Hasrat Mohani: Poet and visionary
He was a true maverick. In 1908 he published an anonymous article in his modest Urdu journal, Urdu-e-Mualla(circulation 500), which severely criticised the British colonial policy in Egypt concerning education. The authorities in India promptly charged him with “sedition”. Refusing to disclose the name of the author, he took sole responsibility for the article; consequently, he had to spend over 12 months in “rigorous imprisonment” – i.e. hand grinding with another C-class prisoner one maund (37.3 kg) of grain every day.
In 1921 three major political parties held their annual meetings in the same week at Ahmedabad. At the All India Khilafat Conference he succeeded in getting a resolution passed that called for India’s total freedom from colonial rule but the next day, not surprisingly, the delegates quickly repudiated themselves. He then tried his luck in the Subjects Committee of the Indian National Congress but the Mahatma, rushing back from another meeting, made sure the resolution was firmly defeated. Finally, at the meeting of the All India Muslim League, he forcefully expressed his call in his presidential address but wisely abstained from asking for a vote.
He was perhaps the only prominent Muslim of his generation to publicly champion the radical thinking of Tilak, writing glowingly about him in his journal. He also wrote many verses praising him, including the following at his demise:
“Jab tak woh rahe duniya mein raha hum sab ke dilon par zor unka/ Ab rah ke bahisht mein nizd-i-khuda hooron pe karenge raj Tilak
(So long as he lived, he ruled our hearts, and now in Paradise/ Nearer to God, Tilak shall rule over the Houris.)”
And when the first Indian Communist Conference was held at Kanpur in 1925, he was one of its organisers as well as the president of the Reception Committee. Some think that on that occasion he also coined the slogan “Inqilab Zindabad” as a translation of the English “Long Live the Revolution”. Later, in a verse, he described himself as a “Sufi believer (sufi momin)” and a “communist Muslim (ishtiraaki muslim)” whose chosen path was revolution (inqilab) and unworldliness (darweshi).
“Darweshi-o-inqilab maslak hai mera/ Sufi momin hoon, ishtiraaki muslim”
He was born Fazlul Hasan in 1878, in a modest zamindar family of Mohan, a kasbah in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh. After matriculating with distinction, when he arrived at the Mahommedan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh, in 1899, he got down from the ekka wearing flared pyjamas and his wedding sherwani and holding a paandaan (betel leaf container) in one hand. The smartly turned-out boys of the college immediately nicknamed him khalajaan (aunty). But in short time his personal integrity and his talent for poetry – he chose Hasrat (“Longing”) for his takhallus (nom de plume) – won him their affection and respect. By the time he passed away in 1953 most of India had long known him simply as Maulana Hasrat Mohani.
While still a teen, Hasrat had been taken by his father to the Firangi Mahal in Lucknow to be initiated into the Qadiri silsila (order) as traced through Shah Abdur Razzaq (d. 1724) of Bansa (Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh). He was also initiated into the Chishti Sabri silsila and eventually received authority to initiate others in both. He also went on Haj 11 times, travelling by land or sea, as his meagre funds allowed.
There was one more way in which Hasrat was a maverick: he wrote verses expressing deep love for Krishna and often went to Mathura to celebrate Janmashtami.
Hasrat’s Kulliyaat (Collected Works) contains a small set of Krishna-bhakti poems. A few are in standard Urdu; the rest are in a language that he sometimes called Bhasha and at other times Hindi though written in the Urdu script. It is a kind of simplified Awadhi that was quite prevalent even in the 1940s among the Muslim gentry of the kasbahs of Awadh – particularly among their ladies – who often called it kacchi boli.
Hasrat’s radical speeches at the above-mentioned Ahmedabad conferences had brought him trouble. He was arrested early in 1922 and tried in Ahmedabad and after conviction, remained shut up in the Yerwada Central Jail, Pune, until March 1924. The Mahatma was also being held there though in more luxurious quarters than Hasrat’s C-class cell. This time however Hasrat refused to perform hard labour and consequently suffered other punishments.
As with his previous two times in jail, Hasrat wrote much poetry, precisely dating each poem as was his habit on such occasions. They were published as five separate small collections: diwans 6-10. One is struck by the intensity of their devotional fervour, particularly in those from the early months. In the poems written at Ahmedabad, Hasrat rejoiced at being in close proximity to the shrine of Shah Abdus Samad of Ahmedabad, the initiating mentor or pir of his own particular spiritual mentor, Shah Abdur Razzaq of Bansa. One may safely assume that he similarly rejoiced at being in Pune, the city of Tilak, his political mentor. Hasrat was at Pune when Janmashtami came round in 1923 and soon after it, he wrote his first poem extolling Krishna; it also expressed his regret at not being at Mathura.
