DR Muhammad Sadiq was fascinated by Muhammad Hussain Azad, the legendary writer of Urdu. So much so that Dr Sadiq decided to live in the house in Lahore that was once owned by Azad.

Dr Sadiq simply loved Azad and his literary works. He penned the first doctoral dissertation on Azad in 1939 and brought under the light many aspects of Azad’s life and works that were till then unknown. Dr Sadiq revealed that Azad had travelled to Central Asia under a different identity and in fact was sent on a spying mission to gather intelligence against Russia by the British India government. Though Azad had partially mentioned that journey as travels to Iran in his writings, by that time Azad had not visited Iran and he went there later on.

Dr Sadiq published an Urdu version of his dissertation in 1976, but by then some scholars, including Agha Muhammad Ashraf and Aslam Farrukhi, had “benefitted” much from his research on Azad and Dr Sadiq has bitterly mentioned this fact in the intro to his book Aab-i-Hayat Ki Himayat Mein Aur Doosre Mazaameen, a collection of his articles on Azad, published by Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab in 1973. Dr Sadiq was unhappy about the lack of references in many works on Azad, though the authors of those research works had clearly taken some material from Dr Sadiq’s unpublished thesis housed in Punjab University library.

Dr Sadiq wrote articles in defence of Azad as he believed that many researchers and critics had not done justice to Azad and had unduly criticised him, especially taking to task Aab-i-Hayat, Azad’s masterpiece that has become an evergreen classic of Urdu literature. No doubt, in Aab-i-Hayat Azad has mentioned some incidents that cannot be true and there are some accounts that lack authenticity, but one must take into account, as put by Moulvi Abdul Haq, that despite some errors Aab-i-Hayat holds a unique status in our literature as its style and its language are so wonderful that Urdu literature has very few such elegant examples.

But there was a time when some critics and researchers had torn the reputation of this book to tatters and this Azad-bashing had begun with the harsh criticism by Hafiz Mahmood Sherani, one of the great research scholars of Urdu. After Sherani, Maulana Abdul Hayi criticised Azad and Aab-i-Hayat in his Gul-i-Ra’ana. Then Nawab Naseer Hussain Khayaal and Qazi Abdul Wadood criticised Azad for historical inaccuracies and exaggerations. Another of the researchers who criticised Azad was Abid Peshawari (real name: Shiam Lal Kalra), who held Azad responsible for many errors, inaccuracies and exaggerations.

Dr Sadiq wrote many research articles in defence of Muhammad Hussain Azad and his book, Aab-i-Hayat Ki Himayat Mein, as mentioned above, was a fine effort to see Azad differently and he successfully removed many misconceptions about Azad. He says, for instance, Sherani had based his criticism of Aab-i-Hayat on the assumption that the accounts given by Azad are not mentioned in any older works or Tazkiras so they must have been concocted by Azad, but when Sherani edited Mir Qudratullah Qasim’s Tazkira Majmoo’a-i-Naghz, he had to admit that a major portion of Aab-i-Hayat was based on Majmoo’a-i-Naghz.

Dr Sadiq was a scholar of English literature as well and headed both the departments of Urdu and English at Lahore’s Government College (now a university). Born on Aug 16, 1898 in Peshawar, Dr Muhammad Sadiq is also known for his history of Urdu literature, written in English, and some other works. His brothers Tasadduq Hussian Khalid and Muhammad Rafiq Khawar, too, earned fame for their literary works. Dr Muhammad Sadiq died in Lahore on June 17, 1984, during the recording of a programme for PTV.

But lovers of Azad are not rare even today and we find Dr Abrar Abdus Salam, a young research scholar, equally enticed by Azad’s lovely prose and his literary works. Dr Abrar had chosen the editing of Aab-i-Hayat for his M Phil dissertation, which was published as an authentic and definitive edition of Aab-i-Hayat with erudite annotations. Though he did his PhD on Chronograms in Urdu, Dr Abrar kept on pursuing research on Azad, his works and the criticism on him. From time to time, Dr Abrar, too, just like Dr Sadiq, wrote research articles in defence of Muhammad Hussain Azad. Now these articles have been published in a book form by Karachi’s Idara-i-Yadgar-i-Ghalib. Taking a cue from Dr Sadiq, Dr Abrar has named the book Azad Ki Himayat Mein Aur Doosre Mazaameen. The book has 11 articles, all discussing some aspect of Azad’s life and his works.

Azad is Dr Abrar’s hero, but his approach is research based and despite his fascination with Azad, he has not abstained from looking at Azad and his writings from a critical point of view. Dr Abrar Abdus Salam heads the Urdu Department at Multan’s Government Degree College.


Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2019