Tuesday March 19, 2019

Mohammad Shafi Khan: Presenting the idea of India in Hindustani verse



By Vikas Datta

Focusing on the nature and vistas, poetry has, in the past century at least, become a largely urban phenomenon – both in subject and location of poets – and Urdu poetry is no exception. But there are still those who look beyond urban settings and preoccupations to incorporate pastoral rhythms, songs of the seasons and festivals, and other patterns of rural life in their verse. This veteran, for one, bears the distinction of receiving his pen-name from India’s first prime minister.

Familiar to those attending prominent ‘mushairas’ (poetry recitals) as a stately, bespectacled man with a distinctive white streak running diagonally down the left side of his beard Mohammad Shafi Khan ‘Bekal Utsahi’ (1930-) is one of India’s pre-eminent poets. Lauded by his peers from Raghupati Sahai ‘Firaq Gorakhpuri’ to Ali Sardar Jafri to Bashir Badr, he has been prolific across all genres of Urdu poetry spanning ghazals, nazms, geet, dohas as well as naats and salaams – his kulliyat (collected works) is over 1,100 pages long.

Born in Uttar Pradesh’s Balrampur town, he started off his career as a poet in the mid-1940s as ‘Bekal Warsi’ taking his pen-name from a comment about him at a visit to Dewa Sharif, the dargah of Haji Waaris Ali Shah (founder of the Warsi order of Sufis) in Barabanki. But this did not remain for long. In 1952, he was reciting his geet “Bharat ka Kisan” at an election rally addressed by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru who too was so impressed – as the story goes – and quipped this was “one of our ‘utsahi’ (enthusiastic) shayars”. And hence, ‘Bekal Utsahi’ it would be.

The name set the tone for his poetry, which reflects the Ganga-Jamuni” tradition of his birthplace (a part of the Avadh region) and is the best example extant of Hindustani, featuring copious use of Hindi words, and at times, Avadhi dialect, with chaste Urdu. And ‘Bekal’, though at his best with rural themes, is not confined by them and can also deal with complex issues of the human condition and society in a deceptively-simple manner, with some very distinctive imagery.

“Tere hai sab rang-tarang jawaani ke/’Foothpathon’ par bhooka bachpan kiska hai” is from one famous ghazal beginning “Pyaase chehrah tapta sawaan kiska hai/Hijr ka mausam bheega daman kis ka hai”.

“Jo mera hai woh tera bhi afsana hua to/Mahaul mohabbat ka begaana hua to” is one of his most known ghazals, in medium ‘behr’ (meter) and an unusual “qafiya-radif” (rhyming) scheme. The few shers of the version I quote were heard in a mushaira, and differs somewhat from the printed version – it is possible he may have subsequently amended it.

“Tum qatl se bachne ka jatan karo ho/Qaatil ka jo lehza shareefana hua to”, “Kamzarf to itni mohabbat na pila/ Labrez zeesht ka paimana hua to” and finally “‘Bekal’ ne tujhe dushman-e-jaani bhi kaha hai/Tujh se bhi achanak yaraana hua to”.

He can use a much shorter meter too: “Jab se hum tabah ho gaye/Tum Jahanpanah ho gaye”, “Husn pe nikhar aa gaya/ Aaene siyah ho gaye” and ending “‘Bekal’ ek hamen saza mili/Log begunah ho gaye”.

‘Bekal’ is equally deft in using the longer meter, of the classical tradition, but in his unique style. “Kahin ret ko sagar saunp gayin kahi pee gayin khud apna jal nadiyan/ Kahi ranaiyan raaj haveli mein hain kahi jogan ban gayi chanchal nadiyan” or “Kab tak haath ki rekhaon mein dhoondega taqdeer re jogi/Kya jaane kan nagin ban kar dass le koi lakeer jogi”.

He also used the old form of ‘doha’ too: “Panghat se gori chali bhare gagriya neer/Ghazal bhajan sabb tyag den ‘Ghalib’ aur ‘Kabir’ “, or he advises himself: ” ‘Bekal’ ji dohe likho geet ghazal ke naam/ Abhi samae hai kaam ka phir karna bisraam.”

But geet, in the native dialect, is his speciality and his focus was unusually wide – be it the Holi festival: “Nachi hai ithaas ke angaan mein Holi ki yaad/Jhul raha hai hai aag ka jhola phool bana Parhalad…” or Eid: “Har taraf rahmat-o-anwar ki ranaiyaan hai/Ham nasheen Eid ke din…” patriotism as in “Vaqar-e-Vatan” or elegies to Lal Bahadur Shastri (“Subh-Tashqand”) and Rajiv Gandhi.

Ever the experimenter, he was one of the first to adapt the refined sensibility of the Japanese haiku. “Jeevan dhoop aur chaaon/Sailabi nadi ke tat par/Mere piya ka gaon” or “Kya kya hai sansar mein/Ghar se bahar nikal ke dekh/Saude sab bazaar mein”, or even “Sansad bhitar shor hai/Bahar dahshatgard ka zor hai/Kursi par hi zor hai” and many more.

