Whosoever  takes birth on this mother planet has to go one day, but some people are remembered even after their death for their deeds and their valuable contributions for the welfare of the mankind. Pandit Brij Narain Chakbast was one such personality whose name is still taken in high esteem by the lovers of Urdu literature all over the world for his soul-inspiring compositions. Some Urdu critics even compare his poetic genius to that of Allama Iqbal and place him on the same footing.

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Article 1

A Scholarly Poet And A Great Reformer

by Dr. B. N. Sharga

Whosoever  takes birth on this mother planet has to go one day, but some people are remembered even after their death for their deeds and their valuable contributions for the welfare of the mankind. Pandit Brij Narain Chakbast was one such personality whose name is still taken in high esteem by the lovers of Urdu literature all over the world for his soul-inspiring compositions. Some Urdu critics even compare his poetic genius to that of Allama Iqbal and place him on the same footing.

This great Urdu poet, scholar and social reformer of the 20th century had a humble beginning. He was born in 1882 in an ordinary middle class Kashmiri Pandit family in Faizabad and had his early schooling there. The name of his father was Pandit Udit Narain Chakbast. Later on, this Chakbast family shifted from Faizabad to Lucknow and settled down in Kashmiri Mohalla where there was a big concentration of Kashmiri Pandit families in those days. The ancestral house of Pandit Brij Narain Chakbast was situated at a stone's throw from the historic haveli of Kaul Shargas, the traditional Wasikedars of Oudh, whose family was the first to settle down in Kashmiri Mohalla in 1775 when Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula shifted his seat of government from Faizabad to Lucknow.

Pandit Brij Narain Chakbast made Lucknow, the city of Nawabs, as his real "Karma Bhoomi". He was a man with a vision. His elder brother, Pandit Maharaj Narain Chakhast, was an executive officer in the Lucknow Municipal Board in the beginning of the 20th Century. Chakbast did his B.A. in 1905 and L.L.B. in 1907 from Canning College which was at'filiated with Allahabad University at that time and subsequently became a practising lawyer.

He started writing poetry from a very young age and generally his poetic comrositions used to be very short, crisp and meaningful. He always used a very simple language in his Urdu compositions and used to describe the complexities of life in the shortest possible sentence in plain words. His style of writing can be judged from the following Urdu couplet in which he described the meaning of life and death in a most scientific manner:

'"Zindagi Kya Hai, Anasir Mein Zahoore Tarteeb;
Maut Kya Hai Inhi Ajza Ka Pareshan Hona''.

Life is an arrangement of senses in a proper form whereas the disintegration of this arrangement of senses is death.

Chakbast was a highly sensitive poet and was very emotional by temperament. He wrote a number of articles on topics of social relevance in various reputed Urdu journals of his times which were all widely appreciated. The collection of his poetic compositions is known as 'Subah Watan! Its latest edition was published about 10 years back by his granddaughter, Ms. Uma Chakbast, which was released by the then Governor of U.P. Shri Usman Arif, who was himself a renowned Urdu poet.

The fast changing social scenario had a great influence on the life of this sensitive Urdu poet who took up social reforms in his community as a mission in those days when the members of his own community were practising very rigid social customs and traditions.

After the 'excommunication' of Mohan Lal Kashmiri in 1834 from the Kashmiri Pandit community for undertaking extensive tours of the Arabian countries and later on the excommunication' of Pandit Bishan Narain Dar for undertaking sea voyage against the wishes of the community, and after his return to Kashmiri Mohalla in 1884 from England, by orthodox Pandits forced the broad-minded and well-educated members of the community all over North India to start the process of bringing certain reforms in the biradari so that it could move with the times and the community could be saved from its complete disintegration due to outdated beliefs and conventions.

There was already a sharp division in the community into the Dharam Sabha and the Bishen Sabha over this most sensitive issue in Kashmiri Mohalla in those days.

As Kashmiri Mohalla of Lucknow was the nerve centre of the activities of the Kashmiri Pandits in the first half of the 20th century, naturally the Kashmiri Pandits living in this locality took up this challenge and in 1872 Shri Sheo Narain Bahar probably for the first time started a caste journal Mursala-e-Kashmir to bring social awakening in the community through his forceful writings in this journal. He was ably assisted by Shri Shyam Narain Masaldan and Shri Srikishen Tikoo in this stupendous task.

