Monday, May 16, 2011

'We haven't forgotten you': Bhopal's veteran Urdu poet Ishrat Qadri is ailing

A friend called up recently and said, 'Do you know, Ishrat Qadri sahab is ill, in fact critical'. I felt terribly short of words. I didn't even know that he had suffered a brainstroke.

More disturbing was the fact that he was ailing was for a fortnight and was admitted in the general ward of Hamidia Hospital but there was no stir in the literary community, despite being aware of the family's modest means.

Personally I had a strong sense of guilt that I hadn't been in touch with him for quite sometime. The octogenarian litterateur is probably the last poet in the region who has kept the glorious tradition of islaah* alive in this part of Central India.

Qadri sahab has numerous disciples who learnt the nuances of 'shayri' from him. His 'library' in Budhwara locality of Walled City has been the hub of literary activity in Bhopal for decades.

I recalled that all these years whenever I had a query regarding literature or Urdu poetry, I would rush to him. Just to give an example. 'Yeh RKF ne umda ghazal likhi hai', I would say. Now Qadri Sahab instantly knew what I wanted.

'Shayar achche hain, falaan shahar inka watan hai, is akhbar se munsalik rahe, Maharashtra meN zindagi guzri, Jamaat-e-Islami se bhi vabasta rahe haiN', he would say, answering almost all my questions in one go.

More so, he gave an unbiased reply, which is rare quality among poets. Though he has been penning poetry for the last 67 years [since 1943-44, began writing short stories in 1943 and ghazals from 1944], he kept away from self-promotion and publicity. Rather, he promoted young writers by getting their articles and books published through his contacts.

Ishrat Qadri's personal library has always been open to research scholars and other bibliophiles. In the post-independence era, when Urdu was facing tough times, he published dozens of important books and fellow poets who couldn't afford to get their divans printed, through his own publication.

Ishrat Qadri

I have been an irregular participant to his evening 'mehfils'. Ironically, as he is lying in the hospital bed, among the first few persons to visit is a bureaucrat, Mr Srivastava, who directs the hospital authorities to shift the 'azeem shayar' to a private ward.

I push the door but his wife is praying, in sajda. The poet looks frail, his eyes are focused on the roof. I recall his ghazal that begins with the couplet:

yaad-e-maazi bohat sataatii hai
raat aaNkhoN meN beet jaatii hai

The overpowering voice is missing, he is so weak that it takes a couple of minutes before he manages to utter a word. His daughter-in-law tells me that he doesn't recognize me, eggs him to speak to me. 'Dekhiye aapse milne aaye hain'. I touch his face, hold him, it is an emotional moment.

'Sab bhool gaye', he repeats with great difficulty. His first collection of poetry, Saharnuma, has a ghazal:

The hospital room

'No one has forgotten you, everyone is concerned, the papers are publishing reports about your health', I tell him. 'Insha Allah, you will be alright, back from the hospital. Don't ever think that you are alone.

He takes my name, the way he always does. I am happy that at least he recognizes me. It's a brief conversation. With tears in his eyes, he stares at me.

Now I can see hope in  his eyes. I tell him that he has to finish his memoirs. Few remain of the generation that was old enough in the 30s and 40s to discern the changes in the pre-Independence era, and recollect them. He has also seen the gradutal transformation of Bhopal from the era of princely state to the present times.

After staying for a few minutes, I leave the hospital room, praying for the veteran poet's long life.

Ab tujh saa kahaaN koii wazadaar mile hai...

[The tradition where a master poet guided young poets, corrected their couplets and ensured that the asha'ar were in proper meter and had no grammatical or linguistic error]