The Sher of Sher-o-Shayari (1950-2020)

The story of Rahat Quraishi Indori born on 1 January 1950 has a typical tough-time-to-tinsel-town flavour to it. An accomplished commercial painter of film posters/banners, he earned name as professor, celebrated Urdu poet and a pedagogist of Urdu literature before being spotted by Bollywood and Urdu poetry connoisseurs.

Rahat actively performed in mushairas and kavi sammelans in the last four decades. Recipient of number of national and international awards for Urdu sher-o-shayari, his poetry was simple, lucid and very evocative. The fourth child of a mill-hand was raised in poverty. At 10, he was forced to eke out livelihood as sign-painter. Though sharp in studies and sports, he was not sure what to do after graduation in 1973 and spent 10 confused years. Egged on by friends he pursued his post-graduation in Urdu Literature from Barkatullah University and passed out with a Gold Medal in 1975.

In 1985 he was awarded a PhD in Urdu literature from Bhoj University, MP for his thesis Urdu Main Mushaira. He later taught Urdu literature at Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya, Indore, for 16 years and was guide to students who did doctorates. His first collection of poetry Dhoop Bahut Hai in 1979, followed by Rut in 1983, Mere Baad in 1990, Panchavan Darvesh in 1992 and Kun fa Yakun in 2002 and others became popular. He also wrote lyrics for more than 11 films including ‘M bole to’ for Munna Bhai MBBS, and Neend Churayee Meri for the film Ishq. 

Although a hit in mushairas, he remained un-acclaimed because he was neither beholden to an ideological camp nor part of any literary lobby. Indori struck chords by speaking about problems of life, political and social conditions and the hardships of the common man. Uncomplicated and bereft of mystery, his poetry could find an equation with masses. He was a people’s poet to be experienced in poetic soirees that could hook audience by sheer delivery. Laced with pointed protests, people resonated with his ideas. As one of midnight’s children, one of his following verses summed up the feelings of those who migrated to Pakistan and created stir decades later in Karachi:
Ab ke jo faisla hoga voh sateen par hoga
Hum se ab doosri hijrat nahi hone vali

During the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, these lines from his ghazal, became viral:
Agar khilaaf hain to hone do
Jo aaj sahib-e-masnad hain, kal naheen honge
Kirayedaar hain, zaati makan thodi hai
Sabhi ka khoon hai shaamil yahaan ki mitti mein
Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai

Or the ghazal changing its mood and freeing itself of love and romance:
Bethe hue hain qeemti sofon pe bhediye
Jangal ke log shahr mein abaad ho gaye

By deploying merely four run-of-the-mill words, namely sofas, wolf, jungle and city, Indori succinctly portrayed the class struggle, human exploitation and what he believed were the flaws of capitalism. The ghazal hit the nail on its head. His couplet Bulati hai magar jaane ka nahi became viral and started trending on social media during 2020 Valentines week and started being used as a meme. 

Although gentleman to a fault, his poetic satire also brought him at the receiving end of trolls on social media, one of them was a couplet with political overtones against a former prime minister. Rahat passed away after suffering two cardiac arrests aged at a relatively young age of 70 and earlier testing Covid 19-positive.

So how anticipative was Indori even in death? What seemed to be an innocuous couplet suddenly assumed meaning after his death:
Ye hadasa tho kisi din gujarne wala tha, mai bach bhi jata tho ek roz marne wala tha.

A. Radhakrishnan

A. Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance writer, poet and short story writer.