After the death of Shri Bahar, Pandit Brij Narain Chakbast became the main architect of this movement of bringing social reforms in the community. Chakbast established a 'Kutubkhana' (library) of rare Urdu and Persian books and manuscripts in Kashmiri Mohalla exclusively for the Kashmiri Pandit boys and used to guide these young boys of the community in different disciplines so that they could become good citizens of the country.

Chakbast used to organise all-India Mushairas almost every year in Kashmiri Mohalla on a big plot of land adjacent to his house in which famous Urdu poets from all over the country used to come to recite their compositions.

Chakbast also established a very meaningful organisation with the name Kashmiri Young Men's Association to propagate his revolutionary ideas among the youth of the community through this body. Probably Chakbast was the only Urdu poet who had no "Takhallus".

Unfortunately, this great visionary of the 20th century died in 1926 at the prime of his youth. After his death, his friends and admirers formed a Chakbast Memorial Trust to keep his legacy alive. At present, Shri Ram Nath Mattoo who retired as Chairman of the Income Tax Department is the president of this charitable trust which gives stipends to the deserving Kashmiri students and financial assistance to the economically weaker Kashmiri widows and destitutes.

Article 2

by A. N. D. Haksar

Few remember today the remarkable contribution of Kashmiri Pandits to the development of Urdu literature. Ratan Nath Sarshar was the pioneering novelist of Urdu, and Daya Shankar Naseem a famous composer of masnavi poetry. But the foremost Kashmiri name in Urdu letters is that of Brij Narayan Chakbast, the firey poet of patriotism. Considered in his lifetime a compeer of Iqbal, Chakbast died young before he could attain the celebrity of his great contemporary.

Chakbast was among the founders of a new school of Urdu poetry which blossomed in the first quarter of the 20th century. In his obituary published on 24 February 1926, the daily Leader of Allahabad called him "one of that small band who have helped to revolutionise the ideals of Urdu poetry."

Traditional Urdu poets at the turn of the century, the Leader wrote, "were content to play with words and compose sugary verses of lady-like prettiness." But Iqbal and Chakbast "treated their muse like a queen, not like a tinseled courtesan." Under the influence of nationalism they "transfigured patriotism into song."

Apart from its nationalist inspiration and break from the tradition of stylised ghazals and qasidas, the new school also reflected a deep understanding of Western thought. A contemporary connoisseur, the distinguished jurist Tej Bahadur Sapru, described Iqbal and Chakbast as "men who have tasted of the best that English literature has to give us, and yet retained their love for their own literature" in expressing "some of the deepest thoughts and the subtlest of emotions which have stirred the minds of their countrymen during their times."

Comparing the two poets, Sapru wrote, "if Iqbal is more spiritual and mystical than Chakbast, that is probably due to his philosophy of life - on the other hand if Chakbast is more elegant in form, and shows greater pathos, if he appeals more to human feelings than to intellect, it is because of his environments in Lucknow."

Nationalism was a potent factor in moulding both poets, apart from the inspiration of natural beauty and the impress of faith and philosophy. The Hindi poet-historian R. S. Dinkar later wrote that Iqbal's poetry evolved from nationalism to pan-Islamism, but Chakbast remained a poet of patriotism to the end.

The resounding strains of Chakbast's hymn to the nation Khak-i-Hind (Dust of India) evoke the same mood as Iqbal's well known Tarana-i-Hindi (Song of India):

Hubbe watan samaaye, aankhon men noor hokar
Sar men khumaar hokar, dil men suroor hokar.

(May love for country pervade you, becoming light of the eyes, exhilarating the mind a intoxicating the heart.)

But the hymn was also a stern warning:
Kuchh kam nahin ajal se khwabe garaan hamara,
Ek leash bekafan hai Hindostan hamara.

(Our deep slumber is no less than death. Our India has become a corpse without a shroud.)

