How Urdu poetry excels in articulation of angst

It is an unfortunate fact that the appreciation of the rich tradition of Urdu poetry is now only present in a small section of people. This is despite the influence of many film lyrics not to mention the inestimable efforts of the ghazal singers, who are listened to by a large amount of people – who may not know about Urdu literature or for the matter, any literature – let alone understand the intricate thoughts. Anyway, since this rant will not serve any purpose, let me return to my main theme.

It is the firebrand Sahir, who articulates the pain that the golden era envisaged after Independence is far from being a reality. Despite this being a modified version of his original, the bitterness and the is palpable and strikes like a lash, despite being couched in a gentle question form and in the soft, plaintive strains of Rafi and the tunes of Burman senior.

“Ye kuche, ye ghar dilkashi ke
Ye kuche, ye neelaam ghar dilkashi ke
Ye lutte hue kaarvaan zindagi ke
Kahaan hain, kahaan hain muhfiz khudi ke
Jinhen naaz hai hind par vo kahaan hain
KahaaN hain, kahaan hain, kahaan hain

In the same film, Sahir also potrayed the futility of the success in a world where non-conformity to the prevailing culture of personal advantage and advancement is a sin.

Ye mahalon, ye takhton, ye taajo ki duniya
Yeh insaan ke dushman samaajon ki duniya
Yeh daulat ke bhookhe rivaazon ki duniya
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hain

Har ek jism ghayal, har ek ruh pyaasi
Nigaaho mein uljhan, dilon me udaasi
Ye duniya hai ya aalam-e-badhavaasi
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai

And there is also the masterful rendition of a poet, who feels himself out of isolated from the society and his friends because – one may suggest – he highlights inconvinient truths many who would wish had not been even though about, less put in words.

Jaane vo kaise log the jinke
Pyaar ko pyaar mila
Hamne to jab kaliyan maangi
Kaanton ka haar mila
Jaane vo …

Khushiyon ki manzil dhundhi to
Gam ki gard miii
Chahat ke naghme chaahe to
Aanhen sard milii
Dil ke bojh ko dhundhla kar gaya jo gamkhaar mila
Hamne to jab …

One may read it, but a greater impression is hearing it in the voice of Hemant Kumar, who does having a pronounced Bengali accent, does wonders with voice modulation when he comes to the following lines. The first is plaintive, but there is a slight variation in tone – many signers may pay their souls to achieve as he sings the third.

Bichhad gaya… Bichhad gaya har saathi dekar pal do pal ka saath
Kisko fursat hai jo thaame deewaanon ka haath
Hamko apna saaya tak aqsar bezaar mila

Sahir was, no doubt, a product of the Left movement of the mid-20th century, where poets railed against the injustices of the world. But a voice against this dehumanising influence is pervasive through the annals of Urdu, albeit in a gentler, but no less hard-hitting matter. Will focus on two towering legends – Ghalib and Mir – in the next post


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