Anthems of Resistance: A Celebration of Progressive Urdu by Ali Husain Mir, Raza Mir

By Ali Husain Mir, Raza Mir

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The ‘imperialist war’ was roundly condemned and there were demands to transform 55 ANTHEMS OF RESISTANCE the war into a revolution. Communists across the nation, including Sajjad Zaheer, were arrested and imprisoned. Poets wrote of the war as one that was being waged for wealth and as a sign that capitalism was tottering on its throne. Their sympathies were with the soldiers who were being condemned to die in the service of an imperial order. This sentiment underwent a profound change with Hitler’s launch of Operation Barbarossa – the German invasion of Russia – in June 1941.

The period of 1850s onwards, sometimes referred to as the Nishaat-e Saania (Renaissance) in Urdu literature exhibited a new sensibility that was spurred by an attitude of resentment and rebellion against the yoke of colonialism. Around the turn of the century, the call by Altaf Husain Hali and Mohammad Husain Azad to poets asking for mushairas to be organized on the basis of themes such as the love of the nation also provided an impetus to qaumi shaa’iri, or the poetry of nationalism. Urdu poetry for long had had a tradition of an engagement with the human condition but the period of 1920s onwards saw a new mood, one that Jan Nisar Akhtar calls avaami bedaari ki lehar (the awakening of the masses).

But their aspirations were now different, their enthusiasm and hope for an egalitarian society now tempered. This period was marked by the decline of the movement and progressive Urdu poetry spoke chiefly through the remaining voices of those who had carried its banner so proudly in the past. Some of the more interesting poetry was produced through the attempts of the Progressives to seek newer configurations by turning their attention to struggles taking place in different parts of the world. Poems were composed on Palestine, Vietnam, the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, the Rosenbergs, Paul Robeson and Martin Luther King.

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