At a book release function a few days ago I bumped into a dear cousin who introduced me as as an "activist lawyer" to her friends and family. I found myself getting quite attached to the introduction, although truth be told I have seldom managed to take to the street for a cause and my activism if at all is limited to the realm of drawing room conversations.However in that moment I was happy to believe that I was an activist!
Later that evening I chanced upon a book called "Anthems of Resistance" which beautifully details the Progressive Writers Movement that found its feet in India prior to independence, its role during the independence struggle and the causes that it made its own. Poets and writers of the stature of Premchand, Nirala, Mulk Raj Anand, Ali Sardar Jafri, Majaaz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Mukhdoom, Sajjad Zaheer, Manto, Kaifi Azmi amongst many other put their lot behind the movement.
Angarre (Embers) had already been published a year or two earlier It had been criticized and banned for questioning religious orthodoxy, discrimination of women and other burning issues of the day. Communism, socialism, the working class were the flavour of the times. Organised religion and the caste system also came under attack. It was the era of activist writings and causes.There was no time for love and romance or was there?
Daw Aung Sung Su Ki,during the Jawharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture, touched upon this conflict between personal and public spaces that leaders and activists often have to deal with . While she described leaders like herself as prisoners of conscience. She wondered what was the jurisdictional space, the length and width of this conscience. She gave Nehru's example who during one of his many jail terms was offered immediate freedom, if he were to give, even an informal assurance of leaving politics for ever. This offer came in the backdrop of Nehru's wife, Kamala's accute illness and suggestions from friends and family that his immediate personal presence by her side was absolutely critical for her well being. Nehru refused to give the assurance. Su Kyi endorsed his conduct.
Faiz puts this quintessential dilemma thus: Aur bhi gham hain zamaney mein mahubat ki siva (There are graver causes that need to be addressed in these times other than mere love!).