Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is remembered by the nation as a great freedom fighter, an inspiring leader of the masses, an untiring crusader for secularism and a competent Union Minister for education.But in the world of Urdu literature, he is remembered with reverence as a fearless journalist, an intelligent commentator of Quran and a letter-writer par excellence.
As a journalist, the Maulana electrified thousands of young men and women through his articles which he wrote for his papers _ Al Hilal and Al Balagh.
As a commentator of the Quran, he established the relevance of Islamic philosophy in the present-day society and came to be recognised as an authority on Islam.
As a letter-writer, he showed unusual sensitivity and creative candour.
In Urdu Mirza Ghalib had revolutionized the style of letter-writing. He proudly declared that he had turned the epistle into an intimate dialogue between the writer and the addressee.
Maulana Azad followed the style of the Mirza but when he sat down to write his letters his creativity overpowered him. His dialogue got converted into monologue quite inadvertently.
Maulana Azad addressed all his letters to his friend,, Nawab Sadryar Jung of Bhikanpur, and wrote most of them between August, 1942 and September, 1943, when he (the Maulana) was imprisoned in the Ahmednagar Fort.
He was aware of the fact that the letters he was writing would not reach his friend because correspondence with the outside world was totally banned for the prisoners in the Fort. Obviously, he wrote the letters only under the compulsion of his creative urge.
Had the Maulana chosen to express his feelings, thoughts and memories in any other form of prose, he would have written a memorable autobiography or a bunch of serious essays. But his choice of form fell on letter-writing. Perhaps he was destined to provide Urdu literature with a new form of prose and to secure for his art a niche in literature.
The letters of Maulana Azad are a mixture of many forms of prose-writing. Some of these can safely be termed as short stories. He titled some letters as “The story of he and she sparrow”, “The story of a crow and a bulbul”, “The story of wine and opium,’ etc.
Maulana Azad himself said that he was writing not a formal letter but a short story. The letters concluded with “Let me end this story now” or “The story is getting too long”.
There are quite a few letters which provide a fine example of diary-writing. In these letters he has recorded the minute details of day-to-day life in the prison.
In an epistle dated April 11, 1943, he writes:
“The newspapers reach here between 12 noon and 1 p.m. Just opposite my room is the Superintendent’s office. The Jailor picks up the newspapers from his office and marches straight to my room. The moment I start hearing his footfall my heart-beat gets faster with apprehensions about the kind of news the paper would bring today. But then immediately I try to contain my anxiety. The back of my sofa set faces the door. The visitor can see my face only when he comes in front of me. By the time the Jailor reaches me, I bring back the usual smile on my face and ask him to put the papers on the table.
A few letters of the Maulana are very long and can easily be converted into serious article by giving them appropriate headings. In such letters he has discussed threadbare the topics of his choice. The subjects are varied. The Maulana has written a lot on education, social ethics, Islam, the human ego and moral values.
An interesting quality of Maulana’s letters is the variety of style. When he indulges in story-telling, the style becomes lucid and entertaining.
In the epistles dealing with socio-religious problems he goes in for an analytical manner. And when he records day-to-day events, his sense of wit becomes prominent and the style becomes tittilating.
In most of the letters he punctuates his prose with Urdu-Persian couplets, which speak out not only of his enviable memory but also of his matchless skill of making the best use of popular verse.
Urdu literature will remain indebted to Maulana Azad for his contribution in this field.