Umrao Jaan Ada

A work of Fiction or a reality

Umrao Jaan Ada , a famous Novel written by Mirza Mohammad Hadi Ruswa who was popularly known as Hadi Ruswa. Right after its Publication the novel became the talk of the town. It was the period when Lucknow was the centre of literary controversies. Zahre Ishq by Mirza Shauq Lucknowi on one hand was the work of controversy, the Inder Sabha was on the other side. The arrival of Umrao Jaan Ada on the racks gave the new blood to the already literary warm city. Umrao Jaan Ada has also created different kinds of controversies. It is necessary to know something about the writer of Umrao Jaan before having an eye on the novel.

Umrao Jaan Ada

Hadi Ruswa was born in 1858, when British took over the whole of India including awadh. It was the period of turmoil, it was chaos everywhere and Lucknow was in transition. He was very young when admitted to a madarsa, for primary education. He used to wear a turban, once he met with a British accidentally when passing through Golagunj. Showing his supremacy, the British verbally attacked Ruswa with filth of abuses. Ruswa could not understand anything except that he should learn English. In due course of time, already well versed in Islamic jurisprudence, he learned English and got command and control of the language. The uncle of Hadi Ruswa was totally against British and English language, he did not allow Hadi to learn English. Compelled with the situation at home he left home for the day, he lived either with his friends or at any relative’s house and only came back in the late evening. He learned Arabic and Persian, and also learned Ilm-e-chemia (Chemistry) in Arabic. On the basis of his knowledge he got the job of teacher in Lucknow Christian College. For the first time he started preparing the chemistry lab of the college. He invented milkometer here, he also taught in newly established I.T.College.

Hadi Ruswa used to write diary, he was a good observer of the decadency of the culture. He had noted number of incidences and it is said that within three nights he compiled all the incidences and gave it a shape of novel. it was written 1898 when he was approximately 40 years of age and published in 1900. Once, Mirza Jafar Husain asked Hadi Ruswa about his meeting with Umrao Jaan. He incredibly laughed and silenced. Mirza Jafar Husain was too young to ask any other question and the question remained hanging in the air.

The film on the novel of Umrao Jaan Ada was first produced with the name Mehndi in mid 50’s and it was also produced in Pakistan in mid 60’s of last century. Muzaffar Ali gave life to Umrao Jaan on silver screen in early 80’s and this was once again in controversy when J.P.Dutta produced it in his own style. The Mujra in Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan was as real as it would have been in those days. He created the culture of Lucknow in real sense what he has observed and lived.

Keeping apart the film, the novel is also very much controversial. To some people it is a real story and a work of fiction for literary segment. Once I asked someone to produce a proof of her existence. They put forward an imaginary photograph of Umrao Jaan published by a socio-cultural organization of Bombay. But actually this photograph is of an old Parsi theatre actress of Calcutta. One other gentleman promised me to show me Deewan (collection of her Ghazals) of Umrao Jaan; but he is at large, not found even after a decade.

Umrao Jaan Movie Rekha

In fact there is neither a photograph nor lithograph, nor a deewan of Umrao Jaan. Dr. Adam Sheikh has worked out his thesis on this subject. He is also of opinion that there was no Umrao Jaan and that this is the work of fiction by Hadi Ruswa. The logic and historical evidence are proof of it. The story of Umrao Jaan in the novel has set the location of prostitutes at Chowk. It is not true. The first census of Lucknow was carried out in the year 1856 and published in a newspaper the same year. The author has a copy of the said census that it includes all the localities with its population, number of houses and status of persons living in.

According to the first census of 1856, locality no. 42, Chowk contained the persons and families of business class, the Mahajans, Sarraf (the jewellers) and shop keepers. There is no mention of any prostitute or Tawaif. That is, the period shown in the novel, there were no Tawaif residing in Chowk area. The rich prostitutes lived in Gali Shah Chara and Patanala, where approximately 830 prostitutes lived in 141 houses. The Chowk Bazaar of prostitutes became existent in the year 1880.

Umrao Jaan as depicted in the novel should be at least 30 years of age at the time of the war of 1857. She was 12-13 years when abducted from Faizabad. It was the period of Naseer-ud-Din Haider. By this calculation she must not be less than 70 years in 1898 when the novel was written. The plot and dialogue of the situation gives the impression of age as both of them equal. The most important point is the birth day function of Birjis Qadar, the son of the last king of Awadh. It is said in the novel that the birth day anniversary function of Birjis Qadar has been celebrated with pomp and show during the first war of independence in 1857. All the nobles and military council members were present. Umrao jaan Ada was also invited. She sang a ghazal, the first sh’er of this ghazal was:

Dil Hazaron Ka, Teri Bholi Adayein Lengi
Hasratein Chahne Walon Ki Balaein Lengi

(Your innocent style will attract the heart of thousand; Wishes of your lovers will offer to sacrifice)

This incident neither took place in history nor looks correct. Hadi Ruswa added it only to give weight to his creation. The name of Birjis Qadar was Mirza Mohammad Ramzan Ali. He was born in the month of Ramzan, during the regime of his grand Father Amjad Ali Khan who gave him this name. Brijis Qadar was crowned on the masnad of Awadh on Tuesday 5th July 1857 (12 th of Ziqad 1273H), which was the month after Eid and he left Lucknow on Tuesday 16th March 1858 (i.e. 28th Rajab 1274 AH). During this period of 8 months and twelve days, there did not occur the month of Ramazan in anyway. So the function of the birth anniversary of Birjis Qadar is also fictitious and totally concorded for the sake of novel writing and its publicity.

Therefore the novel Umrao Jaan is a work of fiction and has no assignment in the history of Awadh.

Dr. Roshan Taqui

Writer is a Lucknow based historian.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 2 Issue 13, Dated 05 April 2015)

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