Akbar Allahabadi and National Politics
Saiyid Akbar Husain, popularly known as Akbar Allahabadi, is widely acknowledged as a master of wit and sarcasm in Urdu poetry. He is admired as well as criticized for his trenchant attacks on western culture and education.1 His attitude towards these matters has been surveyed extensively by Ralph Russel and Khurshidul Islam.2 We are here concerned with the political content of his poetry, which suggests that Akbar was an early and outstanding nationalist Urdu poet.
Akbar was born on 16 November 1846 in the village Barah, Allahabad, in a family of Saiyids who claimed to have originally come from Teheran (Iran).3 His father, Moulvi Tafazzul Husain served as a Naib Tahsildar and is said to have been a highly educated person.4 His mother came from a zamindar family of village Jagdishpur, district Gaya (Bihar).5 Akbar received his early education from his father at home. In 1855, his mother shifted from village Barah to Allahabad and settled in Mohalla Chowk. Akbar was admitted to the Jamuna Mission School for an English education in 1856, but he abandoned his school education in 1859. However, he continued to study English and read widely.6 On leaving school, Akbar joined the Railway Engineering Department as a clerk 7 While in service he passed an examination in Law8 and subsequently worked as a tahsildar and a munsif and ultimately as a sessions judge. He retired in 1903 and lived on in Allahabad where he died in September 1921.9
Akbar thus pursued a career almost similar to that of Sir Saiyid Ahmad Khan, his senior contemporary. Both were attuned to an older culture, but had to move into modem times; yet they held totally divergent political views. Akbar's origins were, perhaps, a little more plebeian than those of Saiyid Ahmad and his approach at once much narrower and much wider than that of the Saiyid. While Saiyid Ahmad thought that western education would be the salvation of the Muslim gentry (shurafa)10 Akbar made western education and culture a major target of his attack. Though neither an advocate of egalitarianism nor even remotely a socialist, he went far beyond the confines which Saiyid Ahmad set himself. He rejected western culture,
Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University.