Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last Moghul King of Dethi. When he ascended the throne in 1837, the Moghul Eempire had all but fallen, and the king’s command had ceased to carry weight beyond the four walls of the Red Fort. Zafar lived a long life of 87 years, but his life was a tale of unbroken suffering and humiliation. The events took a tragic turn when in 1857 Zafar was accused of complicity in the rebellion against the British rulers, and was deported to Rangoon, where he died in 1862, a helpless prisoner of Imperial tyranny. But the loss of Zafar the King was the gain of Zafar the poet. As he had no regal functions to perform, no battles to fight, and no affairs of state to manage. Zafar sought strength and consolation in the world of art and poetry, and soon acquired proficiency not only in the field of poetry, but also in painting and calligraphy. It deserves remembering that while the age of Zafar was the time of social and political holocaust, it was also the golden age of Urdu poetry. The court of Zafar was the hub of poetic activity, adorned by a galaxy of famous poets, such as Aazurda, Shefta, Ghalib, Momin and Zauq. Getting together of such brilliant talent for participation in mushairas brought out the best in Urdu poetryand created an atmosphere highly favourable to the Muse. Moreover, the all-pervasive sense of defeat and distress touched the inmost chords of the poets and inspired them to convert their suffering into song. This was particularly true of Zafar, a bulk of whose poetry is built around his personal experience of loss, defeat and despair.
His famous couplet: Lagta nahin hai ji mera ujre dayaar mein, Kis ki bane hai aalam-e-na paidaar mein (I feel ill-at-ease on this wasted heath; Who, in this ephemeral world, hath ever been at peace?) sums up the one important theme of his poetry; the theme of the allousness of life and time, of the inconstancy of friends, and of the helplessness of man. This feeling of melancholia reminds us of Mir, the master poet of pathos, but there is a difference. While Mir’s suffering is the suffering of asensitive poet who shares his lot with most of us, Zafar’s poetry tells the tale of a king who has been ruthlessly denuded of his power and position, whose sonS and relations were done to death before his eyes, and who was forced to live in exile far from his beloved land. Among the other important themes of Zafar’s poetry may be mentioned his impressive handling of didactic and ethical subjects, and hissensitive concern for the universal process of change and decay constantly operative in the world. This last concern, incidentally, links Zafar with the imaginative writers of Victorian England, like Tennyson, for instance, who, influenced by the Evolutionaryideas of the day, repeatedly dwell upon the phenomenon of geological change and its implications for the traditional religious faith.There is disagreement in literary circles about the actual authorship of some of Zafar’s ghazals.
According to Mohammed Hussain Azad, the author of Aab-e-Hyaat, many of these poems were actually written by Zauq, who generously passed them on to his royal disciple, Zafar. Some of the modern critics, however, dispute this view. They feel that Azad’s assertion is based more on his personal regard for his poetic mentor, Zauq, than on actual fact. Zafar was a poet of no mean merit. He could legitimately get his verse corrected from Zauq, but he would not attribute to himself what was actually written by others. It will be unfair, therefore, to call him a plagiarist.
Information compiled by Muslim Saleem
Muslim Saleem reciting his ghazals at Jashn-e-Muslim Saleem at MP Urdu Academy, Bhopal on December 30, 2010.
From Left) Zafar Naseemi, MP Urdu Academy Chairman Saleem Qureshi, Dr. (Barqi Azmi, Prof Afaq Ahmad, Dr. Qasim Niazi, Muslim Saleem.