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Mainstream, VOL LV No 24 New Delhi June 3, 2017

Saeed Suhrawardy

Thursday 8 June 2017


by Masoom Moradabadi

Words fail to express the loss caused by the demise of Saeed Suhrawardy Sahab to the Urdu world. As he was laid to rest on March 10 at the burial ground, Mehendiyan, near the Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC), the view expressed by most Urdu journalists gathered there was: “He was a doyen, a strong pillar in his domain. His demise is like the end of an era he strongly represented through his writings.”

A Masters in Economics (English Medium) from Allahabad University, Uttar Pradesh, Suhrawardy Sahab’s passion for writing was there from his younger days. Though he had a good command over English, Urdu, Persian and Hindi, he wrote primarily in Urdu. He has left behind a legacy of more than a dozen books. Suhrawardy Sahab’s first book focussed on the Economic Problems of Indian Muslims and their Solutions (Musalmaano ke Iqtesaadi Masail aur unka Hal—1975). He was the first to deliberate on this issue.

Suhrawardy Sahab’s books include fiction, a compilation of his short stories Lakeerein Aur Khaqe—1977 (Lines And Sketches), Kuch Phool, Kuch Pathar—1988 (Few Flowers, Few Stones) and a satire Chuhe Ke Khutoot Billi Ke Naam—1979 (Letters from a Rat to Cat). The last is a satire on sufferings of a common man (rat) at the hands of the cat representing the system. The catch-line in this book is the cat heading for a pilgrimage after eating rats. He was also well-versed in the art of writing poetry, including poems and four-line qatas (quartets or two couplets on one theme). His poetry in Sulagta Sandal—1976 (Burning Sandalwood) displays his use of Urdu as well as Hindi words. The book begins with Suhrawardy Sahab referring to three mothers he knows of. One is the one who gave him birth. Second is his mother-tongue, Urdu, which is his spirit and voice. And the third is his country, Hindustan.

Pankhariyan—1976 (Petals) and Sangreizen—1976 (Pieces of Stone) are among his books of four-line poetry. During the Emergency-phase, Sangreizen was the only Urdu book to have been published in which the period was strongly criticised by Suhrawardy Sahab through his verses. Inter-estingly, a strong point of his personality was his moving forward on his own strength without indulging in any kind of lobbying or politicking for his writing. He also chose not to participate in Mushairas, programmes where Urdu poets read out their poetry. All his books have been published by Markaz Muashi Taraqqi (Centre for Economic Development) founded by him.

His actual name was Syed Saeed-ul-Haq Suhrawardy. He used Saeed Suhrawardy as his pen name. Born in Mirzapur, his maternal background was associated with the Firangi Mahal of Lucknow (UP) and his paternal lineage with the Sufi order, known as Suhrawardiya Silsila. While studying in Allahabad University, he moved forward into the journalistic world by working for a powerful nationalist monthly magazine of that period, Nai Zindagi, founded and edited by the freedom fighter, Syed Aneesur Rehman. Career-wise and in the pursuit of education, Suhrawardy Sahab was a self-made man from the beginning. Among his cherished memories of Allahabad were his relations with his brother-in-law, late Bashir Ahmad (an advocate and MP), his circle of friends, including Dhirendra Verma, Suresh Srivastava, Mahesh Lal and his active association with the late Prime Minister Chandrashekhar, his senior at the Allahabad University.

Interestingly, even Chandrashekhar had expressed surprise at Suhrawardy Sahab not approaching him after the former had assumed political prominence. It so happened that Chandrashekhar was seated on the stage at a function being held in Delhi. Suhrawardy Sahab was associated with the place where it was being held and was observing the proceedings from a distance. Chandrashekhar happened to see him and called him. Of course, both were pleased at meeting each other. But that was it. All who knew of that meeting were quite stunned at Suhrawardy Sahab not ever taking advantage of his association with Chandrashekhar. This was an aspect of his personality which only those close to him were well aware of. He encouraged his immediate family members also to move ahead on their own merit.

Suhrawardy Sahab moved to Delhi in the early 1960s. Later, when he brought his wife and children to the city, his priority was to ensure his residence in a mixed colony. A staunch believer in Indian secularism, he did not want his family’s interaction to be confined to only Muslims. Initially, the family resided in South Extension Part I. They moved to Aiwan-e-Ghalib, after he was appointed the Director of the Ghalib Institute, which is in Central Delhi. He played a key role in establishing a library and a museum at the Ghalib Institute. Later, the family moved to Mayur Vihar in East Delhi, where he breathed his last. During his professional life, he was also asso-ciated with Shama Publications and Akhbar-e-Naujawan (magazine) as a consulting editor. He is still remembered for bringing out the most memorable issue of Shabistan (a monthly magazine of Shama Publications) on the renowned poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz. In addition, he served as the chief of the Urdu Services of Samachar Bharati for some time. He was also well known for his columns in several leading Urdu dailies, including Qaumi Awaz,Rashtriya Sahara,Etemaad and Mera Watan. Among his notable contributions were translations into Urdu of Freedom at Midnight and the Hindi novel, Chitralekha.

