It was in May 1951, when Muslim India lost one of its greatest and most illustrious sons in Maulana Fazlul Hasan Hasrat Mohani who was the living symbol of Iqbal's conception of Mumin (True Muslim).
Hasrat was born at Mohan, District Unnao (UP) in 1875. He topped the list of successful candidates in Urdu Middle Examination of UP, was admitted to Government High School, Fatehpur, and passed the High School Examination with distinction, obtaining a scholarship. He graduated from The Anglo-Muhammadan College, Aligarh, in 1903 with distinction. He professed progressive and independent views during his college days and openly opposed British domination over India.
He started his celebrated journal "Urdu-i-Mu`alla" from Aligarh in 1904 which was the best literary and political magazine in Urdu of its time in India. Prominent literary and political figures of the country, including the Maulana himself, used to contribute to it. An article entitled: "British Policy in Egypt", published in it was legally regarded seditious by the Indian Government. The Maulana was asked to disclose the name of the author, but he declined to do so and preferred to undergo one year's rigorous imprisonment plus Rs 500 as fine. He raised his solitary voice in favour of freedom of the press, when people shuddered even to utter a word against the Government, and the Congress leaders used to pass resolutions in support of British rule in India.
Maulana Hasrat published "Urdu-i-Mu`alla" firstly from Aligarh and later on from Cawnpore where he had migrated and settled down for the rest of his life. He greatly contributed to popularising `Ghalib' by publishing an authentic but cheap key of Ghalib's Urdu Diwan. Formerly, reference books on Ghalib like Hali's Memoirs of Ghalib and the key written by Taba Tabai, were too voluminous and limited to higher circles only. The key written by the Maulana became very popular. He wrote on the principles of criticism and the art of poetry in his magazine "Nuqat-i-Sukhan" (Secrets of Verse). He showed the correct attitude to budding poets and writers by his enlightened criticism of literature. He also brought out the forgotten poets out of their obscurity, by publishing their works in this journal. He created a good taste for poetry among the people by publishing the selected works of Urdu poets. In this respect, he may be termed the prototype of Maulvi Abdul Haq.
The Maulana was perhaps the first political prisoner in British India convicted under the Press Laws. He had to undergo rigorous imprisonment and was not treated as a luxurious "A" Class Prisoner, but like ordinary criminal convicts. He was given the following garments for his use in the jail: a knicker, a shirt, a cap, a piece of jute cloth and a rough dirty blanket for his bedding. A big iron cup was supplied for eating and for other necessities. In order to realize the fine, the Magistrate confiscated the valuable books and rare manuscripts of his library and auctioned them for a paltry sum. These books were his only earthly possessions. He was kept in solitary confinement and had to grind one maund of wheat per day which is not an easy task and requires much physical labour to which the Maulana was totally unaccustomed. He was, whipped for any loss of wheat which was sometimes deliberately stolen by his wards. His body bore the marks of whipping inflicted in jail. The Maulana wrote in his "Urdu-i-Mu`lla" that, in the beginning, he really felt the rigour of jail life and was much distressed by his meagre clothing and lack of proper arrangement for ablution which served as great obstacles in offering his prayers. After sometimes, he was habituated to this sort of life and he realized that bliss lies not in multiplicity of wants but in their negation and was thankful to God for all his trials and tribulations. He was trained to lead a simple life, free of wants, which steeled his character and gave him courage to live up to his convictions and raised his voice in support of truth. It was the first trial of the Maulana. His very life was a struggle against the forces of evil. He propagated the boycott of Italian goods during the War whereupon his poor (small) press was called upon to submit a security of Rs 3,000 by the Government of Sir James Meston. He had to close his magazine and start another one named "Tazkira-i-Shu`araa" (History of Poets). In 1916, he was again sent to jail for two years under the Safety Act. He was put to greatest hardships during this term. His pair of spectacles was confiscated, none was allowed to see him and he had to grind wheat throughout the holy month of Ramadhaan. During his imprisonment, he was unnecessarily transferred to dozens of places and at one place he was given very dirty clothes to wear. He was taken in chains from one place to another and during his journey once he was not paid even one anna per day which was given to ordinary convicts on such occasions and he had to remain content with a handful of rotten gram for the whole day.
Such hardships tended to steel the Maulana's character and taught him to lead an abstemious life, caring for and fearing none except God. These were the stimulants which brought out the nobler traits of his character and taught him to live up to his convictions, leading a life which would serve as beacon light to the strugglers for truth and freedom of future generations. His dynamic personality awakened the dormant qualities of Indian people and harnessed them for purposes of achieving their destiny.
