the orthodox section raised an objection that a non-believer like him could not be given the honour of a burial there. But the defiant crowd of his admirers pushed on chanting zindabad and laid him to rest there. On his grave is insribed the second hemistich from a couplet of his own ghazal:

Bazm mein door woh gata raha tanha, tanha
So gaya saz par sar rakh ke sahar se pehale

(Away from the assembly, he kept singing, all by himself
Before dawn, head resting on his instrument, he went to sleep.)

No person, either before or after him has had such a hero’s farewell. Now his statue stands on the Tank Bund amongst the twenty ‘greats’ of Andhra Pradesh.

Today it seems incredible that one knew such a charismatic human phenomenon rather well.


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