Literature of all ages has witnessed a deep impact of the political, cultural and economic changes around it and when it comes to Urdu, its no different. By the time it had reached a standard form and was well into public domain, the land of its birth was bustling with political activity. The Indian Subcontinent, also known as Barra e Sagheer was busy in its fight for independence, the USSR was witnessing a clash between its economic classes, the Middle East was going through a formation of countries and so on. In short, there was a tussle for power among the rulers and the ruled.
The effects of this shift in power soon became the center of Urdu writing at that time. A part of it could be attributed to their upbringing, education and political affiliations. The notable isms that had begun influencing economics and polity were Marxism, Communism, Socialism and later on, Capitalism. These political ideologies were soon to have a profound voice in literature owing to the fact that writers themselves had changed their outlook towards writing. This was indicative of a shift from the trend of art for art’s sake.
The 1930s saw the birth of the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) under the leadership of Sajjad Zaheer. Initially, it was considered to be a gathering of Marxist intellectuals and was inspired from the Union of Soviet Writers. This initiative witnessed the growth of socialist realism in Urdu literature. It could be said that literature was also being used as a political weapon, influencing and enhancing the flame of independence. A notable aspect in the early days of the PWA was the abstinence of Hindi writers in openly supporting them or joining their ranks. The only exception initially was Munshi Prem Chand, who had also presided over the PWA’s debut national conference, held in Lucknow.
Soon after its inception, the All India Progressive Writers Association (AIPWA), as it had become known, was submerged in hot waters. It ran into trouble with those having opposing ideologies. These included the Congress Party and the ruling Government. It was well known that Sajjad Zaheer, who had by then become the Secretary of the AIPWA, was a communist leader. Theories of him influencing the highly intellectual members began doing the rounds, something which may not have been possible in the remotest of sense. However, the inception of the PWA in the Indian Subcontinent was to act like a seed, which seemed to bear fruit years later. Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Josh Malihabadi, Krishan Chander, Rajendra Singh Bedi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Makhddom Mohiuddin, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ali Sardar Jafri, Akhtar Husain Raipuri were among the well-known names who were a part of the Association. An irony of the Progressive Writers Movement (PWM) , as it later became known, was that the writers themselves came from very well settled backgrounds. They themselves had never worked in a factory or for that matter lived the life of a peasant, barring some exceptions.
Later on, after the Indo-Pak partition and then the separation of Bangladesh, the PWM became a platform for writers to use as a pedestal. Its focus shifted from igniting the flame of independence to nation building. It could be said that a large chunk of the communist-socialist outlook in Urdu literature came through the PWM. Other intellectual and literary groups also played their part in such literature but the higher level of work and contribution could be attributed to the PWM. Young Urdu writers everywhere wanted to associate themselves with the movement and therefore the 1950s witnessed an influx of such minds under the umbrella of Urdu literature.
If one goes back to the earliest influences to such Leftist ideologies, Allama Iqbal’s Lenin Khuda ke Huzoor Mein inspired from Vladimir Mayakovsk’s Conversation with Comrade Lenin, Farman e Khuda and Farishton ka Geet are some examples of the presence of a socialistic view in the writers of that time. Thereafter, Niaz Haider’s Bahuzoor e Lenin, Ali Sardar Jafri’s Lenin, Jaun Elia in many of his writings, Kaifi Azmi’s Awara Sajdey and likewise many others have trodden upon this path. These writings indicated a changing world, wherein the writer functions as a mirror, highlighting the boons and the banes of the society that his or her pen has managed to live in.
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