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Review: Poetry of Belonging: Muslim Imaginings of India 1850-1950 by Ali Khan Mahmudabad

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324pp, Rs 1595; Oxford University Press

In an uncommon try, Ali Khan Mahmudabad dissects the position of poetry – the musha’irah or the poetic symposium – within the formation of the north Indian Muslim id. In this doctoral thesis, now a unprecedented work on the politics of id in fashionable India, the writer’s focus is on the interval between 1850 and 1950, when the concepts of a nation state and homeland have been nonetheless fluid.

Using poetry as an archive, “Poetry of Belonging: Muslim Imaginings of India 1850-1950” traces the historical past of the musha’irah, the positioning of poetic efficiency, as a approach of understanding public areas by the altering financial, social, political and technological contexts of the time.

Mahmudabad’s focus is on the potential of language in participating the general public sphere, however his work isn’t a commentary on the aesthetics or the standard of poetry. He does, nevertheless, acknowledge the ability of a mediocre, albeit widespread, couplet in right this moment’s politically charged panorama, and quotes one too by Rahat Indori:

Sab hi ka khoon hai shaamil yahan ki mitti mein/Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai” (Everyone’s blood is part of this earth/India isn’t anybody’s private property).

Mahmudabad particulars the oldest documented musha’irahs – which in its earliest avatar was hosted in a round, closed area. The ustad-shahgird (teacher-student) relationship was robust and the scholar obtained his shai’ri corrected by his instructor properly upfront. Poetry recited in these boards was judged by fellow poets, who argued over technicalities of the metre and different nitty-gritties. The ghazal was the preferred kind of sha’iri, with summary notions of love and longing taking centre stage.

Poets needed to be formally invited to the musha’irahs, they got here in tongas and automobiles, dressed of their conventional greatest, achkans and shalwars, ate paan, rested in opposition to gao takias (pillows) and cheered (“daad”) their friends. A candle was lit to mark the beginning of the musha’irah by the nazim (conductor of ceremony), the junior poets recited first, and one of the best works and poets have been saved for the final, the ritual culminating by the blowing out of the candle. Women have been lacking on this stage until the late 1940s.

The Muslim intelligentsia’s political selections and notions of id have been articulated within the musha’irah, which was consistently adapting to the evolving concepts of watan (homeland), quam (neighborhood) and millat (non secular fraternity) on this politically charged interval. However, in contrast to Jurgen Habermas’ “public sphere”, Mahmudabad factors out that this stage wasn’t a bourgeois membership. The musha’irah was open to all lessons and castes, the one requisite being expertise.

The content material and kind of the musha’irah modified regularly when two poets, Mohammad Hussain Azad and Altaf Hussain Hali, moved to Lahore after 1857 and launched Anjuman-e-Punjab, patronised by the colonisers, and instrumental in systematically phasing out the previous model musha’irah, making approach for the nazm.

Author Ali Khan Mahmudabad

Author Ali Khan Mahmudabad
(
Tara Ahmad
)

Western ideas and concepts have been launched, English phrases have been transliterated and co-opted into the Urdu language, and the previous vocabulary and summary idioms, intangibles equivalent to love, longing and separation, have been dropped. The divisive concepts of hubb-e-watani (patriotism), watan and hum watan turned distinguished in discourses, wedging the divide between the Hindus and Muslims.

The Hindi-Urdu language debate was intensified, assigning “citizenship” to languages, and amplifying variations between the 2 communities, until Urdu turned a “Muslim language”, and the borrowing of metaphors from one another’s cultures turned unnatural. In this context, the author mentions legendary 17th century Punjabi poet Waris Shah who used “des, desh, watan and mulk” interchangeably. Many old fashioned poets equivalent to Dagh Dehlvi snubbed the imposition of these concepts and the brand new vocabulary, and continued to write down the way in which they’d.

The Muslim intelligentsia whose hearts beat for his or her watan, but additionally felt a powerful connection to the ummah, the worldwide Muslim id, felt cornered. “It is this transition from a metaphysical, multi-layered, and multi-textured understanding of hubb-e-watani to a more material and, therefore, physically circumscribed understanding of hubb-e-watani, which had the potential to sow discord amongst Hindus and Muslims,” Mahmudabad writes.

Mahmudabad, a tutorial, columnist and public speaker, charts the evolution of the musha’irah with magnificent element. “The very idea that words too could have citizenship illustrates in some ways the artificial manner in which ideas of nationality and nationhood were being grafted on to communities, cultures, and even languages,” he writes.

He attracts from Svetlana Boym’s distinction between restorative and reflective nostalgia to look at how Muslims sought to reclaim or recreate misplaced authority – “’shahr ashob’ changed from being a lament of the city to a lament about the community, its entire culture, and even a civilization”.

The Progressive Writers’ Movement, launched in 1935, democratised the literary public sphere, making it casual and relaxed. The poetry was anti-capitalist, with a powerful social and political message. As the recognition of the musha’irah peaked, the standard of poetry fell, with poets taking recourse to tarannum (melody) to cowl up their lack of expertise. Books have been written to help poets. Mahmudabad mentions Fan-e-Taqrir (The Art of Speaking), which was replete with diagrams instructing poets the final guidelines of actions – of the elbow, of the fingers, of the hand, and learn how to stand.

The journey hasn’t been straightforward for Muslims, ever for the reason that British sowed and nurtured the seeds of communal hatred in colonial India. Post 2014, Muslim loyalty to their homeland has been beneath larger scrutiny, and their anxieties about their id, concepts of belonging and citizenship have deepened. In this self-consciousness they proceed to swing between excessive religiosity and a whole disconnect from all issues Islam.

The e-book attracts from scarcely used paperwork in a number of languages by which the author is properly versed. It is as a lot a scholarly learn on the 19th century as it’s an indirect critique of the current. It is futuristic in scope too. It deserves to be learn; and calls for a Part II.

Mahmudabad rests his case with a couplet by Mahbub, his illustrious nice grandfather:

Nasheman ke liye tinke chunun ga phir gulistan mein
Jala hai ashiyan ab aaj se fursat hello fursat hai

(I’ll collect twigs as soon as once more from this backyard to construct my nest
For my dwelling was set ablaze and I’ve on a regular basis on the earth.)

Lamat R Hasan is an impartial journalist. She lives in New Delhi.

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