The Fifth Minar: 3 Urdu Poems by Makhdoom Mohiuddin (1908-1969)

By Raza Mir. Raza grew up in Hyderabad and is currently based in New Jersey, USA. He is professor of management at William Paterson University.

Hayaat le ke chalo, kaayenaat le ke chalo
Chalo to saare zamaane ko saath le ke chalo

Carry life as you walk, and carry the firmament too
Walk, so that the entire world should choose to walk with you
Makhdoom Mohiuddin. (Source: Nusrath Mohiuddin)

Abu Sayeed Mohammad Makhdoom Mohiuddin Huzri (1908–1969) was an Urdu poet who lived in the city of the famous Charminar, and is lovingly known as the fifth minar of Hyderabad. Born into poverty, he grew up sweeping mosque courtyards, but soon became a trade union leader. He was a member of the Communist Party of India, and even represented it in the state assembly. He was one of the architects of the 1946–1947 Telangana Rebellion against the government of the nizam of Hyderabad.

Makhdoom’s poem ‘Telangana’ was an anthem for the movement, and was during the struggle for statehood by Telangana. Much in the fashion of Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Russian poet who had influenced him, Makhdoom struggled against his tendencies to wax metaphysical, choosing to eschew finer verbal constructions in the service of anthems and group songs. This had led many literary critics to misinterpret his aesthetic as simplistic.

I have translated three poems below, the latter two of which are to be read as a series. The first, ‘Intezaar’ (The Wait) is an exposition of Makhdoom’s gentle lyricism.[1] The other two poems are much more strident, programmatic, with simple rhythms, reflecting their status as chants and songs.

I. IntezaarThe Wait

This is an anti-war poem. It was composed by Makhdoom in the early 1930s, when Indians were being forcibly conscripted by the British to fight in the Second World War. It was sung by Kumar Sanu for Ali Sardar Jafri’s TV serial on progressive poets, Kahkashan, and was also featured in the 1960 film Usne Kaha Thha.


Raat bhar deeda-e namnaak mein lehraate rahe 
Saans ki tarah se aap aate rahe, jaate rahe

Khush thhe ham apni tamannaon ka khwaab aayegaa 
Apna armaan bar-afganda naqaab aayegaa
Nazarein neechee kiye sharmaaye huwe aayegaa 
Kaakulein chehre pe bikhraaye huwe aayegaa

Aa gayi thi dil-e muztar mein shakeebaai si 
Baj rahi thi mere gham-khaane mein shehnaai si

Shab ke jaage huwe taaron ko bhi neend aane lagi 
Aap ke aane ki ik aas thi, ab jaane lagi

Subah ne sej se uth-te huwe li angdaai 
Ai sabaa, tu bhi jo aayi to akele aayi

Mere mehboob meri neend udaane vaale 
Mere masjood meri rooh pe chhaane vaale
Aa bhi jaataa, ke mere sajdon ka armaan nikle 
Aa bhi jaataa, tere qadmon pe meri jaan nikle
The Wait

All night, in my moist eyes you continued to sway
Like my breath, you kept coming and going away 

I was happy, that the dream of my desires would come
My shy lover, encased in a veil, eyes downcast, would come
Inciting my passion with hair strewn over face, would come

My impatient heart, had achieved contentment and belief
A shehnai struck up, and sadness gave way to relief 

But soon, the stars, which had stayed awake all night, nodded off
The hope of your arrival gave way to a cynic’s scoff

The morning eventually woke up; a new sun had shone
O morning breeze, you did come, but alas, you came alone

Enchanted lover mine, who stole the sleep from my sad eyes
I bowed to you, you ruled my dreams, now I’m shamed by those lies
Would it, that my prayers would bear fruit, and we would meet
Would it, that you’d come and I’d breathe my last at your feet.

II. Jaane Vaale Sipahi se PoochhoAsk the Departing Soldier

Makhdoom’s attitude to the war became much more positive once the Soviet Union joined it following Hitler’s infamous Operation Barbarossa in 1941. Like many leftists of that time, he saw the war now as a part of a broader struggle against imperialism, rather than a fight between two foreign powers. This poem reflects his changing sentiments.