In the historical session of the All India National Congress at Ahmadabad in 1921, he submitted the Resolution of complete independence for India, but it was opposed by no less a person than Mr. Gandhi himself who pleaded for Dominion Status within the British Common wealth. No doubt, the Maulana, to some extent, justified the saying that `genius is eccentric", and he entertained no compromise on his convictions. In his character and composition, his opponents could only see disabilities for the task undertaken by him and no end of logic was spared to prove the futility and impossibility of his undertaking. He was in the vanguard of the freedom movement of India and took a leading part in the Non-cooperation Movement launched by the combined efforts of the Congress and the Khilafat Movement in 1922-23 and was sent to jail in 1924. He dedicated his life to the service of humanity and truth. He was disillusioned on the publication of the Nehru Report in 1929 and along with some of the great Muslims of those times severed his connection with the Congress. The Nehru Report had totally exposed the political aspirations and ambitions of the majority community to dominate the minorities in India.
The Maulana took a leading part along with Quaid-i-Azam and Ali Brothers in the welfare and political awakening of the Muslim community in India. He presided over the annual session of the All India Khilafat Committee in 1923 and was elected President of the All India Muslim League in 1923. He was a zealous worker of the Muslim League and took a prominent part in its reorganization since 1936 and actively participated in the movement started by Quaid-i-Azam to achieve the political emancipation of Indian Muslims and secure an honourable place for them in the socio-economic structure of India. He was a loyal soldier in the army of the Muslim League led by Quaid-i-Azam which ultimately won Pakistan. After the birth of Pakistan, he stayed behind in India to face the aftermath and to safeguard the interests of Muslims left in India. It was he alone who had the courage to face the fanaticism of the Hindu community drunk with power. His memorable words challenging Sardar Patel, the iron man of India in the Constituent Assembly, will long run in the memory of future generations: `You should not think that Muslims are orphans today. I am here to defend their rights against all odds and will fight for them till death'.
He actually lived upto his convictions and professions. A person who had withstood the combined onslaught of British Imperialism and Hindu fanaticism in the early twenties of the present century did not give serious consideration to the threats, intimidations and insinuations of post-partition Bharti leaders. He stood like a rock against the storm of Hindu communalism which was let loose on the helpless Muslims after the division of India. The Maulana who had defied the authority of British aristocrats and had worked side by side with such Indian political giants as Quaid-i-Azam, Ali Brothers, Gandhi, Tilak and C.R. Dass, never bothered about the petty challenges of lesser leaders like Nehru, Patel and Rajaji. He was conscious of the dangers to Muslims inherent in the Indian society after the blood bath of August 1947, but like a true Muslim he stuck to his post and resolved to face the calamities with courage and perseverance. He was confronted with a dangerous task, but a person like him who had weathered great storms that shook the country during the present century, did not shirk to face them again.
The exceptional qualities of sincerity, forbearance, fearlessness, perseverance, patience and contentment which the jail life had developed in his character, are profoundly reflected in his poetry. His career as a poet begins from 1894, when he was a student of Government High School, Fatehpur. He has left behind him ten volumes of poetical works. His individuality as a poet is reflected in his poems throughout his career, but the best part of his contribution to Urdu Poetry was composed in jail, wherefrom each time when he was released, he used to bring out a volume of Urdu poems. Though he was not supplied with paper and ink in the jail, he memorized his couplets and released them to the press on the expiry of his term of imprisonment.
He was the founder of the Modern Urdu Lyrics. He revived the lyrics in Urdu which had lost its soul and had much degenerated into the hands of the Lucknow School of Urdu Poets, namely, Rind, Wazir, Amanat, etc, who laid more emphasis on the pun of words rather than on depth of feelings and sincerity of thought, with the result that Urdu lyrics had become a mixture of unnatural and artificial picture of human life. The Maulana had, on one hand, such predecessors as Amanat and Wazir who believed in the jugglery of words, while, on the other hand, he came into contact with contemporaries like Jurrat and Dagh who depicted the vulgar and base sentiments of love. Hali had already advanced his weighty arguments against Urdu lyrics in his famous book "An Introduction to Poetry" and had propagated either its abolition or reformation. The Maulana knew that the lyric was very deep rooted and was the very soul of Urdu poetry. So he steered a midway between the two extremes, and brought about the renaissance of Urdu lyric. He concentrated mainly on the sincerity of thought and simplicity of diction, hence his poems paint the true but dignified sentiments of love and portray the multifarious phases of human passions. In this way, though Hasrat may be termed as a conservative lyrist, yet he infused a new life in its fast decaying body and after Mir may be classed as the best Urdu lyrist. Had there been no Hasrat, Urdu lyric would have had a very dark future. All the later lyrists like Asghar, Jigar, Fani and even Iqbal, took inspiration from the Maulana's poetry. He has an individuality of his own and was the pupil of Taslim in the realm of poetry. He comes in the line of Mumin and Naseem Dehlavi in respect of the type of his verses, but he carved out an independent course for giving vent to his sentiments. His main attributes are the purity of thought, simplicity of sentiments and simplicity of diction. Like Mir, Hasrat, too, passed a life of despair and anxieties, hence there is a spiritual connection between the two and the works of both reflect deep pathos. But, in Hasrat, the pathos is neither so deep like that of Mir nor so philosophical like that of Ghalib or Fani. His poetry, according to Arnold, is the mirror of his life; hence, it has been much affected by his environments and portrays much variety of subjective phases of his many-sided personality. His poetry is mainly subjective and he has tried to avoid the objective colour which had crept into the works of Urdu lyrists of Lucknow. He has depicted numerous pictures of those turbulent times, giving a realistic touch to his poems.
