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Home / Brunch / Remembering Rahat Indori: The People’s Poet

Remembering Rahat Indori: The People’s Poet

The Urdu doyen was the voice of the common man and he spoke fiercely for everything he believed in.

brunch Updated: Aug 16, 2020, 10:12 IST
Swanand Kirkire
Swanand Kirkire
Hindustan Times
Urdu poetry was never as big on Indore’s cultural scene but Rahat Indori changed that.
Urdu poetry was never as big on Indore’s cultural scene but Rahat Indori changed that. (Tanveer Farooqui)

Rahat saab made Urdu poetry easy for the common man to understand. His arrogance, as one may say, came from the mushairas he performed: it is very difficult to be a star there and he shone like one on stage. Being a mushaira poet requires one to be thick-skinned as people heckle and insult you if you become boring for a second, but event organisers would ring him up at 3am to join a mehfil so people would not leave.

He spoke about everything that he observed and cared for and I remember a sher he wrote: “Dilli mai hum hi bola kare aman ki boli...yaaron kabhi tum log bhi Lahore se bolo (Only we speak the language of peace in Delhi...Friends, sometimes you also speak from Lahore).” Even when he wrote love poems in Urdu, it was with his heart.

In person

In November-December last year, I was invited to Indore, the city I grew up in and the city synonymous with Rahat Indori, to attend a mushaira dedicated to him, called Jashn-e-Rahat. The Abhay Prashal Stadium was jam-packed and there were thousands of people outside the stadium, hoping to get a glimpse of the man and hear him recite his poetry.

After the show, he sent a message for me: “Aamad toh achi hoti hai, bidai kaisi ho rahi hai?” which meant that people are often welcomed well, but how will the farewell be? It holds so much meaning when I think of it today.

“Rahat Indori was the angry young man of Urdu poetry. Actually, he was the Sultana daku of the mushaira world.”

He has been relevant through the years, whether it was “Sabhi ka khoon shaamil yaha mitti mai, kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai (This land has seen sacrifices from everyone. Hindustan is not anyone’s personal property),” which was revived after decades during the anti-CAA protests early this year or when he said, “Sarhadon par bohot tanaav hai kya, kuch pata toh karo chunaav hai kya (Is there a lot of tension at the border, ask around if elections are on).”

His demise was a shock. He didn’t look 70. He was the angry young man of Urdu poetry. Actually, he was the Sultana Daku of the mushaira world.

The Indori connect

My connection with Indori saab was the city we lived in – Indore. The city was a Maratha estate with a hybrid culture, touching the borders of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan with an eclectic mix of Marwaris, native Marathis and a reasonable Muslim population.

Urdu poetry was never as big on Indore’s cultural scene but Rahat saab changed that. Urdu adabi poetry is a very distinct and refined form of poetry. Listening to the works of great poets is like peeling an onion, it is so layered and every word is weighed. Rahat saab’s poetry was effortless: “Agar khilaf hai hone do jaan thodi hai ye sab dhuan hai koi aasman thodi hai (If they are against, let them be, it’s not the end of life. This is all smoke, not the sky).”

I was his fanboy as a kid and I still am. In Ranipura, he’d mingle with people freely. He had a doctorate, but his colloquial language connected him to his audience. His poems often had that Indore touch, saying hai without the bindi as in “bulaati hai magar jaaneka nahi (she calls but don’t go).”

En route Mumbai

Our next connect was through the films we wrote songs for. He penned beautiful lyrics for movies like Khuddar (1994), Kareeb (1998), Mission Kashmir (2000) and Munnabhai MBBS (2003). When Vidhu Vinod Chopra got in touch with me for Parineeta (2005), Pradeep Sarkar, the director of the film, told him I was in Indore and Chopra’s reaction was: “Why are all my poets based in Indore, yaar!”

By the time I had made Bollywood song-writing a full-fledged career, Rahat saab was done with Mumbai. It was not his place: as his brother said, you cannot bring a polar bear to a desert and expect it to thrive.

He was celebrated worldwide.

I read somewhere that Rahat saab’s poetry will be sought in the same way that people seek Van Gogh’s paintings. His passing is an irreparable loss.

As told to Shruti Nair

Follow @MissNairr on Twitter

Swanand Kirkire is a two-time National Award-winning lyricist

From HT Brunch, August 16, 2020

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