A Deccan Poet of Universal Connections

Marna padta hai kahin dhang sey jeeney key liye
Is sadaqat ko magar manney waley kitney.

To live right, perhaps one needs to die.
But who among us accepts that truth.

Towards the end of a long, meandering conversation, the octogenarian poet Bashar Nawaz, said to me when I commented that the above couplet was somewhat philosophical: “Not really, I write about what I feel. About life; and living. The biggest problem is when an artist puts on a ‘pose’, a posture.”

Born in August 1935 and raised in Aurangabad, Bashar Nawaz attained popular recognition for the haunting, melancholic lyrics of a song from the iconic Hindi film Bazaar (1982) directed by Sagar Sarhadi. The film’s striking realism, its grim depictions of young brides being sold to older men, was punctuated by the emotive heft that the songs and lyrics imbued. The song, Karogey Yaad Toh, was a significant hit, to say the very least.

Bashar Nawaz.

Bashar Nawaz.

With a shock of long, silver hair neatly combed back and a full beard, Bashar Nawaz had a striking appearance. His manner was gentle, welcoming and it was obvious to all that there had no affectations whatsoever. He was interested is sharing his thoughts and they were many, and wide in scope.

Nawaz spoke at length on the great poets of Aurangabad, Wali Dakhani & Siraj Aurangabadi. The apocryphal story of Wali’s influence on the poetic culture of Delhi was echoed by him: “The language of this region had an effect there—Wali, Siraj, both had an effect there. Before Wali, it was all Persian poetry in Delhi. If at all there was any Urdu verse, it was mostly in jest and generally looked down upon.” Siraj’s poetic bent started early in life, Nawaz pointed out, and he spent the rest of his life lost in a mystical haze. Nawaz regarded Siraj on par with Mir Dard and believed that he had not gotten his due.

Nawaz spoke at length of the mystic traditions of the Deccan. There was a constant and intense dialogue between the several Sufis who migrated down to the Deccan, in particular to the Marathwada region, and the Sants, the Bhakti saints of the area. In fact the origins of the language Dakhani is traced to the mystics. Before the armies led by kings, from Ala al’ Din Khilji to Muhammad Bin Tughluq who shifted his capital to Deogiri/Daulatabad in the 14th century, several Sufis had travelled down. A lasting testimony to not just the dialogue, Bashar Nawaz pointed out, but to the deep friendship borne out of that dialogue, is the bond between Sant Manpuri Prasad and Shah Nur, both of the 17th century. In fact, a bhajan by the former in praise of the latter is found in an anthology compiled by Inayat Ali Khan Awrangabadi.

When sants met sufis

This communication is the heart and soul of Aurangabad, and the region, the poet said: “You will not find this form of intense communication anywhere else; this common evocation of a higher power.” The commonality in thought is reflected in the language of the area. As the many dialects brought down by the various kinds of people settling in the Deccan from the North, mixed with the spoken forms of the region, giving birth to the unique regional form Dakhani, so also the thoughts and ideas of these Sufis and Sants mixed. Nawaz brings up the medieval Marathi saint Namdeo here and recites a few lines from a 62 verse work of the Bhakti saint:

Mai na hoti, putra na hota; kaun kahan sey aaya.
Chandra na hota, surya na hota; noor kahan sey ubaya.

If no mother, there’s no son; who has come from where?
If no moon, and no sun; then the light is from where?

A very elementary question is being asked, Bashar Nawaz pointed out. And it was being asked by all. Everyone, he points out, is pointing to the same thing. Which then Mirza Ghalib asks again centuries later in his famous poem Na Tha Kuch To Khuda Tha.

Bashar Nawaz exemplified a certain idea of this land. One where connections between faiths, traditions and people run deep, for they draw from a similar source. He describes this essence as misaj (loosely, temperament or disposition). The language of this misaj, whether you call in Urdu, Hindi, or Hindustani, he always said, emanates from the land; it is born of the land and embraces its flavours and aroma.

In his passing, we have not only lost a skilled, accessible and popular poet whose lyrics touched the hearts of many, but also a humanist who was closely in touch with what really mattered to him. And perhaps what really ought to matter to many of us—the things that bind us together and not tear us apart.

A line from his most popular poem says “Every wave of passing time will come to a standstill” and so perhaps it is, each time we lose someone who embraces an inclusive notion of who we are, and unequivocally rejects a hate-filled divisive one.

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  • Peeyush Sekhsaria

    I know of him
    In his passing away
    His poems, his poetry
    the Deccan,
    and Aurangabad
    in my backyard i feel a sense of loss
    of being lost