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Taking Stock
Farooqi on Akbar Allahabadi
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahFarooqi has a knack for avoiding the beaten track and he prefers to tread on an uncharted course in his literary discourses. While doing this he is quite frank, authoritative, and unsparing but it is in all sincerity, with no malice and builds on a solid base of disarming arguments. These characteristic features distinguish him from his contemporary writers and critics. On December 4 was an occasion to listen to his appreciation of Akbar Allahabadi, a person standing on a cultural crossroads accused of dualism and exhibiting contradictions in his words and deeds. Farooqi was delivering the Firaq Memorial lecture under the joint auspices of the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language and the Department of Urdu, Jamia Millia Islamia.

As a matter of relevance to the occasion Prof Shamsur Rahman Farooqi began by mentioning some of his affinities with Firaq Gorakhpuri: He came from Gorakhpur to settle in Allahabad (although without dissociating himself from his native city) and Farooqi came from Azamgarh to stay in Allahabad. (His declaration to this effect will be helpful for future students and historians of Urdu literature, for I have seen in print Farooqi being mentioned as hailing from Allahabad. His father did settle in Allahabad after his retirement but in that respect the son had preceded him). Both Firaq and Farooqi were in the Allahabad University the former being a teacher and the latter a student. But wile mentioning this fact Farooqi never forgets to emphasize that he was not a student of Firaq. However, Farooqi reiterated his well-known views about Firaq that with due regard and respect for him and admitting his valuable contribution to the enrichment of Urdu poetry and prose that influenced generations of students he finds him amiss somewhere. It is an example of Farooqi’s distancing from the stereotype and refusing to sync with the symphony on moot points.

Farooqi began his discourse with his usual discordant note. He pointed out the basic fault in the assumption that a humorist or a satirist could at the best rank second in the literary work and said that Akbar could be a match for any world level poet. His grouse is that Akbar was misunderstood which undermined his person and poetry both. The reason for the misunderstanding according to Farooqi was the attempt to view Akbar in the light of his poetry and to understand his poetry in view of his personality. This situation created a lot of problems. He was criticized for contradictions in his behaviour, in his words and deeds. On the one hand he ridiculed every manifestation of western culture and on the other hand he was in the service of the British government, he sent his son to England for study and on return he too got a job under the British government. Another allegation against Akbar is that he was retrograde, against enlightenment and progress. Farooqi comes to his rescue. Defends him against all such allegations and says that Akbar was not against enlightenment but he abhorred what the British imperialism was trying to impose in the name of culture and progress, for it was likely to destroy the Indian culture and traditions. Then he goes on to say that what is seen as contradictions are in fact the compulsions that a sensitive person is subjected to while he is standing at a political and cultural crossroads and the future is obfuscated by the far reaching developments.

The culture which had groomed Akbar Allahabadi and preceding generations was in a shambles before his eyes. It was more than enough for pricking the sensibilities of a poet but compulsions of circumstances forced him to hold his tongue but it was his ingenuity that gave vent to his feelings without being caught and prosecuted. In fact it was that vociferating ingenuity which the Englishman had failed to comprehend and construe. It is on record that after the 1857 rebellion a British officer had commented that had we learnt the Urdu language and watched the Urdu newspapers we would have been aware of what was going to happen much before the rebellion. After that Urdu papers were thoroughly monitored for all nuances. Farooqi says that Akbar did not hesitate to admit the fact what was construed as contradictions, he gave to understand that he was too weak to stand the cruelties perpetrated by the British rulers upon those who dared to oppose and express their views against the government.

Farooqi says that Akbar was pained to see that the cultural life of the society was badly shaken and disturbed, the values that were close to his heart were trodden. He was sad and deeply hurt to see the loss of self-respect. He expressed his injured susceptibilities with the help of symbols. Farooqi quotes selectively from Akbar’s verses to explain what his symbols stand for. For instance engine stands for a vehicle of power which pulls the whole society in the direction of its choice. The pipe line and the water tap are the means through which the cultural significance of the well and river ghats are demolished. While getting used to the facilities of life people become oblivious of what they had lost. Similarly, the newspaper is the symbol of communication, an adjunct of power, at the same time the advertisement of western commodities ad products indicates the profusion and expansion of economic power. It is difficult to say whether Akbar foresaw advertisement as a symbol of economic domination or Farooqi’s ingenuity injected that meaning.

In short Farooqi believes that literary historians and critics did not do justice to Akbar Allahabadi and it is time for his proper appreciation. It may be concluded that this lecture will be a step in that direction.

Syed Shahid Mehdi VC Jamia Millia Islamia, in his concluding remarks, said that Akbar’s poetry was a sort of nostalgia. With the advent of British rule their culture was getting predominance and the culture in which Akbar had opened his eyes was on the decline, in such circumstances one would naturally be nostalgic. People of every generation have their nostalgia, we too have ours. He said that writers and poets posed questions and did not necessarily offer answers to those questions. The VC appreciated Farooqi’s lecture and suggested that it should be translated and published in both languages. Who will bear the burden? May be one of the sponsors, that is, the Council for Promotion of Urdu which has already published several bulky volumes generated by the restless Farooqi’s fertile brain. The Director of the Council Dr Hameedulla Bhat was sitting by the side of Farooqi.

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