Story of Firaq Gorakhpuri-Rekhta

Firaq Gorakhpuri
Born Raghupati Sahay, Firaq Gorakhpuri, was a poet who was in a league ofhis own. Born to a Hindu family in 1896 at Gorakhpur, Firaq developed a taste for Urdu poetry at a very early age and started writing Urdu poetry in his teenage years. He took the nom de plume of Firaq.

Adjectives fall short for the poet who was considered one of the greatest Urdu poets after Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Ghalib (by another giant in Urdu, Josh Malihabadi). Firaq Gorakhpuri was a post-graduate in Urdu, Persian and English literature and was a voracious reader. It is said that he had over six thousand books in his personal library and could recite from Keats, Shelley, Stalin, Rumi, Ghalib and Gandhi in the same breath. Despite being selected for the Indian Civil Services, he joined the Non-cooperation movement against the British Government for which he was sent to prison for some time. Later, he went on to teach at the Allahabad University as a faculty member in its renowned English Department.

Firaq was an urban legend and many parts of his life were the subject of speculation. His unhappy marriage and his close proximity to Ramesh Dwivedi only added to the aura of the tragic, loner poet. A man of many contradictions, he was both extremely proud and critical of himself.

Consider these two couplets by him to show the yin and yang holding his personality together:

Aane wali naslein tum par fakr kareingi Humasron
Jab inn ko yeh dhyaan aayega ke tum ne Firaq ko dekhaa thaa

(The generations to come will envy you, compatriots, When they will realise you had seen Firaaq.)

Munh se hum apane bura to naheen kehte ki Firaq,

Hai tera dost, magar aadmi acha bhi naheen

(I will not call him names because Firaq is your friend. But let me warn you, he is not a good man)

It was in Allahabad University that Gorakhpuri wrote over four thousand Urdu couplets and his most notable work Gul-e-Naghma for which he won the prestigious Jnanpith Award. His other major works included Mash’aal and Rooh-e-Kaayenaat. He has been awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in Urdu (1960), Padma Bhushan (1968), the Jnanpith Award (First Jnanpith Award for Urdu literature in 1969) besides other awards.

The halls of Allahabad University still echo with the eccentricities of the maverick poet who once left a class mid-way to complete a poem. Firaq had been a proponent of secularism all his life. He was against the government’s effort to brand Urdu as the language of Muslims. He was also instrumental in the allocation of funds for the promotion of the language. Jawahar Lal Nehru nominated him as a member of the Rajya Sabha for his efforts in the promotion of literature and communal harmony.

The bohemian poet attended mushairas till the age of seventy but a long illness consumed him and he breathed his last on March 3, 1982. As a veteran critic noted, Firaq’s love for Mir Taqi Mir was so great that when he couldn’t sleep at AIIMS, he told his caretakers “Kalam-e-Mir sunaoo/Badi udhas hai raat” (the night is very sad, recite Mir’s poetry). Josh Malihabadi occupied the place next to Mir in his heart. The two poets died within days of each other leaving a rich legacy behind.

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