Rahat Indori, Urdu poetry’s man of the masses, succumbs to COVID-19

Published : August 11, 2020 22:10 IST

Rahat Indori in an undated photograph posted in his official Facebook page. Photo: PTI

FOR months on end, he was the voice of the anti- Citizenship Amendment Act protestors across the country. Not a single protest was complete without somebody raising the placard with his couplet, "Sabhi ka khoon hai shamil yahan ki mitti mein/kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai" (Everybody’s blood is part of this nation’s soil/India does not belong to anybody’s father). Be it the redoubtable women of Shaheen Bagh or the students of Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University protesting against the discriminatory nature of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Rahat Indori was an inspirational rallying point. His words articulated their angst and his resistance poetry went a long way in enthusing them and giving everybody a sense of belonging. Indeed, that was the biggest attribute of Indori. With his simple words he instilled in the masses a sense of purpose.

Last year, in the run up to the general election, Indori’s work was often quoted by opponents of the ruling dispensation. In rally after rally, speakers repeated Indori’s timeless couplet, "Jo aaj sahib-e-masnad hain, kal nahin honge/kirayedar hain, zati makaan thodi hai (Those who occupy the seat of power today, will not be there tomorrow/tenants they are, they own not the house).

It was not that he only opposed the actions of the Modi government. Some 45 years ago, he spoke out as bravely against the Emergency. As he used to recall fondly and frequently, once he had read out his anti-government poetry at a soiree. In his poetry, he had accused the government of corruption. The next day he was asked to present himself at the local police station. There he repeated that he had indeed called the government corrupt but did not specify which government! That was Indori for you. Brimming with sarcasm, laced with humour, but always fearless. It was a prized attribute to have during the time of the Emergency in the 1970s.

You could trust him to say the most trenchant of things in the simplest of words. His poetry would not have pleased the purists. The connoisseurs would not have been his fans. But the common man, the indisputable lover of Urdu, the one who thronged the annual mushairas, could never have enough of Rahat Indori. With his delectable voice modulation, pauses and unsurpassable hand gestures, he was in a class of his own. If his name was among the poets confirmed to grace a mushaira, it automatically resulted in an increased footfall. This was remarkable as Indori did not lure the audiences with the shama-parwana (flame-moth) kind of romantic poetry that Urdu lovers tend to fall for easily. Instead, he talked of the times, uneasy and challenging. He took on governments, fascist and imperial. And he did so in the language of the common man. He gave voice to the voiceless. He sought mainstream for the marginalised.

Although he was the life and breath of mushairas for 40-odd years, Indori was also associated with Hindi cinema. Beginning with Sir in 1993, he gave lyrics in films like Munnabhai MBBS, Naaraz, Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities (directed by M.F. Husain), Begum Jaan, Ishq, Jurm and Yaarana. Some of his best poetry was brought to life by Jagjit Singh with his wife Chitra. But such was the popularity of his poetry in real life that he seldom needed the crutches of the reel world to appeal to the listeners.

Indori, 70, breathed his last barely 24 hours after informing his fans via Twitter that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He promised to update them about his well-being shortly. Alas! That was not to be. One cannot help recall his couplet "Ek hi nadi ke hain ye do kinaare dosto/ Dostana zindagi se, maut se yaari rakho" (They are two banks of a river, friends/Keep friends with life/camaraderie with death). Of course, there are fans who cannot help recall his prescient words about death, "Do gaz sahi, magar ye meri milkiyat to hai/Aye maut, tu ne mujhko zamindar kar diya" (It may be just two yards, but I own it/Oh! Death you have made me a landlord).  

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