Bashir Badr—a poet who once lost everything to communal fire, except faith in humanity
Saturday, 15 February 2020, marks the 85th birth anniversary of Dr Bashir Badr. Sadly, the Sovereign Sultan of modern Urdu ghazals, is now battling dementia.
The fire of riots reduced his home in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, to ashes. Communal goons looted the house before setting it ablaze. And thus, the poet lost everything—including his unpublished work—to those flames. However, he retained his faith in humanity.
For a long time, Dr Bashir Badr remained in seclusion. The sense of dejection was so deep rooted that he even gave up writing poetry. Many years later, at the insistence of his well-wishers, he moved to Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. It was in the city of lakes where the poet of hearts and rainbow flowers—whose couplets are often quoted by political leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, and others inside the Parliament and outside—met Dr Rahat, his life companion.
Sporting a child-like smile, the poet declared that “God has gifted me the city of ghazals, I dedicate this ‘Sultanate’ to the name of love”. The gentle fragrance of his poetry rose like a phoenix from the ashes of pessimism. And this is how he acquainted us with his philosophy of optimism and persistence: “One who hasn’t burnt like an oil lamp, he stands no chance to bloom like a rose, in life.”
Ghazal, a format of Urdu poetry, chose him as her poet and not the other way round, he remarked. The poet dared to stray from the beaten tracks and refrained from using customary craft in his poetry. With an enviable euphemistic simplicity and uniquely fresh imagery and metaphors, he demonstrated how the stories of complex human emotions can be narrated most effectively in just two lines.
An alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, where he also taught for a few years, Badr even made his complaints known to the world — but without any bitterness. Instead of holding human hands responsible for stoking communal fires, he politely addressed basic human nature. The following couplets show how poignancy can be the most powerful medium to make the strongest statements:
Log Toot Jaate Hain Ek Ghar Banane Mein,
Tum Taras Nahi Khaate Bastiyan Jalane Mein!
(People go broke while getting one’s home constructed,
You don’t feel any qualms before setting ablaze the localities)
Gar Ijaazat Ho To Ik Jhoot Bolun,
Mujhe Dunia Se Nafrat Ho Gai Hai
(If you permit me, may I speak a lie?
I’ve begun to hate this world)
Sach, Siyasat Se Adalat Tak Bohot Masroof Hai,
Jhoot Bolo, Jhooth Mein Ab Bhi Mohobbat Hai Bohot!
(Truth is too occupied from politics to judiciary,
Speak lies, for lies still exude so much love)
Film maker and music composer, Vishal Bhardwaj, recalled at Jashn-e-Rekhta last year that he was a college student at the time of the Meerut riots. When he found out that “Badr Sahab” was very upset after losing his unpublished poems, he said, “I wrote down ninety per cent of those ghazals and gave them back to him… I was privileged to have access to his home. As a matter of routine, he would recite his poems to me. Therefore, his poetry was preserved in my memory.”
Interestingly, all those famous couplets recited by the characters in Bhardwaj’s movie ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ have been taken from the ghazals written by Badr.
Many years ago, Badr said in a television interview, “Behind the simple and arithmetic reality that the newspapers tell you, life stands far more complex, beautiful and real.” He felt the impact of life beyond headlines in the most innocent way, and then expressed every experience with the same purity.
“Poetry”, Dr Badr said, “is that voice of the universe that speaks through your heart”. For poets, he had this to say: “While writing, a true poet should cast himself in a character of the situation to portray the emotions like a painter or any other artist.”
Kabhi Dhoop Hoon Kabhi Dhool Hoon,
Kabhi Saat Rangon Ka Phool Hoon
Main Tamaam Kapday Badal Chukka,
Tere Mausamon Ki Baraat Mein!
(At times sunshine, at times dust I am
At times a rainbow flower I am
I’ve donned all kinds of clothes,
To attend the ceremonies of Your seasons)
Ham Bhi Dariya Hain Hamein Apanaa Hunar Maaluum Hai,
Jis Taraf Bhi Chal Padainge Raasta Ho Jaayegaa!
