Oh to be in England, now that spring is here!
Oh to be in England, drinking English beer!
Thus went the Ceylon-born singer Bill Forbes in his 1950s hit.
But why just in spring, England has so much to offer us around the year. For some of us, it’s also the autumn that attracts, especially if we prefer poetry to beer; it’s in that season the UK’s annual National Poetry Day happens. This year’s event will take place in a few days from now, on 4th October 2018. The event is nationwide—in colleges and schools, on billboards, trains, buses and boats, on radio and television—and it uses the soft power of poetry to get people on the same page. It’s free for individuals as well as corporates. You can read or sing or dance to poetry, do a play based on poems or offer a seminar on the subject. You can post your essay on the social networks on just about anything to do with poetry. The limit of what you put out is your imagination. You can even charge for the performance.
The organisers also keep changing the themes every time so that there’s always something different to look forward to each year. In 2017, the theme was Freedom, while this year it is Change.
The importance Britain gives to poetry makes one think about us here in India. Before management and spiritual gurus took charge of our reading preferences, and before academia downgraded poetry as something that has no practical value, poets had some worth in our society too. Amir Khusro, Kabir, Surdas, Kalidas, Meerabai, Ghalib, Rabindranath Tagore, Maithili Sharan Gupt, Sarojini Naidu, Amrita Pritam, these and many more made valuable contributions in shaping the lives of millions of people through their poetic expression. Some of these made an impression on Pakistani minds after India was partitioned, just as Pakistani greats like Dr Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Faraz impacted us here. Ignoring for now the tiny difference between poetry and lyrics (essentially that the former usually stands alone, without any musical backing), Hindi cinema has thrown up a slew of greats too, many of who worked in and out of cinema. Shakeel Badayuni, Narendra Sharma, Rajinder Krishan, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi, Pradeep, Kaifi Azmi and Hasrat Jaipuri are among many that have made a lasting impression on the thought patterns of generations of Indians, which is why the poetry from such writers remains eminently quotable.
But why just poets writing in cinema, several film stories even featured the hero as a poet. How much more honour could Hindi cinema have offered? As the poet Sohail, KL Saigal was the hero of Shah Jahan (1946), never mind what the title was saying. Dev Anand was playing a poet in Shayar (1949). Bharat Bhushan essayed the eponymous role in Mirza Ghalib (1954), and it was Bharat Bhushan again as a bard in Barsaat Ki Raat (1960). The film Lal Qila (1960) was about the Poet-Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar; M Kumar as Zafar was seen singing his work in the narrative. A few years later it was Sunil Dutt’s time to become a poet in Ghazal (1964). In the ‘70s all that respect went for a toss. It is at this time that film poetry too began a discernable decline in quality.
It is this decline in literary standards, particularly in poetry, that Dilip Kumar was ruing when he was asked his thoughts about the state of Hindi cinema, after he received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.
But about that day-long festival in Britain. What a treat it would be if say Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi or Irshad Kamil—any one of them—curated a Hindi-Urdu poetry program entitled Dil Aaj Shaayar Hai in Wembley Stadium. They could read out change-centric excerpts from their own poems as well as of others. And say if Nayyara Noor of Pakistan could sing out those excerpts one by one. Nayyara has also recorded many Hindi film songs, and she could sing Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya which speaks about changing to adjust with every situation in life. Through this ultimate ghazal, Sahir was being the change he wanted to see. Our poet would explain that badli means change, as in Badli hai zamaane ki nazar dekhiye kya ho (Lata/Anand Bakshi/Kalyanji-Anandji/Majboor, 1964), but it also means a cloud, as in Badli se nikla hai chaand pardesi saiyaan (Lata/Rajinder Krishan/Madan Mohan/Sanjog, 1961). The stadium would erupt in joy at such an event.
So while some Indians or Pakistanis would go to Hyde Park to hear a Robert Browning poem, many more would land up to hear about our own culture, from our own poet and singer. If anything can bring us together, it is culture. Not sports. Cricket and hockey matches between the two nations have become proxy wars, since their essence has become combative. They highlight tensions, which cannot be celebrated.
Since most of us cannot be in England for that poetry event, let’s salute it from here and consider the following songs now, all talking about change in a direct way. See too how, even just reading about them creates good vibrations.
- Duniya badal gayi meri duniya badal gayi (Shamshad, Talat/Babul, 1950)
- Qismat bigdi duniya badli (Mukesh/Afsana, 1951)
- Duniya badal rahi hai aansoo bahaane waale (Lata/Baadal, 1951)
- Badli teri nazar to nazaare badal gaye (Lata/Badi Bahu, 1951)
- Zindagi badli muhabbat ka maza aane laga (Rajkumari, Lata/Anhoni, 1952)
- Dekh tere sansaar ki haalat kya ho gayi Bhagwan, kitna badal gaya insaan (Pradeep/Nastik, 1954)
- Hazaaron rang badlega zamaana (Rafi/Shirin Farhad, 1956)
- Aankh badal kar kyoon chalta hai (Manna/Abhimaan, 1957)
- Badal jaaye duniya na badlenge hum (Talat/Captain Kishore, 1957)
- Aaha badla zamaana (Rafi/Miss India, 1957)
- Sur badle kaise kaise dekho qismat ki shehnai (Rafi/Barkha, 1959)
- Din raat badalte hai, haalaat badalte hain (Hemant/Naya Sansar, 1959)
- Badla saara zamaana babu (Asha, Rafi/Paigham, 1959)
- Badle badle mere sarkaar nazar aate hain (Lata/Chaudhvin Ka Chaand, 1960)
- Badli badli duniya hai meri (Mahendra, Lata/Sangeet Samrat Tansen, 1962)
- Is rang badalti duniya mein insaan ki neeyat theek naheen (Rafi/Rajkumar, 1964)
- Badal jaaye agar maali chaman hota naheen khaali (Mahendra/Bahaaren Phir Bhi Ayengi, 1966)
- Karwaten badalte rahe saari raat hum (Lata, Kishore/Aap Ki Kasam, 1974)
All those were about change, which is sometimes good for us all, even if not all change is advisable. In fact, in matters of love, not-changing is a high virtue. One of the most beautiful uses of the idea of not-changing was presented by SH Bihari for Mohammad Rafi in a duet with Asha Bhosle in Ek Musafir Ek Hasina (1962), which featured OP Nayyar’s tunes.
In the song, Sadhana was asking Joy Mukherji to prove how he loved her:
Tumhen muhabbat hai humne maana
Batao iska suboot kya hai
To which came the besotted man’s response of constancy:
Humen to saaqi se waasta hai, suraahi badle ya jaam badle
Tere deewaane kabhi na badlenge chaahe saara nizaam badle
Tere hi qadmon mein jaan denge, ye dil tujhe jab ke de diya hai
The above is an excellent way to show commitment—the opposite of change in love—which is when love’s yin and yang become valid. That’s why such art needs curating.
Oh, by the way, I forgot. In some places during the National Poetry Day in England, you can even have that English beer, never mind if it’s autumn.
Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 30th September 2018, page 13 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-09-30
Featured image: from Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya