Monday, 22 August 2016

Wednesday's Child Is Full Of Woe..

This time, I skipped my normal annual birthday piece on `Mitti Pao!’ and was pleasantly surprised to find that it had actually been missed! By the teeming millions (ok 47, give or take) who hang on to my every word.

I kid you not, dear readers.

The fact is that I had struck a bit of a writer’s block, and anything I came up with seemed to be brushed with the blues. Melancholy, as the venerable Thomas Gray, has so succinctly put it, seemed to have marked me for her own!.

Nothing one can put ones finger on. Just happens. Occupational hazards of creeping age, I guess.


Rakhi last year - Puja n Sid
So the other day, when my sisters were over, tying the traditional rakhi, we got talking on the Puri family fads, foibles, disasters and debacles. The jogging of memories, the good humoured ribbing (particularly of those not present). Typical family gup-shup, if you know what I mean.

Leo Tolstoy begins his epic `Anna Karenina’ with the observation `All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’.

As a family, the Puris averaged somewhere in between Tolstoy’s extremes. Neither overtly joyous, nor woefully miserable. Just your typical, lower middle class family struggling to beat the odds.

Happy families, of course, are a rarity. And, let me be a bit snarky here, they can really drive you up a wall!

One can only try and do ones bit, play ones part, hoping that whatever one does fits into the scheme of things, the outlooks of the other players in the game.

At best, it’s a long shot.

Siblings, less Shukla
We are five siblings. The eldest, Shukla is nearing 80, and the youngest, yours truly, has just turned 65. The Puri genes have done well, both on the mortality as well as the morbidity index. We tend to live longer than average, and with fewer chronic maladies.

Touch wood!  

We have also not fared badly in the brains department. My brother is the brightest bulb in the Puri chandelier, with an IQ in the genius range. His scientific fundas, from how integral calculus can help to compute the volume of a samosa, to why jam must be applied to a toast before you butter it, are the stuff of legend.

Siblings less Prem
He recently developed an intricate algorithm to determine in which order we five siblings would kick the bucket. One of my sisters tops the list, and no doubt has been having sleepless nights since. Satish’s theses, nor his prognoses, have ever been proven to be without scientific basis - probably because he’s the only one of us who can actually prove that sin squared theta plus cos squared theta equals one! 

So when we siblings meet, it is not with a `Hi’ or a `Namaste’ but with an `Oh so you’re still among the living!’

The hottest topic these days, of course, is my imminent entry into grandparenthood. It’s just a couple of weeks away, and the debate was on the `when’. The nursery rhyme was quickly recalled (all of us being `Convent school’ types), and a debate started of whether being `fair of face’ trumped being `full of grace’.

To save you the trouble of googling it, here’s the complete rhyme.

Monday's child is fair of face
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

That’s when it struck me. My frequent `blue’ patches were quite simply because I was born on 8th August, 1951, which was, you guessed it, a bally Wednesday! (An aside here. So was Mohammed Morsi, the deposed leader of Egypt, which would certainly explain his woes!)

Apart from Mohamed Morsi (we were probably born barely a few hours apart), I also share my birthday with Dustin Hoffman (1937) and Roger Federer (1981).

All that I’ve learnt of life, said Robert Frost, can be summed up in just three words – it goes on.

We are simply too old to carry grudges. Look at life through the windscreen, and not the rear view mirror. So learn to let go of any negativity that holds you back.

A few homilies I uttered last year bear repeating.

What `people’ think is not half as important as your own convictions. Facades that cannot or will not stand up on their own should not be propped up, they will just wear you down.

Never underestimate the wisdom in that old adage - Those that matter don't mind, those that mind don't matter!

Dare to dream, to look ahead, there is always a future out there, and the future lies, where else, WITHIN US!

As only the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz coud have put it,

Nahin nigaah mein manzil, toh justaju hi sahi
Nahin visaal mayaasar, toh aarzoo hi sahi..

