Mirza Shukoor Baig: The lawyer politician turned poet

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Mirza Shukoor Baig
Mirza Shukoor Baig

Politics and poetry go hand in hand. A host of politicians have dabbled in literary arts and become successful on both fronts. But not always literary zeal translates into enlightened leadership. This is true of Mirza Shukoor Baig. Today, few remember him as a politician but as a poet he is well-known.

Shukoor found himself to be a big misfit in politics. For two terms he served as a Congress MLA (1952-62) and represented Hasanparthy and Warangal. A law graduate, he started legal practice in Warangal and was doing fairly well. But, he was dragged into politics as the Congress wanted a Muslim candidate. However, in 1962, the party dropped him like a hot potato as he didn’t measure up to its expectations.

A man of principles, Shukoor couldn’t adjust to the rough and tumble of politics. Often, he was asked to espouse wrong causes like stopping someone from constructing his house or preventing removal of encroachments on roads. When he refused to intervene, people wondered why he was elected at all. Shukoor discovered to his shock that truth was not always palatable and easy to say. “I was pushed into politics against my wishes when I had a good legal practice. But, I couldn’t ride the twin horses of siasat aur wakalat for long. In the end, main na ghar ka raha na ghat ka,” he used to remark.

Lawyer, politician, poet, stage artiste and a Haji 35 times over, his was a multifaceted personality. He was born in 1907, a year before the great Musi floods. He was a walking encyclopaedia. One could check with him for any hoary detail. His white flowing beard and the numerous folds of skin seemed to hold an eternity.

Wo bhi kya zamana tha, har lehaz se fit the

Aajkal ye halat hai, chul-chul dheeli hai

Shukoor sums up his past and present condition in this verse. “When I started writing, I was fit as the first line of the verse says and when my book is being published, the second line comes true,” he used to say. He wrote a good amount of humorous poetry and later switched to ‘Ghazal goyee’ and ‘Naitya kalam’. In all, he authored six books, including two volumes of humorous prose. His popular works include Tarana, Sada Bahar, Khushboo-e-Dard and Lazzat-e-Girya.

Though Shukoor was drawn towards poetry, it was circumstances which made him a poet. While staying in the Osmania University hostel, a problem cropped up when some students got fed up with the daily dose of ‘dal’ served in meal. On their representation, the authorities agreed to prepare ‘chawal ki kadi’ every alternate day. This was objected to by others who favoured dal. Shukoor, a dal die-hard himself, went poetical thus:

Jo dal ka dushman, wo insaan ka dushman

Hindu, Maseeh, Musalman ka dushman

This was his first couplet and thereafter there was no looking back. Every incident that touched him took the shape of a verse. However, to fully appreciate his poetry, one ought to know the context in which it was written. One can find touches of famous humour poet, Akbar Allahabadi’s satire in his verses.

They to nashad, dikhave ke shad bane

Rahe mehkoom, naam ke azaad bane

Mere ladke ko hiqarat se na dekho saheb

Kya ajab hai ke yehi aapka damad bane

Shukoor’s technique was to keep the punch word in the last line of the verse. In his later years, he mastered this art and used it to great advantage. Once he was down with piles, an ailment which his father and grandfather also suffered from. Shukoor wrote a letter to Hakim Maqsood Jung explaining his problem and seeking treatment. Being a poet, he also penned a couplet taking a pot-shot at himself:

Aur honge jise mansab mile, jagir mile

Hum ko virse main buzurgon se bawasir (piles) mile

Shukoor, who served in the cabinet of B Ramakrishna Rao, did not spare him either. Once, Rao was making a speech in the State Assembly in Urdu language but with a liberal mix of Hindi words. Shukoor didn’t like this and wrote a couple just then:

Wo izhare liyakhat to kiya karte hain Hindi main

Magar gussa jab aata hai to tehet Urdu main

When wheat was in short supply and government was rationing it, he discovered a humorous angle to it:

Na mulazim hain kaheen, aur na bekar hain hum

Log azaad samjhte hain, giraftar hain hum

Gehoon (wheat) dene agar raazi hain dulhan wale

Doosri shaadi rachane bhi tyyar hain hum

He had a fine sense of humour and gave a hilarious touch to everyday events. He was very fond of Urdu language and it is clear from this verse:

Ishq main saqtiyan bhi jheli hain

Kutch na kutch hum ne nekiyan ki hain

Galiyan kha ke isliye khush hain

Isne Urdu main galiyan di hain

Once while he was in Chicago, he was invited for the wedding of former Vice-Chancellor Hashim Ali Akhtar’s son. He was also requested to write something funny befitting the occasion. Though Shukoor had given up humour poetry, on the insistence of friends he wrote a short nazm which created a laugh riot in the marriage:

Aur raaton ki tarha mana ke ye bhi ek raat hai

Is main kya hoga, kahun kaise haya ki baath hai

Zindagi ho jati hai zer-o-zabar is raat main

Aur ubharta hai naya azme safar is raat main

Baap-o-maan banne ki ab buniyad dali jayegi

Pyar-o-ikhlas ki harkat na khali jayegi

Shukoor was equally hilarious in his prose. His write-ups like Agar Main Hota Taimur Ke Daur Main, Ummi Shayer, Baath Ka Batangad, Zikre Dant Chale, Khwab, and Chal Gayee are simply amusing and show his expertise.

He was deeply touched by Gandhiji’s assassination and his emotional turmoil poured out into a ghazal thus:

Apnon ke gale khud kat diye

Ghairon ko gale ka har kiya

Ungli na lagayee zalim ko

Mazloom pe pura war kiya

He saw the best of times, the worst of times. The summer of hope, the winter of despair. The splendour and plunder of times, the rise and fall of governments. At 91, he stopped writing. Not that his interest waned, but age put limitations on him. Unfortunately, this great poet did not get his due share of recognition. Except for an award from the Urdu Academy, he was largely ignored.