Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Remembering Urdu poet Akhtar Shirani: The Poet of Romance

Great Urdu poet Akhtar Shirani passed away this month nearly 60 years ago.

But his unrequited love affair, letters purportedly written by him and the mystery of 'Salma', still evoke tremendous interest among readers.

Shirani was among the most popular poets of his generation. His famous romantic Nazms include 'Aye Ishq kahiiN le chal', 'Jahaan Rehana rahti thi' and Salma.

Along with Majaz, he is also often referred to as Keats of Urdu poetry.

tum afsaana-e-Qais kyaa puuchhte ho
idhar aao, ham tumko lailaa banaa deN
[Akhtar Shirani]

He is referred to as 'Shahzada-e-Ruman' [Prince of Romance] and Shaaer-e-Husn-o-Javaani [Poet of youth and beauty]. After failing to get his lady love, Akhtar had drowned himself into liquor and died at an early age (43).

He was the son of the renowned scholar Mahmood Sheerani who taught at Oriental College but unlike his father, Akhtar lived a bohemian life. Even sixty years after his death, publishers in India and Pakistan continue to cash in on his 'colourful life'.

A periodical in India claims that in the special issue it would name the woman who was referred to as Salma. Another publication in Pakistan prints some 'hitherto hidden' letters of correspondence for the first time and a weekly boosts its sales with a special report claiming that he didn't die but had committed suicide.

The truth is that contrary to popular perception, Akhtar's life was not at all as colourful. One of his couplets:

baad az gham-e-judaai-e-Salmaa mere liye
yaad-e-zubuur-o-maatam-e-shaivan hai aajkal

The man who used to gift away a note of Rs 50 to a pan walla because of the latter's tehzib of giving paan, spent the latter part of his youth and the last years in utter distress. He may have initially turned to liquor to forget Salma.

But his son's (Javed Mahmood alias Zuboor) sudden demise, the suicide of close friend Mirza Shuja Khan Shaivan, the incident of his son-in-law Naziruddin Shirani getting drowned in the Yanas river and that his daughter became widow at a young age, broke him.

His strained relations with his father also added to Akhtar's frustration. Shorish Kashmiri wrote that it was better not to see Akhtar. In his poetry he looks like a Greek God and in real life he is merely an 'echo of apology'.

If you come across him in real life and someone tells you that he is the great Akhtar Sheerani, you will feel cheated, said Shaukat Thanvi. Thanvi vouches for the fact that Shirani was never seen in 'Aalam-e-Hosh' [he was always drunk].

Akhtar was in Tonk, Rajasthan at the time of partition and was seriously ill. Rumours spread that he was killed along with his entire family while crossing the border. Jang published an article titled "Where is Akhtar Shirani?". Another paper published a letter of Dr Ahmar.

But as news reached Shirani, he said:

laao to qatl-naama meraa maiN bhii dekhuuN
kis kis kii mohar hai sar-e-mahzar lagii huii

Akhtar passed away in September in 1948. He was brought to hospital in an unconscious state. The photographs of Akhtar on his hospital bed were published in papers. Mukhtar Tonki writes in Aiwan-e-Urdu that stories were fabricated even after his death. It was said that his body was found on the street and taken to mortuary with nobody identifying it, that he committed suicide et al.

In 2004, weekly magazine 'Lahore' published letters to 'unravel' the truth about his mystery love and death. And later Takhliq also printed similar story. Munshi Abdul Baseer wrote the Nazm in which each stanza's letters alternately added up to 1948 and the corresponding Hijri year.

aye ishq kahiiN le chal is paap kii bastii
nafrat-gah-e-aalam se laanat-gah-e-hastii se
nafs parastoN se, is nafs parastii se
duur aur kahiiN le chal
aye ishq kahiin le chal....

The Nazm 'Jahaan Rehana rahtii thii..' is quite long as well. It starts with the following lines:

voh is vaadii kii shahzaadii thii aur shaahaana rahtii thii
kaNval ka phuul thii, sansaar se be-gaana rahtii thii
nazar se duur, misl-e-nikhat-e-mastaana rahtii thii
yahii vaadii hai voh hamdam jahaaN Rehaana rahtii thii...

The Nazm 'Salma'

bahaar-e-husn ka tuu Ghuncha-e-shaadaab hai Salma
tujhe fitrat ne apne dast-e-rangiiN se saNvaaraa hai
bihisht-e-rang-o-buu ka tuu saraapa ek nazaaraa hai
terii suurat saraasar paikar-e-maahtaab hai Salma
jism ek hujuum-e-resham-o-kamKhwaab hai Salma
shabistaan-e-javaanii ka tuu ek zinda sitaaraa hai tuu
is duniaa meN bahar-e-husn-o-fitrat ka kinaaraa hai tuu
is sansaar meN ek aasmaanii Khwaab hai Salma...

Daud Khan, who became famous as Akhtar Shirani, was born in 1905 in Tonk, Rajasthan and just two years after his father's death, the poet of romance also passed away in Lahore on September 9, 1948.

aye vaae Akhtar huaa ham se judaa ab=1367 H
lagaa haaye teer-e-qazaa kaa nishaana=1948 AD

You can read ghazals of Akhtar Shirani in Urdu, Hindi and Roman scripts here.