While Ahmad Bashir was working in daily Imroze, Maulana Chiragh Hasan Hasrat delegated him to receive and entertain Maulana Hasrat Mohani on the occasion of the latter’s tour of Lahore. The sketch, which grew out of Bashir’s meeting with the Maulana, begins with Bashir going to the railway station to receive the freedom fighter. The full text was originally published in Imroze on 13 November 1950 and is included in his book Jo Milay Thhe Raastay Mein [My Fellow Travellers], celebrating the silver jubilee of its publication.

When we had been almost disappointed looking at the first- and second-class carriages, we saw that a very aged man of small height was standing in front of a third-class carriage. Upon his head was a Turkish cap with small borders and missing its tassels. He wore a long and loose soiled kurta, a ragged black-coloured shalwar, and ordinary chappals on the feet. Three tiny bags, dirty bedding fastened with rope and a bundle of books was lying near him. An old cane and a discoloured, worn umbrella in one hand and the yellow ticket of the third-class carriage in the other, he was negotiating with a porter about carrying his luggage outside.

This weak and saintly sage was the great political leader of the Indo-Pak Subcontinent and the great ghazal-writer and critic of the past half century, Maulana Hasrat Mohani. After performing haj for the twelfth time, he had reached Lahore to go to Kanpur via train from Karachi on 17 October.

The real name of Maulana Hasrat Mohani is Fazlul Hasan. But very few people know his name. Therefore, he says of himself:

Ishq ne jab se kaha Hasrat mujhe
Koi bhi kehta nahin Fazlul Hasan

[Since love called me Hasrat/ Nobody calls me Fazlul Hasan]

He was born in 1873 in the village Mohan of Uttar Pradesh, which lies between Kanpur and Lucknow. He is 77 years old at this time. His beard has become totally white. His head has shed all its hair. There are wrinkles on the face but the general bodily health is not bad. Even at his age, he regularly feels hunger. His eyes are very large and shining. But his vision has reduced slightly. The glasses of the spectacles are very small and longish. The colour of the frame has vanished totally. But it would have been of golden colour at one time.

Old memories are preserved in his mind to a great extent. But he feels tired and bored describing them. He does not remember the time any incident took place. Life has been so busy and eventful, that he considers no incident worthy enough to recall by its date.

May 13 marked 70 years since Maulana Hasrat Mohani, one of the towering leaders of the freedom struggle in India, passed away. Eos presents translated excerpts of a sketch on him written by renowned Pakistani writer and journalist Ahmad Bashir

Early Life

When I requested him to tell the details of his childhood, he had to force his brain to remember. He recollected his date of birth, but could not tell which year he went to school.

In those days, the Maulana said, not everyone could get admission in public schools for formal education. The rule, in decent homes, was that a teacher would come home to teach the Koran and Urdu to children. All the children of the mohalla [neighbourhood] would be educated by that same teacher. “So I attained early education very much at home. Then I got admitted at the Kanpur Vernacular Middle School. I came first in the whole province in the exam for the school and got a scholarship.”

“My father did not intend to have me educated beyond middle school but, after getting the scholarship, the desire for higher education grew in my heart. So I was admitted to high school. Another incident happened there. I came first across the whole province in maths in the exam for tenth class. One scholarship was given by the government and the other by Aligarh University. Dr Ziauddin [the university’s first pro vice-chancellor, vice chancellor and rector] was in Aligarh. He saw that a Muslim boy had topped in maths, so he deemed it necessary to encourage. Thus, I reached Aligarh.”

The Art of Ghazal Writing

‘At what age did you write your first ghazal?’

“I don’t remember at what age I wrote my first ghazal. But the oldest ghazal in my diwaan is dated 1892. I don’t remember any ghazal or verse before that.”

‘How many ghazals would you have written by now?’

“Well, I cannot say. Bhai, the thing is that it is not easy to write a ghazal. It takes me a lot of time. Many times I write one after thinking for weeks. I do not claim to write excessively.”

‘But Maulana, a few poets write a hundred verses in an hour.’

“I can write two hundred verses in an hour like that. But there is great difference between measuring rhymes and versification. And honestly, if you ask me, the poets who write a hundred verses in an hour have become the cause for the decline of the ghazal. To write verses is not really a compulsion. Instead of writing ten ghazals why shouldn’t one write one, so that the dignity of the ghazal is not lost. If the subject is not complete in your mind, and your heart really does not feel anything, what can the poor rhyme do, after all. I do not understand the benefit of writing a ghazal like this.

