The role of literature in the transitional era

The role of literature in the transitional era

By Justice Markandey Katju

India is passing through a painful transitional period in its history, the transition from a semi-feudal backward country to a highly developed, highly industrialised one. This historical transition can be successfully achieved only by a revolution, which in my opinion will be more akin to the French Revolution of 1789, rather than the Russian Revolution of 1917 or the Chinese Revolution of 1924-49 ( though every Revolution is unique ).

https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2019/09/04/opinion-india-edges-closer-to-its-own-french-revolution.html
https://www.firstpost.com/india/indias-moment-of-turbulent-revolution-has-arrived-and-it-is-going-to-be-a-long-and-bloody-one-writes-justice-markandey-katju-7891541.html
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/satyam-bruyat/a-french-revolution-is-approaching/

In an article I wrote on the role of art and literature I mentioned that there are broadly two theories of art and literature (1) Art for art’s sake ( which says that art and literature should only aim at creating a work of beauty or for entertainment ), and (2) Art for social purpose ( which says it should help social change )

http://justicekatju.blogspot.com/2012/02/role-of-art-literature-and-media.html

In the historical transition period through which India is passing only the second theory is acceptable. Hence artists and writers should join the ranks of those fighting for transformation of our society, they should highlight the terrible distress of the people, and inspire them to heroic deeds for abolition of this distress, as was done by the stories and novels of the great Bengali writer Sharad Chandra Chattopadhyaya, or the works of the great Russian writer Maxim Gorki like ‘Mother’, ‘Song of the Stormy Petrel’ etc

Urdu poetry is particularly suited for this, as by its very nature it is a poetry of protest, protest against the afflictions of the common man, and against injustice ( see my article ‘ What is Urdu ‘ online and on YouTube. See also my article ‘The concept of Ishq in Urdu poetry’ published in indicanews.com ).

Ghalib writes :

“Imaan mujhe roke hai, jo khainche hai mujhe kufr

Kaaba mere peechay hai kaleesa mere aage “

i.e.

“Faith is stopping me, atheism is pulling me forward

Kaaba ( the Muslim holy shrine in Mecca ) is behind me, the church is in front “

Here the words ‘Kaaba’ or ‘kaleesa’ ( i.e. church ) are not to be understood literally. Here ‘Kaaba’ represents backwardness, and ‘Kaleesa’ represents modernism. So Ghalib is saying we should abandon backwardness and modernise, as was advocated by the great Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal.

The great Urdu poet Mir writes :

“Mir ke deen-o-mazhab ko poochte kya ho unne to

 Kashka kheencha dair mein baitha kab ka tark Islam kiya “

i.e.

“What do you ask about Mir’s religion ? He has applied the ’tilak’ ( the mark applied on the forehead by Hindus ), sat in a Hindu temple, and abandoned Islam long ago”

Now here the poet is not really saying he has got converted to Hinduism. He is saying he has given up rituals and rigid customs and beliefs, which was what the Hindi poet Kabir also preached, e.g.

“Kaankar paathar jor ke masjid laee chunay

 Ta chadh mulla baang de, kya behra hua khuday “.

Faiz’ poetry is of course well known. Much of it preaches revolution directly e.g. ‘Hum Dekhenge’

https://thewire.in/communalism/faiz-hum-dekhenge-iit-kanpur

But some of it does so indirectly by hints and allusions e.g. ‘Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-naubahaar chale’

In my opinion the following sher ( couplet ) of the Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri ( which I quoted in a judgment in the Supreme Court, Arumugam Servai vs State of Tamilnadu ) best expresses the features of the transitional era :

“Har zarre par ek kaifiyat-e-neemshabi hai

 Ai saaqi-e-dauraan yeh gunaahon ki ghadi hai “

I have explained its meaning :

http://justicekatju.blogspot.com/2016/05/har-zarre-par-ek-kaifiyat-e-neemshabi.html

The poet Akbar Allahabadi, though ordinarily conservative proved himself remarkably foresighted in this nazm ( poem )

https://www.rekhta.org/nazms/naii-tahziib-akbar-allahabadi-nazms-1
http://justicekatju.blogspot.com/2013/04/akbar-allahabadi.html

Revolutionary ideas of the past often appeared in a religious garb, e.g. the Protestant Revolt of Martin Luther. Similarly, much of the Bhaktikaal poetry of Hindi literature was revolutionary, though in a religious garb, e.g. the poetry of Meera, who though apparently a religious devout, was in fact a great social rebel, as explained here :

My favourite doha ( couplet in Hindi poetry ) is of Rahim, who wrote :

“Deen sabhan ko lakhat hain

 Deenahi lakhai na koi

Jo Rahim deenahi lakhay

Deenbandhu sam hoi”

In Hindi literature God is often referred to as ‘deenbandhu’ i.e. friend of the poor. So the doha means

” The poor seek help from everyone

 But no one helps the poor

 The person who helps the poor

 Becomes like God”

The revolutionary storm which is approaching in India will require great sacrifices, and for this our people will be inspired by this song ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai’ by the great freedom fighter Bismil ( “ Now we have the desire to get our heads cut off “ ) :

The Indian people now expect our artists, poets and writers to produce similar inspirational works for the coming days in India.

(Justice Markandey Katju is former Chairman, Press Council of India and former Judge, Supreme Court of India.)

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