Maulana Hasrat Mohani was born at Mohan, District Unnao (UP) in 1875. From Government High School, Fatehpur, he passed the High School Examination with merit, obtaining a scholarship and then graduated from Aligarh College in 1903 with distinction. During his college days he began to profess progressive and independent views and openly opposed British domination over India. It is noteworthy that due to his independent views he was expelled thrice from Aligarh College.
In 1904 from Aligarh, he started his celebrated journal Urdu-i-Mu`alla that was the best literary-cum-political weekly to which celebrated writers of the country used to contribute. When an article, British Policy in Egypt, published in it was regarded illegal and seditious, the Maulana was asked by the Indian Government to disclose the name of the author. But he declined to do so and preferred to undergo himself one year’s rigorous imprisonment in addition to fine of Rs. 500. He was the first person to raise his voice for freedom of the press when even the Congress leaders used to pass resolutions in support of British rule in India.
Maulana Hasrat’s Urdu-i-Mu`alla was shifted from Aligarh to Cawnpore where he had migrated and settled down for the rest of his life. He was an excellent poet and served the cause of poetry through his journal. He popularized `Ghalib’ by publishing an authentic but cheap key of Ghalib’s Urdu Diwan. He wrote on the principles of criticism and the art of poetry in his “Nuqat-i-Sukhan” and 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 oblivion, 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 Baba-i-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq.
Maulana Hasrat Mohani was perhaps the first political prisoner in British India convicted under the Press Laws. In stead of being treated as “A” Class Prisoner, he had to undergo rigorous imprisonment with miserable and meager clothes — a shirt, knickers, a cap, a piece of jute cloth and a rough dirty blanket for his bedding. His life was a ceaseless struggle against tyranny and evil forces. When he couldn’t pay the fine, the Magistrate confiscated his treasure of books and rare manuscripts stored in his library and auctioned them for a paltry sum. He was kept in solitary confinement and daily had to grind one maund of wheat, which requires extraordinarily physical labor to which Maulana was simply unaccustomed. Maulana wrote in his Urdu-i-Mu`lla that in the beginning he was much perturbed and distressed by the rigor of jail life, his scanty clothing and lack of proper arrangement for ablution essential for saying his prayers. But by and by he became habitual to this sort of life and was thankful to God for all his trials and tribulations, which fortified his character and gave him courage to live up to his convictions and raise his voice in support of truth. When he propagated the boycott of Italian goods during the World War, despite the fact that he owned a small press, Sir James Meston called him upon to submit a security of Rs. 3,000. Consequently he had to discontinue his magazine and start another one by the title of “Tazkira-i-Shu`araa”. In 1916, again he was sent to jail for two years under the Safety Act and was put to severe hardships during this term. His pair of spectacles was confiscated, none was allowed to see him and he had to grind wheat throughout his fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
He was the first politician, who demanded full independence for India. From every platform – be it the Indian National Congress, the Khilafat Movement, the All India Muslim League, the Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Islam, the Communist Party or the Majlis-i-Ahrar, he forcefully pleaded the case of total freedom. Hasrat’s speeches in the parliament amply speak of his undying love for the country. His opposition to Gandhi was known to all. Yet it was he who persuaded Gandhi to learn Urdu and gave him books to read. Maulana Hasrat Mohani despised those leaders who played politics with the masses. A man with a strong ideology, he was the most vocal critic of Gandhi’s philosophy of self-reliance. He did not think that the people’s salvation lay in spinning wheels.
In 1915 he joined Muslim League, but in 1916 sentenced for four years penal servitude due to his participation in “the silk scarf movement” (Reshmee Roomal Tahreek). One time Congress supporter turned against this organization and led campaign against Nehru Report due to its anti-Muslim bias in 1928. From 1937 onward he was an outspoken representative of the League. However, after independence in 1947, he chose to live in India and didn’t migrate to Pakistan, as he did not want to leave the Indian Muslims in despair. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the Indian Constitution but unlike other members, he did not sign sensing hypocrisy towards Muslims in it. As it is said behind every successful man, there is a woman, so was the case of Hasrat Mohani, as his wife Nishat-un-nisa Begum contributed a lot towards his life that was, indeed, a model of continued struggle, forbearance, simplicity and austerity. Nishat-un-nisa Begum was the first Muslim woman member of All India Congress Committee and the first Muslim woman editor of an Urdu newspaper.
His career as a poet started from 1894, when he was still a student of Government High School, Fatehpur. He left behind him ten volumes of poetical works. The best part of his Urdu Poetry was composed in jail from where each time he was released, he used to bring out a volume of Urdu poems and ghazals. Though he was not provided paper and ink in the jail, he memorized his couplets and released them to the press on the expiry of his term of imprisonment. The salient characteristics of his poetry are the purity of thought, spontaneity of sentiments and simplicity of diction. Like Wordsworth, Hasrat Mohani is a lover of nature but he also has depicted multtifarious pictures of the turbulent times he went through and gave a realistic touch to his poems. The following couplet, is a typical instance in point:
Hai mashq-i-sukhan jari chakki ki mushaqqat bhi
Ik turfah tamaashah hai Hasrat kee tabee`at bhi
(Hasrat continues his pursuit of writing poetry along with the labor of grinding wheat. With what an odd nature Hasrat is blessed with!)
Maulana Hasrat was a practicing Muslim. But at the same time he had developed great love for Krishna. He also adored the philosophy of communism and the three Ms, i.e., Makkah, Mathura and Moscow had become his popular symbol. While he performed Haj a number of times, he also fervently visited Mathura to derive inspiration from the teachings and philosophy of Krishna. His socialist views influenced the pattern of his life and secularized his social and political conduct. As a member of the Indian Parliament, he questioned why an MP was given an allowance of 75 rupees per day (This sounds amazing as we find at present legislators of both India and Pakistan drawing fabulous salaries and allowances and still feeling dissatisfied!). He was entitled to an official residence but always lived in a rented house and never used the official telephone. He passed a saintly life and himself did all his household work. He even brought buckets of water from the water tap and did not like to share his household duties with others. He always traveled in a third class compartment and made many a pilgrimage to Makkah declining the comforts of the first class journey offered to him by shipping companies. Once the Nawab of Rampur asked him why he always traveled by train in a third class compartment. Maulana promptly answered, “because there is no fourth class compartment.” He even declined the luxurious hospitality of the King of Arabia. His total luggage on such long and hazardous pilgrimages was a small bundle of bedding and necessary clothes, which he would easily carry upon his shoulders. Whenever he received some monetary return for his publications, he distributed it among the needy. For a long period his family suffered starvation for want of food, but he bore all these trials with a smiling countenance. Maulana 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. Imbued with rare qualities of sincerity, piety, fearlessness, straightforwardness, and above all the spirit of contentment and sacrifice, he looked as if he belonged to the illustrious tribe of great heroes of early Islam.
Maulana Hasrat Mohani expired in May 1951. At the time of his death, his distinguished colleague since the Khilafat days, Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, paid rich tribute saying: “Hasrat was a great poet, a great politician, a great litterateur but above all he was a great man”.
This article was last updated on Monday, Jan 01, 2007