By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
02 June 2019
Khwaja Ahmad Abbas was one of the greatest multi faceted personalities of India in the last century. He was an orator, a writer, a filmmaker and a journalist. He wrote 70 books and thousands of articles in English, Hindi and Urdu. He used all the available media (films, journalism and literature) to convey his vision of his ideal world, his message of love, peace, patriotism , fraternity and revolution to the masses that were poverty-stricken, tyrannised, oppressed, illiterate, communally divided, superstitious, obscurantist and gullible.
KA Abbas was born in a religious family in Panipat in 1914. He was the great grandson of Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, the legendary critic and poet of Urdu who revolutionised Urdu poetry by giving it a new character and diction. He made contemporary social and political issues his theme and wrote patriotic poems and couplets.
As a young man, Abbas, a graduate from the Aligarh Muslim University, was bothered about the fact that India was plagued by social and economic ills. The oppressive British rule and the centuries old oppressive and exploitative feudal system had made life miserable for the poor and the farmers. Thanks to the divide-and-rule adopted by the white rulers, the communal divide had resulted, manifest in the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha.
To Abbas, ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ was a meaningless proposition. Through his writings, he wanted to enlighten his readers guiding them on the road to freedom--- freedom from the yoke of slavery, exploitative feudalism, communalism, illiteracy, superstition and all that was negative and retrograde.
Though he never dabbled in poetry, not even after being ditched by the girl he loved, whatever young Abbas wrote reflected his grandfather’s ideas. Later the nationalist and reformist led to communism. Abbas felt imperialism and feudal system were the root of all evils plaguing the country. He was Indian People’s Theatre Association’s first general secretary and also a prominent member of the Progressive Writers’ Association.
Abbas wanted to be the cynosure of all eyes. At the Aligarh Muslim University, he found that only two categories of people were looked upon with awe --- sportsmen and debaters. Abbas chose to be the latter. He won accolades and appreciation for his oration and was a much talked about figure in the University.
In 1938, Abbas shifted to Bombay, joining Abdullah Bareilvi’s newspaper Bombay Chronicle as a crime reporter and film critic. His perceptiveness and vast knowledge ensured that he could write impromptu on any topic under the sun.
In 1937, his first story Ababeel (The Sparrow) was published and appreciated in literary circles. Later, the story was included in a collection of best new stories published in Germany, along with contribution by Tagore and Mulk Raj Anand.
He wrote over 200 stories and eight great novels. In most of the stories, he dealt with contemporary issues – looking for plots in news headlines. The Bengal famine, communal riots, rural development programmes taken after independence, social and economic inequality and unemployment are some of the contemporary subjects he had turned into fiction. Ek Ladki, Paon Me Phool, Main Kaun Hoon, Paris Ki Ek Sham, Gehun Aur Gulab, Nai Dharti Naye Insan, Neeli Sari are among his famous stories. Among his novels, Char dil Char Rahein, Saat Hindustani, Mera Nam Joker Do boond Pani and Inquilab are noteworthy. Inquilab, his most successful novel was translated into Russian, English and Hindi. Do boond Pani and Saat Hindustani won him the prestigious National Integration Award.
During his association with IPTA, he wrote several plays on social and political issues. Dharti ke Lal (based on the famine in Bengal), Do Beegha Zameen (on farmers and landlords), Main Kaun Hoon (on riots) and Gandhi aur Godse (on the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi) are his noteworthy plays.
Besides stories, novels and plays, he also wrote travelogues. The Return of the Red Rose is his biography of Indira Gandhi. I am not an Island, his autobiography, is also a detailed account of the social, cultural and political aspects of India of his times.
Abbas was dogged by controversies all his life because he was of a very uncompromising nature and had a no-holds-barred attitude towards society. His story Sarkashi (rebellion) hurt the sentiments of the Hindus. He was dragged to the court for writing another story. The case was dismissed after two hearings. But the worst happened when he wrote the preface to Ramanand’s novel “Aur Insan Mar Gaya” based on the large scale communal riots in the wake of the Partition. In the preface, he wrote that it would be wrong to blame the riots on the British alone. He felt all the communities involved ---Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs – were responsible for the blood and gore and leashed out at all the political parties, including the Communist Party. He wrote that the political parties made only hollow promises to the masses and did nothing to educate them. Neither did they nurture values and ideals in their cadres.
All hell broke loose when the piece was published. The communists who have perennially been allergic to criticism branded him an agent of imperialsim and his progressive friends called him an enemy of the people. He was thrown out of IPTA and all other similar organisations and a vilification campaign against him began. But a confident and unrepentant Abbas stood his ground.
He made his directorial debut with Dharti ke Lal based on his own play. The film was produced by IPTA. Later he made more than ten films under the banner Naya Sansar. Naya Sansar (1948) was a landmark in the history of Indian films. It marked the beginning of what is now called the parallel cinema. Naxalite which dealt with the issue of terrorism received an award in Italy. Shahar aur Sapna won the President’s Award in 1963. He also wrote scripts and screenplays of such superhit commercial films as Awara, Bobby, Shree 420, Mera Nam Joker and Ram Teri Ganga Maili which gave Raj Kapoor stellar financial returns.
The films he made won awards and honours in India and abroad, they often failed at the box office. The reason: he used the film medium to propagate his nationalist views rather than as a medium of entertainment.
Though he won recognition as a great writer and filmmaker, Abbas always said he was basically a journalist. He started his career as a journalist and remained one till his last day. After the Bombay Chronicle went into oblivion in 1946, RK Karanjia invited him to write the last page of the Blitz, which he did for forty years.
S. Arshad is a regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com
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