A Peek into Akbar Allahabadi’s Life And Work
Coming from a family whose roots could be traced back to Tehran, Syed Akbar Husain, a.k.a. Akbar Allahabadi captured the landscape of Urdu during India’s years of struggle against the British Crown. His father was a very well educated man, Naib Tehsildar and his mother belonged to a zamindari family. He was born in a village near Allahabad in 1846 and shifted to the city at around ten years old.
Allahabadi’s early education took place at home under the guidance of his father Maulvi Tafazzul Husain. Once they moved to Allahabad from Barah, his place of birth, he joined the Jamuna Mission School in order to obtain an English education. However, he dropped out three years later. On the side, he learnt the English language and appeared for the Lower Courts’ Advocates’ Examination in 1867. He cleared the exam without any difficulty and was appointed as Naib Tehsildar.
He quit this job soon after and wrote the High Courts’ Advocate Examination. Thereafter he enrolled as a lawyer in the High Court of Allahabad. Around the year 1880 he was appointed as a Munsif, followed by Sessions Judge in 1894 and then as an acting District Judge in Banaras, as it was then known. In the year 1898 he was designated as Khan Bahadur, a title just below that of Knight of the Empire. He retired from service in 1903 and settled in the vast house he had built near the Kotwali in Allahabad.
Considered as a pioneer in the aspects of wit, humor and satire in Urdu, Allahabadi was often pinched by the rulers for usage of words in his works. Despite being in the service of the Empire, he was a staunch critic of their imperialism, an attribute which is forever raised when there are discussions on him. Even while serving the Crown he wrote against their hypocrite approaches while emphasizing on the fact that their rule was only due to the lesser level of education among the masses. He was the first poet to begin using English words in his poems for criticizing the British.
"Hum aah bhi karte hain toh ho jate hain badnaam
Woh qatl bhi karte hain toh charcha nahin hota"
Owing to the timing of his existence, Akbar Allahabadi witnessed various changes in the power and politics of India. This influenced his work till the end. He was a staunch nationalist in the sense that he wanted the best for his countrymen, without the support of the British. Such a thought process did bring him in conflict with well-known reformer and contemporary, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Although, others such as Madan Mohan Malviya and Muhammed Iqbal praised his work.
Today’s modern reader is bereft of the impact of Akbar Allahabadi on Urdu literature. This is due to the fact that Allahabadi has been treated in an inequitable manner. Humor and satire weren’t considered respectable by the literary circles of his time. Hence, he has been admonished both by those of his time and by those who came after him. However, it is important to note that one could disagree with all that he had to say, but his manner of conveying such a message was sure to bring a smile on faces.
Allahabadi’s works were focused on the changing political situation and can be divided on the same basis as well. The earliest of his collections was published by his son Ishrat Husain in 1908 but most of his notable work came into the public domain only after his death. The initial publication was reprinted by Munshi Azmat Ali under the title Kulliyat-e-Akbar without any substantial changes. Most of this collection has issues with dates but if they are to be put into periods of time, they pan out in the following manner:
Part I, 1863-75
Part II, 1875-1890
Part III, 1890-1908
Part IV, 1864-1876
Part V, qata'at up to 1905
Part VI, consists of poems relating to special occasions some of which are being dated.
Part VII and VIII, up to 1908
The second, third and fourth volumes of the collection were published after Akbar's death, and contain verses from three successive periods i.e. Vol. II, 1908-12; Vol. III, 1912-18; and Vol. IV, 1918-21.
He also composed verses that were purely political in nature and dealt with the turbulent period of 1919-21. These were published posthumously under the title Gandhi Nama. Some of these verses also appear in Vol. IV of his collection.
Being an established supporter of harmony among various religious groups, Akbar wrote the ghazal Hangama hai kyun barpa thodi si jo pi li hai as a response to those who accused him of being bribed by non-Muslims. If one goes through this piece of his, they are sure to be mesmerized by it. It conveys the various issues that were present at that time with respect to communal harmony among the different groups of the society. He was also against the Muslim League and their work as he thought of them only as an elite group of yes-men.
As and when the various movements towards independence from the British caught heat, Allahabadi would dedicate some of his writings to them. He tried playing through the central path where he could contribute towards the society by having something for himself as well. He was neither an activist nor a revolutionary but his strong political advocacy for the betterment of society held him in good stead in the literary circles.
During the last days of his life, he suffered from weak eyesight and a troublesome behavior of worldliness. However, this didn’t stop him from doing his work or taunting the rulers and their Western ideas. This gem of a writer left for heavenly abode on 9th September, 1921. For those learning to write humor and satire in today’s World, Akbar Allahabadi’s life is a compulsory subject.
To read more articles by Ebad Ur Rahman- CLICK HERE!
Akbar Allahabadi and National Politics – Iqbal Husain
Farooqi on Akbar Allahabadi – Rizwan Ullah
The Power Politics of Culture: Akbar Ilahabadi and the Changing Order of Things – Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
Akbar Allahabadi, the Satirist known for adding humorous touch to themes of Love & Politics – Taran Deol