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Mightier than a sword: Rahat Indori

Lamat R Hasan | Updated on August 21, 2020 Published on August 20, 2020

Poetry in motion: Indori believed he was yet to write the shair that would make him immortal   -  THE HINDU

Admired as much as he was trolled, Rahat Indori was a poet who spoke his mind

* Indori would take the audience on a magical journey, playing with his voice, sometimes a whisper, sometimes a baritone, swiftly changing the mood — romantic shair (Urdu poems) to politically charged ones — making them cringe or cry. There was a rhythm in his couplets and hypnotism in his delivery. He would speak not just with his words and voice — but also his body.

In his book Poetry of Belonging, which charted the evolution of the mushaira (poetic symposium), historian Ali Khan Mahmudabad recalled a scene when Rahat Indori, the celebrated poet who died recently at the age of 70, took the stage at a poetry session at the Red Fort in 2015.

People around him swayed as he repeated his lines, Mahmudabad writes. Others finished reciting the couplet before the poet could.

“The time came for the last verse. The atmosphere was electric. Most of the audience already knew the couplet by heart... The audience was now palpably anxious to hear the couplet and Indori did not disappoint in his delivery.”

The poem that he read has become an anthem of sorts in the communally charged times we live in, even though Indori wrote it a good 40 years ago with no specific people in mind: Sabhi ka khoon hai shaamil yahan ki mitti mein/ Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai (everybody’s blood is found in this soil/ India is not anyone’s personal property).

Take me as I am: In January, he reacted to being called a “jihadi” by the trolls with a couplet. Let Hindustan be written on my forehead when I die, he thundered.   -  th

 

That was the power of Indori. His couplets spoke to the insecurities of the disadvantaged and he was not scared of speaking his mind.

Not surprisingly, he was not popular with the establishment, and in a career spanning several decades, he was never honoured with a significant national award. “The Madhya Pradesh Urdu Academy gave him an award a few decades ago. And the State Shikhar Samman was conferred on him by the Madhya Pradesh government in November 2019. This is telling of his popularity with the incumbent governments,” says friend and fellow-poet Manzar Bhopali, based in Bhopal.

By the time the Shikhar Samman award was presented to him, Indori was on a wheelchair, plagued by failing vision and other ailments. Bhopali recalls how he teased an acquaintance who’d come in a sherwani for the function — “Mian, I am receiving the award, and you are the one dressed for the occasion!”

Indori’s speech at the event was characteristic of the outspoken poet. “This award by the government has taken 70 years to reach me. I am glad I will now be counted among the poets of repute,” he said.

Bhopali stresses that Indori was among the finest Urdu poets of his time. His poetry, the friend explains, was lyrical, easy to remember and stayed in people’s minds long after it had been recited. “He communicated in the language of love, which was neither Urdu nor Hindi,” adds Bhopali.

His delivery was always dramatic. “The mike gave him life. He would repeat the first misra (first line of the couplet) at least seven or eight times and then deliver his second misra with aplomb. But not before he had the audience’s cent per cent attention, and not before they knew the first misra by heart, and could no longer wait for the second misra,” art critic Mumtaz Khan, based in Bhopal, says.

Indori would take the audience on a magical journey, playing with his voice, sometimes a whisper, sometimes a baritone, swiftly changing the mood — romantic shair (Urdu poems) to politically charged ones — making them cringe or cry. There was a rhythm in his couplets and hypnotism in his delivery. He would speak not just with his words and voice — but also his body.

At the end of each shair, he would close his eyes and look towards the skies. He would then return to his seat, lost in thought, and sit quietly for a long time.

Purists often accused him of playing to the gallery and argued that his works lacked depth. “That’s denying Indori his genius. He not only had a way with words, but he had perfected the art of engaging the audience. He would help translate tough Urdu words into English, popularising the language too along the way,” Bhopali says.

Indori came from a humble background and, in the first few years of his working life, dabbled in several odd jobs, including painting, to make ends meet. He wrote his first shair in 1968. When he started out, his pen name was Rahat Qaiseri, a tribute to his mentor Qaiser Indori. After completing his higher education, he taught Urdu at Indore University.

For a while, Indori also worked as a lyricist in Mumbai. Though his work was received well, he returned to his hometown Indore in the ’90s.

The writer of several books — including Rut, Do Kadm Aur Sahi and Naaraaz — was praised as much as he was trolled on social media for his politically charged couplets. In a mushaira in Aurangabad in January, he reacted to being called a “jihadi” by the trolls with a couplet. Let Hindustan be written on my forehead when I die, he thundered.

“The last mushaira he attended was in February in Hyderabad,” recalls Bhopali. He was in touch with his friends through the lockdown, and urged Bhopali to stay safe. “I haven’t seen the road in four months. You shouldn’t come out of your house either,” Indori said.

After complaining of fever and cough he was admitted to Shri Aurobindo Hospital in Indore where he tested positive for Covid-19. He died of heart failure on August 11.

“He used to often say that he was still to write the shair that would make him immortal,” Khan says. “‘Look into my pocket after I have died. You will find it there’, he’d say.”

Indori wrote his last verse a few days before his death. His poet-son Faisal Rahat Indori shared the couplet (translated here by Shams ur Rehman Alavi) with BLink

Khamoshi odh ke soye hain masjiden saari/Kisi ki maut ka ailaan bhi nahin hota.

(Wearing silence, all the mosques have gone to sleep/

No announcement of someone’s death, not even a beep.)

Lamat R Hasan is an independent writer based in New Delhi

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Published on August 20, 2020
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