The poem – in Urdu – contains only three verses and bears the date: September 26-30 (1923). It is included in his seventh diwan which has an interesting introduction. Hasrat wrote: “These  ghazals were written in just 11 days, between September 20, 1923, and September 30, 1923… I have occasionally mentioned in these verses the names of the saintly elders (buzurg) from whom I have received spiritual boons (faiz). In addition to Islamic personages, I have also mentioned Shri Krishna. Concerning Hazrat Shri Krishna Alaihi-Rahma (‘The Revered Shri Krishna, May Blessings Be Upon Him’), this fakir follows the path of his pir and the path of the pir of all pirs, Hazrat Sayyad Abdur Razzaq Bansawi, May Allah Bless His Innermost Heart.” Then he quoted a verse of his own:
“Maslak-i-ishq hai parastish-i-husn/ Hum nahin jaante azaab-o-sawaab
(The path of Love is to worship Beauty/ We don’t care for Reward or Punishment.)”
The three verses are:
“Aankhon mein noor-i-jalwa-i-be-kaif-o-kam hai khaas/ Jab se nazar pe unki nigaah-i-karam hai khaas
Kuch hum ko bhi ataa ho ki ai hazrat-i-Kirishn/ Iqlim-i-ishq aap ke zer-i-qadam hai khaas
Hasrat ki bhi qubool ho Mathura mein haziri/ Sunte hain aashiqon pe tumhara karam hai khaas
(When he cast at me his especially kind glance/ My eyes lit up with a nameless unending vision.
Revered Krishna, bestow something on me too/ For at your feet lies the entire realm of Love.
May that you accept Hasrat too at Mathura –/ I hear you are especially kind to lovers.)”
In subsequent weeks Hasrat wrote several more poems of that nature – but in Bhasha. The first is dated October 2, 1923. Most likely it was not his first Bhasha poem. Another poem written that day must have been the first. It praises Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad, the founding figure of the Qadiri order of Sufism, and Hasrat’s own, more directly linked, spiritual masters of Firangi Mahal and Bansa. Since he was venturing into something new, Hasrat must have, I believe, first dedicated a poem in the new manner to the founding saint of his order and only then turned to praising another figure within his devotional pantheon.
The ‘new’ manner that Hasrat was venturing into was not just a matter of shifting from standard Urdu to Bhasha. There was another major change too. As we read the two poems, we immediately notice the vividly feminine persona – as distinct from the exclusively masculine voice in the Urdu ghazal – that the poet adopts for himself. It strongly suggests that the choice in language really reflected a new – though only intermittent – preference in the manner or mode of devotion. In other words, Bhasha allowed him to relate to his object of devotion – Abdul Qadir Jilani; Krishna; Beauty; Truth – in a manner that his heart possibly longed for but found unavailable or impossible in standard Urdu. Here are the two poems.
Poem 1 (October 2, 1923; Diwan 8)
“Baghdadi dayalukhiwayya/ humhoon garib han paar jawayya/ birah kimaari, nipat dukhiyaari/ taakan kab-lag door se nayya/ paar utaar piyase milao/ Razzak piya Baanse nagar basayya/ Baanse nagar ke, Firangi Mahal ke/ ekai naam ke dui-dui khiwayya/ Razzak Wahab piyabin, Hasrat/ humri bithaakakaun sunayya
(Merciful Boatman of Baghdad/ We poor ones too wish to get across/ Separation-wounded, grief-accursed –/ How long must we gaze at the boat from afar?/ Beloved Razzaq, residing in Bansa, please/ Take us across; let us meet with the Beloved/ One is from Bansa, the other from Firangi Mahal –/ We have two boatmen, who share one name/ Except for the beloved Razzaq and Wahhab/ There is none, Hasrat, who would hear our woes.)”
Poem 2 (October 2, 1923; Diwan 8)
“Man to-se preet lagaai kanhaai/ kahu or kisurati ab kaahe ko aai/ Gokula dhoondh Brindaban dhoondho/ Barsaane lag ghoom ke aai/ tan man dhan sab waar-ke Hasrat/ Mathura nagar chali dhooniramaai
(My heart has fallen in love with Kanhaiya/ Why would it think of anyone else now?/ We looked for him in Gokul and Brindaban/ Let’s now go to Barsana and see if he’s there/ Hasrat, give up for him all that is yours/ Then go to Mathura and become a jogi.)”
A few more of Hasrat’s Bhasha poems are now listed in chronological order.
Poem 3 (October 4, 1923; Diwan 8)
“Mose ched karat Nandlal lie/ thaare abeer gulaal/ dhith bhai jin kibarjori/ auran par rang daal-daal/ hum-hoon jo dei liptae-ke Hasrat/ saari ye chalbal nikaal
(Nandalal keeps teasing me without end/ Lurking nearby, ready to pour colours on me/ Having safely sprayed others so many times/ He is now set in his bullying ways/ But what if I should embrace him, Hasrat/ And squeeze him dry of his fancy tricks?)”
