A polyglot and people’s poet

Clarity of thought and simplicity of language mark the poetry of Bano Tahira Sayeed who could give shape to her thoughts and feelings in Urdu, Persian and English with equal ease

By Author  |  Published: 7th Jul 2019  12:46 amUpdated: 7th Jul 2019  4:46 pm

There is no dearth of polyglots. But, how many can go lyrical in more than one language? Not many. But Bano Tahira Sayeed is an exception. She bucked the trend and held her own in Urdu, Persian and English. And she is, perhaps, the only poet who could write in all the three languages with remarkable ease.

Born in Agra, brought up in Lucknow and married to a Hyderabadi, Brigadier GM Sayeed, her first brush with literature was when she was just nine. She studied in Lucknow and Tehran Universities and obtained Doctorate in Literature from the University of Arizona. The celebrated Urdu poet has 13 books to her credit. For close to three decades, the Iran ki beti and Hyderabad ki bahu shone on the literary firmament – maintaining her distinct style.

Bano’s love for literature comes from her father, Syed Amir Ali Masoomi, an English professor, who was well-versed in 14 languages. In Iran, she met Brig Sayeed, an Indian Army officer of Hyderabadi origin and married him. She moved in distinguished company and this explains her broad outlook and respect for all religions. As the Brigadier’s wife, she happened to visit temples, churches and gurdwaras. She even laid foundation stone for a Shiva Parvati temple in Hyderabad.

What is special about her shayeri is its dew drop freshness. One can hear the breaking of the heart and falling of tears in her verses. Clarity of thought and simplicity of language make them all the more effective. No wonder her poetry is looked upon with awe and regard in literary circles. It is always the writer’s response to a given situation that results in literature. Banu is quick in reacting to events. Be it communal riots, dowry menace or divisive tendencies – all find mention in her lyrics.

To be a good poet, scholars feel, one should be well-versed in Persian language also as it lends charm and a touch of sweetness to poetry. With Persian being her mother tongue, Bano’s poetry has a special appeal.

As a sprightly nine-year-old, she wrote her first story – Rupeeye Ki Kahani. But, her first major work was Hadye Tahira, a collection of devotional poems. This was followed by Gul-e-Khoonchakan, Barg-e-Sabz, Aashian Hamara, Khoon-e-Jigar, Musbit and Manfi, Mahekte Virane.

Bano’s poems contain a rich collection of devotional verses on Lord Krishna, Rama, Sita, Jesus and and Gururnank, besides Islam. Moved by the frequent communal flare-ups in Hyderabad, she wrote:

Shayaron ki tarha jio logo
Mazhabe ishq iqhtiar karo
Dosti ka gar nahin hai mizaj
Dushmani bhi na iqhtiar karo

A champion of women’s cause, she took cudgels on their behalf. In one poem, she writes:

Kabhi Maryam, kabhi Zehra hai aurat
Kabhi Durga, kabhi Sita
Abhi tak bazm mein gharatgaron ke
Zaleel-o-khwar hai aurat

She doesn’t hide her annoyance at the disservice being done to Urdu by labelling it as the language of Muslims. Her poem Urdu Zaban is a fine example of her love and concern for the language. While glorifying the sweetness of the language, the poem reminds its na-qadardan (disapprovers) how it is very much Hindustani. Like Allama Iqbal’s Sare jahan se accha, this poem has a natural flow and appeal. This 32-line nazm is recited in most Urdu programmes all over the country. Sample these verses:

Kitni meethi zaban, kaisi payari zaban
Meri Urdu zaban fakhre Hindustan
Is mein Radha ke payal ki jhankar hai
Zulfe Zaibunnisa ki bhi mehkar hai
Is mein Jhansi ki Rani ki lalkar hai
Is ke daman mein hain kitni rangeenian
Meri Urdu zaban fakhre Hindustan

Hind mata ki beti hai Urdu zaban
Saunli, chulbuli, naujawan, gulfishan
Hindu-Muslim ke ikhlas ki dastaan
Ittehad woh muhabbat ka qaumi nishan
Kyun isse ‘ghair’ kehta hai na-qadardan
Meri Urdu zaban fakhre Hindustan

Bano’s poems are unique for their profundity and intensity of thought. She writes straight from heart and, therefore, her shayeri carries a special appeal and charm. See how beautifully she talks about her unfulfilled dreams:

Aakash pe deep sitaraon ke
Dharti per phool baharon ke
Sabze per shabnam ke moti
Sawan ki hava thandi thandi
Ye mere bikhre sapne hain

Bano’s poems capture a wide range of thoughts and experiences. Once she was travelling in a train. All her co-passengers were fast asleep. Except for the distinct sound of the train, there was an eerie calm all around. The silence and the moonlit night provoked the poet in her and she penned this beautiful nazm right in the train itself.

Ah! kya raat hai, kya raat ki zebai hai
Noor mein doobi huyee dahshat ki pinhai hai
Din ke hangamon se suraj ne amaan payee hai
Door taraon se pare baj rahi shahnai hai

As a writer, Bano received the love and appreciation of readers in abundant measure. Awards and honours came her way at regular intervals. She was awarded by the Urdu Academies of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. She also bagged the coveted Sahitya Academy and Kala Saraswati awards. The Government of Iran, the World Poetry Society International, US and the IBC Cambridge, UK, also recognised her talent.

Bano wrote with equal felicity in English. Her collection of poems titled Beneath the Bough and The Pale Rose have won critical acclaim. In most poems, her heart beats for her unseen, yet unforgettable, friend. The longing and feelings of separation are captured very tellingly in the poem Thee.

Solitude, I love it
Obscurity, I cherish it
Name and fame, I laugh at them
This murmuring world is dead for me
Bless me even with thy frown
For that will be great wealth for me

Bano inherited many influences, including Sufism. She experienced varied emotions like a true poet and portrayed them quite eloquently.

Tadapna, gungunana, aah bharna, dasht paimayee
Dile shayer ki kutch rangeenian hain mere hisse mein