By Bibhuti Pati

December 5th: Majaz’s  63 Death Anniversary

“People say, by the bless of God whatever you will pray, God will give you

Let’s see I will get you or not although I will pray every moment for you” Majaz

Two things have been common to a large number of Urdu Poets – drinking and unrequited love. Starting with Mir and Ghalib and going on to Sahir and Majaz, poets had a failed loved affair which became a major source of their poetic outpourings.

I can think of only two major English poets who had an unrequited love-affair. One was John Keats whose failed love for Fanny Brawne is well-known. But even in Keat’s case their failed relationship does not become a major source of his great poetry. The other is W.B. Yeats, whose love for Mand Gonne made Yeats almost mad. He waited till the age of fifty one for Mand to say ‘yes’ to his marriage proposal. Only in Yeats’ case failed love became a source of his major poetry.

Similarly, drinking and excessive drinking has been rampant among Urdu poets and has been the undoing of many of them. Jigar Murabadabi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Josh Malihabadi, Mirza Galib, Naresh Kumar Shaad, Adam and even Faiz Ahmed Faiz are the names that immediately come to mind in this context. Unfortunately, Majaz Lucknvi was a victim of both, unrequited love and alcoholism.

Asrar-ul-Haq Majaz Lucknavi was born in 1909, (some say 1911) in Radauli, Uttar Pradesh. His father Siraj-ul-Huq notwithstanding the fact that he was from a landed family, was the first person in Radauli who received higher education and took up a government job. Only at the age of 44 5th December 1955 he died and his pen name was ‘Majaz Lakhnawi’. Israr thus, belonged to family which while respecting old values of life aspired to be modern. And Majaz’s extended family, as far as art and poetry go, is indeed very impressive. He is the brother of Safia-who married the noted poet Jaan Nisar Akhtar and is the mother of poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar.

Majaz received early education in Lucknow and moved to St. John College, Agra for higher studies. In Agra he met poets like Mueen Hasan Jazbi and Faani, Badauni. It was in Agrra that Majaz started writing poetry, the glow of which travelling through Aligarh and Delhi spread in the entire country.

Majaz was so popular and his poetry such a rage hat, according to the noted Urdu writer Ismat Chuktai, the girls in the Women College, Aligarh kept his poems under their pillows and drew lots with Majaz’s name on them to find out who will marry him. They even thought of naming their sons after his name.

Majaj took B.A. degree from Aligarh Muslim University and moved over to Delhi in 1936 where he got a job with All India Radio as the editor or their journal ‘Aawaz’. In Delhi, Majaz fell in love with a married woman from higher strata of society. But this woman would not or could not reciprocate his love; he felt heart-broken, left the job and Delhi and went back to Lucknow. It was this dejected mood that he wrote ‘Dilli Se Wapsi’.

After leaving Delhi, Majaz worked for sometime in Bombay Information Service. Then along with Sardar Jafri and Sibte-Hasan, he edited a literary journal ‘Naya Abab’. Back in Delhi, he joined Harding Library as Assistant Librarian. In the meantime his parents fixed his marriage. However when things were looking up for Majaz, perhaps learning about his drinking and wayward life, they turned down the marriage proposal.

This came as a proverbial last straw on camel’s back. As it happened in the earlier love affair Majaz completely lost his mental balance. He tool to heavy drinking and had a nervous breakdown. The girls who were at one time mad after him were now afraid of marrying a mad man. His parents had thought that once he got married, he would settle down in life like a normal person. They had with great effort somehow restored his balance. But not the rejection of the proposal by the girls father came as a bolt from the blue.

After the second breakdown, he balances a megalomaniac telling people that he was the greatest poet after Ghalib and Iqbal. His family once again tried its best to bring him back to normal life, but to no avail. All his life, until his death in 1955, he remained an alcoholic. Sahir Ludhianvi who was himself a heavy drinker introduced Majaz in his journal ‘Savera’ as a vagabond who was always drunk. This is the ruin that failed love affairs brought on him.

(This misfortune occurred the day you snapped ties with me

And what is most shocking is that you knew it would happen)

In Majaz’s drinking, his so called admires and fans played no small a role. Besides being a poet Majaz was great conversationalist. His fans and admirers would take him to their house or a tavern where they plied him with alcohol and enjoyed his brilliant conversation and recitation of poetry. It was at one such gathering that after making him drunk heavily they left for his houses, leaving Majaz intoxicated on the terrace of the tavern where he froze to death in cold winter night. 

(I am ruined partly by the so called kindness of the people and only partly my own circumstances.)

