Mirza Hadi Ruswa was a celebrated writer and Urdu poet, He was a man with an extraordinary education and experience in many walks of life He had classical education in Urdu, Persian, Mathematics, Logic, Astronomy etc. he was a hack writer who used to income from books to finance his laboratory, where he conducted technical and scientific experiments. This compelled him to write fast according to demand.
Kyā kahūñ tujh se mohabbat vo balā hai hamdam
mujh ko ibrat na huī ġhair ke mar jaane se
Ba.ad tauba ke bhī hai dil meñ ye hasrat baaqī
de ke qasmeñ koī ik jaam pilā de ham ko
He belonged to Lucknow and his ancestors are from Persia, who arrived in India. He was well versed in many Indian and foreign languages including Latin, English and Greek.
A writer of fiction, he has also contributed plays and poems to Urdu readers. He remained on the Nizam of Awadh’s advisory board on language matters for years.
His father was a cavalry officer Mirza Muhammad Taqi. He was born in Lucknow in 1857. After the death of his parents, he was brought up by his uncle Mirza Muhammed Zaki who was a scholar.
Ruswa after completed the formal education he took Overseers diploma from Thomas Engineering School. He worked in railways, though he continued with his writings. Later he worked as a teacher at a local mission school and then as a lecturer at Christian College.
His first published work was a poem written on the romantic story of Laila Majnu. The poem published in 1887 which got negative response form Critics for its vulnerable contents. He published his first Afshai Raz in 1902
However, he is best known for the work Umrao Jan Ada, which he wrote in 1899. In these more than hundred years its importance never faded, now it has been translated into many Indian and foreign languages and many films also has been made on this novel.
The novel was an immediate and roaring success, proving that the successful literary pieces are always those that can satisfy the lusty cravings of men and women through softcore vulgarity.
Critics acclaimed it at once as one of the best narratives of the life and culture of Lucknow and praised Ruswa’s mastery of Urdu prose.
Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Muhammed Hadi Ruswa is undoubtedly one of the finest ever written. There is a rhythm in the words that he strings into a verse that rings through one’s mind and sends pleasant shivers down the spine.
Through this book first published over a hundred years ago in Urdu, Ruswa takes one on an enthralling journey through the life of a renowned courtesan whose charm and musical knowledge coupled with wisdom never fails to enrapture one.
The novel is known for its elaborate portrayal of mid-19th century Lucknow, its decadent society, and also describes as a subtext, the moral hypocrisy of the patriarchal system of the times, where Umrao Jaan also becomes the symbol of a nation that had long attracted many suitors who were only looking to exploit her.
In this milieu, Ruswa’s Umra Jan Ada was sensational not only because it portrayed the life of a courtesan rather than that of a Purdah-nashin woman, but also because of its unique narrative style, which aimed at realism rather than fantasy or moral didacticism.
In the preface to this novel, “Zat-e-Sarif” Ruswa Self consciously draws attention to his attempt to break away from the work of his literary predecessors ‘’ I do not possess the inventive power to decline events that happened thousands of years ago. Besides, I consider it improper to portray a picture which agrees neither with present-day conditions nor with those of past”
Umrao Jan Ada is a boldly experimental novel in form and telling. Far from being a clear-cut realist novel as Rusva claims, it represents the search for a contemporary idiom to articulate in the colonial present the silenced stories of a Nawabi city and its courtesans overrun by British imperialism.
Ruswa was involved with Urdu literary reformist groups. An eccentric polymath with a colourful personality, he was also, by all accounts, nobody’s fool.
Given that Ruswa wrote much of his fiction under pecuniary compulsion, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that his claims about his novels being disguised historiography were to some extent an astute attempt at augmenting and securing financial interests, with the public as well as with the British
Most of the Ruswa’s novels are based on incidents in his life and those of his fellow contemporaries. For instance, as Fatehpuri notes, the character of Baggan in Ruswa’s first novel, Afsha-e –raz (The Revelation of secrets) is based on his maternal aunt’s daughter, Baggan. Ruswa was in love with his cousin and the novel features a romance between two characters.
Ruswa penned a tricky novella by the name of Junoon-i-Intezar (The Madness of Waiting) in which the protagonist of Umrao Jan Ada becomes the narrator and ‘unveils’ the scandalous love story of Ruswa. She does so, supposedly, in retaliation for Ruswa’s betrayal of her secrets in his earlier novel
By narrating his life story through a fictional character, Ruswa has innovatively experimented and developed a post-modern narrative technique. Junoon-i-Intezar is not a simple and continuous narration of Ruswa’s love affair with Umrao Jan. It is combined with lyrical poems and letters written by Ruswa in the memory of his beloved.
Umrao Jan shows her frustration towards Ruswa in the introduction of the novella for making their intimate private lives public. She informs the readers that she plans to avenge herself by relaying an account of his lifelong passion for a Christian girl, Sophia, in the form of a masnavi by the title of ‘Nala-i-Ruswa’ which she “discovered” from Ruswa’s home while he was attending a mushaira elsewhere in the city
Umrao Jan repeatedly quotes from this masnavi, especially where Ruswa has praised Sophia’s exotic beauty and profound elegance. The grim parts of the story are narrated in prose in Umrao Jan’s voice and, therefore, the narrative is a clever way of self-reflection employed by Ruswa through the thought process of an ‘adversary’.
Ruswa was eccentric, quick-witted and possessed a fine sense of humour. Capable of rare achievements, he switched fields of endeavour often, moving from creative writing to astronomy to alchemy to philosophy.
He produced some 50 volumes, including philosophical and religious discourses, metrical romances and translations and adaptations. Of his three original novels, one is Umrao Jan Ada, on which his fame rests; the other two are of uneven quality and have gone into oblivion.
Ruswa was an excellent storyteller but an indifferent poet. Unfortunately, he was never able to see this himself and continued to interlace his beautiful prose with the verse which had all the laboured conceits and verbal jugglery that marked the decadent Urdu poetry of his time.