Mein Akela hi Chala Thhaa janib e Manzil Magar
Log aatay hi gaye Aur kaarwan Bantaa gayaa
For his various firsts, the above couplet of Majrooh sultanpuri is totally and aptly applicable to the personality of Syed Sajjad Zaheer…
Fondly known as Banney Bhai , Syed Sajjad Zaheer was a founder member of CPI ( Communist Party of India ), IPTA ( Indian Peoples Theatre Association ) and PWAI (Progressive writers Association of India ) . PWAI received unstinted support from litterateurs namely Munshi Prem Chand , Dr Mulk Raj Anand Faiz, Makhdoom, Ali Sardar Jafri, Majrooh Sultanputi, Kaifi Azmi, Vamiq Jaunpuri, Salam MachliShahri, Sumitra Nandan Pant, Hiren Mukherjee, Sibte Hasan, Amrit Rai, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Ehtesham Husain, Ale Ahmed Suroor, Mumtaz Hussain, Krishn Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ismat Chughtai, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Upendra Nath Ashq, Yashpal, Ahmed Nadim Kasmi, Vishnu Dey and others.
The progressive writers movement did not remain as a ’literary club’, but became a movement that stirred the soul of the ordinary man reading literature in Hindi and Urdu. It expressed the concerns of the ordinary man through literature.
From this platform , Syed Sajjad Zaheer moved ahead and worked closely With Pablo Neruda , Nazim Hikmet and Faiz Ahmed Faiz under the Banner of AAWA (Afro Asian writers Association).
Born at Lucknow in an aristocratic and educated family of former Oudh state , Sajjad Zaheer ‘s father, Sir Syed Wazir Hassan was a former chief Justice of Oudh court.And Syed Sajjad Zaheer’s personality has many dimension that I came to know only after reading his Biography . I quote something for readers.
Banney Bhai went to Oxford in 1927 , studied law to become a Barrister and returned to India in 1935 . It was only at Oxford that he was driven towards Marxism. At Oxford he once posed a question to George Bernard Shaw who had come to deliver a speech . Shaw’s speech was mainly about his impressions of the Soviet Union, which he had visited a few months earlier. When the president invited questions, Zaheer asked Shaw: “Mr Shaw, you have told us about what you saw in the Soviet Union and how you were impressed by the communist society there. If this is your belief, why don’t you work for a communist revolution in England and why don’t you join the Communist Party of Great Britain?” Shaw replied: “Young man, you ask me why I don’t join the Communist Party of Great Britain? I want the Communist Party of Great Britain to join me.”
In India , he came under the spell of Gandhi ji’s freedom movement and joined Congress party and participated in many agitations . Banney Bhai wore khadi clothes , stopped eating meat and slept on floor . In an interview, Sajjad Zaheer informs as under .
“I was not the only communist who joined the Congress at that time. With me were Dr Mohammed Ashraf, Dr Z.A. Ahmed, Mahmuduzzafar Khan and some other people. All these people had taken their degrees in England and had come back. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was very proud of our group and he introduced us to Gandhiji and to Sardar Patel saying, “ People say that Muslims are not coming in the Congress. Here is this brilliant group of young Muslims which went to England and took degrees there and had come back and joined the Congress.” Anyhow, I was saying that this was the time when Panditji started his Mass Contact Movement and from the communist side, we too, were trying to develop the Congress as a sort of united national front of all the anti-imperialist elements in this country. The socialist band inside the Congress, apart from the communists, Jayaprakash Narayan, Minoo Masani, Rammanohar Lohia and others, were also in the same category of people who were thinking of new ways and means of achieving our independence ”
Sajjad Zaheer married a budding urdu writer Razia in 1938. Razia was also from an educated and progressive family of UP. Imprisoned in 1939 for two years , Sajjad Zaheer Co- founded of CPI immediately after his release . After the Partition of the country , CPI advised him to move to Pakistan to organize communist Party of Pakistan along with Faiz Ahmed Faiz .Remaining underground for three long years, he travelled to the different cities meeting trade unionists, intellectuals, students and workers. But ultimately was arrested and implicated in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case along with poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He was tried for sedition and awarded Life imprisonment .It was only through Pandit Nehru’s intervention and international pressure that he was released on parole .His family faced many odds and financial difficulties in India during his absence . He returned to India in 1955 , settled with his family and never went to Pakistan thereafter . From 1956 to 1973, he worked intensely for IPTA, PWAI and for the creation of a forum for Asian and African writers against imperialism. He revived the PWAI and was elected secretary of the India chapter of AAWA (Afro-Asian Writers Association ). He also edited party Newspaper Quami Jung and weekly Awami Daur (People’s Era) that was to later become Hayat (Life). His popularity soon grew all around and writers of various countries invited him. He was among the key figures who mobilised writers against US atrocities in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In collaboration with Mulk Raj Anand, he organized the first Asian writers conference .He died of a heart attack in kazakhastan while attending Afro Asian writers conference.
