Literary Notes: Shades of Eidul Fitr in Urdu literature
Traditional Urdu poetry dubbed the beloved ‘Eid ka chaand’, or ‘Eid moon’. It was a perfect literary allusion as it said all about the sweetheart: beautiful and much sought-after but rarely seen. In Urdu idiom, too, Eid moon is something or someone that rarely comes across.
Beloved’s eyebrows were often referred to as ‘hilal’, or the waxing crescent moon, in classical Urdu poetry and, therefore, seeing the beloved was like sighting the Eid moon. Also, meeting the sweetheart was often likened to ‘Eid’ in traditional poetry as it brought boundless joy. But with the advent of new political and economic realities there was a paradigm shift in the post-1857 literary scene. Gone with the power and glory were the days when affluence prompted revelry. Now love and the beloved were not of primary concern for poets. Thanks to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his like-minded intellectuals, Eid became more meaningful in Urdu literature and carried more symbolic expressions. According to Dr Waheed Qureshi, as Urdu literature became an instrument of expressing cultural identities and nationalistic ideas in the aftermath of 1857 revolution, Eid too became a symbol that was used in wider meaning and deeper signification in Urdu literature. Eidul Fitr became the topic of many a poem in a different way, transcending the geographical boundaries and recording Muslim cultural and religious sentiments.
In that era, Altaf Hussain Hali, Ameer Meenai, Akber Allahabadi and Ismail Merathi in their verses highlighted Eid with its cultural and ideological background, adds Dr Qureshi. In the next generation of poets, we see poetic pieces on Eid in the works of Allama Iqbal, Ghulam Bhik Nairang, Seemab Akberabadi, Khalifa Abdul Hakeem, Khwaja Dil Muhammad, Abdul Majeed Salik and others.
Urdu’s prose writers too creatively spoke of Eid. Rashidul Khairi, Khwaja Hasan Nizami, Abul Kalam Azad, Abdul Majeed Salik, Hakeem Yousuf Hasan and others re-created Eid in their prose writings with a touch of social, political and economic issues. Rashidul Khairi and Khwaja Hasan Nizami especially in their prose writings portrayed Eid as a mixture of joy and sorrow as they talked about the poor and middle-class families and their Eid, describing poor women’s Eid, orphan’s Eid and a maidservant’s Eid etc. They emphasised the role of charity that could bring joy to poor families on Eid. Hasan Nizami described — along with the stories of Delhi — the Eid of the former Mughal princes and princesses who had become paupers after the 1857 debacle and were penniless, though they used to distribute ‘Eidi’ (money given to youngsters or juniors on Eid) among scores of people in their hay days.
The latter-day poets too used Eid as a symbol reminiscent of Islamic culture and history or an occasion to reflect on the plight of Muslims the world over. But this was in fact initiated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who in his essays described the lacuna in Muslims and their culture with reference to festivities.
According to Dr Waheed Qureshi, our writers and poets have stressed four aspects in their writings when it comes to Eid:
Describing the sighting of Eid moon as a natural, wondrous phenomenon;
Interconnecting the Eid with inner delight and external circumstances;
Trying to synchronise the cultural values and Eid with their own feelings;
Accepting the Eid moon as a symbol of Muslim unity, Muslim ‘ummah’, their rise and fall and their cultural life;
Dr Qureshi forgot in the final analysis to mention the classical poets’ tendency to connect Eid moon with the beloved, though he had mentioned it elsewhere. Secondly, some of the latter-day poets, some of whom are our contemporaries, have used the Eid moon as a gloomy sight and a symbol for their individual, worldly sorrows as well. For instance, Saghar Siddiqi, a very talented poet who lived on footpath and ate from Data Darbar’s ‘langar’ in Lahore during his last days, wrote a moving ghazal while using ‘Eid ka chaand’ as a symbol of sorrow and deprivation. The Eid moon, Saghar said, “was pointed like the eyebrow of the beloved and it pricked my eyes just as sharply”. Needless to say that here by ‘beloved’ he meant the ‘world’, the disloyal mistress. Parveen Shakir in one of her poems recalls the last year’s Eid moon in her peculiar romantic and melancholic style. She recalls last year’s Eid moon because this year the lover is not here and is, perhaps, with someone else.
But there are, of course, some instances of using Eid moon as symbol of Muslims’ cultural revival or their rise and fall, as Rafi Ahmed Fidai did in his poem ‘Eid-i-zindaan’ (or Eid in prison) , written after the Fall of Dhaka, referring to the prisoners of war celebrating Eid in the Indian detention camps. Here the Eid moon is painted sad on the plight of those taken prisoners and are weeping on the day of Eid, missing their dear ones.
So, the modern-day Urdu poets are much different and their portrayal of Eid and its moon is more sensitive and conscientious.