My (rough) translation, though the great Faiz defies any such attempts, would be..

Destinies and destinations, may at loggerheads lie
But the search, the hope, the belief cannot die..

Cheers folks, and a here’s wishing me a Happy 65th!!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Of Empty Goblets and Broken Hearts..

The best poetry, it’s said, is born out of felt experience. Pain. The more intense the pain, the more sublime the verse.

String instruments have to be plucked, percussion instruments thumped for them to emit their soulful music. In the words of Rahi Masoom Raza, `Hum bhi goya kisi saaz ke taar hain, chot khaate rahe, gungunate rahe..’

She was a poet herself, and would have known this. Why then, when she went for a rendezvous with the love of her life, did she take her live in partner with her? Didn’t she foresee the pain that it would cause him?

Of course he tried to shrug it off. He dutifully brought out the single malt, and poured the amber gold into the three goblets that were now the proverbial `crowd’. She, and the live in partner took their leave after a while, leaving him alone to stare balefully at the empty glasses they had left behind.

He grabbed a pen and a hotel napkin, and furiously scrawled what was to become one of his most popular poems.

`Mehfil se uth jaane waalon, tum logon par kya ilzaam?
Tum aabaad gharon ke waasi, main awara aur badnaam..
Mere saathi, khaali jaam...'

The lady was Amrita Pritam, her live in partner was the artist Imroze, and the love of her life was Sahir Ludhianvi, arguably the greatest living poet of his time. The poem he scrawled on the hotel napkin that evening, as despair and scotch swilled inside him in equal measure, was later immortalised by Rafi, picturised on a drunk Bharat Bhushan in the 1964 film `Dooj ka Chand’.

Sahir was, by all standards, a complex man. As a child, he had witnessed his mother being verbally and physically abused by his alcoholic father, and had been so traumatised as to develop a fiercely protective, almost Oedipal fixation with her! Maybe that was what stopped him from committing himself wholly and unreservedly to any other woman.

Even the other lady he is said to have loved, the singer Sudha Malhotra (Tum muhje bhool bhi jao toh yeh haq hai tumko, meri baat aur hai, maine toh mohabat kee hai) drifted away from him because of his apparent and, to her, infuriating reluctance to commit.

But Amrita should have known, he was everything to her. She would even trace his name with her fingertips over Imroze’s back! `Sahir, Sahir, Sahir’, over and over again! `You are the sky I soar in, Imroze the earth I tread on’ she would try to rationalise.

Yet Sahir remained mired in self pity. His morbid obsession with his darkness and his gloom, real or perceived, could never sync with Amrita’s desire to have a working, a normal if not exactly a happy relationship. As he put it..

`Tumne dhoondhi sukh ki daulat, maine paala gham ka rog
Kaise banta, kaise nibhta, yeh rishta aur yeh sanjog..’

He probably couldn’t fathom her apparent inability or unwillingness to be part of the darkness he had surrounded himself with. In another poem addressed to Amrita, his emotions on seeing her living a seemingly `content’ life with Imroze, spill out thus..

`Teri tadap se na tadpa tha mera dil lekin,
Tere sukoon se bechain ho gaya hun main..’

Did Sahir really know what he wanted? The price of true genius is that one is, for the most part, involved in a constant struggle with oneself, one is constantly fighting off the demons of ones own making. His struggle finds eloquent and heart rending expression in his poems, none more stark than in `Tassavurrat ki parchaiyan ubharti hain..’

Sahir’s love for anyone was bound to go unrequited. His was a voice that defied all convention, a voice to which, to conform would be to stifle. Note his take on the so called `monument to love’, the Taj Mahal.

Whereas Shakeel Badayuni toes the more conventional line `Ek shahenshah ne banwa ke haseen Taj Mahal/Sari duniya ko mohabat ki nishaani di hai’, Sahir castigates Shah Jehan by proclaiming `Ek shahenshah ne daulat ka sahara lekar/Hum gareebon ki mohabat ka udaya hai mazakh!’   

