Nida Fazli: A Classical Bridge between Urdu and Hindi Poetry
By Siraj Khan
Passionate about peace between India and Pakistan, Nida Fazli accepted the practical necessity of earning his livelihood through lyric writing and used the opportunity to express his thoughts creatively.
“Hum labon se keh naa paaye, unse haal-e-dil kabhi,
Aur wo samjhe naheen, ye khamoshi kya cheez hai”
(My lips were never able to express the state of my heart,
And she failed to understand what my silence meant.)
— Poet: Nida Fazli (sung by Jagjit Singh for the film ‘Sarfarosh’)
Nida Fazli was one of those poets who touched your heart not just through words, but also through the sound of their silence. A poet of various moods from which emerged the creative sentiment and inner peace that mark all his poetical exploits.
Childhood imagery consistently reflects in his poetry as element of nostalgia. Primary themes which form the spirit in his poetry are contradictions in life, the search for purpose, nuances of human relationships, contrast between practice and preaching and groping for what is lost.
Nida Fazli disagreed with the partition of India itself and spoke openly against the communal riots, politicians and fundamentalism. So much so that when the rest of his family decided to migrate to Pakistan, he chose to stay back in India. His brother Tasleem Fazli went on to make a mark for himself in Pakistan’s film industry as a prominent lyricist (married to film actress Nisho, he died in 1982).
In his autobiographical novel Deewaron Ke Beech (Between the Walls), Fazli mentions his father being swayed by Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s rousing speeches for Pakistan. Fazli was influenced by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who believed in the integrity of united India.
However, accepting the reality of Pakistan’s existence, he always advocated cross-border peace through the only way he knew – poetry, art and culture.
Not surprisingly, his poems are deeply rooted to the Indian poetic heritage. He could dig deep into the ancestry of poetry and connect not only with Amir Khusro, Mir and Ghalib, but also with Tulsi, Kabir and Mirabai. His personality and his pen always reflect his unwavering vision for India-Pakistan peace.
His second conviction was that peaceful coexistence and communal harmony comes through common culture, not from common religion. He believed in, and continued to promote, peace and harmony through the medium of poetry, convinced that it was this shared cultural and literary background of the two countries that would help maintain long-term peace.
Educated in Gwalior and with a Master’s in English Literature, he moved to Mumbai in 1964. He began his career writing for Hindi and Urdu magazines and newspapers, and went on to publish several prose and poetry books. The first one, Mulaqatein (Meetings, 1969), was a collection of critical essays on contemporary poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, Ali Sardar Jafri and Kaifi Azmi. The book expressed his disillusion with their idea of Marxism and, not surprisingly, he was banned from Mushairas (poetry reading sessions).
It was only after a drawn out struggle that he succeeded in making some space for himself in the world of films and TV. He then found that lyric writing was a mechanical job requiring him to fulfill the demands of the script and the director, in keeping with the conditions of language, tune and situation. His realization was so stark that his sentiments overflowed in the film lyrics themselves.
Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahaan nahi milta
Kaheen zameen to kahin aasman nahi milta
(No one gets a perfect world,
If you get land, you don’t get the sky)
Tere jahaan mein aisa nahi ke pyar na ho
Jahaan umeed ho iski, vahaan nahi milta
(It is not that you don’t have love in this world,
But you don’t get it from where you expect it)
In mere four lines Fazli encapsulated the reality of life in Urdu poetry through film lyrics for generations to come (Ahista Ahista, 1981, composed by Khayyam)
Nida Fazli had to compete with established and respected poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi and others, who then ruled Bollywood.
However, he accepted the practical necessity of earning his livelihood through lyric writing and used the opportunity to express his thoughts through his creative work. For freedom of thought and language in personal writing, he wrote columns for the BBC and elsewhere, which were monetarily rewarding as well.
In 1980, his song “Tu Iss Tarah Se Meri Zindagi Mein” for the film Aap Toh Aise Na Thay, topped the charts and established him as a poet whose words touched the inner chords.
Though not a prolific songwriter, the poignant beauty of his poetry won merit amidst mediocrity. What better idiom can intoxication find than in Hosh walon ko khabar kya? Who can remain unyielding to love in Tu iss tarah se meri zindagi mein shaamil hai or remain unmoved by the acceptance of Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahin milta?
Borrowing gravitas from myriad influences, Nida Fazli was a sum of many parts. That explains why writing lyrics, is just one shade in his creative kaleidoscope. His ability to grasp, amalgamate varying genres and create colorful poetry is both soulful and meaningful. That is why perhaps his work appeals to the classes and masses alike, as it relates to all moods, fancies, colors and shades of humanity. Author, writer, poet — Nida Fazli was a man of many mediums and many metaphors. His contribution goes far beyond cinema.
At the first Aman ki Asha Mushaira in Karachi, 2010, at the request of the Indian poets including Nida Fazli, Mehdi Hassan was brought to the side of the stage in a wheelchair. Fazli and the other Indian poets reached out to kiss the hand of the great ghazal singer. Their eyes filled up with tears, looking at the condition of the man who was now unable to even speak, let alone sing.
Nida Fazli was a beacon of liberal tradition of our civilization and culture. His death is a great loss for the Urdu language, literature and poetry. There are not many left like him.
To quote Iqbal, Jo badakash thay puranay woh uthtay jate hain… (Those who were the old wine-drinkers are gradually departing).