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THE piece that appeared last week in these columns stirred a good deal of interest (‘Poetry that became proverbial’, Dawn, April 18, 2011). Notwithstanding the positive feedback that I have had about the piece, I would like to discuss its aspect that involves a difference of opinion and is indeed very interesting.

Prof Sahar Ansari, who needs no introduction, was kind and courteous enough, as he usually is, when he mentioned the ‘incorrect’ attribution of a couplet to Insha Allah Khan Insha in the piece. I had attributed to Insha the couplet: Hazaar sheikh ne daarhi barhai san ki si Magar wo baat kahan Moulvi Madan ki si Ansari Sahib thinks this attribution is incorrect as the couplet is not Insha’s but belongs to Akber Allahabadi. He thinks the first line should read as, ‘Agarche sheikh ne daarhi barhai san ki si’.

He said that the words ‘Moulvi Madan’ in fact referred to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who had a thick beard.

Well, maybe he is right. But there is another side of the story, too. Coincidentally, this writer had had the good luck of discussing the couplet with Dr Farman Fatehpuri quite some time ago and he too was of the opinion that the couplet could not be that of Insha — as Akber Allahabadi had referred to Pandit Malaviya. I had Farman Sahib’s words in mind while quoting the couplet. But I had quoted all the couplets, as mentioned in the piece, from the book ‘Urdu ke zarb-ul-masal ashaar: tehqeeq ki roshni mein’ because I knew that Shams-ul-Haq, the compiler of the book, had taken great pains to ascertain the correct text and the correct name of the poet. I had also read his footnotes to the couplet, on pages 171 and 172, that say that the couplet is attributed to Akber Allahabadi as well, with the word ‘agarche’ replacing ‘hazaar’ in the first line, though two different editions of collected works of Akber do not include this couplet.

The couplet has been quoted and attributed to Insha in the fourth volume of ‘Khum khana-i-Javed’, a ‘tazkira’ compiled by Lala Siri Raam (Delhi, 1925, p.320) and considered quite reliable. Sham-ul-Haq Sahib further notes that, according to Lala Siri Raam, Moulvi Madan was the teacher of the Nawab of Oudh, Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, and was a religious scholar.

Insha had also remained associated with Nawab’s court for quite some time. So it is quite possible that Insha might have composed these lines in a lighter vein. But Shams Sahib admits at the same time that due to some unknown reasons the couplet does not make it to Insha’s collected works either! So the issue remains unsettled unless we have undeniable evidence such as inclusion of the couplet in either of the poets’ works.

Not only the issue remains unsettled but a question arises as to who Moulvi Madan really was and whether it was Pandit Malaviya that the poet has referred to or it was somebody else. Prof Sahar Ansari’s mentioning the doubtful attribution reminded me of a piece of literary research penned by Nisar Ahmed Farooqi, one of India’s well-known scholars.

In his article ‘Moulvi Madan ki si’, included in his book ‘Deed-o-daryaft’, Farooqi sheds some light on the personality of Moulvi Madan. Since I do not have the book, I would quote Farooqi Sahib’s words as reported by Dr Younus Agaskar in his book ‘Urdu kahavatain aur un ke samaji-o-lisani pehlu’.

According to Farooqi, Moulvi Madan’s real name was Syed Shah Maddan and he was known for his truthfulness that was rather unrestrained and not-so-diplomatic. As an emissary of Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula, the ruler of Oudh, he had met and asked Hafiz Rehmat Khan, the ruler of Rohil Khand, for help against Marathas. Hafiz Rehmat Khan agreed to help on the condition that the promissory note for Rs4 million — signed by him and held by Nawab of Oudh — would be returned to him and Nawab would not ask for the payment of the sum. Both parties agreed and Hafiz helped Nawab defeating the Marathas.

After the battle was won, Nawab tried to wriggle out of the agreement but Maddan Shah objected to it while in Nawab’s court that was full with courtiers. As a punishment for being truthful and blunt, Maddan Shah was thrown into prison where he died of ill health.

Now this story may be true as Farooqi Sahib was a scholar with good credentials but there is no way to tell whether it was the same Maddan Shah known as Moulvi Madan and referred to in the couplet. Secondly, the story tells that Moulvi Madan was known for his truthfulness or bluntness and not for his thick, long, flowing beard — as the couplet calls his beard ‘san ki si’ and ‘san’ here is a contraction for ‘patsan’, meaning ‘jute’.

The problem is that a large number of Urdu couplets are either misquoted or are wrongly attributed to the poet/s other than the original creator. For example the famous ghazal beginning with the words, ‘Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hoon…’ is usually attributed to Bahadur Shah Zafar because it was included in a movie named ‘Laal qala’ and the actor playing Bahadur Shah Zafar was made to sing it in the movie. But, according to Dr Younus Hasni, its true and rightful owner is Muztar Khairabadi.

Some of our researchers have tried to trace the actual creators of some famous but wrongly-attributed pieces of poetry. These included stalwarts such as Qazi Abdul Wadood, Farman Fatehpuri, Ata Kakvi and many others. Literary magazines like ‘Naqoosh’, ‘Nigar’, ‘Adab-i-lateef’ and ‘Mehr-i-neemroz’ would run regular columns that debated the original composers of some most well-known couplets of Urdu. But such days are gone, perhaps forever.

One wishes that the precise background of the couplet mentioning Moulvi Madan would be brought to light.