Urdu poetry and modern Hindi poetry
Markandey Katju 18 Nov 2022

I have often said that modern Hindi poetry has no ‘dum’ ( power ) in it compared to Urdu poetry. In this connection I am reminded of an incident which happened a few months after I had been appointed a Judge of the Allahabad High Court in 1991.
My good friend Neelkant, was a Hindi writer and critic, of Allahabad, my native town (I don’t know whether he is alive today). One day he came to meet me at my residence in Allahabad. He had written a book on Rahul Sanskritayan, a famous Hindi writer, and he wanted me to be the Chief Guest in a function for its release at the Hindustani Academy, Allahabad.

I normally avoided going to functions as long as I was a sitting judge, but since Neelkant was such a fine and loveable person I agreed.
When I reached the venue there was a huge crowd of about 200 persons or more, assembled in the audience. Many of them were literary figures who regarded themselves great writers. Several speakers spoke, praising modern Hindi literature, and then came my turn.

I got up and said that I was sorry but I could not agree with most of the speakers who had spoken before me. While I regarded medieval Hindi poets like Sur, Tulsi, Kabir, Raskhan, Rahim, Meera, Keshav, Bhushan, as undoubtedly great, but modern Hindi poetry was ‘daridra’ and ‘ghatiya’ (low level), and it has no place in world literature. I also said that modern Hindi poetry had no dum (strength) in it, and was no match to Urdu poetry.

I quoted several Urdu poets to show the power of Urdu poetry, e.g. Bismil’s poem ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai’ which was very powerful, and inspired the freedom struggle. But if it is translated into Hindi it will become ‘Mastishk katwaane ki manokaamna ab hamaare hriday mein hai’, which has no ‘dum’ in it. Similarly, Faiz’s ‘Bol ki lab azaad hain tere, bol zubaan ab tak teri hai’ will, on Hindi translation, become ‘abhivyakt karo ki onth swatantra hain tumhaare, abhivyakt karo ki jeebh abhi bhi tumhaari hai’. Again,  no ’dum’. I also referred to Faiz’s poems ‘Hum dekhenge’ and ‘Nisar main teri galiyon ke ai watan’

I referred to Mir, Ghalib, Faiz, Firaq, Josh, Sahir, etc and said that Indians read and loved their poetry, whereas no one reads Hindi poets like Sumitra Nandan Pant or Mahadevi Verma.
At first, the audience was stunned, but gradually as I was speaking an uproar began, which soon reached a crescendo. People in the audience started shouting ‘Aise anpadh admi ko kisne judge bana diya’ (who appointed such an illiterate person as a judge), ‘ap yahan kyon aaye hain?’ (why have you come here?).

I replied calmly that I had come because I had been invited by Neelkant whose book was being released. I also said that if anyone in the audience disagreed with me he could have politely pointed out where I was wrong and discussed the good things in modern Hindi poetry, but this was no way to behave.
No one was prepared to listen to me, and a barrage of abuses, invectives, and vituperations were soon hurled on me.
When this crossed the limits of my endurance I said ‘You are a bunch of hooligans’ and stormed out of the hall.
The next day, many newspapers published accounts of this incident, including my statement that Hindi litterateurs mostly consisted of a bunch of hooligans. The result was, as Neelkant later told me, that there was a huge demand for his book, and the first print was soon sold out, and there was a demand for a second edition.

A few days later Neelkant came to my house and apologized profusely for the misbehaviour of the crowd.
I told him not to worry. He should now write another book on modern Hindi literature and invite me again for its release, where I would again lambast modern Hindi literature, and this would ensure another huge sale of his book.

By Justice Markandey Katju, former Judge, Indian Supreme Court
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