Hasrat is a lover of nature. Like Wordsworth he learns something from stones and books from running brooks. He founded a new School of Urdu Lyrics whose aim is to depict true human sentiments and reactions to his environments. He is the true product of his time. According to Mathew Arnold, "Literature is the mirror of life", and like the celebrated English poet Lord Tennyson, Hasrat too has been much affected by his environments. His verses are full of revolutionary thought, reactions and national aspirations of a person whose life was so stormy and turbulent. In this respect, he comes very close to Chakbast, the national poet of Urdu, but Chakbast is out and out a national poet, while Hasrat simply makes a passing remark on such matters in his lyrics. His lyric composed in the Faizabad jail, carrying the following couplet, is a typical instance in point:
Hai mashqi sukhan jaaree chakkee kee mushaqqat bhee
Ik turfah tamaashah hai hasrat kee tabee`at bhee
(Hasrat is continuing his hobby of composing verses side by side with the grinding of wheat. What a peculiar nature does Hasrat possess!)
Hasrat also composed a poem on Tilak which is very sentimental. Taken together, Hasrat as a poor poet is very close to Robert Burns, the celebrated poet of Scotland; hence, he may be called the `Robert Burns of Urdu'.
Hasrat was a true Muslim. His greatest virtue was that he was a gentleman in the real sense of the word. As a man, his chief attributes were simplicity, sincerity, truth, fearlessness, straightforwardness, forbearance, and contentment. Amongst the politicians and poets of our times, he had the rare distinction of living upto his convictions. Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, who had been a distinguished colleague of the Maulana since the Khilafat days, paid rich tributes to Hasrat at the time of his death. He said, "Hasrat was a great poet, a great politician, a great litterateur but above all he was a great man".
The Maulana led a life of simplicity and austerity. He was a man who was free from worldly desires and wants. He was a selfless but fearless person who was afraid of none except God. He passed a saintly life and himself did all his household work. He even brought buckets of water from the water tap and always gently refused offers to share his household duties with others. He used very cheap and tattered clothes and wore a typical Turkish cap. He always travelled in a third class compartment and made several pilgrimages to Makkah declining the comforts of the first class journey offered to him by shipping companies. He even declined the luxurious hospitality of the King of Arabia. His total luggage on such long and hazardous pilgrimages was a small bundle comprising his bedding and some necessary clothes. Being a true Muslim, he was never attracted by worldly pleasures or wealth. Whenever he received some monetary return for his publications, he distributed it among the needy. For days his family suffered starvation for want of food, but he bore all these trials with a smiling countenance. He possessed the rare qualities of sincerity, piety, straightforwardness, fearlessness and above all the spirit of contentment and sacrifice. Whenever he ascended the high pedestal of the Presidentship of All-India Muslim League or the All-India Khilafat Committee, he performed his duties like the early Caliphs treading on the footprints of the Holy Prophet. It may be said without fear of contradiction that Maulana Hasrat Mohani belonged to the illustrious tribe of great heroes of early Islam.
As a whole, he was a versatile genius. He possessed a many-sided personality who acquired greatness in contradictory traits of character and spheres of life like poetry and politics; literature and religion, which is rather unparalleled in the history of Indo-Pak subcontinent. He was the very embodiment of truth and sincerity, who in his person, translated into reality the following immortal couplet of Iqbal-the Poet of the East:
Hazaar khauf hu per zabaan hu dil kee rafeeque
Yahee rahaa hai azal sai qalandarun ka tareeque
(Inspite of all sorts of fears, let the heart remain a peer of the tongue. Since time immemorial, this has been the way of the undaunted.)