Of God and Ghalib
Restraint was what Mirza Yaas Yagana Changezi knew little of all his life. Only towards the end, he realised that the price he paid was rather very high
By Dr Afzal Mirza
That Mirza Yaas Yagana Changezi was an able poet whose talent was mostly wasted on aimless pursuits does not need an overemphasis to drive it home. Writing about Yagana in his Takhleeqi Adab, critic and poet Mushfiq Khawaja said: “Undoubtedly Mirza Yagana is one of the important poets of this century. But due to his literary and non-literary polemics his poetic importance has been generally ignored. What to talk of a detailed critique of his poetry, even short critical pieces have not been written about him”.
Another well known critic Professor Mumtaz Hussain had this to say: “Yagana Changezi was without a sword but he would use the point of his pen as a sword.” According to Mumtaz Yagana had the habit of stinging his friends and foes alike as a “fly sitting on the back of a horse would”.
Dr Abul Lais Siddiqui who was at one time head of the Urdu department of Karachi University said about Yagana: “The personality and poetry of Mirza Yaas are contradictory. On one hand there is a new melody, emotion, strength and energy in his poetry and on the other his ego-centricity and self-indulgence that cross all the limits of poetic standards have tremendously damaged both his poetry and personality. That is the reason that his poetry has been marred by his reputation as a Ghalib basher.”
The best comment perhaps has come from critic Khaleeq Anjum: “Who can deny the fact that Yagana was unjustly treated in Urdu literature. He couldn’t get the status he deserved. But this is also true that it was his own doing. Yagana was an important poet of Urdu. There was individuality in his style and diction. In every artist rather in every human being there is always a little or more ego but in Yagana it had crossed all the limits of moderation. He used to say that in this century there is no other poet but Yagana and such misconceptions had made his life miserable”.
Why Yagana turned against Ghalib can be traced in the development of his literary career. Yaas Yagana Changezi whose real name was Mirza Wajid Hussain was born in Azeemabad, Patna (Bihar) in 1883. He was a bright student and always won scholarships but he couldn’t go beyond entrance examination that he passed from Calcutta University. At a very young age he shifted to Calcutta where he became the tutor of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s grandson Mirza Muqeem and his children. But the climate of Matyaburj, Calcutta, where Wajid Ali Shah and his descendents were detained, did not suit him. So he returned to Azeemabad. Then he shifted to Lucknow.
“I so much liked the climate and other cultural activities of this city that I settled there. At times I would go back to Azeemabad and sell some of my property there and would return to Lucknow,” he wrote.
It was in Lucknow that his life of polemics started. He was not happy with his Lucknow contemporaries which included Aarzoo, Aziz, Safi and Saquib who according to him were unnecessarily following Ghalib’s diction. So he bitterly criticised them. In return, they turned against him. The result was that the whole of Lucknow and Uttar Pradesh province turned against him. Wherever he would go to recite his poetry, the poets of Lucknow would boycott that mushaira. For nearly 20 years, both the parties remained engaged in a bitter battle of words.
Yagana started pointing out flaws in Ghalib’s poetry as early as 1915. But it took him two decades to come up with a book on the issue. His Ghalib Shikan was published in 1935.
The book had its origin in an All India Mushaira Conference held in Cawnpur under the chairmanship of Sir Ross Masud (Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s son). In the conference one of the participants raised the issue of Yagana’s derogatory language against Ghalib in his book of quartets entitled Tarana. Professor Masud Hasan Rizvi in a letter pointed the incident out to Yagana. Mirza in a lengthy reply justified his criticism of Ghalib. Later this replay developed into Ghalib Shikan which identified 59 verses of Ghalib as being flawed.
The second edition of the book came out as Ghalib Shikan Do Atisha and included some more quartets attacking Ghalib, some of them being on his person rather than his poetry. If Yagana had confined his criticism to the academic level, it would have been a different matter but his attacks on Ghalib’s person were not liked by literary circles. In the eyes of some critics, the motive of Yagana in attacking Ghalib was to get publicity. But he got the negative publicity in the end which did not help him in his quest for importance.
It made him bitter and his comments became more scathing. He did not restrict himself to literary themes and started commenting on religious affairs as well. His supporters, however, say that he was not against Ghalib per se and was fond of his poetic skill. But he initiated his polemic as a reaction to the unjustified praise of Ghalib by so-called Ghalib lovers whom he termed as Ghalibchis. They quote this couplet of Yagana to substantiate their argument:
Sulah kar lo Yagana Ghalib
Woh bhi ustaad tum bhi ik
But his drifting away from religion compounded the problems he had with his detractors. His anti-religion sentiments are best expressed in these couplets:
Khudi ka nasha charrha aap
main raha na gaya
Khuda banay thay Yagana
magar bana na gaya
Sub tairay siva kafir aakhir
iss ka matlab kya
Sar phira day insaan ka aisa
He had to lose one job after the other for commenting on religious topics.
Yagana spent the whole of 1926 in Lahore where he was hired by Maulana Tajwar Najibabadi for his publishing house. After the partition, he visited Pakistan in 1951. Mohsin Ehsan once wrote about a small gathering in Kakul at the residence of Dr Mazhar Ali Khan (brother of Allama Rashid Turabi) where Yagana was the guest poet. According to Mohsin: “After ten minutes Dr Mazhar came and announced that Sarkar was coming and immediately after that a thin, lean and short person entered the room. He was wearing an achkan and a cap and a muffler round his neck. Everyone stood up to receive him. After settling down, Dr Mazhar asked, “Sarkar, what was that matter with Chacha Ghalib.” Dr Sahib wanted to tease him a bit but Yagana smilingly replied, “Please don’t open the closed chapter.””.
About his incursions into the domain of religion, his daughter Buland Iqbal Begum wrote in an article, “His point of view about the religion was that it is between God and the person concerned. Whatever one accepts as his faith that is his religion”.
The worst came for Yagana in 1953 when he sent some quartets to Allama Niaz Fatehpuri thinking that he was a liberal person in religious matters. Allama sent these quartets to Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi who was so much annoyed on reading them that he wrote in the editorial of his magazine Sidq-e-Jadeed that Yagana should be restrained. Some zealots immediately responded by subjecting him to severe humiliation.
The incident left Yagana badly shaken. Thereafter he confined himself to his solitude. His nephew Professor Sheikh Ansar Hussain has drawn a pathetic description of his end: “A day before his death he called all the ladies and told them that he was then on the last leg of his journey. ‘I am reciting something. Listen to it carefully.’ He recited Kalima and said, ‘Thank God that the people call me agnostic, atheist and what not but you are witness that I remained steadfast on this Kalima throughout my life.’ He died the next day. There were six people in the funeral procession and when we arrived in Toria Ganj square then Professor Masud Hasan Adib also joined and walked a few steps with the funeral procession and then slipped away.”
One of Yagana’s last couplets was:
Adab kay vastay kitnon kay dil dukha’ay hain
Yagana hud say guzarna na tha magar guzray