This man was so deeply in love with his own misery, how could he commit to a normal relationship?

The story of Sahir and Amrita’s unrequited love has been woven into a play `Ek Mulaqat’, with Shekhar Suman and Deepti Naval essaying the lead roles. I managed to catch their performance last week, and was flooded with memories of our adoration of Sahir’s poetry in college. Those were days when to be miserable was to be hep, when one could (and did) quote paens of his verse, the more lachrymal the better..

Whereas Shekhar Suman did an admirable job of reciting Sahir’s poetry, he suffered from the disadvantage that he bore no physical resemblance to the poet. Deepti Naval, on the other hand, was a splitting image of Amrita, and also sang her mellifluous `Ode to Waris Shah’ (Aj akhaan Waris Shah nu) beautifully!

An aside here. Without sounding self trumpeting, let me re-plug my translation of this seminal poem by Amrita Pritam, at

It wasn’t a relationship with a happy ending being, as it was, unconventional on so many levels. It hovered in taboo territory, and yet remained strangely chaste, conducted as it was through silences and letters. Yet, for all its poignant lack of fulfillment, this was a love affair that touched so many lives.

In her autobiography `Raseedi Ticket’, (Khushwant Singh once joked that her life story was so inconsequential it could be written on the back of a revenue stamp, hence the title) Amrita Pritam recalls an incident when she rubbed Vicks ointment on Sahir’s bare chest when he was unwell. Recalling the sensual intimacy of that incident, she sighed, “I wish I could live in that moment forever!”

Amrita Pritam may not have had her eternity with Sahir Ludhianvi, but decades later, despite dimming memories curling the edges of their history, their love story has somehow endured. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2016


“Lovely day to die!” she exclaimed, beaming.

Having just landed at Melbourne after an exhausting 17 hour flight from Bombay via Bangkok, it was not the sort of thing one wanted to hear immediately on touching down.

Dishevelled, yes, bone weary certainly, but ready to hand in my chips, to call it a day, to kick the bucket? Hardly!

So why would this fine Aussie lass at the Immigration Counter egg me on to commit hara-kiri, I wondered. Seeing my mentally challenged expression, she waved me on with a “No worries, mite, enjoy your sty!”

Now that was really pushing it. A mite, really? My sty, seriously??

My knowledge of the Aussie accent had been limited to Richie Benaud, and the Chappel brothers. Ian Botham had tried to explain it to the Aussies “In my country, a bison is an animal. In yours, it’s something you wash your face in!”

Australians are friendly. To a fault! And they have no worries, something they constantly remind you of, and constantly wish on you - in a sing song twang that you have to be born there to acquire, and which passes for the Aussie accent!

The biggest island in the Southern hemisphere, where 80% of the population lives across 5 cities strewed along the huge coastline, one would never have given it even a distant look had it not been for Nisha.

Babu's Burgers, Melbourne
Nisha is my sister Shobha’s daughter. Now Shobha, as followers of these chronicles would recall, was not the brightest bulb in the Puri chandelier, something she had been constantly reminded of. But Karma can be quite a bitch, in that she thumbed her nose at all of us by spawning the brightest and wisest kids of Gen Next!

Leading that pack is Nisha. Like my other niece before her, she obtained a state rank, joined the prestigious BJ Medical College and is a leading OB-GYN in Melbourne. An avid reader (she’s a Wodehouse fan, and no bigger compliment is necessary), I can, and do, talk to her on any subject under the sun!

Thanks to Nisha, we managed to tour UK, where she was first stationed, and were now in Melbourne! Her husband Amit, despite being an (how I hate that word) activist, is an absolute gem. As are her kids, who I have no hesitation in anointing the best raised kids I have ever come across!

An aside here. Among the more agreeable chores I undertook at Nisha’s was walking the toddler Neel to school every morning. As things turned out, it was he who was walking me, but that’s another story.