Bringing varied colors and sensations of our composite civilization in his poetry, ‘Bekal’s work is a veritable Idea of India in verse – and deserves a wider audience and recognition. Anyone keen to translate or even transliterate?


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Arzoo Lakhnavi: Poet for every class of people


By Vikas Datta

One problem a layman has with appreciating Urdu poetry is that their vocabulary may not encompass its ornate richness drawn from a variety of languages. Many gems are thus fated to remain mysterious to them unless decoded – and like jokes, poetry needing to be explained tends to lose its effect. But there is also the kind its creators wanted to be intelligible to a wider section – like by this poet who not only wrote in simple Urdu but also pioneered his craft’s enduring tryst with the Hindi film industry.

Much before the likes of Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi or Shakeel Badayuni arrived, he was responsible for crafting lyrics for the earliest superstars – K.L. Saigal (“Karun kya aas niras bhayi”; “Dushman”, 1939) and Kanan Devi (“Lachhami murat daras dikhaaye”; “Street Singer”, 1938) as well as some of the earliest featuring emerging stars like Madhubala (“Aayi Bhor Suhani”; “Beqasoor”, 1950), and more.

Among the first mainstream poets to write lyrics for the fledgling film industry – beginning with Calcutta’s New Theatres in the 1930s before shifting to Bombay in 1942, Syed Anwar Hussain ‘Arzoo Lakhnavi’ (1873-1951) was an outstanding representative of ‘Dabistan-e-Lakhnau’ or the Lucknow School of Urdu poetry. However while retaining the tradition’s motifs and focus, he chose a straighter style over its intricate flourishes, and use only Urdu without recourse to Arabic or Persian – despite his considerable knowledge of both.

With both father Mir Zakir Hussain ‘Yas’ and elder brother Mir Yusuf Hussain ‘Qayas’ poets, Arzoo had his path set out for him and took to it with gusto. Like his father, he was a ‘shagird’ of Syed Zaman Ali ‘Jalal Lakhnavi’ (1831-1909) but went much further, guiding the other disciples during his mentor’s lifetime and becoming their ‘ustad’ after his death.

In his poetry, Arzoo acknowledged his work was reminiscent of Mir and Ghalib but also his desire of being different from them, or his contemporaries like Dagh Dehlvi and others. And as his work shows, he did succeed in stiking his own distinctive course – take the opening lines of his collection “Sureeli Bansuri” which are one of his most famous couplets: “Jis ne banayi bansuri, geet usi ke gaaye jaa/Saans jab tak aaye jaaye, ek hi dhun bajaaye jaa”.

Even when dealing with beauty, love and courtship – a staple though not the sole focus of the Lucknow School or the whole tradition itself, he could be different: “Dafattan tarq-e-taaluq mein bhi rusvaai hai/Uljhe daman ko churhate nahi jhatka de kar”, or, “Kis ne bheegi huye baalon se jhatka pani/Jhoom ke aayi ghata, toot ke barsa paani” or even “Allah Allah husn ke ye parda-daari dekhiye/Bhed jis ne kholna chaha voh deewana huya”.

Arzoo too could create some unique imagery in those familiar settings, be it the tavern: “Haath se kisi ne saghir patka mausam ki be-kaifi par/Toot ke itna barsa badal dhoob chala maikhana bhi” or the mehfil: “Awwal-e-shab voh bazm ki raunaq shama bhi parvana bhi/Raat ke akhi hote hote khatam tha yeh afsana bhi”.

But it was not these pleasant diversions only and he, like Mir, could touch a note of melancholy and loneliness too: “Dil hai voh ujdaa huya ghar bujh chuka jis ka chiragh/Aankhen kuch dekhen to batlayen ke kya kya lut gaya” or “Jab koyal kook sunaati hai to pati pati lahrati hai/Ham kisi se kahen aur kaun sune, hamdard hamara koi nahi”.

This could also extend to a sort of hopelessness towards life and its purpose: “Hamari zindagi to ek guzar gah havadis hai/Ajab hai shamaa ka aandhi ke jhonkon main basar karna” or: “Har gul ko is chaman mein kya zarq barq paya/Dekha to ek jana sungha to farq paya” and “Koi hasrat mein dil ka sarmaya/Kuch kahi kuch kahi padha paya” or even maybe: “Hasti ki haqeeqat ko gar bad fanaa jaana/Ab soche to kya soche ab jaana to kya jaana”.

There is all this and much more in the 25,000 ghazals attributed to him and collected in seven ‘divans’ of which the one cited above as well as “Fughan-e-Arzoo” and “Jaan-e-Arzoo” are the most known.

In his film career, he was as versatile. If in Saigal’s “Street Singer”, he could pen “Jeevan been madhur na baaje jhoote padh gaye taar/Bigde kaath se kaam bane kya megh baje na malhaar”, he could also compose ghazal “Sukoon dil ko mayassar gul-o-samar mein nahi/Jo aashiyaan mein hai apne vah bagh bhar men nahi”.

Conferred the title of ‘Allama’ – restricted to less than half-a-dozen literary giants, Arzoo and his poetry epitomise the Indian ethos – and deserves we continue to give him his due. (IANS)