(I am also a river, I am well aware of my brilliance,
(Whichever direction I take, a thoroughfare will begin to follow me)
Pyaar Se, Dosti Se, Wafa Se Chot Lagti Hai,
Bikharta Hua Phool Hoon, Mujhko Hava Se Chot Lagti Hai
(Love, friendship, loyalty, hurt me
I am a withering flower, I get hurt by the wind)
Udasi Aasman Hai Dil Mera Kitna Akela Hai,
Parinda Sham Ke Pul Par Bahut Khamosh Baitha Hai
(Under the gloomy sky, how lonely is my heart,
Like a forlorn bird sitting on a dusky bridge all alone)
“Literature is a flow of expression from difficult to simple. It’s a simple proposition, easy to prove, easy to refute,” Basant Pratap Singh observed in his editorial remarks as the introduction to Culture Yaksan (Vani Prakashan, Delhi, 2002), a Devanagri anthology of Bashir Badr’s poetry. “This rings true when it comes to Bashir Badr, a poet who has expressed our time and his milieu as intimately and beautifully as Ghalib did.”
Khuda Hum Ko Aisi Khudai Na De,
Ki Apne Siva Kuch Dikhai Na De!
(May the lord not endow me with such an authority,
That beyond myself, I stop seeing anything else)
Hanso Aaj Itna Kay Iss Shor Mein,
Sada Siskion Ki Sunaai Na De
(Today, laugh to the extent where your noise
Doesn’t let you hear the sound of the sobs)
Remarkably, in his poetry, even when he spoke about arrogance, the turn of phrase invariably made even humility look quite humble in front of it. Sample the following verses:
Main Jis Ki Aankh Ka Aansu Tha Us Ne Qadr Na Ki,
Bikhar Gaya Hoon To Ab Ret Se Uthay Mujhe!
That someone, I was a tear in whose eye, didn’t value me,
Now that I’ve scattered, tell her to pick me up from the sand)
Mujhse Bichard Kay Khush Rehtay Ho,
Meri Tarah Tum Bhi Jhootay Ho!
(You’re happy after getting separated from me,
Just like me, you too are a liar)
Meri Shoharat Siyaasat Se Mahafuus Hai,
Ye Tavaayaf Bhi Ismat Bachaa Le Gai!
(My fame is well protected from the politics,
Even this prostitute has got away with its honour intact)
He wrote a couplet on the partition of the subcontinent. Many years later, it was quoted by the then President of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, when he and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed the Shimla Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan in July 1972. The couplet goes like this:
Dushmani Jam Kar Karo Lekin Ye Gunjaish Rahe,
Jab Kabhi Hum Dost Ho Jaaen To Sharminda Na Hon!
(Keep pursuing bitter enmity but let there be a little scope,
That when we become friends, we must not feel ashamed).
On another occasion and in an unrelated context, he had stated in an interview, “Even the experience of beautiful things in life, at times, feels bitter if not ugly.”
Chaandni Raat Hai, Ghar Dhoop Ka Ghar Lagta Hai,
Dil Mera Aag Me Jalta Hua Par Lagta Hai
(It’s a moonlit night, my home looks like sunshine’s home
My heart feels like a feather set on fire)
Main Chup Tha To Chalti Hava Ruk Gai,
Zuban Sab Samajhte Hain Jazbaat Ki!
(When I fell silent, the wind came to a standstill,
Everyone understands the language of emotions)
His son, Nusrat Badr — who has written melodious songs for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films like Devdas and Sanwariya — passed away last month in Mumbai. He would share an anecdote, narrating how legendary actor Dilip Kumar reacted when asked for an autograph. After Kumar came to know that he was the son of Bashir Badr, according to him, Kumar scribbled a signature couplet of Bashir Badr in his notebook:
Ujaalay Apni Yaadon Kay Hamaray Saath Rahnay Do,
Na Jaanay Kis Gali Mein Zindagi Ki Shaam Ho Jaay!
(Let the glow of your memories stay with me,
Who knows in which street the dusk of life shall set in)
In February 2018, Bashir Badr was seen for the last time on NDTV. Despite the best efforts of his family members and the journalist, he was unable to recall even his most famous verses, showing all signs of complete memory loss. He is said to be battling dementia. Whatever he wrote in his lifetime, love for humankind remained a key driver in his poetic journey. His following couplet looks more relevant than ever:
Saat Sandooqon Mein Bhar Kar Dafn Kar Do Nafratein,
Aaj Insaan Ko Mohabbat Ki Zaroorat Hai Bahut
(Fill seven boxes with all the hatred and give them a burial,
Today, it’s love that’s needed the most for the humankind)