|Biographical detail : ||India’s left-wing writer and activist
There were several dimensions to Zaheer’s personality but they were not in conflict with one another. Coming from an upper class family his early days promised a bright and secure life for him, far away from the miseries of the common man. But a destiny much different from that his friends and relatives awaited him.
Communism though his creed but Zaheer’s love for the people at large, irrespective of their political persuasions, dominated his thoughts and deeds. He gravitated to the raging fire of patriotism that Mahatma Gandhi had kindled, and switched into wearing khaddi (course) clothes, stopped eating meat and started sleeping on the floor.
He arrived in Britain, in 1927, where his time spent in Oxford University and coming in contact with leading Marxists marked a watershed in his life. He founded Progressive Writers Association (PWA) for his fellow countrymen, which was joined by prominent Indian writers.
After his return to India in 1935 Zaheer remained a member of the Allahabad Congress Committee and then continued to work at the central office of the All India Congress Committee. In 1939 when the Second World War began, he was arrested and remained behind bars until 1941.
The first Congress of the Communist Party (CPI) was held in Bombay in 1943 when he was assigned the responsibility of editing its first Urdu weekly, Qaumi Jang. He dedicated his time in a literary movement to bring about a fundamental change in the political and social life of the downtrodden people.
For Zaheer, the turning point came in 1947 when he was asked by the CPI to organise the Communist Party in Pakistan. Being a widely admired and respected person throughout the subcontinent he had links with the top bureaucracy of the newly established country but he could hardly work in the situation that then prevailed in Pakistan.
Zaheer’s activities and his clandestine stay in Pakistan was uncovered and he was arrested in 1951 along with Faiz Ahmad Faiz in the so-called Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case for which he was given life imprisonment. Zaheer was, however, released on parole and, in 1955, went back to India – as a result of international pressure and the special efforts of Jawaharlal Nehru he was allowed to stay in India.
He worked intensely for the creation of a forum for Asian and African writers against imperialism. His short novel, Landan Ki Aik Raat and while in detention in Pakistan, Roshni are two among of his celebrated works.
Born Syed Sajjad Zaheer and lovingly called Banney Bhai, his charming personality was disarming for his opponents. He died of a cardiac problem.