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Nida Fazli : You are alive in me

A poet whose works blurred the distinction between high and popular literature, and who showed a life-long commitment to nationalism and secular values

A file photo of Nida Fazli. Photo: Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times<br />
A file photo of Nida Fazli. Photo: Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times

Ghar se masjid hai bahut door chalo yun kar lein

Kisi rote huwe bachcche ko hasaayaa jaye

(The mosque is too far from our house

So let us instead make a crying child laugh)

Bold, provocative, refreshingly different and highly individualistic. These are some of the words that come to mind when one looks at the poetic output of Nida Fazli (12 October 1938 to 8 February 2016). In a literary career spanning five decades, Fazli consistently managed to astonish and delight his readers with a new turn of phrase, a new way of looking, a new insight, and proved, time and again, that a poet is not merely one with a happy felicity for producing beautiful words; a poet is a sum of many parts: a conscience-keeper, a mirror to society and a voice of dissent.

Coming in the wake of the progressive writers, who formed a powerful literary grouping known as the Progressive Writers’ Association (Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind) that spoke passionately and eloquently of socially engaged purposive literature, Fazli insisted on ploughing his own furrow. He became a part of the “new wave" that came after the progressive upsurge comprising modernists who not only gave greater importance to the individual than the collective experience but also interpreted the social function of literature differently. Not only did the modernists revolt against the water-tight compartmentalization of ideas, they also rebelled against literary etiquette and ideologies, as well as the ethical, philosophical, religious, social and political conventions. In the 1960s, when modernism was taking root in Urdu literature, Fazli came to be regarded as the nai nasl (new generation); his contemporaries were Shahryar, Zafar Iqbal, Kumar Pashi, Shaz Tamkanat. They were the jadeed parast (lovers of modernity), chafing at the tyranny of form and content.

Moving to Mumbai at an early age and writing songs and dialogue for the Hindi film industry, his poetry blurred the distinction between lyrics and poetry, between “high" and “popular" literature. An eagerly awaited presence at literary gatherings known as mushairas, Fazli could regale audiences with his highly individualistic nazms clothed in an idiom that was always contemporary and realistic. In film lyrics, mushairas as well as the more serious poetry he kept for publication, he had the uncanny ability to touch a chord, to make his joys and sorrows seem like ours; in short, to make common cause with his readers and listeners. Awards and encomiums came in ample measure. There was the Sahitya Akademi Award for his collection Khoya Hua Sa Kuchh in 1998, the Padma Shri in 2013, as well as numerous recognitions from the films and television industry.

Fazli chose to stay back in India when his parents moved to Pakistan; this commitment to nationalism and secular values remained the cornerstone of his life and poetic oeuvre. A visit to Pakistan prompted him to write:

Insaan mein haiwaan yahan bhi wahan bhi

Allah nigehbaan yahan bhi wahan bhi

Khoonkar darindo ke faqat naam alag hain

Shehron mein bayabaan yahan bhi hain, wahan bhi

(The beast within the human is here, as well as there

Allah is the protector here, as well as there

Only the names of blood-thirsty monsters are different

Wastelands within cities exist here, as well as there)

When his father died in Pakistan, Fazli wrote:

Tumhari qabr par jisne tumhara naam likha hai

Woh jhootha hai

Tumhari qabr mein main dafan, tum mujhme zinda ho

Kabhi fursat mile to fateha padhne chale aana

(He who wrote your name on your gravestone

Is a liar

I am buried in your grave, you are alive in me

Whenever you have the time, come and pray at my grave)

And underlying everything was his lifelong commitment to communal harmony:

Koi Hindu, koi Muslim, koi Issai hai

Sabne insaan na hone ki qasam khaayi hai

(Someone is a Hindu, a Muslim, or a Christian

Everyone has vowed not to be a human being)

Rakhshanda Jalil writes on literature, culture and society. She has written Liking Progress, Loving Change: A Literary History Of The Progressive Writers’ Movement in Urdu, among other books.

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