I must admit that I wasn’t always a lyrics person, in fact during my growing up years, my association with songs was mostly melody based. I would constantly jumble up lyrics, unintentionally. However, a few golden oldies left a lasting impression on my mind and in spite of my carelessness, these lyrics remained crystal clear in my memory. And to my surprise, I discovered later that all these songs were penned by Shailendra. Yes! That was my first introduction to the man with an iron pen and golden ink. Ever since, the thinker in him mesmerized me and continues to do so.
“Din jo pakheru hote,
Pinjare mein main rakh leta
Paalta unko jatan se
Moti ke dane deta
Seene se rehta lagaaye
Yaad na jaaye, beete dinon ki”
If time were a bird, I would have held it in cage and taken care of it! These were the very first lines which caught my attention as a child, and I was so amazed by the way it is framed. Only a man who has seen times changing and values it immensely can come up with such words. Travelling from the other side of the border to an extremely challenging condition and serving the railways till stardom struck, who else could know the importance of time better than this maverick?
It is a known fact that Shailendra was spotted by the show man Raj Kapoor at a mushayara, where he was reciting his famous Jalta Hai Punjab, a poetry dedicated to the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre. Raj Kapoor wanted to buy his poem but Shailendra did not see any merit in selling it to a movie maker that time. However, time went against him and he reached a point where he had to go back to Raj Kapoor to revive the same offer and the legendary association of Raj Kapoor and Shailendra began.
The legendary team of Raj Kapoor, Shankar Jaikishan, Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra defined a new era for Hindi film music. The dream team gave us the golden era of music in melody, mindful lyrics and meanings.
“Asli nakli chehare dekhe
Dil pe sau sau pahare dekhe
Mere dukhate dil se puchho
Kya kya khwab sunehare dekhe
Tuta jis taare pe nazar thi hamari
Sab kuchh seekha hamne na seekhi hoshiyaari
Sach hai duniyawalon ki ham hai anari”
The iconic title song from Anari is nothing short of a life lesson, where it says that people always wear a mask to hide their real intentions and a naïve heart or Anari always goes on face value and gets hurt. And he asks why the heart couldn’t learn the ways of the cruel world and remained an Anari.
Recalling a sweet incidence, Dinesh Shailendra, the son of Shailendra says that when Raj Kapoor heard the lyrics for the first time, he went crazy and drove all the way to Shailendra’s house in Khar in the middle of the night, and honked to wake the entire neighbourhood and then shouted “Jiyo mere Pushkin!”. Raj Kapoor gave him the title of Kaviraj and aptly so.
Kaviraj did not merely write songs, he wrote the emotions of the characters singing them on screen. While on one hand, he wrote about the thoughts and aches of broken hearts, on the other, he understood the emotional nuances of women so well. For instance, Let’s take an example of two songs from Sangam and Guide which released in 1964 and 1965 respectively. Guide was one of the most controversial stories of its time, which broke all the stereotypes with its portrayal of a woman. Here we had Rosy (played by Waheeda Rehman) who marries a man twice her age in search of societal respect, but when the same societal norms choke her, she breaks the barrier and becomes an independent artiste, loving and living with, a man out of wedlock.
“Kal ke andheron se nikal ke, dekhaa hain aankhe malte malte
Phool hee phool zindagi bahaar hai, tay kar liyaa
Aaj phir jeene ki tamanaa hai
Aaj phir marne ka iraadaa hai”
On the other hand, we see Radha (played by Vyajanthimala) in Sangam, who is independent and rich, but when it comes to choosing a partner for life, she must succumb to the demands of a male dominated society. Later, when her on-screen husband gets to know of her past, he refuses to let go of his angst, despite her dedication and submission.
“Tan saup diyaa, man saup diyaa
Kuchh aur to mere paas nahi
Jo tum se hai mere hamdam
Bhagwaan se bhi vo aas nahi
Jis din se hue ek duje ke”
Both the songs depict different situations and drastically different characters but one can empathize with both. And if one feels that the above-mentioned characters are urban hence the similarity, then wait till you listen to his Bhojpuri marvel, where in a bidaai song, a daughter cries silently to her father for locking her in a golden cage. She pours her heart out saying she was a bird living freely in his garden with an open sky and a free will, but with this marriage he had caged her and no matter that the cage was made of gold or precious stones, she had lost her open sky, which was priceless!
“Sonava ke pinjara me band bhayee hay ram
Chirayee ke jiyara udaas
Tut gayee daliyan chhitar gayee chhotaba
Chhut gayee nil re aakash, sonava ke pinjara man”
A loving husband and a doting father to five children, Shailendra was an extremely emotional person, and that comes out in his writing so effortlessly. On the eve of Shailendra’s birth anniversary I got the opportunity to attend a virtual tribute event, organised by REWIND – an organisation that celebrates art and artists in Indian film music, which was graced by his daughter Ms. Amla Shailendra Mazumdar who remembered her baba with utter fondness recalling a few heart-warming incidences.
She talked about how having come from a very humble background, Shailendra wanted his children to learn the lesson of humility too and so despite providing his children with all luxuries, he ensured they all did their work themselves and the domestic help was only there to supervise them. Amla ji also spoke about how Shailendra would write funny lyrics for children’s song but would also impart life lessons in the same breath. For instance Chakke Mein Chakka from Brahmachari, the first stanza is funny and engaging for children with Chunnu Chhabile Munny Hathile; Makhmal Ki Topi Chhotu Rangile in the first stanza (by the way, Chunnu ,Munny and Chhotu were actual friends of Shailendra’s children), in the last stanza he preaches that the path ahead will be tough and one might get disillusioned, but the children are the future and if they continue their efforts without getting distracted, in no time the world will be their stage.
“Lamba safar hai, tedhi dagar hai
Manzil hai mushkil girne ka dar hai;
Par na rukenge chalte rahenge
Ye sari duniya ab apna ghar hai”
Shailendra’s life was not easy but he never stopped smiling. He was a progressive thinker and worked closely with IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) and strongly believed in making the world a better place with the power of his pen. Of course, he has created a huge impact and that’s why even after moving on to a different realm five decades ago, his writing is still so relevant to us. Let us celebrate the life and works of the people’s poet, in his own words which means If you are alive, keep believing and keep walking. If there is something called heaven, it is here!
“Tu zinda hai, tu zindagi ki jeet par yakeen kar
Agar kahin hai swarg to utaar la zameen par
Ye gham ke aur char din
Sitam ke aur char din
Yeh din bhi jayenge guzar
Guzar gaye hazar din”
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