Anyone possessing even a passing familiarity with the Progressive Writers Movement would know Syed Sajjad ZaheerBannay bhai. Zaheer never attained the dizzying heights of fame and acclaim accorded to say, Faiz but that is probably the way he would have preferred it.
Bannay bhai was the driving spirit behind the formation of the All India Progressive Writers Association. He was the one who gave concrete form to the dream of so many writers, artists and intellectuals in the ferment of the preIndependence years. He was one of the authors, along with Ahmad Ali, Mahmooduzzafar and Dr. Rasheed Jahan of Angaray, the seminal collection of short stories published in 1932 that laid the foundation of modern literature in prepartition India, breaking it away decisively both in form and content from the traditional. Angaray was widely acclaimed and just as widely decried, especially by the conservative Urdu press as heretical and obscene. This was no accident. Ahmad Ali, one of the authors later wrote,we were filled with zeal to change the social order and right the wrongs done to man by man Others described it as aferocious attack on society in modern literature,a declaration of war by the youth of the middle class on the prevailing social, political and religious institutions.
When the calls from the religious right demanding that the authors be put to death rose to a crescendo, the book was banned by the ruling British which only added to its notoriety. Zaheer, meanwhile, was packed off to London by his concerned family where he studied law and continued to mingle with radical authors and intellectuals. This resulted in the 1934 draft manifesto which became the founding document of the All India Progressive Writers Association. It was Zaheer who did the bulk of the organizational work upon his return to India after completing his law degree even though he was already under surveillance by the authorities. He was the one who showed the manifesto to leading writers and intellectuals of the time includingBabae Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq, Bulbule Hind Sarojini Naidu,Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Munshi Prem Chand and many others all of whom endorsed and supported it. Prem Chand was so impressed that he not only published the manifesto in his journal Hans but also agreed to give the presidential address at the founding conference of the All India Progressive Writers Association (AIPWA) in Lucknow in 1936.
Zaheer himself wrote a ...
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