New Delhi: “When I die, write me a different identity, take my blood and write Hindustan on my forehead.” That was Rahat Indori, the man of letters whose fiery verse fused the personal and the political and made him a poet for the times.
A former professor of Urdu language, National Award-winning lyricist and the soul of poetry gatherings, Indori, who took his name from the city of Indore he lived and died in, breathed his last a day after testing positive for COVID-19.
His last Twitter post, just hours earlier, asked people to pray that he defeats the disease as soon as possible. But that was not to be.
The 70-year-old, who appealed to the young and old with his simple, lucid verse that elevated him to almost cult status with a section of the people, has gone, leaving behind a rich legacy in Urdu, the language he loved and taught for many years.
He was the man who kept audiences spellbound at mushairas and also on Tik Tok videos with wit, humour and thoughts of inclusive nationalism.
He gave the language popularity, his words, sometimes reduced to punchlines and memes, appearing on posters, banners and frequently circulated on social media platforms.
Indori’s warning about hate and divisions among people is popular for its precision and simplicity.
“Lagegi aag to aayenge ghar kai zad me, yahan pe sirf hamara makan thodi hai’. Jo aaj sahibe masnad hai, vo kal nahi honge, kirayedar hain, jaati makan thodi hai (If there is a fire, it will consume many houses, not just my house. Those who are in power today won’t be there tomorrow. It is a rented accommodation, not a permanent abode),” he wrote.
Born on January 1, 1950 to Rifatullah and Maqbul Bi, Indori did his schooling from Nutan School and his graduation from the Islamia Karimia College in Indore.
He did his MA in Urdu literature from Barkatullah University, Bhopal, in 1975 and was awarded a PhD in Urdu literature from the Bhoj University in 1985 for his thesis titled ‘Urdu Mein Mushaira’.
While teaching Urdu literature at IK College, he also became busy with mushairas and started receiving invitations from all over India and abroad. Indori edited the quarterly magazine ‘Shakhen’ (Branches) for 10 years.
He got seven of his poetry books published and edited and was a prominent face in poetic symposiums in the country for more than four decades.
Indori’s ‘nazm’ “Sarhadon par bahut tanav hai kya” (There is a lot of tension on the borders, find out if an election is nearby) and “Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thode hi hai” (Hindustan is no one’s property) emerged as popular anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest anthems.
In January, when Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s revolutionary “Hum Dekhenge” was being labelled anti-Hindu and pro-Islam, Indori was one of the literary voices to dismiss the allegations.
Indori, known for never mincing his words, said calling Faiz anti or pro any religion is laughable.
“People first need to understand who has written this poem before understanding what the poem means. He was a communist and had no connection with religion. He did not believe in any God, Ishwar or Allah,” he had told PTI.
Earlier this year, one of his lesser known poems, “Bulati hai magar jane ka nahin”, went viral, mostly for reasons unintended by the poet.
The poem — heavy with political metaphors for sacrificing one’s life for the nation, to rise against the oppressor and to stay resolute till a goal is reached — resonated with the youth ahead of Valentine’s Day. This was not the only time Indori’s words reverberated with sections of the highly political and energised youth of the country.
An Urdu scholar par excellence, he also dabbled in cinema, penning over 50 popular song,s including a track from the National Award-winning “Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.” With a 50 year-long career in poetry, Indori was known for the lyrics of songs like “Bumbro Bumbro” from “Mission Kashmir” (2000), “Chori Chori Jab Nazrein Mili” from “Kareeb” (1998), “Koi Jaye To Le Aaye” from “Ghatak” (1996), and “Neend Churai Meri” from “Ishq” (1997).
The loss his death has created can’t be measured, Gulzar said, remembering the times he would call Indori just as an admirer to give “daad”, the traditional way of praising someone’s lines in Urdu.
“He was one of a kind, without him mushairas would be without colour. As they say in Urdu, ‘He was the lootera of mushaira’. Sometimes you hear bad poetry in ‘mushairas’ but people had to wait to listen to Rahat sahib. He was too good. One mostly comes across romantic shers in mushairas, but all his work that he read was about the sociopolitical and contemporary climate,” Gulzar told PTI.
Lyricists such as Javed Akhtar, Varun Grover, Swanand Kirkire and Kausar Munir also paid tributes to Indori, fondly remembering his rendition style and political commentary.
The lyricist-poet was also a regular at programmes such as Jashn-e-Rekhta, where he exercised complete command over the crowd.
“No other poet could fill stadiums and make a direct relationship with each and every listener in the packed arena like he did,” Grover recalled. “His range, sharp political commentary, and love of language combined with his impeccable craft inspired generations of Hindustani poets in India. And will continue to do so. Mushaira generally used to end with his act as a showstopper – and today, the show has taken a long, painful pause,” the “Masaan” lyricist told PTI.
An emotional Munir told PTI, “Writers like me stand on the shoulders of giants like him”.
Kirkire called Indori an elder he looked up to.
“He was a fearless voice of our time as he always said what he wanted to say without any fear. He was a poet who spoke to people. He would converse with them in their language,” Kirkire also from Indore, recalled.
The Urdu doyen maintained his old-style post-box – 555, Indore – for receiving fan mails which remains active even today.