“The subject of the ghazal is delicate and delicate feelings cannot be created. Something like waves rise within the heart and a ghazal is made. And this is a spiritual condition, which is independent of affectation. It is not enough for poetry to be skillful in language. It requires soft and delicate feelings, which are created from love.”

I can write two hundred verses in an hour like that. But there is great difference between measuring rhymes and versification. And honestly, if you ask me, the poets who write a hundred verses in an hour have become the cause for the decline of the ghazal. To write verses is not really a compulsion. Instead of writing ten ghazals why shouldn’t one write one, so that the dignity of the ghazal is not lost.

‘Is it necessary for a poet to love?’

“A verse cannot be written without love. This is very much my claim.”

A very interesting conversation was taking place, indeed. I dared and asked a personal question. ‘Maulana, have you also loved?’

He began by saying, “Yes I have, otherwise could I have written poetry?”

‘[But] Is it necessary for love to be successful?’

“Successful? Meaning union? Have you not heard Akbar’s verse? Aashiqi qaid-e-shariat mein jab aa jati hai/ Jalva-e-kasrat-e-aulaad dikha jaati hai [When love is bound within Shariah’s captivity/ It puts on a show of reproductive productivity]. Success is very much the death of love. Failure fosters love.”

I said, mischievously, ‘And now what is the situation?’

“A tenderness is created in the heart very much in old age. The feeling of love becomes more delicate and more extreme. Because this love is neat and clean. It does not possess lust. But what is this you have brought up? Leave it.”

After this, the Maulana kept quiet. I thought I should ask him about his contemporaries. So I asked. ‘Maulana, you did know Akbar Allahabadi?’

“I knew him very well. He was a very dear friend of mine.”

‘When did you meet him for the first time?’

“I don’t remember this, and what is this questioning about first meeting? I met him for many years. He used to love me greatly. He was a very intelligent man.”

‘Say something about his poetry.’

“Well, say what? You very much know his poetry is there. He was a boundless man. He used to hate the British and used to say important things in roundabout ways. He was also very afraid of the English. That is why much of his poetry has not come forward. He perceived a thing well. In any gathering, whenever somebody talked about his poetic habit, he wrote a verse then and there. Alas, what a man he was. When I was released from Allahabad jail, the train to Kanpur ran in the evening. I thought I would go meet Akbar. When I arrived at his place, he embraced me and cried. He sent for daal maash and oil and put a few grains of daal for good luck in the oil. This ritual has been carried on in Oudh since God knows when. But it is [usually] fulfilled by mothers and daughters. Akbar loved me so much that he did so himself.”

‘Maulana Shibli [Nomani] was also very much your friend?’

‘Arrey, not just any friend, we were together day and night. We assembled daily at Zainul Abedin’s in Aligarh. He was older than me but very lively and frank. In the beginning I respected his seniority but when he took to eccentricity, then I too said, ‘Hazrat, you have very much started it so Bismillah — and then the things that would take place, my God!”

A gleam came into Maulana Hasrat Mohani’s eyes while mentioning Maulana Shibli. And he sat up. He continued, “One day, he recited a Farsi ghazal, the gathering was lively. I was seated nearby, and he quietly said in my ear that I have kept a verse for you separately. When the gathering finished, he recited this:

‘Man fida-ye but-e-shokhi ke ba-hangam-e-visaal Ba-man aamokht khud aain-e-hum aaghoshi ra’

[For that mischievous beloved I am willing to sacrifice Who in the state of union himself taught me the law of embracing]

I said, ‘Hazrat, this is the father of obscenity!’

I asked him that ‘Is the feeling of sin created by the subject of the ghazal or the voice of the qawwals?’ He said, ‘The subject of the ghazal was very much pure and the voice of the qawwals was very sweet too, but song and music are fundamentally forbidden.’

He began to say, “Well this is a fact!” Then the Maulana lowered his voice and whispered, “Sometimes one does become like that. Maulana Shibli did not exaggerate at all.”

I asked, ‘Maulana what was that story of Atiya Faizi?’

“Arrey bhai, what story? It is known to the whole world. Even in those days, she was a very high-ranking woman, very shrewd. And Shibli had an intellectual relationship with her. And this thing was also not hidden at all from Atiya’s parents. They were carefree, too. So Shibli, Faizi and Atiya sat together for hours and talked. There is nothing special in it. People wrongly constructed a tale.”

