Any poetic work is supposedly meant to be read but sometimes acquires much more fame and even deeper meaning when chanted or even sung. It could be valid for all literary traditions, but let me deal with the case of Urdu poetry.
At any mushaira, the overwhelming demand from the gathering is for the poet to recite them in ‘tarannum’ or in rhythm. However, only a few poets could and can do it with flair.
Majaz was one and most of his work bears a rhythmic cadence which makes it suitable for recital. Sahir Ludhianvi was another, of whom someone has said his voice and effect were akin to his name, and closer to the current era, Wasim Barelvi is one of the few that people look forward to hearing.
On the flip side, I was once told that if once listened to Faiz Ahmed Faiz recite his poetry himself, “aapko un ke kalam se nafrat ho jaati.” However, Faiz had some help in popularising him in those not even remotely connected with the pleasures of sher-o-shairi or in his Left-wing world, as I will mention below.
Most poets usually depend on singers to imbue their work with rhythm and meaning. Of such singers, Saigal, Noor Jahan, Ghulam Ali, Begum Akhtar and Nayyara Noor were the most renowned and have brought many known and less well-known shairs to the attention of the people at large. Closer to home and time, were Talat Mehmood and Suraiyya, who both lent a rare meaning to Ghalib’s ghazals in the eponymous film, which in my opinion no one has bettered… at least for the ghazals in question.
Be it the duet treatment to “Dil-e-Nadaan, tujhe hua kya hain?” or Suraiyya sparkling with “Aah ka chahiye ek umr asr hone tak” and the slight hesitance that gave an allure to her voice, perfectly reflected in “Nukta cheen hain” . Even Rafi excelled the ligh-heartedness he gave to “Har bas har ek unke ishare mein”.
Nehru, who saw the film, complimented Suraiyya on her rendition: “Ladki, tumne Ghalib ki rooh zinda kar di,” he said. It is my guess that “Chacha” himself would have approved and as one hopes, fully content after listening to it in some astral plane.
Returning to Faiz, the poet himself is said to have sat entranced as the ‘Mallika-e-Tarranum’ Noor Jehan rendered his “Mujh se pehli se mohabbat mere mehboob na maang” and later observed she had brought out so many nuances in the nazm that even overwhelmed him.
He also has cause to be grateful to the dulcet, perfectly-modulated tones of Nayyara Noor, whose renditions of his poems can be thought to be a standard. Listen to “Hum ke thehre ajnabi itni madaraaton ke baad” to get an idea.
There are many singers who have become famous by singing ghazals and nazms of famous poets but sometimes, an unknown poet can be catapulted into the ranks of the famous after a well-known singer lends voice to the composition.
I was once told that Begum Akhtar was on her way to the stage to perform when someone in the crowd pressed a hand-written ghazal into her hand. The Begum did spare a moment to read it and liking it, used it in the same concert, mentioning the poet’s name. This was how Sudershan ‘Faakir’ came to the notice of a greater audience. I am not sure which ghazal it was but i think it was “Ae mohabbat tere anjaam pe rona aaya”, which remains his most well-known work.
To Be Continued……..