Neel, with his tousled mop
“Neel”, I pleaded with him, “Please comb your hair before you go to school. You look like you’ve just got out of bed!”

“Well”, he said after a pause, “technically, I have just got out of bed!”

And he’s all of eight years old!!

Melbourne has been declared the most liveable city in the world for four years running, and one would have to agree. It’s organised, it’s clean, it’s orderly, and once you get used to the accent, it is actually eminently liveable!

No, there are no kangaroos, no koala bears, no kookabooras, so rest those notions. What there is, in Australia, is cleavage – miles and miles of it, and after a day or two, even I stopped ogling! 

And their wine, and their beer, and their meats are to die for! It’s no wonder Master Chef Australia has such a fan following in India - the food there is really something!

Winery Tour with the bevy!
The Yarra Valley winery tour that Nisha had organised for us was an absolute treat in that in the group of 12, I was the only male! Just imagine, I had a bevy of 5 Aussie, 3 Irish, 2 Corsican, and 1 Costa Rican lassies, along with a Thai hostess! The wine, that day, tasted so much better!

The Aussie obsession with physical fitness has to be seen to be believed. Every open space/track has scores of guys and gals – yes, lots of gals – jogging, headphones in place, singlets and shorts bathed in sweat, huffing and puffing away!

The Aussie weather is much like the Aussie accent – impossible to decipher. In a matter of hours, it can go from bright and sunny to wet and windy to cold and clammy, without so much as a `No worries, mite!’

Melbourne has open spaces – wide open spaces, and it’s impossible to turn a corner without running into a park or a garden of sorts. And it’s green. Boy, is it green!!

Sydney is a different ball game altogether. The rivalry between these two cities is as old as the cities themselves. A Sydney guy wonders why Tasmania is moving closer to the Australian mainland. `Because Melbourne sucks!’ A Melbourne wise guy asks you why Jesus wasn’t born in Sydney. `Because they couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin!’

When the 1956 Summer Olympics were awarded to Melbourne, a pall of gloom fell over Sydney, and they decided to `get back’ at Melbourne by building a structure that would knock the smugness out of the Melbournians. Thus came to being the most photographed structure in the world – the Sydney Opera House!

The iconic Opera House and the Harbour Bridge offer a breathtaking view - from the air, from land and from the bay! While not as orderly or organised as Melbourne, Sydney makes up with its soul, its history! 

Convict Carvings, The Rocks
It was here in Botany Bay (now called Circular Quay) that Capt Cook and the convicts first landed in 1788 as part of the historic `first fleet’. To get a feel of what things must have been like, saunter down George Street and walk up to the Rocks.

Check out the Convict carvings, and explore the Saturday market. Take a breather, put your feet up, sample some Aussie beer and some of the best sandwiches and burgers in the Southern hemisphere!

Australia is an island. And 80% of its population lives along the coast. So one would be forgiven for looking forward to beaches and beaches. And of course, there are beaches, but the waters are ice cold, even in summer! So bathing, swimming or even frolicking is a disappointing no-no!

Here, Sydney’s Pacific Ocean scored over Melbourne’s Southern Ocean as it was slightly warmer. Bondi beach has a pool carved out of the hills that fills with sea water when the tide is high, and you get the `salt water swimming pool’ experience!

The kangaroo meat burger is a must try. Although why would anyone permit the  slaughtering of their national animal is beyond me! Slightly `gamey’, but that is easily overcome by smothering it with cheese and relish!

Now Sid has moved to Brisbane, and another trip down under for Diwali is on the cards. This time, it’s the Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast, and who knows, the Great Barrier Reef?? Watch this space!

No worries, mite – life’s a breeze – to die, and every die!! 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Kick Them Where It Hurts!

“Lovely morning, sir!” she exclaimed, beaming. The dulcet voice held loads of promise.