Not many are aware of politician Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna’s close contact with him and his son, Anis Suhrawardy. When faced with a political crisis, Bahuguna was planning an autobiography in English with Suhrawardy Sahab as the ghost writer. During Bahuguna’s visits to his house, the title of book was decided as “My Tryst With Destiny”. However, before the book could be finalised, ill health and political problems facing Bahuguna stalled its progress. Among other politicians Suhrawardy Sahab had great respect for and was closely associated with freedom fighter late General Shah Nawaz Khan and late Maulana Ishaq Sambhali (CPI MP).

Suhrawardy Sahab’s love for Urdu and education was also marked by his selflessly serving as a teacher. He taught Urdu and English to many. Thus, he was also considered a Guru by a few, particularly a Bengali lady, whose love for singing Ghazals prompted her to learn Urdu from him. A prominent cleric was taught English by him a few decades ago. Yet, his daughter learnt about this only when the cleric revealed it to her during a meeting in a foreign trip. On her return, she asked him: “Papa, is this true?” He replied: “Yes.” She would not have learned about it had the cleric not told her. And this prompted her recently to say: “I don’t know, perhaps we still don’t know a lot about what all he did.”

I have learned that he encouraged his medical attendant (a Rajput from Bihar) also to study. One of the duties of his attendant was to read aloud the Hindi newspapers’ news and edits. Over the years, he learned Urdu from him and had begun reading Urdu newspapers as well as short stories. He was picking up English too. Often, when Suhrawardy Sahab felt a little weak, he would call his daughters and say: “When I am gone, don’t deprive anyone of his job from here. Retain the attendant. You can use him as a driver.” He was not just a great journalist and writer but a great soul too. He is remembered as a peace-loving person, who had never spoken in a loud voice to anyone. Definitely, he was felicitated with several awards for his contributions to the Urdu world, but even these may be viewed as insufficient to mark the legacy he has left behind through his writings and for people around him.

My friendship with him spans around three decades. I don’t think I have met anyone else as loving and refined as he was. Whenever I sat with him, I got the feeling that I was sitting under the shade of a huge tree. I would listen to him for hours and gain a lot of knowledge from him. I have learnt a lot from his writings. I met him for the first time at the office of Akhbar-e-Nau, an Urdu weekly, from where I began my career in Urdu journalism. Though he was older to me by around 30 years, he never let me feel the age difference. We often had fruitful discussions during our meetings or over phone. I always felt enriched and learnt a lot from what he said. He was well-versed in economics of the country and the world.

Age difference mattered little for many more persons who loved visiting him and holding long conversations. These included Mukul Dube, who usually came to his house armed with his camera. It is the photographs clicked by him which were carried by Urdu papers and magazines across the country, with news about Suhrawardy Sahab’s demise and his burial.

Suhrawardy Sahab may be hailed as an extremely strong-willed person. Despite having suffered the shock at the death of his only son, the eldest of his three children (in 2012), followed by that of his wife (2013), he maintained a strong posture. His son, Anis Suhrawardy, was a prominent Advocate in the Supreme Court. At times, he commented: “Oh God, don’t let even enemies suffer the loss of their children.” Though there was an endless stream of guests coming to give him condolences at the passing of his son and later his wife, he was extremely touched to find his old contacts, caring little for their own ill-health, coming to share his grief. These included senior advocate B.D. Dutta, businessman S.K. Gupta and his Mumbai-based friend S.S. Ahmad. His bond with late Syed Shahabuddin and Syed Mahmood Ali has been continued by the second and third generations, that is, their children and grand-children.

Though he was a heart patient and due to a spinal injury was confined largely to bed, he was mentally very active. His family members say that he was extremely fast in calculating the exact payments that needed to be made. Rather than use the calculator, all at home would ask him for answers to what should be paid for clothes that had been ironed and so forth. Besides, during the physiotherapy sessions he had recently begun walking more than earlier. He is also remembered at being extremely generous with tips for the staff who worked at home. He kept precise account to ensure that no one was missed.

Suhrawardy Sahab was engaged in his writings till the very end. March 9, the day he expired, was scheduled to be the day for his dictating a new piece. The pieces, he had last penned, e-mailed earlier in the week, were published after his demise in two prominent Urdu dailies, Etemaad (Hyderabad) and Mera Watan (Delhi). He lived life fully till the end and passed away as he wanted to—amidst his family members. The day he breathed his last (March 9) was also the date of his wedding anniversary. He is buried next to his wife and his son.

I consider myself as among the fortunate ones, with whom he continued interaction during his last few years. A lot more can be said and written about him as a person and his writings, published as well as unpublished, that he has left behind, but that also shall not be enough. Though he is no more, he is still with us through his treasured legacy of writings and cherished memories. May he rest in peace, Ameen!

Masoom Moradabadi is a Delhi-based Urdu journalist and writer. He is editor of the Urdu daily, Jadid Khabar, and fortnightly, Khabardar. He has written several books and is Secretary of the All India Urdu

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