Of Marx and mahtaranis: Re-reading Sadequain’s rubaiyat on his 90th birthday

Unlike Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Shakir Ali and Gulgee, Sadequain left behind no school or students to carry on his work

Raza Naeem June 30, 2020

Like many of my generation, my introduction to Sadequain – who was born 90 years ago today – came through oblique references one had read or heard by connoisseurs as in ‘owning a Sadequain’ or when my organisation, the Progressive Writers Association held a function to celebrate the 88th birthday of the master artist, calligrapher and poet a couple of years ago in Lahore. It was only then that I discovered that art was only one of the facets of this gifted humanist. I was hardly eight years old when he had passed away in Karachi back in 1987.


For Sadequain is one of a set of four of the most gifted artists Pakistan bequeathed to the world, the other three being Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Shakir Ali and Gulgee. However unlike the other three in this hallowed quartet, Sadequain left behind no school or students to carry on his work.

The following lines by Sadequain remind one of Saadat Hasan Manto who in his famous talk at Bombay’s Jogeshwari College in 1944 responded to the critics who questioned the ugliness and realism in his stories, and are worth quoting in full:

The artificial and cosmetic empty smile of some profiteer’s concubine on his decorated throne is meaningless for me. When a naked and hungry man searches for offal thrown on a dustbin and when he succeeds in his struggle, the impression of his face appears meaningful. I am indeed the artist of the gutter, not the marble minaret. I search truth within the stench of the dustbin, not from the decorative environment and fragrance of thrones.

Which is why it is worth re-reading his Rubaiyat (quatrains), which celebrate their golden jubilee of publication this year and espouse his ideology and philosophy in their most pristine form. A rubayi is a four-liner, but it is always a stand-alone mini-poem in its own right. Its rhyming scheme is fixed, with the first, second and fourth line rhyming, while the third line is free. Rubaais were very popular in Farsi poetry (with Omar Khayyam’s poems crossing the linguistic divide into English).

Photo: Sadequain Foundation and Sibtain Naqvi

One of Sadequain’s little-known rubaiyat which he wrote in honour of a young sweeperess in the hospital where he was being treated:

Go peek bohat thook rahi thi Lachhmi

Khidmat men kahan chook rahi thi Lachhmi

Ispatal ke is viraane men

Koel ki tarah kook rahi thi Lachhmi

(Though there was much of Lachhmi’s betel spit

Her service was not lacking in spirit

In this desolation of the hospital

She was cooing like a cuckoo with true grit)

A pleasant surprise for me while going through these rubaiyat were the set numbered 109 which loudly proclaim Sadequain’s allegiance to Marx and Lenin:

Har chand ke hai Marx ka hi khabt mujhe

Abjad ki nigarish pe nahin zabt mujhe

Ishq aur virasat hi ki majboori men

Khataati-e-ayat se hai rabt mujhe

(Although Marx remains my obsession

I cannot control the alphabetical description

Indeed due to my passion and patrimony

With the calligraphy of the Quranic verses I have a connection)

And again:

Men Lenin aur Trotsky ka ho kar humzaad

Is daur men, jo daur hai daur-e-ilhaad

Ayat-e-jamal jo hoon likhta

Mujh ko yahan galiyan dete hen ustad

(By being the alter ego of Lenin and Trotsky

In this age, the age of heresy

Upon the beautiful verses that I write

Here the masters make me a victim of calumny)

Photo: Sadequain Foundation and Sibtain Naqvi

Raza Naeem
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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