Having served almost 30 years in the stiff-upper-lip, highly starched, bursting with testosterone male bastion that is the Indian Army, interviewing such a comely lass for my secretary/personal assistant’s role was quite the introduction to the Corporate world!

Or rather, it should have been. I can imagine my Infantry course mates salivating at the thought, and I can only shake my head in despair.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. A couple of days ago, I came across a blog post by Ms Purba Ray, called `Hello, Beautiful, You Sent Me out of Control!’. Couched in a thin, barely perceptible sheen of humour, it was scathing in its indictment of us men, and our penchant for grabbing, groping and leering at the fairer sex.

The post can be accessed at
and is highly recommended reading.

Sadly, most of what she says rings true, even if she’s not always successful in keeping the tongue firmly in the cheek. But surely, there’s a flip side.


Which brings me back to where I started. I had just been appointed CEO of a start up company handling telecom infrastructure, and had been authorised a `personal assistant’, which is the politically correct term for private secretary.

Of the comely and not so comely lasses that turned up, this one was most definitely among the former. Dressed in a spaghetti strap blouse showing a hint (well, more than a hint, actually) of cleavage, everything about her screamed of promising times ahead. 

The question I asked myself was, everything else being equal, would I pick her over the other plain Janes? Every male in the office, true to Purba’s description of us hyperventilating Lotharios, was almost begging me to pick her.

In the event, I didn’t. Of course, she was later picked by my boss in the same set up, but that’s a story for another day..

The point I’m trying to make is, here was a female, who was certainly good looking, and was unabashedly flaunting her good looks in order to get ahead in life. Nothing so terribly wrong in that, but had I picked her over anyone else merely because of her lilting `Come hither’ tone or that hint of cleavage, what would the good Ms Ray portray me as??

Of course men are animals, and will salivate at the merest hint of anything that is remotely `available’, and as long as they keep their hyperventilating to behind closed doors or in sweaty office loos, the delicate balance of nature is not disturbed.

But grant it, women are beautiful, endowed with qualities that will alternately melt the stoniest of hearts or skyrocket the heaviest of eyeballs. If our gaze lingers a tad too long, or if prim n propah eye contact becomes a casualty, allow for the possibility that sometimes, just sometimes, it may not be entirely our fault.

Having served in the Corporate world, I know for a fact that there are some lasses that will do anything to climb a rung or two of what is a very rickety ladder.

Vijay Mallaya took great pride in announcing on every Kingfisher flight that he personally hand picked the cabin crew! And looking at the shapely, flaming red airhostesses sashaying down the aisle, I always wondered exactly what his selection process comprised.

So face it. Men will always be idiots. They will always have wives who `do not understand’ them. Some will be emboldened enough to pay you the cheesiest of compliments. Or even pat you on the arm inappropriately. Stand up to them, elbow them rudely, even kick them where it hurts most.

But if you choose to exploit their `weaknesses’ for personal gain or advancement, don’t cry wolf if things don’t work out in your favour. Crying rape if a guy promises marriage, has a consensual relationship with you, and then backs out, is plain silly!

Keep your eyes wide open. Know what you’re getting into, know what you want and how far you’re willing to go, and set the ground rules yourself. You’re not the weaker sex, and don’t let anyone tell you that.

A poll I saw on Twitter on `Why are you on Twitter?’ had among its options, `To chase girls!’ I kid you not, and about 26% of respondents actually ticked this option!

Me, of course like all men, I’m a sucker for delectable looks – cascading hair, smouldering eyes and what not, but above all that give me a strong willed partner any day. One that can stand up to you, and actually kick you in the balls if you as much as think inappropriate..

Fortunately, I’m at the age where a pat on the back is taken more as an avuncular gesture than a wolfish pass, so I guess I’m safe!

But to all you pretty young things out there – attend karate, pack your handbags with pepper spray (or a handgun if you live in Delhi), but let the leeches have it. And don’t be gentle about it. A few cracked skulls, a few broken ribs, why even a few Bobbits may make the world a safer place!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Dil Hai Chhota Sa, Chhoti Si Asha...

