By postponing the symposium on Mirza Yaas Yagana Changezi, has the Sahitya Akademi succumbed to fundamentalists’ bullying?

Contrary to the ritzy and startling proclamation of the post-modern theorist Roland Barthes about the death of the author, the spectre of the writer’s incorrigible creativity still ruffles namby-pamby wardens of faith. The author is still persecuted for a text which has not seen the light of day. Further, the sword seems to be mightier than the pen. This is exactly what once again become evident as the National Academy of Letters, Sahitya Akademi, abruptly postponed a one-day national symposium on a widely-acclaimed Urdu poet, Mirza Yaas Yagana Changezi (1870-1956).

The Akademi had invited many reputed Urdu scholars and critics to make an objective appraisal of Yagana, who blazed a new trail in Urdu poetry in the early 20th Century. The seminar was slated to be held in Lucknow but some orthodox Muslim scholars, having no regard for aesthetic and creative sensibility, dashed out protest letters to the Ministry of Culture and the U.P. Government against the symposium. A handful self-styled protagonists of public morality and faith referred to some profane verses said to be written by Yagana in 1953. Curiously, his collected works do not carry even a single verse that anathematises any religious figure.

Seldom does his poetry betray sentimental exoticism, the hallmark of early 20th Century Urdu poetry, and blasphemy does not break into a cascade of his creative expression.

Yagana denounced the traditional Urdu poetry and described the ‘Lucknawi poetry’ as a body of atonal and mushy writing bordering on kitsch that harps on the themes regurgitated by the eminent Persian poets. His polemical dismissal of Lucknow poetry evoked strong response and a tirade was launched that culminated in physical assault. Yagana was accused of composing some blasphemous verses for private circulation. His alleged sacrilegious poems did not see the light of day, but the poet was severely punished, and the punishment still continues. This happened 50 years ago, and now Yagana is being taught as a major Urdu poet in both the graduate and post graduate syllabus of Urdu literature at almost every University of India and Pakistan. Nobody has ever objected to his verses, but it is distressing to note that the fundamentalists have pressured the Akademi to call off the seminar. This aside, Yagana’s poetry still transcends the fringes of the subjectivist poetry that zeroes in on doubt and restlessness. His refreshing vocabulary not only exalts the power of the spoken and unspoken word but also makes it fully alive to shifts in culture and ideology.