Fwd: [thegoodindians] Josh and joie de vivre
- Begin forwarded message:From: Razi Raziuddin <razi24@...>Subject: [thegoodindians] Josh and joie de vivreDate: January 14, 2014 1:42:43 AM GMT+05:30Reply-To: email@example.comNew Delhi, December 29, 2013Updated: December 29, 2013 12:14 IST
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R.V. Smith recalls a New Year’s Eve spent in the company of drunks and poets, which included the doyen of Urdu poetry Josh Malihabadi
Spending New Year’s Eve with the doyen of Urdu poetry, Josh Malihabadi, will always be etched in memory. It was on the last day of 1967 that a group of shairs accompanied Shabbir Hussain Khan Josh to Moti Mahal restaurant in Daryaganj from the Jama Masjid area, where he was staying in a hotel near Jagat Cinema (this scribe’s abode for some years) on a visit to the Capital from Pakistan. Nagged by his wife, he had settled down reluctantly in Lahore, much to the regret of his close friend Jawaharlal Nehru. He spent an hour at the restaurant as he had to attend another engagement but that hour was filled with a rare joie de vivre. The mood of the evening was set by Sehba of Agra who recited his ghazals in a sing-song voice that evoked nostalgic memories of the pre-partition years.
Next, Afzal Sahib, who had hosted Josh during his entire stay in Delhi, rendered his nazms of love and longing in which womanhood was exalted as godhood. He explained this candidly by asserting, “Maine toh aurat ko khuda mana hai”. A lady sitting on a nearby seat gave him a curious gaze, as though wondering what the heck he meant. A shair from Jaipur, Betaab gave vent to his feelings in verse that verged on the moral that wine, women and song alone did not sustain Urdu poetry as there were other things that mattered and needed to be highlighted. Josh nodded as he had himself veered away from old nuances that harped on the bulbul, the bayaban, the ill-starred lovers and the Kohkaf (Causacus).
Sikandar Dehlvi, a thin young man with a prominent Adam’s apple and a high-pitched tarranum (singing recitation), presented his sufiana kalam. He was seen every day at the mazaars of Hare Bhare, Sarmad and Hazrat Kalumullah, reciting his compositions after the Maghrib (sunset) prayers. But few paid heed as most of those assembled were eager to hear the qawwalis after 8 p.m. Gulzar Dehlvi, a noted Kashmiri Urdu poet, did not come that day but Madhosh Sahib, professor at REI College, Dayal Bagh, was there along with Maikash Akbarabadi. Madhosh was already tight when he came but did not slur his verse, which came out distinctly. Maikash, whose takkhalus (pseudonym) meant wine-bibber, had, however, never tasted liquor all his long life. His intoxication was with the wine of divine love and his poetry reflected his Sufi thought, for Maikash was also a Pir with a wide following, among whom were the dancing girls of Mewa Katra, who came every morning to get their children touched by him and get amulets (taabiz) for averting the evil eye.
Josh’s younger brother was not a poet but a linguist and a zamindar, and had come from Malihabad (near Lucknow) specifically to meet him and his bhabi (sister-in-law), who had asked him to bring some saplings (for transplanting in Lahore) from the home of the dussheri mango, for which his home town is still famous. Addressed as “Khan Sahib” by one and all, he looked lost amidst tipsy shairs and missed his hookah, left behind at the hotel, but would occasionally discreetly correct the talaffuz (pronunciation) of some shair. He asked one where he was originally from, for he saw a Punjabi tang in his recitation. “I have been living in Delhi for unnattees saal (29 years),” he replied. “The word is not unnattees but untees,” said Khan Sahib, “which means one less than 30 in Arabic”. The shair looked crestfallen but Josh, overhearing the conversation, asked him not to take the correction to heart but treat it instead as a piece of advice from an elderly man.
After some more shairs had their say, Josh cleared his throat. He had already taken three large pegs of Scotch and nibbled at a roast chicken and was in the mood to recite in his majestic voice that showed the mastery of an ustad. “Jab Cheen ne angrai li (When China yawned)” showed his Leftist leanings. Not for nothing was he known as the shair-e-inquilab (revolution). His kalaam was a constant attack on hypocrisy and bigotry, which had made him unpopular with the orthodox gentry of Lahore. But he cared a fig. His verse on Sawan, the rainy season, with the onomatopoeic sound of thunder, elicited “wah-wahs”. Josh looked flushed and in a mood to oblige those requesting him to recite some of his earlier verses. One of them ended with the words: “Tor kar tauba nadamat toh hoti hai mujhe ai Josh/Kya karoon niyat badal jati hai saghar dekh kar” (after breaking the vow not to drink, I feel a pang of guilt, but what to do, the urge on seeing the wine-cup is too hard to resist). This was greeted with a chorus of “qayaam” and “muqqarar” (request for encore).
Sure enough Josh obliged again and after that got up saying he had to go. A big-built man, he still looked the picture of a robust Pathan despite his age. “Naya saal phir se aya hai/Mubarak ho, mubarak ho”, sang the hotel qawwals. Josh raised his hand in salutation and exclaimed, “Tumhe bhi bhai mubarak ho” and walked out with his brother and others following him, giving the impression as though Omar Khayyam was taking leave after greeting the year to come: “Now the New Year reviving old Desires / The thoughtful soul to Solitude retires”.
Josh did not retire to solitude but to a mushaira at Haveli Sadr Sadur, Matia Mahal, where Ghalib often greeted the coming year!
Errata: In last week’s article Kishan Mohlajee’s name was inadvertently dropped. He was the heart and soul of Delhi’s erstwhile sports community.