By Subodh Lal
Ab kisi se bhi shikaayat na rahi
Jaane kis kis se gilaa tha pahle.
(Now there is no complaint to make
The lamentations of the past are over.)
So wrote Nida Fazli three decades ago. Lamentations or not, he always carried a pain in his heart about how, in the pursuit of narrow sectarian ends, humanity itself was being hurt. On return from Pakistan after one of his many visits there, he wrote:
Hindu bhi maze mein hai, musalmaan bhi maze mein
Insaan pareshaan yahaan bhi hai wahaan bhi.
(The Hindu is doing well, as is the Muslim
It is the human being who suffers everywhere)
‘Nida’ the word meant the call, the voice. That voice of reason was silenced today as the poet was snatched away by death from millions of his fans all across the Urdu-Hindi world. The end came this morning, in Mumbai – a city that he called his ‘daftar’ (office). Though immensely popular in literary and film/television circles in Mumbai, Nida always missed the warmth of his hometown Gwalior. Nostalgia was to become a refrain in his poetry. Quite recently, in a preface that he wrote for my upcoming book of poems, he recalled the huge oak tree outside his house in Gwalior, the Nandi bull that sat under that tree and the little temple in niche close-by.
Nida was born in a family of poets in Delhi in 1938, but the family soon moved to Gwalior. His formal education must have started well after he may have been, in a manner of speaking, initiated in the world of Urdu Poetry as he must have heard his father and highly respected poet of his times - Janab Dua Dibaivi – recite his poetry to fellow poets or in family get-togethers. While he went on to obtain a Master’s degree at Victoria College (now Maharani Lakshmibai College) in Gwalior, it was Nida’s astounding learning and understanding of Urdu, Hindi and English literatures that really marked him out of the popular ‘Mushaira’ variety of contemporary poets. He carried his scholarship lightly and never allowed his learning to weigh down his poetry that remained truly remarkable for its simple, yet profound, manner of communication. He was one of those rare poets who could fit into a group of Hindi poets as well as he would into a ‘nashist’ of those writing in Urdu. Indeed, he could also hold his own where Shakespeare or the Romantics would be discussed among the (English) literati.
Nida was a modern man. His concerns were those of a global citizen. While himself rising above all narrow sectarianism, he did indeed exhort the world to understand that there was no other religion greater than humanity. In a ‘Hamd’ (Prayer), he questions the Creator thus: ‘How long will you remain perched in the skies…how long will you look down upon the universe…how long will you rest in the religious books…?’ While his family, including his poet brother Saba Fazli, migrated to Pakistan in late 1950’s, Nida refused to go along for he believed that the partition was a big historical blunder and also that he belonged to India and no other country. His other major concern reflected the existential dilemma of all sensitive thinkers. Whether it is his nazms or couplets (including the form of doha), he is constantly searching for questions about the Condition of Man. In his dohas (which, incidentally, were extremely popular among audiences everywhere), he talks of aspects of daily experience but, magically still evokes thoughts about the meaning of life and existence.
Wo sufi ka qaul ho ya pandit ka gyaan
Jitni bite aap par utna hi sach maan
(It might well be the call of a Sufi or a Pandit’s knowledge
But real Truth lies in one’s own experience.)
Naqsha lekar haath mein bachcha hai hairan
Kaise deemak kha gayi us ka Hindustan
(Map in hand, the child wonders
How come the termite ate up Hindustan)
Main bhi tu bhi yaatri chalti rukti rail
Apne apne gaaNv tak sab ka sab se mel.
(Both you and I are travelers in a train that runs and halts
Till our individual destinations arrive we are all together.)
Nida wrote poetry and lyrics for films, television serials and mushairas and kavi sammelans. But he also wrote prose – novel, essays, the works. Recently he wrote for BBC Hindi about contemporary issues. His songs in films became as popular as the Ghazals of his, which the maestro Jagjit Singh sang. Never did he compromise on quality while writing for films nor indeed on truth, in general. In fact, there was a time when he was a virtual ‘persona non grata’ among big names in the world of poetry for he wrote scathingly about some of them in his work ‘Mulaqatein’ (Meetings/Conversations). In all, he is credited with over twenty books. He received honours and awards from Cultural and Literary Organisations (Mir Taqi Mir Award, National Harmony Award, Sahitya Akademi Award,) Film establishments (best lyricist award) and at the national level (Padma Shri). Yes, indeed, he was that person in his own ‘sher’:
Har aadmi mein hote hain das-bees aadmi
Jisko bhi dekhna ho kayi baar dekhna.
(Every individual has many many people within him
Look at each many many a time.)
Nida’s legacy as a poet, thinker, lyricist, secularist, concerned global citizen will live on.