Justice Katju: The power of Urdu poetry

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Katju-

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

A feature of Urdu poetry is that in a marvel of condensation, the poet can express an idea in a nutshell, in two lines (in a ‘sher’ or couplet) which would ordinarily require a whole volume.

Consider my sher :

‘Hum inquilaabiyon ko naya jahaan banaana hai magar

Yeh safar hai mashaqqat-o-museebaten liye hue’


We, revolutionaries, have to create a new world

But this journey is full of toil and difficulties

Now let me explain this.

1. Meaning of the first misra (line)
Our national aim must be to transform India from an underdeveloped country with massive poverty and unemployment, widespread hunger (we have slipped from No. 101 to No. 107 out of 121 countries surveyed by the Global Hunger Index, behind neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh), skyrocketing prices, almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for our masses, etc, into a highly industrialized country (like China), with our people prosperous and enjoying a high standard of living like western nations.

Before the Industrial Revolution, which began in England in the first half of the 18th century, and then spread elsewhere, there were feudal societies everywhere, with agriculture as the main occupation of most people.

The methods of production and instruments of production of feudal society were so primitive (the bullock or buffalo in Asia, and the horse in Europe, being used to till the land) that very little wealth was generated from this activity.
Consequently, only a handful of people, the kings, aristocrats, zamindars (feudal landlords), etc, could be rich, while 95% or more people had to be poor and illiterate. When the cake is so small, very few people can eat it.

This situation has been drastically altered by the Industrial Revolution. Now, modern industry is so powerful and so big that enough wealth can be generated to give everyone in the world a decent life, with jobs having high incomes, proper healthcare and good education for everyone, and a high standard of living. In other words, no one need be poor now.

But despite this situation created by the Industrial Revolution, the fact is that perhaps 75% of the people of the world, including in India, are poor and with other evils like high unemployment, lack of proper healthcare, etc.

In addition, in India we have a lot of casteism and communalism, which are feudal forces contributing to our backwardness and poverty.

The 21st century will therefore be characterized as the century in which people struggles all over the world, including in India, for transforming their countries from poor, underdeveloped countries to highly developed, highly industrialized, countries with people enjoying a high standard of living, will be fought out to a conclusion, and result in establishing prosperous countries everywhere and the abolition of poverty, unemployment, and other social evils which have plagued the world for centuries.

2. Meaning of the second misra
This transformation will require a mighty, historical, united people’s struggle, led by modern-minded leaders, which process will be extremely painful, difficult and protracted, with lots of turns and twists, entailing tremendous sacrifices by the people.

Many will perish in this historical struggle, but with the satisfaction that their children and grandchildren will have better lives.

If we study the history of Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries, when Europe was going through this historical transformation from a feudal to a modern society, we will see that this period was full of turmoil, turbulence, (eg, the 30 years war in Germany from 1618 to 1648, in which one third of the German population was wiped out), wars, revolutions, (the English revolutions of the 17th century, the French revolution of 1789, etc), the reformation and consequential inquisition by the Roman Catholic Church, social churn, chaotic conditions, intellectual ferment (with theories of Locke, Hobbes, Voltaire, Rousseau, the French Encyclopaedists, etc).

It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe.

India is going through this fire. We are going through a painful period in our history, in which many millions will perish, and which may take 20 years or so.

For what is a historical transition? It is a period when the entire society is uprooted, when old feudal customs and values, e.g., the caste system in India which has lasted for centuries, are destroyed and replaced by modern customs and values.

This will indeed be a painful, long-drawn process. Most people are conservative, and will not easily change their mindsets when it comes to casteism and communalism.

Moreover, the vested interests, both internal and external, will fiercely oppose and resist this transformation, believing that their interests will suffer ( as indeed they will ) if this transformation takes place.

The people of India must know all this, and prepare to face the long storm approaching our country. Many will perish in this storm, and not see the triumph of their struggles, but as Madame Defarge said to her husband in Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, their reward will be that they have helped in this historical transformation.


[Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Willard_Spirit_of_76_original_version.jpg]

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