A Hindu nationalist's tryst with ghazals

What most people know of the Hindu nationalist leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is limited to knowledge gleaned from the pages of school or college textbooks. That he was fluent in Urdu, let alone capable of writing poems in the challenging structure of the traditional ghazal, is certainly not something we were taught in class. So when singer-composer Tauseef Akhtar read the Hindutva leader’s ghazal Yeh Hindustan Mera, he knew he had to lend his voice to the beautifully worded poem.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

“A ghazal is typically an ode to the beloved. In Yeh Hindustan Mera, Savarkar declares his love for his country. I have always performed either spiritual or romantic ghazals, and have never had the chance to lend my voice to a patriotic one. My sister told me about Savarkar’s recently discovered works, and when I read this ghazal on the Internet, I was amazed by what I found,”¬†narrates Akhtar.

Savarkar, who spent 13 years in jail between 1911 and 1924, first at the Cellular Jail in the Andamans and then at Pune’s Yerwada Jail, wrote extensively during his incarceration. “While he preferred his mother tongue Marathi, and occasionally wrote in Hindi, his fluency in Urdu is surprising. His command over the language reveals that he was very well read in Urdu as well,” notes the singer.

A manuscript in Urdu and Hindi written by Veer Savarkar when he was in jail. Pic/ Satyajit Desai

Yeh Hindustan Mera also discloses a lot about the patriot’s Hindutva ideology. Savarkar did not equate Hindutva to Hindu nationalism. Instead, he believed in an inclusive collective identity. “According to his ideology, Hindutva meant protecting the rights of the people living in Hindustan, no matter which religion they belonged to. In the ghazal, he claims his identity as being ‘Hindi’ not Hindu,” explains Akhtar, giving the example of the lines ‘Mera hai rakht Hindi, zaat Hindi, thet Hindi hu; yehi mazhab, yehi firka, yehi hai khandaan mera’ (My blood is Hindi, caste is Hindi, I am a true Hindi; it is my religion, my sect, it is my family).

What Akhtar finds particularly interesting is Savarkar’s use of certain typically Muslim phrases in the ghazal. “For instance, he uses the phrase ‘Hayaat-e-Javida’ (eternal life) to reiterate his undying love for the country,” he points out.

“Savarkar was an extraordinary man, controversial and perhaps misunderstood. If you examine this ghazal, you realise that his ideology isn’t limited to a particular religion, sect, caste or language,” says the singer, who is thrilled to have found the ghazals just in time to release his recordings on India’s 66th Independence Day.

“I had to record in quite a hurry. In fact, I was down with fever, but I was adamant about releasing both the audio as well as the video on August 15,” reveals Akhtar, who has tied up with the online portal Artists Aloud, for the same.

Keen that the ghazal reaches out to as many people as possible, the singer hopes that it pushes Urdu into the limelight. “Our country’s languages are extremely rich and we mustn’t let them die. It is essential that Urdu no longer remains limited to the margins as a language of a minority religion. I hope that the discovery of this ghazal pushes Savarkar’s admirers to accept the language,” Akhtar concludes.¬†

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