The tombstone on the grave of Urdu Poet Daagh Dehlvi (1831-1905) buried at Dargah-e-Yousufain receives a few rose petals from the flower baskets kept at the nearby stalls; the fragrant breeze is reminiscent of his couplets which bring together the facets of two worlds: one of the era gone by, another that woke up after the debacle of 1857.
HYDERABAD : He brought forth the delight of language waning in struggles of daily life thus establishing himself as the chronicler of beauty in his ghazals. He was the last to hold onto the classics of Delhi School of Poetry. It’s not just Daagh from Delhi who’s buried at the shrine, poet Amir Meenai of Lucknow, a close friend of him, too, is buried over there under a large tree a few metres away. He was a lexicographer as well, who came to Hyderabad to get financial aid for his Urdu dictionary, but died within a month of his arrival. Several aficiandoes of verses come to the burial site to pay respects not knowing that if in April, 1888 Daagh decided to come to Deccan after losing his job in Rampur estate, in modern times too, the city still sees an influx of poets from other regions, who mingle with its ancient landscape where kings, too, were poets. The city offers them the luxury of time as it moves at its own pace offering the music of solitude that shapes their works tenderly.
The dargah has been a chamber of serenity for the 70-year-old poet Hoshang Merchant where he listened to qawwalis and wrote down several of his verses. At his seventh floor flat in Masab tank the distant silhouette of Golconda Fort gleams. He welcomes the summer breeze before telling us about his love for the city which has been his home since 1986. He shares, “Hyderabad has crystallised my travels to Middle East. I didn’t know that the layout around Charminar was a replica of Chaharbagh in Isfahan. The city breathes in the continuation of my life.” He continues, “Hyderabad is a fabled and ancient city. Travel writings of 17th century French traveller Tavernier describe the magnanimous glory of the Deccan capital talking about its diamond markets and the immense wealth.
This is what sets its beauty apart from other cities.” Much like Daagh, who was called Bulbul-E-Hind after being appointed as the court poet and tutor for Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan at a monthly remuneration of `450, Hoshang, too, came here to teach as a professor at University of Hyderabad. The Bombay-born poet says that the city shaped much of his work as the place is known for brilliant Urdu poetry adding, “It was I who brought Urdu ghazals into English much before Kashmiri-US poet Agha Shahid Ali. We both were pen-friends and would admire works of each other. The city, still, exhales the nazakat of shayari.”
There were other poets also who lived in Hyderabad for a brief period of time. Famous Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi came to the city in 1924 to join the department of translation at Osmania University. But he wrote something controversial against the Nizam and had to leave. Another famous Urdu poet Zaheer Dehlvi, who was a disciple of Zauq and was posted in Red Fort at the age of 13, came to Hyderabad after the Revolt of 1857. While he was working at Tonk, Rajasthan, many wrote to him asking him to come to Hyderabad for more fame and wealth. But those who called him there couldn’t find any work for him though his poetry was much appreciated.
While describing the Indian Rebellion of 1857 he speaks about the prosperity in the city but as a poet he wasn’t able to get any financial support. In his book ‘Dastan-e-Ghadar’ he laments: “My jealousy with Daagh is justified, he was paid handsomely while I barely survived.” He had to suffer this as an old man. He died here in 1911. If 160 years ago poets came to the city for fame, wealth and solitude even today they come here for the same.
Says Calcutta-born poet Linda Ashok, “Hyderabad rescued me in 2010, I was a wounded animal to which it gave strength to repay my family debts and incur new ones for poetry.” The last year she shifted to Mumbai for work but still considers the city her home waiting to come back. She shares, “I would always love to return to the collegiality of the city, its climatic temperament and its people.” She admits that the city has shaped her craft, “It was here that a heartbreak was recycled into my poetry book ‘Whorelight’.”
Poet Nabina Das likes the calm and “provincial” character of the city. She moved back from the US in 2011 to make Hyderabad her home. She says, “The lack of urban anxieties typical to other cities make me focus on poetry better. At the same time, one can watch all socio-political developments in the country and even participate in them physically or symbolically. I wrote my third collection ‘Sanskarnama’ here which accorded me a space to reflect and react.” She adds, “We have Hoshang Merchant, one of India’s oldest and most well known poets, living here, which adds to the charm in any poetry celebration in the city.”
Talking about celebrations Hoshang reminisces noted poet and academic Shiv K Kumar, who passed away the last year. He taught English Literature and retired as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad. He had penned a number of poetry collections and received several fellowships. The silver-haired poet remembers him as, “a supportive colleague who at the age of 93 came to his class and spoke about Shakespeare for more than an hour to interact with students.” That’s how for all poets, past and present, the city continues to flourish in poetry offering a conducive environment for their art testifying that it is a haven of Muse.