Avantika Bhuyan on how Ibaadat Foundation is trying to keep alive the legacy of legendary Urdu poets.
Nowadays I only think Majrooh, dream Majrooh and sleep Majrooh,” smiles Prithvi Haldea, founder-chairman and managing director of Prime Database, which happens to be India’s only database dedicated to the primary capital market. Haldea is like a man possessed. So immersed is he in poet-lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri’s shayari that he has precious little time to think about anything else. As one of the founding trustees of Ibaadat Foundation, an organisation dedicated to creating awareness about music and poetry, it has been Haldea’s dream to bring to prominence the shayari of legendary poets like Sultanpuri.
“Everyone knows about his poetry for films but little is known about the ashaar (couplets) that he wrote for the sheer love of poetry,” he says. Today is when the efforts of Haldea and his co-trustees will bear fruit. “Rooh-e-Majrooh, an event dedicated to Sultanpuri’s poetry, will take place at the India Islamic Centre in New Delhi. “I don’t want to let out too much about the programme but we have experimented a lot with the format. We have taken some highly poetic songs from the past era and interwoven them with ghazals and recitations,” explains Haldea. The organisers have abandoned the usual format of having a podium with a microphone, with singers coming on the stage to perform one after the other. “That is so schoolish,” he says.
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It all started in 2007 when one of the other founding trustees of Ibaadat, Naveen Anand, brought the case of singer Mubarak Begum to Haldea’s notice. “Naveen, who is also an entrepreneur, had found out through some chain mail that Mubarak Begum was living in Mumbai in dire circumstances,” says Haldea. They decided that something ought to be done to help her. With the aid of some of their friends who shared a passion for poetry and music, Haldea and Anand managed to raise some money and flew down to Mumbai to present it to Mubarak Begum. But they didn’t quite get the reaction they were hoping for. Mubarak Begum flatly refused to accept the money, saying that she didn’t take khairat (charity). “We understood her sentiments and decided to work out a format whereby we could organise a concert, the proceeds of which would go to her. We said there is no charity in this, this is her haq (right),” he says. Mubarak Begum was a little sceptical initially as she hadn’t sung in the last 40 years but she finally relented. She came to Delhi and mesmerised the audiences with five of her most memorable songs. “Since then she has performed several times in various cities and is now living a modestly good life,” says Haldea. The beginning had been made and the roadmap to Ibaadat had been created.
Finally, five months back, Haldea and Anand decided to give their intentions an organised form. “We wanted to pursue this mode and identify good singers and poets. So we said let’s do something big and organised and focused, and that’s how Ibaadat was born” says Haldea. Another of their friends, Sangeeta Bedi, who had been a prominent newsreader on Doordarshan, also joined in. Haldea came up with the name Ibaadat and it was approved unanimously. “After all, our efforts were a homage, service, prayer to poetry; hence the name,” he explains. They roped in four other friends in this endeavour: entrepreneurs Sanjiv Saraf and Vishnu Dusad, financial consultant Dinesh Kothari and solicitor Vijay Singh Yadav. “One of our objectives was to focus on the soul of music — the lyrics. If you ask someone, they will tell you that the song has been sung by such and such singer but will not know the name of the lyricist. Also, we wanted to bring to fore good poets from across the country. There are many old poets who are languishing in penury and newer ones who don’t have a suitable platform. We found many such poets in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. And then we wanted to create awareness about good poetry among the younger generation,” elaborates Haldea.
With the name decided, members in place and objectives etched out, only the question of which poet to focus on for their first ever event remained. The seven of them racked their brains. “There have been lot of events dedicated to Sahir Ludhianvi, Ghalib and Faiz but Majrooh Sultanpuri has never been dealt with on stage,” says Anand. While researching about him, Anand, Haldea and Bedi found out that he had written some 4,000 songs in a span of 55 years. And, that he was the first ever lyricist to be given the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 1994. It was decided that Sultanpuri it will be! Anand came up with the name Rooh-e-Majrooh (soul of Majrooh), which drew immediate approvals from the group.
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The members decided that someone from the poet’s family should be present for the event. That’s where they hit a roadblock. Even after scouring through the net and sounding off all their contacts, they couldn’t manage to locate Sultanpuri’s address. Somehow they got to know that one of his daughters, Saba, was living in Mumbai. There was finally a ray of hope. By sheer coincidence they managed to find her number through a friend. “When I made the call, a gentle voice answered. Initially she was sceptical about some strange man from Delhi asking about her Abba but as we spoke, she could sense the passion in my voice,” says Haldea. He flew down to Mumbai to meet her and found out that she was married to the music director Naushad’s youngest son, Raju Naushad. “They have both agreed to come for the event,” says Haldea, excitedly. Saba can hardly wait for November 12. “I am so happy that Ibaadat has decided to honour legends like Abba. I remember how he used to just sit in his room and write. Everything around him inspired his shayari, sometimes even his family. He once told me that he had written one of the songs for Andaz with me in mind,” she says.
Meanwhile, Haldea and the others continued their painstaking research about Sultanpuri. In the process, they discovered a side of him that was not known to many. “In the ’40s, he got involved with the political movement and had to spend two years in prison. That was the time when he wrote some of the most inquilabi poetry. When he came out of jail and recited those couplets, people were simply blown away,” says Haldea. Also, not many know that Sultanpuri was a trained hakim and was discovered at a mushaira by poet Jigar Moradabadi. “If you go through his shayari, there is such a chasm between the nature of his poems for films and those written simply for his passion for poetry. There is no other poet who offers such a contrast,” says Anand. Haldea adds to this: “He decided to write in the language of the people so that they could understand the sentiments. It is only fitting that we pay a tribute to so multifaceted a poet.”