“Ek muddat se tirī yaad bhī aa.ī na hameñ/ aur ham bhuul ga.e hoñ tujhe aisā bhī nahīñ”
___ Firaq Gorakhpuri
(Translation: Haven’t remembered you for ages, but it’s not as if I have forgotten you).
Whatever Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri’s intention while writing this couplet, fans nowadays used it to remember his genius that influenced an entire generation of Urdu lovers. Even 39 years after his death, Gorakhpuri – born as Raghupati Sahay – is a beloved treasure of the Urdu community. The writer, critic and poet was born amongst other Urdu personalities like Muhammad Iqbal, Jigar Moradabadi, Josh Malihabadi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and others. Yet, from an early age, he made his mark in the Urdu literary community.
Born on August 28, 1896, Gorakhpuri’s father Gorakh Prasad was a landlord and practiced law in Gorakhpur. He was also the one who taught young Raghupati about poetry. Despite being born in a Hindu family, he read Urdu and Persian. As a result, he got a sense of traditional metrical forms such as ghazal, nazm, rubaai and qat'aa from a young age.
Following his bitter marriage at a young age, Gorakhpuri developed a passion for Urdu poetry. However, his thoughts still centered around Hindu motifs like Hindu Gods and traditions. His works thus created an amalgamation of the two cultures using Khadi boli. He recited his first ghazal as a B.A. student. Hindi writer Premchand, who was close to Gorakhpuri at the time, sent his early works to the Diya Narain Nigam.
Unfortunately, his life took a dire turn in the same year when his father died. After this, Gorakhpuri became steadily interested in the country’s freedom struggle. Even when he received an opportunity to enter the Provincial Civil Service and the Indian Civil Service-British India, he resigned to follow Mahatma Gandhi's Non-cooperation movement. He was jailed for 18 months due to this decision.
He even wrote couplets of revolution like the following:
“dekh raftār-e-inqalāb 'firāq'/ kitnī āhista aur kitnī tez”
(Translation: Behold the pace of revolution Firaq, How gradual yet how fast!)
His role in the Independence struggle was crucial to fight the then government's effort to label Urdu as a ‘Muslim language’.
After Indian Independence, Gorakhpuri joined the Allahabad University where worked as a lecturer in the English literature department. During this time, he wrote many poems including Gul-e-Naghma that earned him the Jnanpith Award – the pinnacle of Indian literary awards – and the 1960 Sahitya Akademi Award in Urdu. In 1968, he received both the Padma Bhushan and Soviet Land Nehru Award. Over time, he worked as a Research Professor at the University Grants Commission and Producer Emeritus by All India Radio.
Apart from his poetry, he was also known for his love for Wordsworth, his presence of mind and his intelligence. His supporters even today fondly remember his works and contributions for a secular India.