The poetic proponent of India’s ‘Ganga-Jamuni’ culture

Among the boldest lines in Hindi film songs from a landmark epic where an imperial courtesan, who has already dared the monarch with her declaration of loving without fear, goes on to question curbs on women — remember the bewitchingly defiant Madhubala ask “Parda nahi jab koi Khuda se, bandon se parda karna kya?” It comes from no radical revolutionary but an unassuming, independent-minded poet who portrayed all phases of human condition besides celebrating India’s diversity.

What would classics like “Mughal-e-Azam”, “Mother India”, “Aan”, “Chaudhvin ka Chand”, “Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam”, “Baiju Bawra”, “Bees Saal Baad”, “Ganga Jamuna” and others be without their songs? Though rendered by a gamut of talented singers and clothed with music by stalwarts, they are also remembered for their memorable words – due to Shakeel Ahmed ‘Shakeel Badayuni’, whose 100th birth anniversary falls on Wednesday.

One of the gifted, already famous poets the Hindustani film industry could attract, Shakeel also demonstrated that the skill of poetry can be intrinsic, not inherited, for none of his close relatives was a poet. Born in Badaun on August 3, 1916, in a cleric’s family, he quickly discovered his inclination. By the time he joined the Aligarh Muslim University in 1936, he was already an accomplished poet, much in demand in mushairas for both the quality of his verse and its presentation, being particularly skilled in reciting in “tarranum” (rhythmic cadence) – which may explain his penchant for song-writing.

However, unlike many others of his generation, Shakeel was not part of the leftist “Taraqqi Pasand” (Progressive) movement, preferring to write only about romance and the human condition. As he declared: “Main Shakeel dil ka hoon tarjuman/Ke mohabbaton ka hoon raazdaan/Mujhe fakhr hai meri shayari/Meri zindagi se juda nahin.” And that’s why he didn’t get along very well with contemporaries like Saahir Ludhianvi.

After graduating, he worked in the supply department for a few years, before resigning in 1944 and heading to Bombay to work in the film industry. His fortuitous meeting with music composer Naushad, who had just gained a measure of success, laid the foundation for an enduring partnership.

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