Jaane Vaale Sipahi se Poochho 

Jaane vaale sipahi se poochho 
Vo kahaan ja raha hai? 

Ishq hai haasil-e zindagaani 
Khoon se tar hai uski javaani 
Hai maasoom bachpan ki yaaden 
Hai do roz ki nau-javaani 

Jaane vaale sipahi se poochho 
Vo kahaan ja raha hai? 

Kaun dukhiya hai jo gaa rahi hai?
Bhookhe bachhon ko behla rahi hai
Lash jalne ki bu aa rahi hai
Zindagi hai ke chilla rahi hai

Jaane vaale sipahi se poochho 
Vo kahaan ja raha hai? 

Kitne sehme hue hain nazaare
Kaisa dar dar ke chalte hain taare
Kya javaani ka khoon ho raha hai?
Surkh hai aanchalon ke kinaare

Jaane vaale sipahi se poochho 
Vo kahaan ja raha hai? 

Hil raha hai siyaahi ka dera
Ho raha hai meri jaan savera
O vatan chhod ke jaane waale
Khul gaya inquilaabi pharera

Jaane vaale sipahi se poochho 
Vo kahaan ja raha hai? 
Ask the Departing Soldier

Ask that departing soldier
Where he is headed?

A well-spent life leads to love eternal
But this story’s destined to be writ in blood
He harbours memories of an innocent childhood
But his youth is ordained to be ephemeral

Ask that departing soldier
Where he is headed?

Who is that sad woman who is singing?
She is comforting her hungry children
The air stings and reeks as a corpse burns
And what of life? It is screaming

Ask that departing soldier
Where he is headed?

Why are these vistas so fearful?
Why do the stars move with such dread?
Is youth being murdered here?
The borders of clothing are blood red

But look now, the darkness is lifting
My dear, see the colour of dawn
O departing soldier, hang on
The revolutionary banner’s unfurling

Ask that departing soldier
Where he is headed?

III. Jang-e AazadiThe War for Freedom

As with the poem above, this poem also reflects Mohiuddin’s shifting attitude toward the war. We can see his mood expand from his lyrical protests against British colonialism in his earlier days to a more vigorous support for the war effort as an international people’s struggle against imperialism, tyranny, and fascism.

Jang-e Aazadi 

Ye jang hai jang-e aazadi
Aazadi ke parcham ke tale

Hum Hind ke rehne waalon ki
Mazdooron ka dehqaanon ki
Aazadi ke matwaalon ki
Dehkhanon ki, mazdooron ki

Ye jang hai jang-e aazadi
Aazadi ke parcham ke tale

Saara sansaar hamaara hai
Poorab, Pachhim, Uttar Dakshin
Hum Afrangi, hum Amreeki
Hum Cheeni jaanbaazaan-e watan
Hum surkh sipaahi, zulm-shikan
Aahan paikar, faulaad badan

Ye jang hai jang-e aazadi
Aazadi ke parcham ke tale

Lo surkh savera aata hai
Aazadi ka, aazadi ka
Gulnaar taraana gaata hai
Aazadi ka, aazadi ka
Dekho parcham lehraata hai
Aazadi ka, aazadi ka

Ye jang hai jang-e aazadi
Aazadi ke parcham ke tale

The War for Freedom

This war is the war for freedom
Fought under the banner of freedom

The war for all Indians
The labourers and the farmers
The lovers of freedom
The farmers and the labourers

This war is the war for freedom
Under the banner of freedom

The whole world is ours
The East and the West, the North and the South
We Europeans, we Americans
We Chinese soldiers of our homeland
We, the red soldiers, the crushers of tyranny
Torsos like the furnace, bodies like steel

This war is the war for freedom
Under the banner of freedom.
Behold, the red dawn arrives
Of freedom, of freedom
It sings the flower-red song 
Of freedom, of freedom
Look, the banner waves in the sky
Of freedom, of freedom
This war is the war for freedom
Fought under the banner of freedom

This article was written by a guest contributor and solely reflects the views of the author.

[1] Of the many renditions of this poem, the best perhaps is the version sung by Jagjit Singh and Asha Bhonsle, which is available on YouTube.