Mausiqi meri ragon mein
Shayari mere dil mein
Baste hain mere naghme
(Music in my veins/Poetry in my heart/My songs reside/In a ‘wounded’ heart)
— Majrooh Sultanpuri at a mushaira (assembly of poets) at Eidgaah in Bhopal, 1972
The aforementioned quatrain sums up Majrooh Sultanpuri’s long poetic journey that began in 1946 and came to an end with his passing away in 2000. True to his takhallus (pseudonym) Majrooh (literally, ‘a wounded soul’: maj: zakhm/rooh: soul — zakhmi rooh) painlessly ‘wounded’ scores of listeners with his soulful numbers and suave poetry.
As is the tradition of Urdu poetry, Asrar Ul Hassan Khan also wanted to have an ‘Ighaayat’ (nom de guerre; Majrooh preferred the Persian word ‘ighaayat‘ over the Arabic ‘takhallus‘). When he zeroed in on ‘Bismil’ (Persian equivalent of ‘Majrooh’), he realised there were already a bunch of Urdu poets having the same poetic pseudonym, revolutionary poet Ramprasad ‘Bismil’ of Kakori Conspiracy fame being the foremost among them. He, therefore, dropped the name ‘Bismil’ and opted for its Arabic equivalent ‘Majrooh,’ which he would pronounce like an Arab: Ma’aj’rooh! The Persian and Arabic-knowing Majrooh always rued the fact that no one in Bombay could ever pronounce his takhallus in a correct manner. Like all poets, Majrooh had an early heartbreak and he nurtured and nursed it to immortalise through his nom de plume. To quote American poet Allen Ginsberg: “My heart is wounded by a jilt/Who left me without a sense of guilt.” Something like that befell our affable poet-lyricist.
Majrooh was a poet and lyricist. The second role was secondary to his passion for classical poetry. That’s why, he had to be persuaded to write for films by his ustaads, Jigar Muradabadi, Asgar Gaundavi and Naushad Ali. Majrooh once said in an interview, “Main ibtidai taur pe ek shayar hoon, phir ek naghmanigaar.” (I’m predominantly a poet and after that, a lyricist). Somewhere, Majrooh could never come to terms with writing film songs which he considered to be infra-dig till the end. Yet, his somewhat reluctant existence in Bombay produced some of the finest songs ever written, composed and sung.
Can you ever forget Majrooh’s Jab dil hi toot gaya, hum jee ke kya karenge (Kundan Lal Sahgal, Film: Shajahan, Music: Naushad Ali, 1946)? Sahgal sang the swan-song without drinking and it became so popular that he wanted this number to be played at his funeral! It’s still a song worth cherishing and time hasn’t been able to dent its poignancy. This number indeed leaves you ‘painlessly wounded with tears welling in your eyes’.
Mind you, in the 50s and 60s, Majrooh was competing with stalwarts like Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhianavi, Shailendra, Rajendra Krishna, Qamar Jalalabadi, among others. All were equally great. Yet, Majrooh could carve a niche for himself and became extremely popular. Don’t the connoisseurs still hum his number — Jalte hain jiske liye, teri aankho ke diye…(Sujata, S D Burman, Talat Mahmood, 1959, Directed by Bimal Roy)?
First writing with a pencil and after that with a fountain pen, Majrooh’s rough drafts were always written in pencil. “Qalam tabhi haath mein leta hoon, tarteeb se jab alfaaz sajte hain (Majrooh)- ‘I pick up the pen when I’m fully sanguine about the proper arrangement of the words’.” He always believed that “shayari mein intikhaab-e-alfaaz shart-e-awwal hai” (In poetry, the choice of words is the sine qua non). Because of this rare ability, Majrooh could write: “Koi sone ke dil wala koi chaandi ke dil wala.” (Film: Maya, Music: Salil Chaudhury, Singer: M Rafi, 1961). Like a typical Bengali, Salil da couldn’t follow the entire song and he requested Dev Anand, whom it was picturised on, to explain the whole song to him in English. Convinced, he created a tune that’s otherworldly: “Mojru bohut acchha likha, Rofi bohut acchha gaya” (It’s the way Salil da would speak in his typical Bengali style).
