The Unknown who defined Lucknow's lost generation bows out

By Saeed qvi

The mail from Lucknow was terse. “Ibne Hasan Advocate is no more.” He was “Ibne Hasan bhai” to me ever since he cast me as the young Daagh Dehlvi in 1954 in “Dehli Ki Aakhri Shama” (Flicker of the Last Lamp in Delhi), a Tamseeli Mushaira ectment of the last poetic gathering in the Red Fort in 1857. Ghalib, Zauq, Momin, Daagh and other great contemporaries participated in this historic soiree.

The show was staged at the University Union Hall where Ibne, as master of ceremonies, announced a hundred awards for the young Daagh.

The couplet which brought the ceiling down was:

“Jo rahe ishq mein qadam rakkhein,

Woh sheb o faraz kya jaanein”

(They who step onto the path of love,

Do not distinguish the highs from the lows)

Prof. Ehtesham Hussain, Prof. Aale Ahmad Suroor, Amritlal gar, all sent chits of paper to Ibne requesting him to announce awards for me as “Daagh” in their mes too. At 14, I was eager to collect these “awards” which, alas, never materialized. One had to take the will for the deed. This was typical of Lucknow’s intellectual elite - their budgets having shrunk after the Zamindari (landlordism) Abolition of 1951. In a general sort of way they moved in two political directions. Some stayed with the Congress party, largely because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s appeal. Others of a more literary bent gravitated towards progressive causes, even Communism. This became the stepping stone for the Progressive Writers Association which received a shot in the arm when P.C. Joshi became Secretary General of the party. Sajjad Zaheer, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Niaz Haider, Saiyyid Mohammad Mehdi, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Balraj Sahni, Bhisham Sahni, Krishan Chander, Mahinder Singh Bedi, Ismat Chugtai, Sahir Ludhianvi - the lot - became active in the PWA. Many followed Joshi to Mumbai as “full-time” members of the party. Thence to Bollywood.

There were others who could not make these stark choices. Majaz Lucknowi for instance. Ibne belonged to a whole category of educated youth, highly politicized, but uble to strike a balance between Leftist idealism and the practical requirement of bread for the table. Because he had been in university with my firebrand Aunt, Alia Askari (later Alia Imam), and addressed my mother a “Baji jaan”, we had a ringside seat on his impecunious circumstance.

He spent his mornings table hopping at the Coffee House, now with Ram Manohar Lohia, Amritlal gar, Ehtesham Hussain and, most frequently with Majaz, a genius in the firmament of Urdu poetry but in penury. He had found Bollywood too harsh and retreated into his Lucknow shell. This provided Ibne the opportunity to know Majaz better, even when the latter shifted to Delhi to take up employment at All India Radio. Ibne had no great memory for poetry but he remembered Majaz’s couplet, the first one ever to have been broadcast:

“Saara aalam gosh bar awaz hai,

Aaj kin haathon mein dil ka saaz hai.”

(The world listens with rapt attention.

Who is playing this instrument of the heart?)

Failed love, once with a married woman in Delhi, and another in Lucknow were reasons for nervous breakdowns which resulted in Majaz being confined to psychiatric centres for long spells. This was Ibne’s version as Majaz’s informal Boswell.

Ibne was part of the well knit team Alia Askari put together to organize the Urdu convention in Lucknow’s Qaisar Bagh Baradari in December 1955. The mushaira turned out to be a historic event: Sardar Jafri challenged the audience: let us see who tires first, poets or the audience? The scintillating stalemate continued well past midnight.

Majaz, in an advanced stage of inebriation, had recited a rather tepid ghazal:

“Jigar aur dil ko bacha bhi hai

zar aap hi se mila bhi hai.”

(How do I protect my heart,

And yet make eye contact with you?)

No one noticed that someone had whisked Majaz away to a country liquor tavern in a lane near Lalbagh. It is not known what happened on the first floor of the bar. But when the bar opened the next day, Majaz was found lying, in a coma, on the terrace. He had spent a cold December night in the open. Efforts to save him in the nearby Balrampur hospital failed.

The memorial meeting at the Rifah e Aam club, where Ibne, like my elder brother, escorted me, will always remain etched on my mind. As a teeger, I had the privilege of shedding a tear on the death of a great poet.

Ismat Chugtai was blunt. She put her finger where it hurt. “Shame on the women who loved his poetry but, for married life, they sought middle class security elsewhere.” Majaz describes this rejection in his masterpiece poem, Awara or Vagabond.

The term “Middle class”, had almost derogatory implications for generations which had transited from feudalism to economic embarrassment but progressive politics. They had totally missed out on the “middle class” experience. Many of our eccentricities, it turns out, derive from that missing link.

Ibne’s political acumen was spotted by Keshav Dev Malaviya, a progressive member of Nehru’s cabinet. This proximity was sought to be exploited by owners of some sugar mills in Uttar Pradesh. For Ibne, it was not harmless drudgery. But even these adjustments did not take away from Ibne bhai his unconventiol agnosticism.

In his last days Ibne bhai was ailing but still found the strength to recite Majaz’s lines:

“Phir iske baad subah hai,

Aur subhe v, Majaz

Hum par hai khatm

Shaame gharibaa ne Lucknow.”

(Look, a new dawn breaks. The night of Lucknow’s exiles, will end soon - along with me.)

(Saeed qvi is a commentator on political and diplomatic affairs. The views expressed are persol. He can be reached on

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