‘You also met Atiya?’

“Many times, Shibli also used to take me along.”

‘Was she very beautiful in those days?’

“Very ordinary face. Complexion neither too fair, nor too dark. Just above average height. A man walking on the road would not feel the need to look again. But she was perceptive.”

‘Which other people were in Aligarh in those days?’

“There was great bloom in Aligarh in those days. There was Maulana [Altaf Hussain] Hali, Dr Nazeer Ahmad, [historian] Maulvi Zakaullah [Dehalvi] and many other people, but my close relations were very much with Shibli. Maulana Hali was a very serious-minded and quiet sage. Nazeer Ahmad was the same. I did bump into both these elders sometimes and I too tolerated them. But I never approached Maulvi Zakaullah!

“In addition to Maulvi Shibli I was also very close to [writer and historian Abdul Halim] Sharar. Then there was [poet] Riyaz Khairabadi, observant of prayer and fasting, good-natured, pure-natured. Looking at his poetry one thinks this person lives his life in the tavern. But no, he did not ever miss prayer.

‘Say something about Sir Abdul Qadir [magazine editor and community leader] and Dr Iqbal [Allama Iqbal].’

“Sir Abdul Qadir was a very good man and was among my very dear friends. We used to meet when he came to Aligarh. He issued Makhzan in 1903 so my ghazals too were published there. Similarly, Dr Iqbal too was my friend. I was in jail when he published Asrar-e-Khudi. I disliked the manner in which he had ridiculed Sufis. I complained to him from jail. He wrote back that this is about artificial Sufis, that I greatly respect real Sufis. So my notion of it changed.

“I had a place in my heart for [freedom fighter and poet] Sarojini Naidu. In addition to political companionship, I also respected her for we were like-minded in matters of Urdu. She herself was skilled in the language. And spoke a very sweet language. Alas, that she too didn’t remain!”

Music and islam

‘You did not mention Maulana Sajjad Bihari. He too was very much among your closest friends.’

“Maulana Sajjad Bihari was a very good-natured sage. I have made some interesting mischiefs with him. But he always bore them with cheerfulness. A maulvi he very much was, but a very fine man.”

‘What mischiefs did you do with him?’

“Now leave their mention, never mind.”

‘No Maulana, for us folks these things are very interesting. When did you first meet Maulana Sajjad Bihari?’

“Leave the first time. Let me tell you an incident — you do know that Maulvi sahib was a very fanatical type of Muslim. He considered sport and frivolity, even ordinary song and music, as prohibited. Once, I visited Ajmer Sharif and stayed in a chamber in front of the dargah [shrine]. Coincidentally, Maulvi sahib was also in Ajmer in those days. When he heard about my arrival, he came to meet me there. He had just come and sat down that a few qawwals from the dargah came to meet me. They wished to tune their musical instruments. Maulvi sahib became angry and said I am leaving. I thought of a mischief. I indicated to a man with my eyes to lock the chamber door from outside, and said to the qawwals to start a nice sufi ghazal. They began a ghazal of Khusrau.

“Maulvi sahib sulked a lot, became offended, entreated me saying ‘What will people say if they see this, after all, consider my public life a bit.’ But I kept smiling. And the qawwals kept singing. Their voice had a lot of passion and the choice of ghazal was very fine too. Maulvi sahib got angry for some time but sat silently after the second or third verse and began to listen to the ghazal. When the ghazal finished, I asked Maulvi sahib how his time had passed. He began to say that ‘the time has passed well but there is a feeling of sin in my heart.’

“I asked him that ‘Is the feeling of sin created by the subject of the ghazal or the voice of the qawwals?’ He said, ‘The subject of the ghazal was very much pure and the voice of the qawwals was very sweet too, but song and music are fundamentally forbidden.’ I said that something that creates spiritual conditions and does not incite sin, how can it be forbidden?

“Maulvi sahib began to say, ‘The rules of Islam are divine. No one can intrude in those.’ [So I said] ‘This is very much correct but, in my opinion, Islam does not prohibit from such samaa which does not produce vile feelings.’ Sajjad argued a lot after this but it was evident from his face and talk that he had been convinced from his heart by me. Or at least a doubt definitely had been created in his heart.”

The translator is a social scientist, critic and dramatic reader, based in Lahore. He is currently working on a book Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2021. He can be reached at razanaeem@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 30th, 2021

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