One problem a layman has with appreciating Urdu poetry is that their vocabulary may not encompass its ornate richness drawn from a variety of languages. Many gems are thus fated to remain mysterious to them unless decoded – and like jokes, poetry needing to be explained tends to lose its effect. But there is also the kind its creators wanted to be intelligible to a wider section – like by this poet who not only wrote in simple Urdu but also pioneered his craft’s enduring tryst with the Hindi film industry.
Much before the likes of Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi or Shakeel Badayuni arrived, he was responsible for crafting lyrics for the earliest superstars – K.L. Saigal (“Karun kya aas niras bhayi”; “Dushman”, 1939) and Kanan Devi (“Lachhami murat daras dikhaaye”; “Street Singer”, 1938) as well as some of the earliest featuring emerging stars like Madhubala (“Aayi Bhor Suhani”; “Beqasoor”, 1950), and more.
Among the first mainstream poets to write lyrics for the fledgling film industry – beginning with Calcutta’s New Theatres in the 1930s before shifting to Bombay in 1942, Syed Anwar Hussain ‘Arzoo Lakhnavi’ (1873-1951) was an outstanding representative of ‘Dabistan-e-Lakhnau’ or the Lucknow School of Urdu poetry. However while retaining the tradition’s motifs and focus, he chose a straighter style over its intricate flourishes, and use only Urdu without recourse to Arabic or Persian – despite his considerable knowledge of both.
With both father Mir Zakir Hussain ‘Yas’ and elder brother Mir Yusuf Hussain ‘Qayas’ poets, Arzoo had his path set out for him and took to it with gusto. Like his father, he was a ‘shagird’ of Syed Zaman Ali ‘Jalal Lakhnavi’ (1831-1909) but went much further, guiding the other disciples during his mentor’s lifetime and becoming their ‘ustad’ after his death.
In his poetry, Arzoo acknowledged his work was reminiscent of Mir and Ghalib but also his desire of being different from them, or his contemporaries like Dagh Dehlvi and others. And as his work shows, he did succeed in stiking his own distinctive course – take the opening lines of his collection “Sureeli Bansuri” which are one of his most famous couplets: “Jis ne banayi bansuri, geet usi ke gaaye jaa/Saans jab tak aaye jaaye, ek hi dhun bajaaye jaa”.
Even when dealing with beauty, love and courtship – a staple though not the sole focus of the Lucknow School or the whole tradition itself, he could be different: “Dafattan tarq-e-taaluq mein bhi rusvaai hai/Uljhe daman ko churhate nahi jhatka de kar”, or, “Kis ne bheegi huye baalon se jhatka pani/Jhoom ke aayi ghata, toot ke barsa paani” or even “Allah Allah husn ke ye parda-daari dekhiye/Bhed jis ne kholna chaha voh deewana huya”.
Arzoo too could create some unique imagery in those familiar settings, be it the tavern: “Haath se kisi ne saghir patka mausam ki be-kaifi par/Toot ke itna barsa badal dhoob chala maikhana bhi” or the mehfil: “Awwal-e-shab voh bazm ki raunaq shama bhi parvana bhi/Raat ke akhi hote hote khatam tha yeh afsana bhi”.
But it was not these pleasant diversions only and he, like Mir, could touch a note of melancholy and loneliness too: “Dil hai voh ujdaa huya ghar bujh chuka jis ka chiragh/Aankhen kuch dekhen to batlayen ke kya kya lut gaya” or “Jab koyal kook sunaati hai to pati pati lahrati hai/Ham kisi se kahen aur kaun sune, hamdard hamara koi nahi”.
This could also extend to a sort of hopelessness towards life and its purpose: “Hamari zindagi to ek guzar gah havadis hai/Ajab hai shamaa ka aandhi ke jhonkon main basar karna” or: “Har gul ko is chaman mein kya zarq barq paya/Dekha to ek jana sungha to farq paya” and “Koi hasrat mein dil ka sarmaya/Kuch kahi kuch kahi padha paya” or even maybe: “Hasti ki haqeeqat ko gar bad fanaa jaana/Ab soche to kya soche ab jaana to kya jaana”.
There is all this and much more in the 25,000 ghazals attributed to him and collected in seven ‘divans’ of which the one cited above as well as “Fughan-e-Arzoo” and “Jaan-e-Arzoo” are the most known.
In his film career, he was as versatile. If in Saigal’s “Street Singer”, he could pen “Jeevan been madhur na baaje jhoote padh gaye taar/Bigde kaath se kaam bane kya megh baje na malhaar”, he could also compose ghazal “Sukoon dil ko mayassar gul-o-samar mein nahi/Jo aashiyaan mein hai apne vah bagh bhar men nahi”.
Conferred the title of ‘Allama’ – restricted to less than half-a-dozen literary giants, Arzoo and his poetry epitomise the Indian ethos – and deserves we continue to give him his due.
(27.03.2016 – Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])