Malihabad is not only about mangoes

TLO explores the shair-e inquilab, the revolutionary poet ‘Josh’ from the mango growing town of Malihabad

Shabbir Hasan Khan ‘Josh Malihabadi’ is one of the most prominent poets of the 20th century and a legend amongst those part of the Lucknow School of Poetry born in 1898.

Asmat Malihabadi, founder of Josh Academy and a relative informed that perhaps Malihabad is named after Qazi Maleeh whose mazar or grave is at Dudhiya Shareef, a burial ground of those with a refined soul.

Josh Malihabadi with Majaz and other poets

The family of Josh migrated from Tera Valley and settled in Kanwal Haar locality at Malihabad. They were Afridi Pathans. Fakir Mohammed Khan Goya, his great grandfather was a reputed poet who sent mangoes to Nawab Naseer Uddin Haider of Awadh. He was given pearls in return and that particular variety of mango was named Johri Safeda.

His grandfather Mohammed Ahmed Khan and father Basheer Ahmed Khan were also fond of poetry.

Bigdi Hui Aql Se Himaqat Behtar, Dhoke Ki Mohabbat Se Adawat Behtar,
Shaitan Wa Abu Jahel Ki Azmat Ki Qasam, Sau Baar Ghulami Se Baghawat Behtar

Josh studied at the Hussainabad Inter College Lucknow, St Peter’s College Agra and Aligarh Muslim University. He also spent six months at Tagore’s Shantiniketan University. However the death of his father Bashir Ahmed Khan in 1916, prevented him from studying further.

He declined a government job offered to him by Sir Harcourt Butler and turning his back seven mahel or villas and a baradari in Malihabad, Josh made a home which he named Qasr-e Saher or palace of morning. Allama Iqbal got Josh work as a translator at Osmania University, Hyderabad in 1924 but in 1934 he lost that job. He moved to Pune in the 1940’s and wrote songs for Shalimar Pictures as a friend of W.Z.Ahmed.

Josh was awarded with Padma Bhushan in 1954.

Kya Hind Ka Zindaa’n Kaanp Raha Hai Goonj Rahi Hain Takbeerein,
Uktaae Hain Shayad Kuch Qaedi Aur Tod Rahe Hain Zanjeerein

Literary Contributions

His first collection of verses Rooh-e Adab that was published in 1921. Some of his poetry was so revolutionary that German Radio broadcast them during the Second World War. In Kaleem, a literary magazine edited by him he openly criticized British rule in India. He was very close to Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and supported the freedom struggle.

Josh Malihabadi Grave @ Pakistan

Many of his poems were banned by the British. The poetry of Josh inspires many writers for its revolutionary spirit. Josh had a great sense of humour and he was famous for having a couplet ready to suit every kind of situation.

Once he had wanted to meet Abul Kalam Azad in the summer and despite a long wait when the meeting did not take place, he forwarded this couplet on a piece of paper:

Na-Munasib Hai Khoon Khaulana,
Phir Kisi Aur Waqt Maulana

Soon after Azad called him in.

Josh was inspired by the spirit of the Progressive Writers Movement and his poetry too concentrated on social issues faced by the majority of people in society. He was made advisor at All India Radio after independence, he edited the magazine Aaj Kal.

His autobiography Yaadon Ki Baraat is a master-piece. A master of the Urdu language and grammar, Josh wrote many marsiyas, or elegies in the style of Mir Anees and Mirza Dabeer, legendary poets of the city.

Insaan Ko Bedaar To Ho Lene Do,
Har Qaum Pukaregi Humare Hain Hussain

Josh migrated to Pakistan in the 1950’s and initially stayed in Karachi. Later he moved to Islamabad where he died. Faiz Ahmad Faiz was one of his closest friends in Pakistan during his last days. Dr Hilal Naqvi, a Karachi-based scholar and ardent admirer of Josh launched a literary journal Josh Shanasi.

Says Naqvi, “In the modern era of Urdu poetry, Josh is after Iqbal, the greatest, the most creative, the most multi-faceted and the most open-minded of all poets”.

Asmat Malihabadi, founder of Josh Academy

Asmat Malihabadi, founder of Josh Academy

Kaam Hai Mera Taghaiyyur, Naam Hai Mera Shabab
Mera Nara, Inquilab Wa Inquilab Wa Inquilab

The above couplet is written on his epitaph in Islamabad. Although Josh is no more, the city of Malihabad enjoys a road and a gate named after the poet. A hospital was also named after him but has been renamed now.

How wonderful it would be to repair and to restore the home of the poet in Malihabad as heritage property but which is at the moment in sheer shambles.

This shair-e inquilab of Lucknow surely deserves more for having penned more than one lakh couplets:

Adab Kar Is Kharabati Ka Jisko Josh Kehte Hain,
Ki Yeh Apni Sadi Ka Hafiz-o Khayyam Hai Saqi

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