Poem 4 (October 20, 1923; Diwan 8)
“Birha ki rain kate na pahaad/ sooni nagarya padi ujaad/ nirdai Shyam pardes sidhaare/ ham dukhiyaran chodchaad/ kaahe na Hasrat sab sukh-sampat/ taj baithan ghar maar kiwaad
(The unending night of separation lies heavy/ Like a mountain; the town is desolate/ Heartless Shyam has gone to another land/ Abandoning us, his wretched ones/ Why shouldn’t then we cast off everything/ And stay home, Hasrat, the door bolted shut?)”
Poem 5 (October 28, 1923; Diwan 8)
“Puna hoe na Shyam kipreet ka paap/ kou kaahe karat hai pashchatap/ neha ki aag maatan-man maare/ kab lag jalat rahi chup-chaap/ dina-dayal bhae dukh-dayak/ sab, Hasrat, bhool ke mel-milaap
(Loving Shyam is not a sin, nor a virtue/ So why do people go about Repenting?/ How long must I burn in Love’s fire/ Silently, oppressing my heart and body?/ He who is called the Wretched’s Solace/ Now hurts, Hasrat, ignoring past ties.)”
Poem 6 (October 30, 1923; Diwan 8)
“Tuma bin kaun sune maharaj/ raakho baahn gahe ki laaj/ Braj-mohan jab se man baase/ hum bhoolin sab kaam-kaaj/ kuraj suraj sab bhool ke Hasrat/ ab maangat hai prem-raj
(Who else would listen to me but you, Maharaj?/ You once grabbed my arm – don’t shame me now/ Ever since that Braj-Enchanter entered my heart/ I have neglected all my tasks/ Hasrat has forgotten “Bad Raj” and “Good Raj”/ He now seeks only the “Raj of Love.)”
Poem 7 (November 21, 1923; Diwan 9)
“Kaase kahinaahin chain, Banawari bina/ roe kaate saarirain, Murari bina/ kou jatan jiyadhir na dhaare/ neend na aawe nain, Gridhari bina/ dekh sakhikou cheenhat naahin/ as Hasrat hoigain, Banawari bina
(Whom should I tell I find no rest without Banawari?/ My nights are spent shedding tears without Murari/ I try everything but my heart remains desolate/ No sleep comes to my eyes without Girdhari/ Look, friend, no one recognises us –/ So much we’ve changed, Hasrat, without Banawari.)”
Poem 8 (March 14, 1924; Diwan 10)
“Mo-pe rang na daar Murari/ binti karat hoon tihaari/ paniya bharan kaajaae na dehen/ Shyam bhare pichkari/ thar-thar kaanpat laajan Hasrat/ dekhat hain nar-naari
(Don’t throw colour on me, Murari/ Please, I beg of you, don’t/ Shyam won’t let me go to fetch water/ There he stands, with a loaded sprinkler/ Hasrat, stands shivering, utterly embarrassed/ As folks come over and watch.)”
Hasrat did not write another Bhasha poem after March 1924 but he did write a couple more Urdu poems on the Krishna theme. Three verses from one will suffice to highlight the difference mentioned above. It was written at Barsana, the birthplace of Radha in Mathura district, and is dated August 28, 1926. The date coincides with the Janmashtami festival that year.
“Irfan-i-ishq naam hai mere maqaam ka/ haamil hoon kis ke naghma-i-nai ke payaam ka/ Mathura se ahl-i-dil ko woh aatihai boo-i-uns/ duniya-i-jaan mein shor hai jis ke dawaam ka/ labrez-i-noor hai dil-i-Hasrat, zahe-naseeb/ ik husn-i-mushkfaam ke shauq-i-tamaam ka
(I stand where Love’s perfect knowledge is found/ Whose is the flute whose melody fills me?/ “Men of Heart” obtain in Mathura that fragrance of Unity/ Which eternally permeates all life/ What good fortune, Hasrat, that your heart brims/ With a glowing love for that Musk-hued Beauty!)”
We may conclude by reminding ourselves that Hasrat wrote no less passionately about Mecca, Medina and Ajmer. What the different pilgrimages meant to him experientially is best expressed in one of his verses:
“Jamal-i-yaar se raushan ba-har shaan-o-ba-har soorat/ Mere pesh-i-nazar hain jalwa-i-dair-o-haram donon
(My eyes behold the mosque and the temple/ And light up every time with the Beloved’s Beauty.)”
And how he put that experience into practice in his life was also best expressed by him in another verse:
“Padhiye is ke siwana koi sabaq/ Khidmat-i-khalq-o-ishq-i-hazrat-i-haq
(Take to your heart no lesson but one/ Serve all life, and love Truth.)”
This article is excerpted from a longer academic essay in progress. For biographical information, I am indebted to the following two books:
1. Ishtiyaq Azhar, Sayyad-al-Ahrar, Bahawalpur; Urdu Academy, 1978.
2. Nafis Ahmad Siddiqui, Hasrat Mohani aur Inqilab-i-Azadi, Karachi; Oxford University Press, 2004.
This article was published on the website of Outlook magazine on January 12, 2012; www.outlookindia.com
Archived from Communalism Combat, January 2012. Year 18, No.163 - Ethos