Makhdoom: A fine poet who picked up gun during peasant uprising
A rebel in his life of soul-stirring poems, Deccan’s great Urdu poet Makhdoom — who was born on February 4, 1908 — mobilised youth against the British Empire and eventually for the merger of Hyderabad with the newly liberated Indian Union.
At the tender age of five, Abu Sayeed Mohammad Makhdoom Mohiuddin Khurdi — popularly known as Makhdoom Mohiuddin (1908-69) — became an orphan. He used to sweep the floor of the village mosque and serve devotees during his childhood in Medak district of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad.
To pursue higher education, he moved to the city and earned a master’s degree from Osmania University. One of the brightest stars in the galaxy of the Progressive Writers Movement, Makhdoom started out as a trade union activist, taught Urdu at Government City College for almost seven years before he became a tall leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in Andhra Pradesh. In the following years, he went on to become Leader of the Opposition in the state’s assembly.
He was first arrested in 1941 and then in 1944 for inciting rebellion. On both the occasions, he had to serve a jail term of three months each. There came a phase in Makhdoom’s life when he had picked up the gun during the peasant’s Telangana Armed Struggle (1946-1950). When the infuriated Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, announced a bounty on his head, Makhdoom went underground in 1946 for a couple of years.
A rebel in his poetry and life, Makhdoom continued mobilising youth against the British Empire and eventually for the merger of Hyderabad with the newly liberated Indian Union. He was again arrested in 1951 and put in jail for over one year. He was released after the CPI gave up the idea of an armed revolution and took to the democratic path.
Widely known for his film songs, Makhdoom is compared, for his soul stirring poetry, with the Telugu poet Srirangam Srinivasa Rao, popularly known as Sri Sri, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Nazrul Islam, in literary circles. Many of his poems were used by filmmakers only after his death due to their immense popularity. Sample this poem, ‘Intezaar’ that features twice as a song, separately rendered by Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik, in Mahesh Bhatt’s Tamanna (1997):
Raat Bhar Deeda-e-Namnaak Mein Lehratay Rahay
Saans Ki Tarah Se Aap Aate Rahe Jate Rahay
(All night, in my moist eyes you continued to sway
Just like breath, you kept coming and going away)
Though ‘Phir Chhidi Raat Baat Phoolon Ki’, wasn’t originally written for Baazaar (1982), it gained phenomenal popularity soon after it appeared in the movie directed by Sagar Sarhadi.
Another iconic poem, ‘Ek Chameli Ke Mandve Tale’ which has been sung by several singers over the years remains immensely popular among his countless evocative and sensual poems.
Khuda Bhi Muskurata Tha Jab Hum Pyaar Karte Thay
(Even God used to smile when we would love each other)
Makhdoom was prominently featured in Kahkashan—a TV serial (1991-92) that was produced and scripted by Urdu stalwart Ali Sardar Jafri and directed by Jalal Agha. His character was played by the noted actor Irrfan Khan and the poetry was composed by ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh. This is how Jafri introduced him in the serial: “...the worthy son of Deccan, Makhdoom was a poet of labour and love. He was the excavator of the new era. Just like Farhad cut the mountain with his hoe in Sheerin’s love and became Kohkan (The mountain cutter), Makhdoon cut away the mountains of dark nights of slavery and his hoe was his poetry.”
During his lifetime, Makhdoom was equally admired by his fellow poets and connoisseurs of Urdu poetry. Literary giants like Raghupati Sahai Firaq Gorakhpuri and Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote poems, appreciating his poetic work. ‘Aap Ki Yaad Aati Rahi Raat Bhar’, is one such ghazal written by Makhdoom. It has been beautifully rendered by Chaya Ganguly in Gaman (1978), the directorial debut of Muzaffar Ali. Faiz wrote a ghazal in his remembrance in the same format after he had passed away. Here’s the original ghazal in Chaya Ganguly’s voice:
Firaq—who had poetically told his audience that “future generations will feel envious of you when they come to know that you have had the opportunity to see Firaq in person” - was so moved by one of Makhdoom’s ghazals, “Ishq Ke Shoale Ko Bhadkao Ki Kuch Raat Katay” that he wrote a complete ghazal in the same format, just to praise the concluding couplet of Makhdoom’s ghazal:
Koh-E-Ġam Aur Giran Aur Giran Aur Giran,
Gam-Zado Teshe Ko Chamkao Ki Kuchh Raat Katay
(Mountain of sorrow is getting weightier, more and even more
The oppressed must sharpen hoes to cut the night of oppression)
In his anti-war poem, “Jaane Walay Sipahi Se Poocho”, Makhdoom questioned jingoism and war. A cry for the young soldiers who are pushed into the flames of war to get killed, the song featured in Moni Bhattacharjee’s ‘Usne Kaha Tha’ (1960), a film based on a story set against the backdrop of the First World War, written by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri in 1915. The film was produced by Bimal Roy and directed by his assistant Moni Bhattacharjee. The pathos-filled song featured in ‘Kahkashan’ also.
His literary work is published in two anthologies: Surkh Savera (Red Dawn) and Gul-e-Tar (Drenched Rose). Poems from these two collections were later brought out in Bisat-e-Rakhs (Dance Floor) in Urdu and Hindi. Makhdoom also forayed into writing plays and translated Bernard Shaw and Anton Chekhov’s works in Urdu.
Hayat Le Ke Chalo, Kaayenaat Le Ke Chalo,
Chalo To Saare Zamanay Ko Saath Le Ke Chalo...
(Take the life along as you walk, take the universe along as you walk,
Walk so, that the entire humankind should choose to walk with you)
In the later part of his life, he was appointed as an executive member of World Federation of Trade Unions and secretary of national council of CPI. He travelled across the globe and remained untainted as a political leader. Despite intense political activities, his poetry always exhibited the rare aesthetics of a romantic sensibility.
Noted film writer Khwaja Ahmed Abbas had summed up Makhdoom’s life thus in a literary piece: “Makhdoom was a glowing flame. He was a cool drop of dew. He was the call of revolution. He was also the soft tinkling of anklet. He was knowledge. He was action. He was wisdom. He was the gun of the revolutionary guerrilla. He was also the sitar of a musician. He was the odour of the gun powder. He was also the fragrance of jasmine.”
At 61, he passed away in New Delhi on August 25, 1969. “Not in his grave”, according to his friends, “Makhdoom went down into people’s heart after his death.” A life-size statue of the firebrand poet was installed by the NT Rama Rao government in front of Hussainsagar lake alongside 33 statues of the icons of Andhra Pradesh.