Urdu poet Munawwar Rana has left Lucknow forever! Born in Rae Bareilly in 1952, Rana passed away last Sunday after a prolonged illness. To leave Lucknow for good was never Rana’s plan.

In the past, the people’s poet had travelled the world but had always returned home to where he belonged. This is the first time that Rana decided to get a one-way ticket for himself.

This time he will never ever return, to the woe of Lucknow that is gradually losing its most creative citizens one by one. The saddest part is that people like Rana are leaving, but none of them are being replaced at the moment by other citizens of any substance.

Popular poet and film lyricist Javed Akhtar regretted that the breed of Urdu poets like Rana were disappearing fast and that they were irreplaceable. Akhtar added that Rana’s going away is a great loss to Urdu and poetry.

Samajwadi Party (SP) chief and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) Akhilesh Yadav tweeted that Rana’s passing away has brought to an end, a relationship with a certain village, and once the eyes open next the dream is over.

Advocate, High Court Lucknow Bench Mohammad Haider is a family friend of the Ranas. He said that Rana’s verses are a timeless testament to the power of language and the enduring spirit of creativity.

Apart from being a popular poet, Rana will be remembered as a passionate patriot whose heart ached for all those who have been displaced and forced to migrate from the place of their birth. Rana was not one of those to go away in anticipation of greener grass beyond the border of the beloved home.

In his celebrated poem “Muhajirnama” or the chronicles of a refugee, the poet tries to empathise with the pain of a migrant. The poet writes that he is a refugee but one who has left a world behind, and what others have that much he has left behind him: “‘Muhajir haiin magar ek duniya chodh aaiye haiin tumhare paas jitna hai hum utna chodh aaiye haiin’”

Rana’s success was the poetic use of day-to-day vocabulary. He had avoided text book words from the Arabic and Persian scripts to address his audiences in Awadhi and Hindi instead.

He expressed his love for both Hindi and Urdu by saying that when in the embrace of his mother it is the aunt who is happy, and when he writes love poems in Urdu it is Hindi that is seen to smile: “‘lipat jaata hoon ma se aur mausi muskurati hai, maiin Urdu meiin ghazal likhta hoon aur Hindi muskurati hai.’”

When most Urdu poets had serenaded verses to repeated betrayals by the beautiful but brutish beloved, Rana wrote reams to eulogise the mother. In a long poem simply titled “Maa,” the poet wrote that some got the house, others the shop.

He being the youngest in the family became heir to the mother: “‘kisii ko ghar mila hisse meiin ya koi ko dukan aaii, maiin ghar meiin sabse Chhota thaa merey hisse meiin maan aaii.’”

Rising above his own agonies and ecstasies, Rana had always tried to remain in touch with the feelings of the large majority of people who to this day are without home, food and employment. Trying to get under the skin of a daily wage earner Rana said that he spreads out a sheet of newspaper on a footpath and falls asleep, labourers do not pop sleeping pills in order to slumber: “‘so jaate haiin footpath pe akhbar bichha kar, mazdoor kabhi neend ki goli nahin khatey.’”

While Rana’s poetry is heart-warming, his politics was hard-hitting. What pained him most in recent times was the reluctance of those in power to curb communalism.

He had regretted that authors and poets had no other way of expressing their disapproval of what they had considered unjust in society, except to write about it. However, it had become dangerous for writers to call out what they felt was wrong in society.

Poets and writers did not feel safe today. The only way that a poet like him knew to protest against the politics of the day was to return the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award.

At a time when hatred had escalated, Rana had found those responsible for maintaining law, order and justice in society unable to safeguard the future of all citizens. Rana had expressed his helplessness in returning the award so dear to him.

He saw himself as a soldier who fought wrongdoings but with a pen. He did not want to be celebrated by a government that he felt had failed to protect the life, livelihood and home of a section of the country’s population.

He was not a politician to take to the streets to protest and therefore the only option left to him was to protest against the inability of the government to protect the fundamental rights of all citizens as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

Rana was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2014 for his epic work “Shahdaba” or a collection of beehives. In ‘Shahdaba’ he writes that in a town of new values he no longer feels at home, the wish is to once again become the Lucknow of old times: “‘nayeh mizaj ke shehron meiin ji nahiin lagta, puraney waqton ka phir se maiin Lucknow ho jayun.’”

Rana’s concern about the safety of his family had increased lately after two of his four daughters were booked by the police along with over a dozen other women for participating in the anti-Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) protests in Lucknow in early 2020.

The poet is dead. Long live the poet!

The Political Pot

Much continues to brew in UP’s political pot. The latest news from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati is that her party will contest the general elections solo.

Till recently, Mayawati was negotiating with the I.N.D.I.A. alliance of opposition parties for a possible tie up. That possibility had unnerved the ruling party and also made the Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav uncomfortable.

Senior journalist Pradeep Kapoor explained that the Congress leadership was in touch with Mayawati so that the two could together prevent the ruling party from winning power in Delhi in the next elections.

That plan no longer works also to the relief of the main opposition SP that is against any seat-sharing with the BSP, should Mayawati ever decide to join I.N.D.I.A.

Meanwhile, SP chief Yadav has made it very clear that he would spare 20 seats for I.N.D.I.A. and no more. Out of 80 seats to be contested in UP in the Lok Sabha elections, the SP which is part of the I.N.D.I.A. alliance wants to keep 60 seats for his party.