Subah phir hai wohi maatam dar-o-deewar ke saath
Kitni laashen mere ghar aayengi akhbaar ke saath
(Yet again in the morning there’s mourning in every nook and corner/ How many corpses will come to my house along with the newspaper)
The disconcerting lines, written by Urdu poet Rahat Indori amid the pandemic, were a direct response to what he saw around him, laying bare the cloaked fragility of a system that had once seemed absolute. In times of Covid-19, Indori was documenting a crisis and finding new meanings for life, death and everything in between.
“Ab corona ke zamaane me siyaasi pehlu par kya likhen? Zindagi aur maut par hi likh sakte hain (Now, in times of corona, what political points should I write about? One can only write on life and death),” Indori had said in a recent interview with The Indian Express.
At 5 pm on Tuesday, Indori died due to cardiac arrest at Indore’s Aurobindo Hospital. He was 70.
Indoris son Faisal said the poet was admitted on Monday after he tested positive for coronavirus. He was buried at Chhoti Khajrani graveyard in Indore’s Nanda Nagar.
Indori had announced his Covid positive status at 7.35 am Tuesday. “Dua keejiye ki main jaldi iss beemari ko hara dun (Pray that I defeat the disease soon),” he had tweeted to his 800,000 followers.
Indori was one of the most famous Urdu poets in the country at present. He could fill up auditoriums and deliver rousing poetry in mushairas that people would line up for.
But he could also sell books, which showed his deeper understanding of poetry when read on paper.
Indori belonged to the more modern generation of poets that included Munnawar Rana and Bashir Badr.
“This new generation of poets merged Hindi with Urdu and created a new expression, which was very interesting to read and listen to. The simplicity of language played a significant role in Indori’s success,” said Indori’s senior, playwright and screenwriter Javed Siddiqui, 78, known for writing films like Shatranj ke Khiladi, Umrao Jaan, Baazigar and Darr apart from the play Tumhari Amrita.
“Wo toh lootera tha mushairon ka,” poet and director Gulzar told PTI. “It’s as if somebody has left a void in our Urdu mushairas which can never be filled.”
Born as Rahat Qureshi to a cloth mill worker and his wife, Indori did his Master’s in Urdu literature from Barkatullah University followed by a doctorate in the same from Bhoj University, Madhya Pradesh. He changed his name to suit the world of Urdu poetry and mushaira, and to turn it into an ode to the city of Indore, which he called home for 70 years.
Besides being a regular at mushairas and writing poetrybooks such as Rut, Chand Paagal Hai and Dhoop Bahut Hai, Indori wrote songs for films such as Mission Kashmir (2000), Ghatak (1996) and Munnabhai MBBS (2003) among others. In 2019, one of his old poems, Agar khilaf hai hone do, found a new lease of life amid protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The line “Sabhi ka khoon hai shaamil yahan ki mitti mein/ kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai” resonated in many rallies.
Indori was sometimes criticised for his theatrical presentation of his poetry.
“He was a people’s person, always surrounded by fans, signing autographs. It was nice to see an Urdu poet enjoy this level of affection from the audience,” adds Siddiqui. But his sharp poetry on matters of political interest, polarisation and communal issues found attention among his detractors and admirers alike.
He once wrote of death, “Na haar apni, na jeet hogi, magar sikka uchhala ja raha hai… Janaaze par mere likh dena, mohabbat karne wala ja raha hai” (Neither the loss nor the win is mine, But the coin is being tossed… Do write on my bier, that the one who loved is going away).