A Wizard of Words

Manideepa Sekhar Sarkar

Uttar Pradesh has always been a land, which has given us numerous talented artists in diverse fields. On 4th January 1925, a gem was born in Puravali near Mahewa of Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. Born as Gopal Das Saxena, he used the pen name Neeraj to write his poetry and other works. His style, although easy to understand, is also compared as one of the most quality works of literature in Hindi. He was awarded the Padmashri in 1991 and subsequently the Padma Bhushan in 2007 for his contribution to Hindi literature in India. Besides writing, he was a professor of Hindi Literature in Dharma Samaj College, Aligarh.

Most of his initial works were incorporated in movie songs and became an instant hit with the people.

It is understood that Neeraj once approached Shankar with three pages of poetry. Shankar didn’t know what to do with it. In those days, composers had established their dominance on lyricists and Shankar was known to be irritable but it didn’t mean he didn’t bow down because the end result of three pages was “Likhe Jo Khat Tujhe”.

Neeraj has emphasised that S.D. Burman did more justice to his craft than Shankar. He refers to the example of ìAe Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chaloî from ìMera Naam Jokerî. He says in an interview that Shankar hadn’t come across such blank verse for a film song before and could not hold it in melody and that he had to step in.

A poet of the masses, Neeraj says his poetry was shaped by his shattered heart, longing and years of anguish. “Mera tan rogi, man bhogi, meri aatma rahi yogi.” It is this paradox that makes his poetry perceptible. It reflects in its wholesome form in “Kal Ka Pahiya” which won him Filmfare award and in popular form in “Bas Yahi Apradh Main Har Baar Karta Hoon, Aadmi Hoon Aadmi Se Pyaar Karta Hoon”.

Producer R. Chandra introduced him to the film industry when he directed “Nayi Umar Ki Nayi Fasal”. The film was inspired by Neeraj’s verse ìKarwaan Guzar Gaya Ghubar Dekhte Raheî. Chandra could not hold up the integrity of this profound verse on the meaning of life and took the words literally. The film was unsuccessful at the box office but the songs are still popular. “Dekhti Hi Raho Aaj Na Darpan Tum Pyaar Ka Ye Mahurut Badal Jayega” talks about the transitory nature of life in the form of a romantic song where the lad is unable to hold on to his hormonal urge. It is this relationship of profound and popular that caught the eye of Dev Anand who was looking for a poet to fill the void created by the death of noted lyricist Shailendra. But writing to a situation and a tune are poles apart and Neeraj discovered it when Dev Anand acquainted him to S.D. Burman for “Prem Pujari”. Neeraj took a leave of six days from Dharam Samaj College in Aligarh where he was teaching Hindi and reached Bombay at the request of Anand.

As Neeraj recounts in the interview to The Hindu, ìHe put me in luxurious hotel in Santa Cruz and paid me Rs.1000 even before signing me. Next day he took me to S.D. Burman, who showed apprehensions about a poet’s ability to write to tunes and a given situation. Dev Anand said that he should not worry. He should give the tune and if Neeraj failed he would remain his guest for six days and enjoy Bombay. Burman da gave me a tune and said the song should start with ‘Rangeela Re’ and it is about a girl who sees her beloved coming to a party with another girl. It should have elements of frustration in love, jealousy and satire. I worked the whole night and came up with “Rangeela Re Tere Rang Main Yun Ranga Hai Mera Mann, Chhaliya Re” Next day he went to Dev Anand’s office and showed what he had written. After reading it, he embraced Neeraj and exclaimed how he could do it in one night. ìHe immediately took me to Burman da’s home and proudly presented me to him and said: See, I told you, Neeraj has done it. When Burman da listened to it he said ‘Dev you go, now we will sit together.’ After he left, Burman da admitted that he gave me this complex situation to make me give up.

Neeraj says his film songs persevered because there is poetry in each one of them. “That is why they have withstood the test of time. My idea of poetry is to convey profound thoughts in simple words. Where is the art in saying difficult things in difficult words?” Neeraj loves to talk about the time he spent in the film industry but wants to highlight that there is more to him than that meets the eye. One of the few Hindi poets who embraced Urdu with an open mind, he wrote expansively for mutual harmony. He breaks into “Ab To Mazhab Bhi Aisa Koi Chalaya Jaye, Jahan Insaan Ko Insaan Banaya Jaye, Aag Behti Hai Ganga Mein Jhelum Mein Bhi, Koi Batlaye Kahan Jake Nahaya Jaye”.

“People talk of my five years in film industry. They tend to forget my 65 years of contribution to literature.” A friend of Osho, he likens himself to the spiritual guru. “Mehmaan chala gaya tab pehchana.” He is peeved by the fact that in both the worlds he was considered an outsider.

Gopaldas Neeraj called himself an unfortunate poet which led to his stopping himself from writing film songs and restricting himself to just writing and getting his poems published. The reason that he gave for this was that at least two or three prominent music directors of the Hindi Film Industry for whom he wrote very successful and popular songs, had expired. He mentioned the death of Jaikishan of the Music Duo Shankar-Jaikishan as well as of Sachin Dev Burman, for both of whom he had penned highly popular film songs. The deaths of these Music Directors when they, along with Gopaldas Neeraj were at the peak of their fame left him very dejected and he made a decision to quit the film industry.

Neeraj has penned some of the most touching poems, which have been used in the film industry in the era of Dev Anand and S.D. Burman. Yet his work remains relevant even in today’s dynamic context. His poem, Bas Yahi Apradh Main Har Baar Karta Hoon, Aadmi Hoon Aadmi Se Pyaar Karta Hoon gives a message of communal harmony and universal brotherhood.

“Aadmi hoon aadmi se pyaar karta hun
Ek khilona ban gaya, Duniya ke mele mein
Koi khele bheed mein, koi akele mein
Muskarakar kar bhent har sweekar karta hun,
Muskarakar kar bhent har sweekar karta hun,
Aadmi hoon aadmi se pyaar karta hun
Aadmi hoon aadmi se pyaar karta hun”

The team of Lucknow Literature Festival 2015 got a chance to interact with the legend when he graced the event. Since the day coincided with Valentine’s Day, he recited a few lines, which brought out the fact that he was abreast with the developments of the contemporary era. He recited,

“Pyaar karo, pyaar to zaruri hi karo
Tum daro na, Pyaar karo, Pyaar karo
Pyaar to pavitra hai,
Pyaar hai swatantra bhari chadi
Pyaar hai daastan bhari chadi,
Pyaar hai aag ki ghadi”

Writer is a student of Architecture and finds solace in writing.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 2 Issue 22, January 2015)

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