Remembering Rahat Indori: The Poet Who Touched Many Hearts in Kashmir

Poet Rahat Indori

As tributes have been pouring in from all over the world for the celebrity couplet-maker of India, many Kashmiris are hailing him for touching their hearts amidst their dogged distraught state. But the wordsmith of ‘Mission Kashmir’ fame was more than just a distant poet luring the valley with his verses.  

ABOUT seven to eight years ago, in an exclusive mushaira (poetry symposium) arranged by the Cultural Forum in Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC), Rahat Indori’s sharp tongue had aroused resentment in the audience that had just been wooed by his wit and charm a few minutes ago.

Kashimiriyoon ko apni soch mein tabdeeli laani hogi” (Kashmiri will need to modify and change their way of thinking), the timeless Indian poet had said while touching upon the contentious topic of the conflict in the Valley.

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, who had been a participant at the symposium, remembered the audience’s murmurs of discomfort. “People were disappointed at the frivolous statement the man had made,” the valley’s prominent poet-historian told Kashmir Observer. “No Kashmiri acquiesced to what Indori had said and some asserted in protest that the establishment needs to be civil for the people to accept it.”

Quickly realising his misspoken mistake, the poet had apologised with a clarification. “I was trying to put forward my point of view, but you’re Kashmiris and the real prey of the system. You know better,” Zareef recollects Indori’s response to the live listeners he had upset.

However, continuing in a voice powered by grittiness, astuteness, and enveloped in warmth, poet Indori had later kept inspiring awe from his audience at SKICC.

“That day,” Zareef says, “the poet proved that he knew a lot about Kashmir and its history.”

As per his memory of the mushaira, Rahat Indori had said: “Development and progress has only taken place by the virtue of love and passion. Force and oppression has never achieved anything but aggravated the pain of people. If Kashmiris are given their basic rights and due justice, why would they have a problem with India? Didn’t they join hands after the Partition, with India? But when Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was jailed in 1953, they began to hate the political establishment in the mainland.”

“There’re no two ways about that he was an intellectual for India,” Zareef says.

The same witty man who once drew and handled the ‘militant mood’ in Kashmir breathed his last on August 11, hours after he tweeted about his COVID-19 positive status.

The 70-year-old ‘people’s poet’ had been admitted to Sri Aurobindo Institute of Medical Sciences, Indore, where he passed away after suffering from a cardiac arrest.

The man had had a stunning 50-year poetic career, and was one of the biggest mushaira stars in the subcontinent. Indori’s words had always tickled the conscience and pushed for self-introspection. He had been undoubtedly one of the most loved and popular contemporary Urdu poets in India.

Zulfon ki shayari (poetry of romanticism and beauty) was not really his style,” Zareef continues. “His pen always flowed with words reflecting the societal realities of his time. He was ‘waqt shenaaz’, a ‘mushaira shayaar’, a ‘maqbool’.”

The late lyricist would perform as if he controlled his audience and he really did, Zareef says. “He belonged to the rare tribe of poets who could churn heart-searching poetry by gauging the vibe of the audience. The old and young, the happy and grumpy, everyone resonated with his shayari. Even if he has passed away, he is immortal. Artists like him will always be immortal.”

In recent times, college activists and anti-CAA protestors had used two lines from his poem titled ‘Agar khilaf hai, hone do’ as a headliner to their ideology of resistance.

Sabhi ka khoon shaamil hai yahan ki mitti mein, kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai” (Everyone’s blood is mingled in this earth. Hindustan is no one’s ancestral property) – were the lines from the poem that decorated posters and banners in the protests that shook India in the months of November and December last year.

Indori had claimed to have written this poem around 35 years ago. “I don’t remember the exact year or the context in which it was written,” he said in an interview. “I’ve recited this ghazal at many mushairas and had even forgotten about it, but I don’t know what has happened in the last three to four years that like a crop, these words have risen again.” He had also reportedly said that he hadn’t written this poem ‘as a Muslim’.

Indori had also made a powerful display of his understanding of the Kashmir conflict in the poster-world of Bollywood. Through his poetic lyrics for Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir (2000), he had touched a chord with many Kashmiris who identified with his rhymes.

He had also penned down the words for the movie’s chart-busting ‘Bumbro Bumbro’ song, which was inspired from prominent Kashmiri poet Dina Nath Nadim’s iconic original poem of the same name.

His lyrical poem ‘Dhuan Dhuan’, which was also used in Chopra’s movie, received praise for being sensitive to the Kashmir conflict. 

Speaking about how Kashmiris identified with Indori’s words, Kashmiri journalist and poet, Rashid Maqbool, says, “The man was someone who we can call an awaami shaayar (people’s poet). He had a special style of rendition, choice of words, expressions, and selection of topics. He was fearless and engaging. He would not just perform his poems but bring them alive.”

A painter-turned-professor-turned-poet, Indori was known for his sharp-witted one-liners on live stage performances. Before his talent was spotted by the Mumbai film industry, he was a pedagogist of Urdu literature at the Indore University.

Shaakhon se toot jaye, woh pattey nahi hai hum, aandhi se koi keh de, ki aukaat mein rahe

(We aren’t the leaves that break away from its branches. Tell the storm to mind itself)

In 2015, during the “award wapsi” movement that took shape in the backdrop of the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, poet Indori had extended his support by saying, “If I had some government award, I would have returned it in protest.”

His unique punchlines, delivered with his trademark expressions, were also very popular with Tik-Tok users and those who did not even understand Urdu poetry.

Earlier this year, when the Chinese video-making application was functional in India, his poem “Bulati hai magar jane ka nahi” went viral on social media, making him an almost-cult figure among young Urdu/Hindi-speaking people in the subcontinent.

People began using a few lines from the poem for making memes and it continued to trend on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok.

“Late Rahat Indoriji will be remembered for his free, fair and fearless poetic expressions,” Ghulam Nabi Azad, seasoned congressman from J&K, said.

Due to his viral inquilabi poetry and online mushiaras, countless souls were actually attached to the late poet, Rashid Maqbool says.

“Poet Indori never took a pro-establishment stand,” Maqbool says. “He was always on the other side of the line. Thus, whenever he would talk about honour, self-respect and stubbornness against the elite, it would touch the hearts of Kashmiris. We could always identify with his poetry.”

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