|Biographical detail : ||An Urdu poet
After the fall of Delhi to the British invasion, Azad, who believed that there was an arrest warrant out for him, was smuggled out of the city and began a life of wandering that would see him spend four years drifting alone and in extreme poverty through the length and breadth of India – to Madras and Nilgiri Hills, then Lucknow and eventually to Lahore, carrying his master’s ghazals (Zauq’s poetry) all the way.
Azad started teaching at the Government College in Lahore and this was the period that he produced his best-known books from Aab-i-Hayat to Darbar-i-Akbari, the magisterial study of life in Akbar’s court.
An extraordinary episode in Azad’s career, which calls for more investigation now, was his trip to Central Asia in 1865 as a member of a ‘political mission’ sent by the British government, a euphemism for espionage. Azad may have been coerced by his employers to join this mission and he my have been anxious to prove his loyalty to the crown, but it is bizarre that inadvertently became a pawn in the Great Game.
Later on Azad travelled to Iran and wrote about Persian language and literature, the subject of his life-long love.
Azad was awarded the title Shams-ul-Ulema in 1887 at the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. His most important works were Aab-e-Heyat, Sakhundan-e-Faris and Nairange Khayal.
A seminal figure in modern Urdu literature, Azad is a man of letters in the complete sense of the term. There are few genres of literature that he did not try his hand in and even fewer in which he did not leave an indelible mark.
Life began for Mohammad Hussain in almost a conventional manner, like any other child born in Delhi’s educated and cultivated class of the ashrafiya. Son of Maulvi Muhammad Baqar, by all accounts one of the earliest, if not the first, journalist in Urdu who established himself as a journalist writing under siege and the precursor of today’s war correspondents. Azad was a child of the late flowering of the Mughal Delhi under its last emperor, Bahadur Shah, who used the poetic name Zafar, and was a great patron of poetry and the arts.
It was the father who cast a long shadow as the Mughal era ended with what was termed the ‘Mutiny of 1857’ followed by mass scale death and destruction in Delhi. It was the end of the world as Azad had been brought up in. Azad’s father was killed by a cannon shot, the noise of which was enough to take the life of Azad’s infant daughter. Azad turned back to give a last look at the house he was leaving behind and this look committed him for life.
In recent years Azad has received critical attention, though not as much as he deserves. Frances Pritchett, in association with Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, published an annotated English translation of Aab-i-Hayat and Abdus Salam prepared a new scholarly edition of this book, while Anjuman Tarraqi Urdu reprinted Dr Aslam Farrukhi’s two volumes on Azad’s life and works.