Best known for his politically charged poetry about the rising tide of communalism and growing turpitude in public life, Rahat Indori’s last verses concerned life and death. It was fitting, and also quite natural, because Indori always lived in the moment. His latest work reflected the grim reality of a pandemic sweeping the world, forcing the human race, which suffers from the delusion that it is the master of nature, to ponder its own mortality.
Not long ago, Indori had been the man of the moment as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act ignited across the country and his poem Agar khilaf hai was recited in rallies, especially the line: “Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai” (India is not anyone’s father’s property). His verse connected viscerally with millions because he had abandoned formalisms rendered obscure by the passage of time, and preferred a simple diction which blended Hindi and Urdu, the spoken language of the common people of north India.
An accessible modernism and a determination to hold up a mirror to a nation in the throes of moral decay and ambiguity made Indori the rock star of mushairas. Along with peers like Basheer Badr, he was part of a new generation of poets who spoke directly to the heart, addressing potentates and paupers in the same register. His style recalls the Pakistani poet Nasir Kazmi’s terrifying simplicity as he describes (it is widely believed) the night of Partition: “Main hun, raat ka ek baja hai/ Khali rasta bol raha hai/ Aaj to yun khamosh hai duniya/ Jaise kuchh hone wala hai…” (It’s me, it’s one o’clock at night/ Only the empty road speaks/ And the world is so calm tonight/ That something must happen…). Indori was part of an old tradition of modernity, which will always be with us.