Pandit Brij Narayan Chakbast was an Urdu poet, critic, editor and researcher. But his name has also been associated with one of the most famous literary skirmishes in the history of Urdu literature.
Chakbast had edited ‘Gulzar-i-Naseem’, a famous Urdu masnavi that is a versified dastan. Composed by Pandit Daya Shankar Naseem Lakhnavi, ‘Gulzar-i-Naseem’ is considered among the best Urdu masnavis but the classical tale was not originally conceived by Naseem and is based on Gulbakaoli, a classical tale translated from Persian into Urdu under the title ‘Mazhab-i-ishq’ in 1803 by Nihal Chand Lahori.
Naseem’s versified version appeared in 1844 and Chakbast’s edited version with a detailed preface appeared in 1905. Chakbast had much eulogised Naseem for his work.
Maulana Abdul Haleem Sharar, a celebrated contemporary of Chakbast and editor of Dilgudaz, an Urdu magazine published from Lucknow, criticised in his journal Chakbast’s version for certain editing errors and issues related to idioms and linguistic diversions. Sharar was of the view that ‘Gulzar-i-Naseem’ was penned by Aatish Lukhnavi and not by Naseem. He also pointed out many errors in the famous masnavi concerning the usage. Chakbast wrote a detailed rejoinder that appeared in Urdu-i-mualla, the famous literary journal edited by Hasrat Mohani.
Soon it turned into a full-blown feud as many writers and magazines began commenting on the issue.
Celebrated authors of the day such as Hasrat Mohani, Shauq Qidvai, Jalil Manakpuri, Zamin Kantoori and others wrote on the issue. Oudh Punch, the famous and hugely popular Urdu humour magazine launched from Lucknow in 1877 by Munshi Sajjad Hussain Lukhnavi, came to Chakbast’s rescue and published many humorous and satirical pieces and cartoons ridiculing Sharar. The issue that sowed the seeds of controversy was Chakbast’s derogatory comments that he passed while comparing Pandit Naseem with some poets of Lucknow in his preface trying to prove that Naseem was much superior.
That offended Maulana Sharar and some other Lucknow writers and they come down too hard on Chakbast. Rasheed Hasan Khan and Kalidas Gupta Reza have discussed the issue in detail in their works. According to Rasheed Sahib, if Sharar had not narrated some newfangled traditions and if Oudh Punch had not jumped into the fray, the tone and style of the discussion, which at times became quite non-serious, would have been much different.
Kalidas Gupta Reza carried out research on Chakbast and wrote three books on him. According to Reza, Chakbast was born on January 19, 1882, in Faizabad, a town near Lucknow. At that time his father Pandit Udit Narayan Chakbast was serving as a deputy collector in Patna, Bihar. In 1887, when his father died, young Chakbast had to move along with his mother to Lucknow to live with his maternal uncle Pandit Lalta Prashad. Chakbast did not have formal schooling at the early age and a Moulvi would come to his uncle’s home to teach him Urdu and Persian.
In 1894, Chakbast composed his first poem and recited it at the meeting of Social Conference, an organisation founded in 1891 by Kashmiri Pandits. A year later, he took admission to Kazmeen School, Lucknow, and thus began his schooling that formally ended at his obtaining BA and LLB degrees. In October 1918, Chakbast launched Subh-i-ummeed, an Urdu monthly, in collaboration with Kishan Prashad Kol.
Aside from poetry and journalistic writings such as editorials, Chakbast rendered invaluable service to Urdu by writing critical and research articles on some writers, especially the contributors of Oudh Punch. These pieces were collected posthumously and first published in 1928 under the title Mazameen-i-Chakbast. Chakbast’s other works include Subh-i-vatan, Kulliyaat-i-Chakbast (poetry), Kamla (drama) and Intikhab-i-Aatish-o-Ghalib (selection). Kalidas Gupta Reza edited and published Chakbast aur baqiyaat-i-Chakbast and Maqalat-i-Chakbast that include Chakbast’s rare and remaining writings.
On February 12, 1926, Chakbast suffered a stroke at a Rae Bareli railway station and died. But he will be remembered for his work on ‘Gulzar-i-Naseem’, the skirmish and a couple of his verses that have become almost proverbial. Two of his famous couplets are:
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2015