Itne badnam hain hum to iss zamaane mein, tum ko lag jayengi sadiaan hum ko bhulane mein. These lines by poet Gopal Das Neeraj sum up his more than seven-decade-long tryst with pen. At 88, the acclaimed Hindi poet and popular lyricist is relentless and inquisitive.
"I gave utmost importance to words in my life and words are still a symbol of my existence," says Neeraj in Chandigarh on Saturday to participate in the 4th Chandigarh Arts and Heritage festival.
The lyricist who has penned evergreen songs such as Dil Aaj Shaayar Hai and Phoolon Ke Rang Se among many others, spellbound the city audience with impeccable recitation of some of his famous poems, including Karvaan guzar gaya, gubaar dekhte rahe at UT Guesthouse on Saturday.
"It is impossible for a man to be a good poet without being a good person," says the octogenarian who talked about the poverty-stricken days early in his career and how eventually words engrossed him.
"Sometimes popularity becomes your enemy. I think people have misconstrued my poetry and narrowed it down to shingaar genre, while my words spoke not only about the philosophical aspect of life but also ridiculed religious, corrupt and orthodox practices in the society," says the poet who has been criticised by many for being an atheist.
But for him, humanity is supreme and most of his poetry is woven around human concerns: Ab to mazhab koi aisa bhi chalaaya jaye, ki insaan ko insaan banaaya jaye.
"My father died when I was six. I picked odd jobs before finding my true calling - poetry," says the poet who was influenced by Harivansh Rai Bachchan's poetry in his early days.
"I got popularity in 1954 when my poem Karavan guzar gaya... became an overnight hit after I presented it on radio," he retraces sharing the unique experiment he and actor-filmmaker Raj Kapoor did in Mera Naam Joker, "The song Ae Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo has no metre yet it clicked!"
Shokhiyon mein ghola jaye phoolon ka shabaab from the film Prem Pujari is another gem chiseled by him. "It was actually Chandani mein ghola jaye… but since the song was to be picturised during day time, Dev Sahib [Dev Anand] requested me to change it a bit," he recounts, adding, "Those days were different. SD Burman was one of the rare music directors who incorporated difficult words in a composition with ease."
"Today", he says, "With changing times, values have changed. But one should not feel dejected, as there is always hope and new dreams."