Circa 1961. In a darkened theatre in Poona, a ten year old lad settles down to watch one of his first Hindi movies. The film is `Hum Dono’, one of Nav Ketan’s better efforts, and the excitement in the boy’s impressionable mind is palpable.

Abhi na jao chhod kar...
Barely ten minutes into the film, as the song `Abhi na jao chhod ke, ke dil abhi bhara nahin’ - arguably the greatest ode to romance ever - warbles on the screen, the lad has already made two life changing decisions.

One, that for the rest of his life, he will walk, talk, dress and wear his hair exactly like Dev Anand. Two, that as soon as is physically possible, he will marry Sadhana!

The first resolution was easy, and was clung to with the steadfastness that only a ten year old madly in love can muster. Although the `walk' would later become the bane of every drill ustad in IMA, the talk, the dress and the well coiffured `puff’ did brand him a ladies man of sorts, walking the hallowed portals of Fergusson College. 

As for the second, he didn’t stand a chance. He lost the battle, not to the charms of a `Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya’ Dev Anand or even to a `Aap yun hi agar hum se milte rahe’ Joy Mukherjee, but to RK Nayyar, the portly, bespectacled director who had directed her in `Love in Simla’, her debut film!

Like a million others, the ten year old too was heartbroken. Even scarred for life! Surely, she could have waited.


But ten year olds have a resilience that is the envy of their elder peers. And an ability to bounce back from the hardiest of put-downs. Sure enough, the walk, the talk and the puff that Sadhana had so heartlessly tossed aside were up and running again, and back in action!

The Dev Anand puff!
More heartbreaks, however, lay in store for our young Galahad. By the age of 12, he had received his first `Dear John’ – the friend’s sister, to whom he had effusively handed over his heart, let’s call her Ms R, had returned it, unopened and unused. Apparently, she didn’t quite look at him in `that way’!

So he reversed tacks. From friend’s sisters, he switched to sister’s friends! Providence, and a deep rooted animosity that existed between his sister and mathematics and general science, conspired to ensure that the sister – almost two years his senior – and he, passed out of school together.

Although he joined the more studious and elitist Fergusson College and she the more laid back Wadia, a handful of her class mates from St Anne’s School found themselves in the same class at Fergusson as our young lothario.

And that’s where he met her. His first `true’ love, Ms S. Many a lunch break was spent sharing the tiffin their respective mothers had made for their kids. Many a free period was spent exchanging sweet nothings on the steps behind the Geology lab.

They even bunked classes once to see a movie at the Alaka theatre, where they furtively held hands.  Love was definitely in air, palpable, like the exhaust of a DTC bus!

They had formed a society called Dramatique. They read poetry, discussed literature in the college Amphitheatre. They performed Arthur Miller’s `All My Sons’ in the FTII Auditorium, where he played Chris, the softer, more romantic of Joe Keller’s sons. Dammit, he was the `hero’, the romantic lead, for crying out loud!

But all that was to no avail. The paths of true love never did run smooth. He left college to enrol as a Gentleman Cadet in the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun. There, in his final term, he received a letter, announcing Ms S’s impending nuptials. It was heartbreak time all over again.

He seemed to have developed an uncanny habit of receiving Dear Johns! Must junk this annoying practice, he told himself.  Not even twenty, and he had already notched up a couple of them! Wouldn’t make for great or inspiring reading in his memoirs..

Circa 1973. His ambitions hadn't been sky high, he hadn’t asked for the moon, he reasoned. He had just wanted to be a famous writer, and here he found himself in crisp olive greens, a subaltern in the Indian Army’s Corps of Signals! 

He had pledged to marry Sadhana, then Miss R, then Miss S, and they had all ditched him in quick succession. It was a conspiracy, he felt! The Bible had got it all wrong - it wasn’t the meek that inherited the earth, but the RK Nayyars, the Mr R’s and the Mr S’s of the planet!