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This film has yet another gem of a song but in a lighter vein: Zindagi hai kya sun meri jaan, pyaar bhara dil meethi zabaan. The song has a word ‘ice-cream’ and Salil da as well as Rafi were not very sure of its jazbiyat (proper assimilation) in the song. But Majrooh stuck to retaining ‘ice-cream’ and it was finally sung by Rafi with some degree of apprehension. Even after so many years, you love to listen to this song. Watch it on YouTube. You’ll get to see nubile Tabassum in the frame with her ‘tabassum‘ (smile).
Though Majrooh always preferred to pen solo numbers, a torrent of lovely duets ensued from his formidable quill. Recall, Thahariye hosh mein aa loon toh chale jaiyega (Muhabbat Isko Kahte Hain, Khyyam, 1965) or Ek tera saath humko do jahaan se pyara hai (Film: Vaapas, 1969) or Tere mere milan ki ye raina (Abhimaan, 1973) and many more.
In an interview to Film Division’s Jayanti Rasgotra in 1997, when asked to rate his three best songs, Majrooh listed them: Kahin bekhayal hokar yoon hi chhoo liya kisi ne (Teen Deviyaan, S D Burman, 1965), Raat kali ek khwaab mein aayee aur gale ka haar hui (Buddha mil gaya, 1971, R D Burman) and that immortal Rahein na rahein hum mahka karenge…(Mamta, Roshan, 1966, Lata Mangeshkar), but not necessarily in that order. The cognoscenti of old music will agree with him. Majrooh’s kahin bekhyaal is viewed as Hindi cinema’s first standard ghazal in the sense that he followed the meters of ghazalgoi in toto while penning this pure ghazal based on rare prosody (art of versification) of ghazal writing.
There is also this hugely popular Raat kali ek khwaab mein aayee (Buddha Mil Gaya, R D Burman, Kishore, 1971). Film critic Devyani Chaubal wrote in a film magazine that in the early seventies, every young woman in India wanted her boyfriend to sing this song for her. Filmed on super-cool and uber-suave Delhi-boy Navin Nischal, the song is still a hit with women as well as men.
And will you ever want to forget: Rahein na rahein hum…. Mamta, 1966). The grace and elegance of Suchitra Sen, the magic of Lata’s voice and penmanship of Majrooh made it an immortal number. Do you know, Rafi-Suman Kalyanpur also sang this number and it’s in the movie as well. But this version is hardly played.
Apart from these songs, his pianissimo number, ‘Jaag dil-e-deewana rut jaagi…'(Oonche Log, Chitragupt Srivastav, 1965) still gives goosebumps. It’s based on Mozart’s ‘ Early Day-break.’
Or Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein based on raag Jhinjhoti or Aayee baharon ki shaam, kya jaane…‘ (Vaapas, Laxmikant-Pyarelal) and Jaane waalo, zara mud ke dekho mujhe (Film: Dosti, directed by Satyen Bose, 1964) will remain etched in the collective memory. And how can one skip that amazingly euphonic song: Mujhe dard-e-dil ka pata na tha, mujhe aap kisliye mil gaye.
Though he penned the songs for Hum kisi se kam nahin (1976), QSQT (1989) and a number of forgettable or unforgettable flicks till he breathed his last, he admitted that he lost interest in writing for films after 1975. “Main bas likhta hoon, qalam ka khumaar ja chuka hai (‘I just scribble, the mojo of my pen has vanished’),” he lamented. The man who penned Tukde hain mere dil ke (Mere Sanam, 1965) had to even write Aaj main oopar, aasmaan neeche. Majrooh Sahab, rest assured, you’ll not be remembered for the songs that you penned after 1975. We remember you for the gems that you wrote before that.
Sumit Paul is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and religions.