Majaz along with Jazbi, Josh, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi and Sahir among a large number of other Urdu writes belongs to Progressive Writers Movement which sought to make poetry as an instrument of social change. During and after his thirties and forties these poets were a rage and ruled the roast for many years. Social and political revolution was their credo. They wrote of a golden dawn when all disparities would be gone, exploitation of man by man, cruelties and injustice would cease to be, there will be equal opportunities for everybody, love would be the defining characteristic of human heart and all discrimination due to religion and caste would end. The lilt and lyricism of some of the poets, Jigar Muradabadi for example, was most gripping. These poets were especially popular among the youth and Majaz was indeed a leading light among them. However, the partition of the country and post partition scenario dealt a huge blow to the idealism of these poets. Thus Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote : 

“This light all stained, this morning bitten by night

This is not the dawn we looked forward to

This is not the dawn we set out for

Hoping that we will find it somewhere somehow.”

The riots and bloodshed after partition shocked everybody, especially the progressive writers- Majaz was not exception. In fact these developments aggravated his grief. He was further unhinged and took to still heavier drinking. Josh Malihabadi asked him to keep a watch while drinking :

“Keep a watch beside you when you drink”

to which Majaz wittily but tragically replied :

{I keep a pitcher (by my side) and drink.}

Not only with Majaz, as said before this drinking has been the ruin of many Urdu poets, and what is more, some of them even glorify it. Adam wrote : 

(I passed via the tavern, otherwise

Life’s journey would have been too long)

Mueen Hasan Jazbi’s death came as a great shock to Majaz when drunk one night, he was heard saying “Jazbi tu Urdu ka sab se bara shayer tha. (Jazbi you were the greatest Urdu poet). There are reasons for Majaz saying so. Lives of both Majaz and Jazbi were rudderless, directionless lives. Pathos and drinking were common to both. Of course, Majaz is a greater poet than Jazbi, not that Jazbi is not a good poet. Majaz is a poet of social consciousness too and, like Sahir, he revolts against constricting social customs. Although love is the recurring theme and an overriding passion in Majaz poetry, his intense opposition to social injustice is such that according to Asar Lukhnavi, a poet and critics, “Great Majaz was destroyed and mauled by conservative wolves.”

Asar Lukhnavi also said that a Keats was born in Urdu poetry and thus Majaz has often been described as Keats of Urdu poetry which is only partly true. These are indeed some similarities between Keats and Majaz. Keats in his famous poem ‘Ode to Nightingale’ writes :

Here where men sit and hear each other groan

Where palsy shakes a few and sad last gray hair

Where youth grows pale specter thin and dies

Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

And laden eyed despair

Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eye… beyond tomorrow

And Majaz wrote :

The pale moon emerges behind this palace

Like the turban of a mullah like a trader’s book

Like a poor man’s youth, like a youthful widow’s look


(A battalion of calamities await me though

A thousand doors will still open for me, I know

But my vow of fidelity is my foe

What do I do, O sad heart, my mad heart)

And in the same poem Majaz compares the pale moon to a youthful widow.

Both Majaz and Keats were poets of love and beauty. Besides their failed love affairs, both Keats and Majaz died relatively young. Keats lived only till the age of twenty six years. Both were romantic poets thought, the presence of realism in their poetry distinguishes them from other romantic poets. In the Ode to Nightingale itself, Keats writes.

“Forlorn the very world is like a bell

To toll me back from my sole self

Aiden the fancy cannot cheat as well”

However in Majaz’s days Marxism was at its peak whereas Keats could not obviously have heard of it. His realism is the realism of life in general and not socio-economic-political realism. And this is a very big difference between the two poets.

Majaz has a great respect for and hope for women, Rather than growing cynical about women because of his personal experience, he considers them their equal and a comrade-in-arm in the task of social change.

“The mark on your forehead is a star of man’s future

You should be showing your awareness right

The young everywhere are rising in revolt

You should also be showing your might”

(The veil sits lovely on your forehead though

You should have made it into a banner even so)

Urdu poets and writers have paid glowing tribute to Majaz but after his death. According to Firaq Gorakhpuri, the spans of poetry left behind by Majaz will forever shine bright. Addressing Majaz as a magnificent Urdu poet, the critic Ehtasham Husain salutes him and predicts that Majaz’s poetry will live forever commenting on Majaz’s nature and personality, Manju Gora Khpuri remarked that he had not met a more modest person than him all his life. Whereas Ehtensham Husain put him in the line of great poets and writers like Keats, Shelley, Byron, Codwell, Durgadas Sarvar, Rattan Lal Sarshar, Manto and Akhtar Sheerani who died young, it was left for Josh Malihabadi to pay the most moving tribute. Shaken by Majaz’s death, Josh observed that this world of human beasts, this world of petty plots and mean politics, literary cliqism is not worth living for a noble and sensitive person like Majaz and added that he too was packing up going and soon, “Majaz don’t lose heart. Josh too is coming and coming soon. Hold on, Majaz!”


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