A long-standing convention divides the Urdu ghazal tradition into “Dabistan-e-Dehli” and “Dabistan-e-Lakhnau” .
Can a city develop a characteristic, exclusive literary style? A long-standing convention divides the Urdu ghazal tradition into “Dabistan-e-Dehli” and “Dabistan-e-Lakhnau” or Delhi and Lucknow schools, each with an array of poets and devoted adherents — and fierce critics. The role of both the cities in Urdu literature is beyond dispute but how can we distinguish between the rival schools, and is the classification even valid?
Urdu scholar Frances Pritchett believes the division was created by some early historians of Urdu literature. One view was that the works of Delhi poets were simple, austere, chaste and dignified and of Lucknow convoluted, frivolous, sensual and decadent. Contemporary literary critics, especially Shamsur Rehman Faruqi, question the very classification — and ignoring contributions of various other bits of India.
It doesn’t seem very probable either city’s poets wrote to a template. But if “Dehlvi” or “Lakhnavi” are just seen as a sense of identification or how the poets are known to posterity, Lucknow city itself, leave apart its suburbs or remaining erstwhile Nawabi dominions, hosted a significant number, right from when ghazal-writing came into its own in the late 18th century down to the present.
But outside the circles of Urdu scholars and the painfully few bilingual aficionados, none is a familiar name like Delhi’s Mir or Ghalib. Not even Wajid Ali Shah “Akhtar”, known for all other reasons except poetry. It is difficult to list all on this platform but a representative selection can be offered.
Prominent among the pioneers were Ghulam Hamdani ‘Mushafi’ (Aasman ko nishana karte hain/Tir rakhte hai jab kamaan mein ham) and his rival Insha Allah Khan ‘Insha’ (Kamar baandhe hue chalne pe yaan sab yaar baithe hain/Bahut aage gaye, baaqi jo hain tayyaar baithe hai).
There were Insha’s associates: Saadat Yaar Khan ‘Rangin’ (Rishta-e-ulfat ko todun kis tarah/Ishq se main munh modun kis tarah), Qalandar Baksh ‘Jurrat’ (Mil gaye the ek baar us ke jo mere lab se lab/Umr bhar honto pe apne ham zabaan phera kiye) and Nawab Syed Mohammad Khan ‘Rind’ (Nuqsan jaan hai ‘Rind’ jo do gham bahm huye/Karte ho ranj hijr mein fikr sukhan abas).
Khwaja Haider Ali ‘Aatish’ (Zameen-e-chaman gul khilati hai kya kya/Badalta hai rang aasman kaise kaise) and Imam Baksh ‘Nasikh’ (Zindagi zinda-dilli ka hai naam/Murda dil khaak jiya karte hai) were another set of rivals in the 1830s.
Others of the time included Faqir Muhammad ‘Goya’ (Nishan ham be-nishanon kaa na paya/Saba ne muddaton tak khaak chaani), Syed Agha Hasan ‘Amanat’ (of play ‘Indar Sabha’ fame), Mirza Mohammad Taqi ‘Havas’ (Dukh pahunche jo kuch tum ko tumhari yeh saza hai/Kyun us ke ‘Havas’ ashiq-e-janbaaz hue tum) and Wazir Ali ‘Saba’ (Aap hi apne zara jaur-o-sitam ko dekhen/Ham agar arz karenge to shikayat hogi).
There were Pandit Daya Shankar ‘Naseem’ (Guzra jahan se main to sun ke yaar ne kaha/Qissa gaya, fasaad gaya, dard-e-saar gaya), Munshi Amir Ahmed ‘Amir Minai’ (Sarakti jaye hai rukh se naqaab ahista-ahista/Nikalta aa raha hai aftaab ahista-ahista), Mirza Rajab Ali Beg ‘Suroor’ (Itni chhaani hai khaak tere liye/Chaa raha hai ghubar ankhon mein) and Ram Sahai ‘Tamanna’ (Apni yehi tamanna hai aap se ‘Tamanna’/ Meri nazar ke aage rahiye kitaab hokar) among others.
The 20th century saw Mirza Mohammad Hadi ‘Aziz’ (Uthaye jaake kahan lutf-e-justju koi/Jagah voh kaunsi hai tu jahan nahi hota), Mirza Zaakir Hussain Qizilbaash ‘Saqib’ (Zamana bade shauq se sun raha tha/Hamin so gae dastan kahte kahte), Bisheshwar Prasad ‘Munawwar’ (Munawwar’ mujh pe shaam-e-yaas ghalib aa nahi sakti/Ke har umeed se hota hai ek rang-e-sahr paida), and Brij Narain ‘Chakbast’ (Agar dard-e-mohabbat se na insan aashna hota/Na kuch marne ka gham hota na jeene ka maza hota).
Leading lights included Syed Ali Naqi Zaidi ‘Safi’ (Dil se nazdeek hai aankhon se bhi kuch dur nahi/Magar is pe bhi mulaqat unhe manzur nahi), Syed Anwar Hussain ‘Arzoo’ (Do tund hawaon par buniyad hai tufan ki/Ya tum na haseen hote ya main na jawan hota), and Nawab Jafar Ali Khan ‘Asar’ (Zindagi aur zindagi ki yaadgar/Parda aur parde pe kuchh parchhaiyan).
There were Hakim Saeed Ahmed ‘Natiq’ (Koi na sun saka mera qissa zamaane mein/Itna asr bhi ho na kisi ke fasaane mein), Siraj ul-Hasan ‘Siraj’ (Aap ke paaon ke niche dil hai/Ek zara aap ko zahmat hogi) and Naubat Rai Saxena ‘Nazar’(Lakhnau hum par fida hum fida-e Lakhnau/Kya hai taaqat aasman ki jo churhae Lakhnau).
Closer to our time were Asrar-ul-Haq ‘Majaz’, Anand Narain ‘Mulla’ (Voh kaun hain jinhe tauba ki mil gai fursat/Hamen gunah bhi karne ko zindagi kam hai), and Krishan Bihari ‘Noor’ (Sach ghate ya badhe to sach na rahe/Jhoot ki koi intiha hi nahi)