“Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai”.
It was a sentiment felt over three decades ago, a line spoken in another time. Today, with its resonant thunder, the line has become a rallying call, most recently on posters held aloft by those protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and a pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC). Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra quoted it in Parliament this June, actor Amala Paul and filmmaker Ashiq Abu shared a Malayalam translation of it on a poster they put up on Instagram, and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut tweeted it. But even before it became a pushback line, it has been something of a mushaira showstopper over the last few years.
Hundreds of miles from the national capital, the seat of the churn over the citizenship issue, its poet Rahat Indori sits in the Madhya Pradesh town that has lent him his name, marvelling yet again at the distance his ghazal ‘Agar khilaaf hain hone do”, from which this line is taken, has travelled. “I wrote this ghazal some 30-35 years ago, though I don’t remember the exact year or the context in which it was written. I have recited this ghazal at many mushaiaras and had even forgotten about it, but I don’t know what’s happened in the last three to four years that like a crop rises again, these words have risen again. Now, wherever I go, people request me to recite this but it’s unfortunate that it’s often taken as a sher by a Muslim. Yeh kisi ek mazhab ka sher nahi hai (these lines are not for any particular religion). They are for everyone. I wrote this sher as an Urdu poet and as a citizen of India. This country is not the property of any particular individual, party or religion. As the ghazal says, sabhi ka khoon hai shaamil yahan ki mitti mein/ kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai (this land has seen sacrifices from everyone/ Hindustan is not anyone’s property). But I am happy that people are using it to raise their demands; that they are using it to add weight to their voice; that it’s being used as a call for peace in the country,” says Indori, who has a doctorate in Urdu literature and taught at Indore’s Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya for many years.
“I was born in azaad (free) Hindustan, I live in an India of my forefathers’ description, and I pray that I continue to live in an India that was the dream of our forefathers,” says the 69-year-old. “Through my career, whenever things were not fine in the country, I have written in the hope that they will turn around. Even today, I will reiterate, ‘Na Hindu kahin ke hain, na Musalman kahin ke hain, donon yaheen rahenge, yeh donon yaheen ke hain’ (It’s not that the Hindu belongs to a particular place or the Muslim. They both belong to this land),” says Indori, who has also penned the lyrics for over 40 films, including Mahesh Bhatt’s Sir (1993), Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir (2000) and Rajkumar Hirani’s Munnabhai MBBS (2003). He began his innings in Mumbai by first teaming up with T-Series’ Gulshan Kumar.
A poet who gets the crowds on his feet at mushairas across the country and abroad with his distinct style of delivery, Indori’s often deceptively simple words give a hard-hitting message, with the political informing the lyrical. “Sarhadon par tanav hai kya/ zara pata toh karo chunav hai kya (Is there tension at the borders/ Just find out if there’s an election around)?” he asks in one.
“It’s sad, no one had never thought that such a divide could be brought in. Today, one may feel that the NRC will only affect Muslims, but tomorrow it will affect others, too. This will never end. Nafrat ki buniyad agar ek baar pad jaati hai, toh aap kaate jayeye, uski fasal ugti jaati hai (If you lay the foundation of hate, you will never be able to weed it out),” says Indori, who was a painter before he became a poet, painting film banners in a city which gave India its leading artist M F Husain, with whom Indori shared a close relationship.
Which is why Indori continues to write. “If I don’t write on what’s happening around us, what will be the difference between me and Nero? There is fire raging through my city, my country and if, at this time, I write about my mehboob’s zulf (beloved’s tresses), I must be either blind or deaf,” he says.
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