Mehr Lal Soni Zia Fatehabadi
Fame came to Mehr Lal Soni very early in life, even before he went to college. His knack for composing poems in Urdu was recognized and celebrated in Urdu poetic circles long before he found fame throughout the subcontinent. His talent and love for Urdu poetry blossomed during his childhood and grew into a large tree as he went from strength to strength composing his melodious poems. His poems, or ghazals and nazams, were characterized by their ability to touch the heart and mind because of their soft and sweet melody and powerful themes. At the same time, his hand was quite good at prose and the different formats of poetry. He was also quite at ease in molding himself to the changing trends in Urdu literature and this reflected in his ghazals, sonnets, rubiaats and nazms. His voluminous work in Urdu language shows his enormous command and mastery over the language. His work in over six decades had ensured that he is counted as one of the foremost exponent of the Urdu language, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kaifi Azmi and Nida Fazli. It can safely be said that Mehr Lal added simplicity to colorful Urdu poetry.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in 1913 in Kapurthala, Punjab, Mehr Lal Soni Fatehabadi was the eldest born of a Civil Engineer, Munshi Ram Soni and Shankari Devi. Later in life he adopted the name Zia meaning light as his pen name on the suggestion of his teacher Ghulaam Qadir Farkh Amritsari. He was born into a family whose pedigree can be traced to the Mogul era, when his forefathers migrated to Punjab from Rajasthan. Written records from his family priests show that his great-great-great grandfather was Tansukh Rai Soni. Mehr Lal started his education from the Khalsa Middle School, in Peshawar in 1920 but in 1923 shifted to Maharaja High School, in Rajasthan and completed his schooling in 1929. Mehr Lal went to Lahore in 1930 and received his B.A degree in Persian in 1933 and Masters in English in 1935 from Forman Christian College.
Mehr Lal was an exceptional student and edited the Urdu section of the college magazine publishing what is considered to be the first ever Urdu short story in 1932 called “Sadhu” written by Krishan Chander. At college, he also became infatuated with a Bengali girl called Meera Sen who studied in his college. She would become his friend and muse and was the inspiration for his love poems, which were dedicated to her. Her name also figured prominently in many of his works. During his college days, his literary life was shaped and influenced by Shabbir Hussain Josh Malihabadi and Samdayaar Khan Saghar Nizami with whom he had developed a close friendship. After completing his Master’s, Mehr Lal joined the Reserve Bank of India in 1936, in Delhi, and after 35 years of service, he retired in July 1971. During the course of his service, he was posted to Madras, Bombay and Kanpur.
The earliest instance of Mehr Lal’s bend towards poetry can be traced back to the year 1925, when he, as a 12-year old, was taught Urdu by Moulvi Asghar Ali Haya Jaipuri, who also imparted him knowledge of Urdu poetry. He also credited his interest in poetry to his mother’s supervision. By the age of sixteen, he had become a familiar name in the Urdu literary circles. In 1930, Mehr Lal became a disciple of Syed Aashiq Hussain Siddiqui Seemab Akbarabadi (1882-1951). Three years later his first book, “Tullu” meaning Dawn was published, while he was still at college. The book received critical comments, due to which he got so disillusioned that he thought of giving up writing as a whole. However, with encouragement from his friends and elders he continued to write. By the time he completed his college education, Mehr Lal had established a name for himself as a respected poet in Urdu.
With a career spanning 60 years, Mehr Lal produced eighteen works of Urdu literature consisting of one volume each of short stories “Suraj Doob Gayaa” (1981), essays Zaaviyaa Hai Nigaah (1984), presidential addresses “Masnad-e-Sadaarat Se” (1985) and biography “Seemab Akbarabadi- Zikr-e-Seemab” (1985). Apart from that, he penned three volumes of letters and eleven collections of poetry. Additionally, there are numerous works which have remained unpublished. There are also a few works that have been influenced by English poets. They include “Noor e Mashriq" published in 1937, "Gard e Raah” published in 1963 and “Meri Tasveer" published in 2011 in which he even composed Urdu sonnets. Some of Mehr Lal’s other poetic works that were instrumental in giving him fame and renown are “Nai Subah” (1952), “Husn-e-Ghazal” (1964), “Dhoop Aur Chaandni” (1977), “Rang-o-Noor” (1980), “Soch Kaa Safar” (1982) and “Naram Garam Hawaain” (1987).
Mehr Lal wrote rubiaats, qatehs, geets, ghazals, nazms and sonnets, but it is the mastery and command over nazams and ghazals that he is best remembered for. While strictly not under any particular literary group, his compositions seemed to have the traces of many groups. His works have been known for their lyrical beauty, and lucid phrases, which addressed his deepest thoughts and feelings in a delicate and soulful manner. However, the compositions remain rooted in their classical style.
He married Raj Kumari, the daughter of Murli Ram Berera in the year 1942. They had six sons of which the eldest and the youngest followed in his footsteps albeit in English poetry and prose.
In 1986, after a prolonged illness, Mehr Lal Zia Fatehabadi passed away.
1913: Mehr Lal was born in Kapurtala.
1929: Completed his schooling from Maharaja High School in Rajasthan.
1930: Became a disciple of Syed Aashiq Hussain Siddiqui Seemab Akbarabadi.
1933: First book “Tullu” was published; Completed his B.A in Persian.
1935: Completed his M.A in English.
1936: Joined the Reserve Bank of India.
1942: Got married to Raj Kumari.
1971: Retired from the Reserve Bank of India.
1986: Mehr Lal passed away after a prolonged illness