But hearts heal, twenty year old hearts probably faster than others. And hindsight is a fantastic tool, even though it always comes when it’s too, too late.

The delectable Sadhana passed away last week, embroiled in court cases, fighting a losing battle with cancer, both of which had emaciated that once heart achingly lovely visage. Mr Nayyar had, of course, abandoned her long back. Would he have done any better, he wondered?

The others too had moved on. Ms R had morphed into the splitting image of her mother, and he wondered how he could possibly have been so smitten. Sadly, all his efforts to track down the elusive Ms S failed. Rumours that she had had a bad marriage were just that – rumours. There was no way of knowing. She had simply vanished into thin air!

Four decades later, thankfully the hair is still in place, even if the coiffure isn’t quite the same. He’s still struggling to be a writer. `Mitti Pao!’ has notched up 85 posts to its credit. Ok, not the great big epic or novel that would be translated into fifty seven different languages and be grabbed up by Spielberg for a movie version, but hey, it’s a beginning, and maybe he is getting somewhere..

As for the R’s and S’s, those dreams always came with a shelf life. Not to mention that he too is fast approaching his `Use By’ date. Has he left it too late? He doesn’t think so. He’s convinced that the vision he’s spotted on the horizon yonder, is no mirage.

He walks on. Looks up at the sky. Urges it to do its bit. A handful of sky is not too much to ask for.

Dil hai chhota sa, chhoti si asha..

It will happen!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Poetry and Bollywood..

In 1957, when Guru Dutt decided to make `Pyaasa’, a movie about a struggling poet, he signed on the greatest living Urdu poet of the day, Sahir Ludhianvi to provide the poetry. He even delved into Sahir’s non-filmy work, picking up gems from his `Talkhiyan’.

He pointed to the angst laden `Chakley’ (Brothels), asked Sahir to `simplify’ the Urdu, which he did (the tongue twisting `Sana khwaan-e-taqdees-e-mashriq kahan hai’ was duly downgraded for us lesser mortals to `Jinhe naaz hai Hind par, woh kahan hai’), along with a few other rare gems. Who can forget Guru Dutt (ok, Mohd Rafi) humming Sahir’s signature `Tang aa chuke hain kashmash-e-zindagi se hum..’

Indeed, take away Sahir, and what is left of `Pyaasa’?

In the 50s, through to the 70’s, we had genuine poets doubling as lyricists for Hindi films. Meaning each of them had a substantial body of work outside of their filmi lyrics, work that stood out on its own, and was of course, much classier than the fluff they churned out for Bollywood.

Foremost among them, of course was the unmatched Sahir Ludhianvi. I’ve written a separate post on him, called `Main pal do pal ka shayar hun’ which can be assessed at

Kaifi Azmi
Next to Sahir, stood the redoubtable Kaifi Azmi. At the tender age of eleven, Azmi wrote his first ghazal `Itna toh zindagi mein kisi ki khalal pade’  - google this one, and be amazed at his precocious and prodigious talent. Kaifi, like most of his peers, was an out and out Marxist, and part of the Progressive Writers Movement.

Kaifi’s angst for the downtrodden and the underprivileged comes through in seminal works like `Aurat’, and `Daaera’. His response to the Babri masjid demolition of 6 Dec 1992 in a poem called `Doosra Banwas’ (Second Exile), where he likens the incident to Ram being sent on a second banwas, was heart wrenching!  

He wrote the entire dialogue of Chetan Anand’s `Heer Ranjha’ in verse! And who could match his minimalistic use of language and his imagery! Just check the line `Mile na phool toh kaanton se dosti kar li’, and the sheer simplicity leaves you speechless!

Majrooh Sultanpuri, though not in the same league as Sahir and Kaifi, will forever remain immortal for his sher

Main akela hi chala tha janib-e-manzil magar,
Log saath aate gaye aur carvan banta gaya!.

