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The centennial of Haali and Shibli

2014: the centennial of Haali and Shibli





ONE of the positive trends that Urdu’s literary circles have revived lately is to commemorate the centennials of the writers and poets of Urdu who have left their marks. In the same vein, we witnessed a flurry of centenary commemorations for Saadat Hasan Manto, N. M. Rashid, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Miraji and Mohammad Hussain Azad during the last few years. Events were also organised to mark Mir Taqi Mir’s bicentennial.

But what we all failed to notice is that Moulvi Nazeer Ahmed’s 100th death anniversary passed almost quietly in 2012. Nazeer Ahmed was a great writer by any standard and one has that eerie feeling that says the lapse was intentional. Since modernists and postmodernist thoughts have overwhelmed the current literary vistas, a traditionalist writer such as Nazeer Ahmed can hardly find any space in the new literary theory, let alone our mainstream media which is bent upon selling entertainment titbits and celebrity gossip as news.

With Nazeer Ahmed, Shibli Naumani and Altaf Hussain Haali are considered among the ‘Anaasir-i-khamsa’, or the five elements, of modern Urdu literature. One hopes that at least the literary and cultural organisations that are run by government or receive grants from the taxpayers’ money —such as Pakistan Academy of Letters, Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu or Arts Council of Pakistan — will rise and commemorate the centenary of these two giants, who deserve our homage. Some private publishing concerns may also cash in on their books, many of which are still in demand.

In fact, even the modernists and postmodernist would do well to own Haali as the services that Haali rendered cannot be denied. Among other like-minded intellectuals, he was the one who believed in Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s modernist approach most and with his ‘Muqaddama-i-sha’er-o-sha’eri’ brought the turning point in Urdu criticism which ultimately changed the course of Urdu literature. Some may cite ‘Madd-o-jazar-i-Islam’, popularly known as ‘Musaddas-i-Haali’, as Haali’s work that betrays his innate desire for an Islamic renaissance. But at the same time, Haali was so impressed with the West that even in a poem like ‘Musaddas’ that dreams of the revival of Muslims’ lost glory he profusely praises the Western nations. He says that these Westerners are “higher than sky” and “the entire world is subservient to them”. He, in one of his ghazals, invites fellow poets to “follow the West” in the matters of poetry. It was the very same idea that prompted him to write the ‘Muqaddama’, which at times ruthlessly criticises our traditional poetry and, taking a cue from the western literatures, paved the way for the new poetics.

That said, one has to agree that Haali’s basic concern was for the Indians, especially Indian Muslims. But he had a keen sense of the exploitations of the West as well and towards the end of his life was convinced that trade and craftsmanship was the way out of the colonial clutches. As Mumtaz Hussain has beautifully summed it up in his book ‘Haali ke she’ari nazariyaat’: “Haali had ignored the basic fact that the British had an access to modern knowledge and science and technology. He had pinned his hopes on business and skills. But the annulment of the partition of Bengal washed out the illusion which had painted every British thing as nice before his eyes and as a reaction he composed couplets that protested the colonial plunder.”

But Haali’s basic trait was his universal love and sympathy for everyone, aside from colour, creed, race and language.

Haali died in Panipat on Dec 31, 1914.

In the aftermath of 1857, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had envisioned a plan to help Muslims of India rise from the rubbles of a lost dynasty. They were no more rulers of India and the British had taken over. To alleviate their suffering, Sir Syed thought, Muslims must have a sense of the plight they were in and must learn from their glorious past. The first part, writes Dr Jameel Jalibi, making them feel, was carried out by Haali through his poetry while Shibli did the other part by writing historical accounts of the lives of great Muslims.

Sir Syed played a vital role in shaping Shibli’s mind. At Aligarh he had an unrestrained access to Sir Syed’s great personal collection and here he developed a taste for reading (and writing) history. In those days, at Aligarh some brilliant minds both from East and West had gathered.

Here Shibli met Prof Thomas Arnold and both were mutually impressed. Shibli asked Prof Arnold to teach him French and the professor asked him to teach him Arabic. Aligarh broadened Shibli’s mental horizon, though later he developed some differences with Sir Syed and left Aligarh.

Shibli had reached the conclusion that neither Western nor Eastern education alone could work as a panacea for the ills of the Muslims of the subcontinent. He believed that a careful mix of both was what was needed.

















courtesy of Daily Dawn

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