Rahat Indori passes away: Power, pathos of poet's verses illuminate his incomparable mind and personality

A garrulous, self-effacing performer with a powerful voice, he would often regale gatherings with anecdotes from his Indore childhood — the idiosyncrasies of Indori diction, plus the signature hyperbolic Indori storytelling style informed his work.

Aditya Mani Jha August 15, 2020 15:01:54 IST
Rahat Indori passes away: Power, pathos of poet's verses illuminate his incomparable mind and personality

The Urdu poet, professor and Bollywood lyricist Rahat Indori died on Tuesday after a heart attack. Indori, who was 70, had tested positive for coronavirus the day before (Monday, 10 August) and had been admitted to Indore’s Aurobindo hospital, where he breathed his last. For over four decades, Indori had been performing at mushairas (as well as more formal settings) across India and elsewhere. A garrulous, self-effacing performer with a powerful voice, he would often regale gatherings with anecdotes from his Indore childhood — the idiosyncrasies of Indori diction, plus the signature hyperbolic Indori storytelling style informed his work. Later on in his career, mostly between 1995-2005, he was also a regular feature in mainstream Bollywood, writing lyrics for films like Mission Kashmir and Munnabhai MBBS, writing the latter’s title song, for example.

Before all of that, however, came the poetry. Thanks to the current political moment in India and the algorithms of social media, tributes to Indori have mostly focused on one particular ghazal, ‘Agar khilaf hain, hone do’, which contains the undeniably tweet-worthy line, “Kisi ke baap ka Hindustaan thode hi hai”. If you’re unfamiliar with Indori’s work, you might be fooled into thinking that he was known for this kind of thing, ie ‘rousing’, combative poetry with patriotic elements, like a lot of names from previous eras.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Indori’s work had true range — he had a ghazal for every mood, every occasion. He could craft a typically pithy Urdu couplet about love and pining for the beloved (“Main lakh keh doon ki aakash hoon, zameen hoon main/ Magar use toh khabar hai ki kuch nahi hoon main”). But he could also warn you about the perils of overdoing devotion — in life, in love (“Mere bete tu kisi se bhi dil lagaa, lekin hadh se guzar jaane ka nai”). He could do pathos, he could do irony, he could and often did tweak a few lines from old poems so that they alluded to current headlines. He was also remarkably generous with younger audiences — at Delhi’s Jashn-i-Rekhta a couple of years ago, he interrupted his performance to deliver a mini-treatise on the decline of Urdu and how he didn’t blame younger generations for it (he then proceeded to explain the meaning of a couple of Urdu words he had just used).

Yesterday, Indori’s son Satlaj revealed his father’s final sher, which ended with these poignant lines about death and acceptance.

“Khaamoshi odh ke baithi hain masjidein saari

Kisi ki maut ka ailaan bhi nahi hotaa

Wabaa ne kaash hamein bhi bulaa liya Hotaa

Toh hum par maut ka ehsaan bhi nahi Hotaa”

His Bollywood work reinforced Indori’s strengths as a popular poet, most notably his ability to express philosophical sentiments in fairly simple language. Like the song ‘Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlaata Hai’ from Meenaxi (featuring Tabu and Kunal Kapoor), which talks about the transcendental effect the beloved has on the poet — but also about the effect Art has on people. It remains one of AR Rahman’s most unusual, haunting compositions. During a live Facebook video tribute last night, lyricist and storyteller Neelesh Misra noted that unlike a lot of other poets, Indori’s work lost none of its keenness because of his Bollywood forays.

During the same radio-style tribute, Misra also read out the messages left by Indori’s fans, communicating what the late poet’s work means to them. This exercise by itself told us a lot about the man, the sheer range of his work. There were so many lovers. There were so many who reckoned Indori’s poems were their first expressions of political dissent. The most touching tribute came from a man who said that on the brink of suicide, he had listened to an Indori poem and had been persuaded to hang on.

One of my favourite Indori poems, canny and preternaturally insightful, asks us to lead our lives with a variety of ‘modes’ or life-tools at our disposal. It is a typically broad, generous Rahat poem, asking us to expand our horizons. The ‘aankh mein paani’ ie tears stands for empathy while ‘hothon pe chingaari’ ie ‘fiery words’ stands for the spirit of protest and independent thought.

Aankh mein paani rakho hothon pe chingaari rakho

Zindaa rehnaa hai toh tarkeebein kai saari rakho

Raah ke patthar se badh kar kuch nahi hai manzilein

Raaste aawaaz dete hain safar zaari rakho

One could do a lot worse than live by these words — rest in peace, Rahat sahab. You’ll be missed.

— Featured image via Facebook/@rahatindoriofficial

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