In films too, he left his mark. Note the manner in which he pleads `guilty’ to placing faith above all else, to being a lover to the end, with lines like

Majrooh, likh rahe hain woh ahl-e-wafa ka naam
Hum bhi khade huye hain, gunahgaar ki tarah..

Shakeel Badayuni was, of course, immortalised in the Begum Akhtar gem `Ae mohabat tere anjaam pe rona aaya’, but his long association with Naushad in Hindi films is what he will be most remembered for. The quintessential `muslim socials’ and historicals were their forte, and one cannot really separate the angst of the ethereal Madhubala’s `Mohabat ki jhooti kahani pe royein’ or `Bekas pe karam kijiye’ in Lata’s dulcet vocals from Shakeel’s lyrics. 

And don’t forget, the most famous bhajan in Hindustani cinema, `Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj’, penned by Shakeel, set to music by Naushad and sung by Rafi – all three devout Muslims, is still a mirror to India’s multi religious and multicultural milieu.

And then there were others. Jan Nissar Akhtar (Ae dil-e-nadaan), Raja Mehdi Ali Khan (Lag ja gale), Makhdoom Moheyudin (Ek chameli ke mandwe thale) and Shahryar (Seene mein jalan), among others. Each embellished Hindi/Urdu cinema with gems that will far outlive them.

Besides Urdu, there were some great Hindi poets as well. The freedom struggle had produced its share of soul stirring poetry in the form of Ram Prasad Bismil (Sarfaroshi ki tamanna), Makhanlal Chaturvedi (Pushp ki abhilasha) and Subhadra Kumari Chouhan (Khoob ladi mardani).

Kavi Pradeep (Dekh tere sansar ki haalat) had written some patriotic stuff for low budget films like `Jagruti’ (Aao bachchon tumhe dikhayein), but became a household name when Lata reduced Nehru to tears with her rendering of  `Ae mere watan ke logon’ immediately after the China debacle in 1962.

Among the Hindi poets of the era, the foremost, of course, was Shailendra. His contribution to Raj Kapoor’s musicals is legendary, as was his combination with Dada Burman in `Guide’. The soulful `Din dhal jaye, raat na jaye’ still evokes the sort of romance that seems to have forever gone with the wind.

Shailendra picked up fellow poet and revolutionary Phaniswar Nath Renu’s short story `Maare Gaye Gulfaam’, and transformed it into what can be best described as poetry in celluloid in his film `Teesri Kasam’. But sadly, the film bombed at the box office, leading to Shailendra’s untimely demise.

Another titan of that era, who thankfully is still among us, is Gopal Das Saxena, better known as Neeraj. If Neeraj wrote nothing other than `Karvaan guzar gaya’, he would still be immortal in my book. I had the good fortune of meeting him, and told him as much. The heart wrenching line `Chah toh nikal saki na, par umar nikal gayi’ is pretty much the story of my life, and still makes me dewy eyed!

He recited all 84 verses of `Palki bahaar ki’ that day (only 4 feature in the song from the eminently forgettable film `Cha cha cha’), and had all of us spellbound. Note..

Guzar rahi hai tum pe kya, bana ke hum ko dar-ba-dar
Yeh soch kar udhas hun, yeh soch kar hai chasm tar
Kahani kis se yeh kahein, chadavh ki, utaar ki
Luti jahan pe bewajah, palki bahaar ki..

The titans of that era, the giants have long gone, and been replaced by pygmies. Poetry has given way to crass bump-and-grind numbers invoking, God help us, Zandu balm and Fevicol. The rap generation, and `singers’ like Honey Singh have rendered lyrics absolutely redundant.

Note that I call them `lyrics’ – for to use the word `poetry’ would be blasphemous!

Luckily, I have my iPod, and for a while, when I plug it in, time seems to stand still. Sanity returns, and the bliss of that era washes over me. God returns to Heaven, and all is once more well with the earth..