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Sufi poetry could inspire a change in attitudes to the girl child.
Maulana Altaf Husain Hali was born in Panipat in 1837. Panipat was then the centre of Sufi thought, whose leading light in India was Bu Ali Shah Qalandar. Like most poets Hali began writing on themes of love and nature, but soon decided to use his poetry as a vehicle for social reform. What saddened him the most were two pervasive ills: oppression of women and girl children, and the reduced state of the Muslim community. Like most non-conformists, Hali's poetic corpus met with initial skepticism, even open disdain. His rejection of traditional themes and conventional language was derided by other elite poets of the time. Hali had chosen to write for the masses in a language that was a blend of Urdu and Hindi. Such non-embellished, often clearly feminist poetry was deemed unworthy both in theme and expression.
Interestingly, in his Young India, Mahatma Gandhi struck a different note. He famously wrote that if anyone wanted to learn the "real language" of India, which was neither pure Hindi nor pure Urdu, the best example was Hali's 'Munajat-e-Bewa' or 'Lament of the Widow. ' He called it a 'model language' for a new India.
It was a bright winter morning when our President stood in Hali Maidan, Panipat, a couple of weeks ago, and expressed her pain at our declining child sex ratio - as reflected in the steep drop seen in the last decade. She challenged Haryana, a state which has terribly low overall sex ratios, to become the leader not only in India, but in the world, considering that only 150 years ago their very own poet wrote these lines that gave women pride of place: Ai maon, behnon, betiyon duniya ki zeenat tumse hai, Mulkon ki basti ho tumhin, qaumon ki izaat tumse hai (O Sisters, mothers, daughters, you are the ornaments of the world;You are the life of nations, the dignity of civilisations)
As a child I had heard Hali being recited in my home. Hali was my paternal grandmother's paternal grandfather. He wrote a poem for his six year-old great granddaughter - my father's younger sister, for whom I was named. My elders made me believe that the poem was written for me;a realisation that made me feel self conscious but secretly happy. As I recounted in Hali's simple words, of the family's love for the little girl, that day, I sensed that the audience was identifying with each word praising the innocence and intelligence of a small girl, a lass who was described by the poet as an unending source of happiness for all.
When his famous lines about the status of mothers were recited from the podium, the huge crowd listened with rapt attention. Hali's poem made a single assertion: that to whatever exalted station men rose, it was to women that they owed their very existence. After all, what were they, at birth, if not but a lump of flesh? This lump of flesh, how would it have been nurtured If the mother had not held it to her bosom, The Sufis, the scholars, the men of God, the Prophets, The intellectuals, the savants, All creatures of God who evolved advanced, The ladders they climbed were held in their mothers' laps.
That day Panipat perhaps stood poised to lead the country in reclaiming its girl child. A poet, a president and a populace is a formidable combination. It can break vicious mindsets. Hali was indeed born to break all stereotypes - the one about 'Maulanas', especially their antipathy for women's rights;the stereotype about self-indulgent poets;and finally, the stereotype about Haryana, especially. Jo ilm mardon ke liye samjha ha gaya aab-e-hayat, Tehra tumhare haq mein roh zehr-e-halahal sar ba sar, Aaya hai waqt insaaf ka nazdeek hai yaumul hisaab, Dunya ko dena hoga in haq talfiyon ka wan jawab. " (Learning, which for men was considered the elixir of life, For you it was considered lethal, venomous The day of judgment dawns, justice will smite, The world will then answer for depriving you of rights).
(The writer is member, Planning Commission)
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