His short stories collection Angaaray was banned by British Government in 1932 immediately after it was published. He wrote Gazals , poems and plays .His prominent woks include London Ki Ek Raat- a novel, Roshnai a collection of essays on progressive writing and the progressive writers movement, Zikre Hafiz- A research based book on Persian poet Hafiz and Pighla Nilam-A collection of his poetry. He also translated OTHELLO , GORA and PROPHET to urdu.
Najma , Noor , Nadira and Naseem are his four brilliant and talented daughters .Najma married Prof. Ali Baquer ( Died 2007 ) from Hyderbad .Najma was a professor of Biochemistry at JNU New Delhi. Ali Baquer had worked at the universities of Oxford and London .He has been member of various high-level committees set up by the Planning Commission of India, Doordarshan, IGNOU and other national and international agencies dealing with education, health, mental health, management and disability issues.
Noor is a well known Researcher , journalist, kathak dancer and Writer . Her Hindi Novel “Mere Hissey ki Roshnaai” is a treat to read . Her other Books are Surkh Karwan ke Humsafar, a travelogue of Pakistan, Bad Uraiyya, a novel, and My God is a Woman. She married Amitava Dasgupta (1947-2010) – a Marxist and a Theatre personality (founder-director of Brechtian Mirror).
Nadira, A graduate from NSD is a well known name in Indian theatre ( EKJUTE ) and is married to Actor Raj Babbar. Naseem now Dr Naseem Bhatia ( Married Historian Prof. Vinod Bhatia ) worked as joint secretary of UGC and later Vice Chancellor of Jodhpur University.
Adds Dr Naseem Bhatia ,
“The family income was paltry. Father received Rs 45 as remuneration for being the editor. Grandfather used to send Rs 200 every month and that’s the way the family expenses were met which included the hospitality of the guests, mostly poets who often stayed overnight in our tiny flat.”
Adds Nadira Babbar
“Not even once, did my parents talk to us about religion. The first time that someone told us we were Muslims was at school. Writers, activists, theatre persons were walking in and out of our house all through the day, with the atmosphere abuzz with art and literature. From anti-nuclear protests to peace marches, to poets’ meets and seminars, our house was the rehearsal room for a range of things. We were fortunate to have parents like them. They gave us such a rich legacy of values and ideals, and without ever making us conscious of it. It was a natural part of our upbringing; much later in our lives, when we were on our own, slowly these things moved up to the surface ”
Banney Bhai’s wife Razia Sajjad Zaheer ( 1917-1979 ) was also from a Nationalist Muslim family . She has written many novels and short stories . Razia made name as one who perfected her craft in the language of tension and her stories, namely “Amar Jyot”, “Ravan Jal Gaya”, “Mojja” and “Allah De Banda Lo” were much read in the 60s and 70s. Her short story NEECH ( lowborn ) comes to my mind at the moment especially the Characters of Shyamali and Ramavtar she created for this story. She taught at Karamat Hussain college and wrote Novels and short stories . She was also associated with PWAI .
Till the end Banney Bhai remained a dedicated comrade always at the call of the party and rose to the rank of being an external member of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union).
I end this brief post on Syed Sajjad Zaheer with lines from a poem of Kurdish poet Sherko Bekas …
We were millions
An old tree
A young tree
We were seeds
The helmet of Ankara
In a bloody night came
To uproot us
They took us away long away!
On the way many old trees bent
In the cold many young trees died
Many seeds were trampled
They were lost and forgotten
Like a river in the summer we had little water
Like birds in the autumn, we became fewer
We ended up in thousands of homes
There were still seeds among us, the wind took them
The wind returned them
They reached the thirsty mountains
They hid among the rocks
The first rain
The second rain
The third rain
They grew again
We are now a forest again
We are millions
Autar Mota is a Translator and writes in English , Urdu , Kashmiri and Hindi. His write-ups have appeared in many national magazines and journals.