Urdu Academy of North America pays tribute to Firaq Gorakhpuri

By Abdus Sattar GhazaliFiraq1

The Urdu Academy of North America held its monthly literary session on January 15, 2023 at the Chandni Restaurant, Newark CA. It was Urdu Academy’s live literary session in more than two years because of Covid-19 it was moved to Zoom.

January 15 session was dedicated to the life and work of distinguished Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri. Qazi Habib was MC of the event presided over by Tahir Hanfi, a visiting author and poet from Pakistan.

Urdu Academy’s senior member Arshad Rashid welcomed the audience and thanked entrepreneur Syed Sarwat, for providing an opportunity to the Urdu Academy to resume its monthly meetings in the SF Bay Areaua-1-15-203-29_52630374775_o.

Qazi Habib presented a well researched maqala on the life and work of Firaq Gorakhpuri. 

As usual, a number of Urdu enthusiasts presented Firaq’s poetry: Tasadduq Hussain Attari, Asim Bajwa, Akela Mangesh, Mahmood Hasan, Suraiya Jabeen, Mah Talat Shazi, Anjum Zeeshan, Kehkashan Kifayat, Abdus Sattar Ghazali, Dr. Ghazala Ansari, and Yousuf Haqqani. 

Dr. Priya Satia perhaps stole the show with her melodious presentation of Firaq’s ghazal, Bahut pehle se un qadmoN ki aahat jaan lete hain.

Firaq Gorakhpuri was born in a Hindu family in Gorakhpur in 1896. Born into an aristocratic family, Gorakhpuri was drawn towards Urdu from a young age and began writing Urdu poetry when he was still a teenager. Gorakhpuri studied at the Lucknow Christian Degree College and went on to earn himself a master’s degree in Urdu, Persian and English literature. He was later selected for the Provincial Civil Service (PCS) and the Indian Civil Service (ICS), but he chose to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement instead, due to which he was later jailed as well.ua-1-15-203-54_52630185539_o

At the age of eighteen, Firaq Gorakhpuri was married to Kishori Devi, but theirs was an unhappy marriage and there was always a lot of friction between the husband and wife.

Gorakhpuri joined the University of Allahabad as a lecturer of English Literature, which is also when he began writing most of his Urdu poetry, including his most famous work Gul-e-Naghma, for which he received the highest literary award of India, the Gyanpeeth Award in 1969 (This was the first Gyanpeeth Award for Urdu Literature). Eventually, he took on the pen name (as was common among writers back then) of Firaq Gorakhpuri. Firaq Gorakhpuri was also a Research Professor at the University Grants Commission and was also Producer Emeritus in All India Radio.

Urdu poets like Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Kaifi Azmi and Sahir Ludhianvi were his contemporaries.

Firaq is remembered for promoting secularism throughout his life and spoke up against the Government when it tried to label Urdu as a Muslim language. He also worked towards allocating funds to develop Urdu as a language. Gorakhpuri was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for his tireless work towards promoting secularism, communal harmony and literature. 

To borrow author Rajesh K Pallan, Firq distilled into his poetry the varied influences gleaned from his vast study of world literature — Ghalib, Mir, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Kalidasa and the Greek classics. He embraced Wordsworth’s dictum that poetry was ‘emotions recollected in tranquility,’ but he was equally emphatic that ‘it was the turbulence of the soul grafted in words’.

Like TS Eliot, he possessed a ‘historical sense’— the current of the past, passing through the present and gushing towards the future. That is why his ghazals — which were his forte — reflect the ancient, medieval and modern Indian culture and he dovetails it into a single whole. In his poetry, individual talent is inextricably woven into the texture of tradition.

According to Dr. Veeksha Vagmita of Ambedkar University Delhi, Firaq’s hybrid and organic poetry draws upon a wide range of sources (from Mir Taqi Mir and Nazeer Akbarabadi to Virgil, Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy) and synthesises languages – Hindi/Sanskrit words blend with (Persianised) Urdu – while retaining his distinctive voice.

He wrote more than a dozen volumes of Urdu poetry, a half dozen of Urdu prose, several volumes on literary themes in Hindi, as well as four volumes of English prose on literary and cultural subjects.

His biography, Firaq Gorakhpuri: The Poet of Pain & Ecstasy, written by his nephew Ajai Mansingh was published by Roli Books in 2015. The book included anecdotes from his life and translations of some of his work.

Firaq’s books include: Gul-e-Naghma, Gul-e-Ra'naa, Mash'aal, Rooh-e-Kaayenaat, Roop (Rubaayi ),

Shabnamistaan, Sargam and Bazm-e-Zindagi Rang-e-Shayri.

This versatile poet and writer passed away at the age of 85, on 3rd March 1982 in New Delhi, following a prolonged illness.

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