Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Notes of a Nobody: What is Maqdoom?

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 23, 2013

MakhdoomWaiting for our company pick-up bus one morning, I asked Sameena “What is Maqdoom in Urdu?”

Sameena was our company receptionist – a gregarious spinster with an infectious smile and a moderate chatterbox by nature. One could make out she came from not a well to do family. She was ordinary beyond the definition of being beautiful but had a quiet dignity and a mild air of authority that was telling. What I remember of her was her disarming smile and her bare, prominent, un-ornamented barren neck which for some strange reason remained etched in my memory. Whenever I looked at her neck, the word “desolate” popped into my mind. The quality of desolation I felt was very similar to the one I experienced watching bad prints of Dali’s paintings. Many a time I was tempted to tell her to wear something but never had the courage to go beyond entertaining thoughts of telling her

“Are you trying to be silly”? she replied to my question rubbing her collar bone with a thin  hand that had unusually long fingers with pale yellowish finger nails. It was an unconscious habit with her. Since she was not one of those who smoked, I guessed that she cooked regularly at home with turmeric as key ingredient which made her finger nails yellow

“Did I ask anything wrong?” I said

“Yes. It is not what Maqdoom is? It should have been who Maqdoom is?”

“Oh! OK. Who is Maqdoom?” I persisted

“Will tell you. But tell me why are you asking this question?”

“Well, I was listening to a song and came across a line which said “Yeh mehki thi hui ghazal maqdoom, jasie sehra mein raath phoolonki.” I understand the meaning of the sentence fully and completely but was confused with the addition of the word Maqdoom”

She smiled and said, “Oh! so you listen to ghazals. Do you?  Well, Maqdoom is a famous poet from Hyderabad and he is saying that his ghazal has a fragrance of flowers strung in a sehra. You know a sehra right?”

I moved my hand in front of my face indicating a floral cover worn by bridegrooms in a marriage and then as an afterthought said

“Hyderabad is it? Amazing!! I should know more about him. Do you know anything about him?” I asked her.

She looked at me for a brief while and said seriously “Try reading Maqdoom. He is a great poet and he is from here.” After a brief pause she added “Abba and he were good friends.”

I thought I did not hear her properly and asked her a little loudly “What did you say?”

“I said Abba and he were good friends.” she repeated

“Wow! I guess you would have seen him person. What was he like?” I asked

“Abba was ill for a period of time and Mohuiddin Saab used to come to our house to spend time with Abba. I was a young girl then. Every time he came home he bought something for us. Sweets, flowers, bangles, books and especially seasonal fruits. Custard apples were his favourite. He was a tall, kind and reticent man. Even with Abba he spoke very less. He used to sit and say something in a soft tone. It was like he murmuring to himself.”

“Have you read Maqdoom?” I asked her with a tinge of envy. I did not read Maqdoom. I could not have without knowing Urdu

“I used to. Lots of him… but now I do not read him anymore. He is very good to the point of being great, but I have moved on”, she said. She paused for a while and then said “he was a mixed bag of great things. He was. He had much in him – a romantic,  a revolutionary, a communist, a politician and a keen observer of human condition.”

I was a little surprised to this side of Sameena. I least expected her to have this kind of exposure. What did I know then that life has this habit of throwing strange things at us at unexpected times through individuals to the point of spooking us? I wanted to ask her more but as things would have it, the bus came, we boarded and the conversation was left unfinished

This was in the year 1990. A good 21 years after Maqdoom died.  I was a freshly minted engineer and I joined a small company in Hyderabad and among the many I met, Sameena was one. Nearly two and half decades have gone by after our conversation. I do not know where Sameena is now. Hopefully time and the narrow streets of old Hyderabad were kind to her and treated her and her family well

It is 2013 now. The struggle for Telangana is at its peak and there are strong hopes that a solution will be found to this six decade long aspiration with the announcements of the UPA Govt to demerge Telangana from Andhra and form a separate state. Among the many things that contributed to the growing consciousness of a collective identity of Telangana and its people, revisiting all its poets, writers, and artists was a prominent one. It is in this process that Maqdoom Mohuiddin also resurfaced quite prominently into public awareness. I started to learn more about him and found that he was an artist of definitive merit whose work needs to be explored, popularized and above all celebrated.  I also realized that I still have a lot more that I need to do to know his work better and that makes me a bit restless

But one thing is for sure: Now, I do not ask any more the embarrassing questions like; who is Maqdoom? Or worse still, what is Maqdoom?

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