Chakbast's patriotic fervour found its finest expression in his elegies on the deaths of national leaders. The marsia or elegaic ode was a speciality, of Lucknow steeped in the Shia Muslim tradition of mourning the martyrs of the historic battle of Karbala. The cadences of the classical compositions, of Anees and Dabeer found a secular resonanance in Chakbast. He wrote on the death of Bal Gangadhar Tilak:

Shor-i-maatam na ho, jhankar ho zanjeeron ki,
Chaahiye quam ke Bheesham ko chitaa teeron ki.

(This is no time for loud lament. Let there be the clash of chains. Like Bhishma, the patriarch of the nation deserves a funeral pyre of arrows.)

It is hard to imagine an Urdu poet writing with such passion about a leader from Maharashtra today. But the liberation struggle had given a burning sense of unity to Indians of those times. On the death of another great Indian from Maharashtra Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Chakbast wrote:

Janaazaa Hind ka tere dar se nikalta hai,
Suhaag qaum ka teri chitaa pe jalta hai.

(It is India's funeral procession which goes forth from your door. It is the nation's fortune which burns upon your pyre.)

Chakbast also dedicated a poem to Mahatma Gandhi who was still working in South Africa at the time:

Fida watan pe jo ho, admi diler hai woh,
Jo yeh nahin to faqat haddiyon ka dher hai woh.

(The brave man is one who is devoted to his homeland. Otherwise he is only a pile of bones.)

Nationalism was only one theme of Chakbast's poetry. It equally drew inspiration from human sensibilities. His dirge on the demise of a young relative contains the oft quoted lines on youth snatched away by death:

Khil ke gut kuchh to bahaare jaanfizaan dikhlaa gaye,
Hasrat un ghunchon pe hai jo bin khile murjhaa gaye.

(Some flowers blossomed and displayed the living splendour of Spring. But we long for those buds which have withered without blooming.)

Chakbast's talent was already in full bloom when he died at the age of 43, felled by a paralytic stroke in a railway compartment while travelling to his home in Lucknow. Though he had eloquently mourned others, his own view of death was deeply Philosophical, as expressed in another much quoted verse:

Zindagi kya hai, anaasir men zahoore tarteeb,
Maut kya hai, inhin ajazaan ka parishaan hone.

(What is lift but a manifestation of order in the elements. What is death but the very same elements scattering once again?)

It was a view derived from India's ancient philosophy, which has never been interpreted in Urdu poetry as appositely as by Chakbast:

Ain kasrat men yeh wahdat ka sabaq Ved men hai,
Ek hi noor hai in zarra-o-khursqhed men hai.

(In essence this is the lesson of unity in the Vedas. There is but one light which manifests in the sun as well as in the atom.)

A successful lawyer in professional life, Chakbast was born in the small Kashmiri Pandit community settled in Uttar Pradesh. Though he lived and worked for most of his life in Lucknow, he recalled his ancestral land with passionate pride. In a poem on Kashmir, he wrote:

Chhoote huey is baagh ko guzra hat zamana,
Taaza hai magar iski muhabbat ka fasana.
Aalam ne sharaf jinki buzurgi ka hai maana,
Utthe they isi khaak se woh aalime daana.
Tan jinka hat payvand ab is pak zameen ka,
Rug rug men hamaari hai ravaan khoon unhi ka.
Haan, main bhi boon bulbul usi shadaab chaman ka,
Kis tarah na sarsabz ho gulzaar sukhan ka.

(Much time has passed since we left this garden. Yet our love for it is fresh as ever. From its dust arose men of learning and thought whose wisdom was esteemed by the world. Their bodies are now joined to this sacred soil, but their blood courses through our every vein. I too am a nightingale from that garden full of blossoms: how can the flowers of my poetry not bloom?)

Chakbast's path breaking poetry was published after his death in a collection entitled Subah Watan, which deserves to be brought out again in these days of fading national fervour. So does Bahaar Gulshan Kashmir, the monumental anthology of Urdu and Hindi poetry by Kashmiri Pandits, which is also a testament of their contribution to the literary life of India.

Note: A. N. D. Haksar is a former diplomat who was Ambassador of India to various countries in Europe and Africa. Now devoted to writing on foreign affairs and literary topics, he has also translated various Sanskrit classics, the latest being a new rendition of the famous Hitopadesa in prose and verse (Penguin, 1998)

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