Armistice Day: Remembering Forgotten Indian WWI Heroes Through Urdu Poetry

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Below is a sampling of the socially conscious and politically conscious message of poets of the time. Not all of these poets are well known today and their poetry is not of a high caliber, but fragments of their work have been included here simply to illustrate how the poet had his finger on the pulse of his age and his situation.

Let’s start with Sibli Nomani and his mocking irony Jang-e Europe aur hindustani which deserves to be quoted in full:

German ek ne mujh se kaha az rah-e ghuroor

‘Asaan nahi hai fatah to dushwar bhi nahin

Bartania ki fauj hai dus lakh se bhi kum

Aur iss pe lutf yeh hai ke tayyar bhi nahin

Baquii raha France to woh rind-e lam yazal

Aain shanaas-e shewa-e paikaar bhi nahin’

Maine kaha ghalat hai tera dawa-e ghuroor

Diwana to nahi hai tu hoshiyar bhi nahin

Hum log ahl-e Hind hain German se dus guneh

Tujhko tameez-e andak-o bisiar bhi nahin

Sunta raha woh ghaur se mera kalaam aur

Phir woh kaha jo laiq-e izhaar bhi nahin

‘Iss saadgi pe kaun na mar jaaye ai Khuda

Larhte hain aur haath mein talwar bhi nahin!’

(Consumed with pride, a German told me:

‘Victory ain’t easy but it ain’t impossible either

Britannia’s army is less than ten lakh away

And not even prepared on top of that

As for France, it’s a bunch of drunks

And not even familiar with the art of war’

I said your arrogant pretense was wrong

If you’re not crazy, you’re definitely not wise

We people of Hind are ten times the Germans

Obviously you can’t tell the big from the small

He listened carefully to what I had to say

Then he said something that can’t be described

‘By God, anyone will lay down his life for such simplicity

You are ready to fight but without even a sword in your hand!’)

That the Urdu poet is not content with mere high-flying rhetoric, that he is grounded and aware of immediate contemporary realities, becomes evident when Brij Narain Chakbast states in his Watan ka Raag (‘The Homeland Song’):

Zamin Hind ki rutba mein arsh-e-aala hai

Yeh Home Rule ki ummid ka ujala hai

Mrs. Besant no is aarzu ko paala hai

Faqir qaum ke hain aur ye raag maala hai

Talab fuzool hai kante ki phool ke badle

Na lein bahisht bhi hum Home Rule ke badle

(The land of Hind is higher than the highest heavens

All because of the light of hope brought by Home Rule

This hope was nurtured by Mrs. Besant

I’m a beggar of this land and this is my song

It is vain to wish for the thorn instead of the flower

We won’t even accept Heaven instead of Home Rule)

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