Hindustani Shayar Nazeer Akbarabadi, Forgotten Poet of the People 

A profile of Nazeer Akbarabadi, an 18th century poet known for his penchant for words, by Karthik Venkatesh.

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Lifestyle
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Nazeer Akbarabadi (1735-1830) was probably the first poet to write in ‘Hindustani’.(Photo: The Quint)

In the early 1700s, a new language was emerging in and around Delhi. This language was a mixture of local dialects akin to today’s Hindi and Persian, the language of the royal court. This was a language with no script, clear grammar, or rules and eventually came to be known as Hindustani. Nazeer Akbarabadi (1735-1830) was probably the first poet to write in ‘Hindustani’. If one were to try and understand what this Hindustani language was, one could probably describe it like this; on the one extreme, we have Hindi with its Sanskritised vocabulary, and on the other extreme, we have Urdu with its Persianised vocabulary – Hindustani is a rough mid-point borrowing from both extremes in equal measure.

Nazeer Akbarabadi was a people’s poet both in his choice of subject and style. His poetry encompassed the ordinary, everyday world of the aam aadmi. He wrote about festivals like Diwali, Holi and Krishna Janmashthami, of well-regarded religious figures like Guru Nanak, and also about subjects such as the kakri -seller in the bazaar of Agra, the baby bear who featured in road shows, and about ‘real’ people facing ‘real’ problems.

A Man of the Moment

Born in Delhi and christened Wali Muhammad, his family witnessed the sacking of Delhi by the Persian monarch, Nadir Shah, in 1739. Later in 1757, Delhi was again attacked by the Afghan, Ahmad Shah Abdali. It was at this time that Nazeer left for Agra (Akbarabad). In Agra/Akbarabad, he adopted the takhallus, Nazeer and became one of the popular poets of his day.

Nazeer was a man of the moment. Not for him were the imagined glories of the past and singing praises of the life of the elites. Nazeer’s world was the one about everyday struggles with its attendant sufferings and failures. His poetry is shorn of sentimentality and high-falutin expressions. He chose to write about themes that were shunned by the highbrow and elitist poets of his time. His poetry is peopled by courtesans, pimps, merchants, Sufis, villagers who come to cities to eke out a living, robbers, nomads and kite-fliers. More importantly, Nazeer chose simple Hindustani instead of highbrow Persianised Urdu and wrote in a language that was simple and spontaneous.

Nazeer’s poetry is full of exuberance, vitality and vigour. They are particularly suited to recitation, abundant as they are in onomatopoeia, alliteration and word-play. (Photo: iStock)
Nazeer’s poetry is full of exuberance, vitality and vigour. They are particularly suited to recitation, abundant as they are in onomatopoeia, alliteration and word-play. (Photo: iStock)

Inherent Meaning in Nazms

It is said that Nazeer’s poetic output consisted of about 200,000 verses, but large portions have been lost and only about 6000 are available today.  Nazeer excelled in the nazm, a major part of Urdu poetry, normally written in rhymed
verse. Nazm is a significant genre of Urdu poetry, the other one being Ghazal. Among Nazeer’s significant works are Banjaranama (Chronicle of a Nomad) and Aadminama (Chronicle of a Man).

Nazeer’s poetry is full of exuberance, vitality and vigour. They are particularly suited to recitation, abundant as they are in onomatopoeia, alliteration, and word-play. In his own time, his poetry was dismissed as sensationalist and marginalised by the upholders of good taste (read: the elite). The common people, though, considered Nazeer one of their own and he occupied a special place in their hearts. In 1954, the renowned playwright and director, Habib Tanvir, wrote and directed his first important play, Agra Bazar, based on the works and times of Nazeer Akbarabadi.

The following lines give one a sense of the richness of Nazeer’s oeuvre. Nazeer’s poetic genius is on display here. Even if one cannot understand the meaning of every word, one can still enjoy the musicality of the poetry and delight in the beauty of its earthy phrases.

Verses on Diwali

हमें अदाएँ दीवाली की ज़ोर भाती हैं ।

कि लाखों झमकें हर एक घर में जगमगाती हैं ।

चिराग जलते हैं और लौएँ झिलमिलाती हैं ।

मकां-मकां में बहारें ही झमझमाती हैं ।

गुलाबी बर्फ़ियों के मुंह चमकते-फिरते हैं ।
जलेबियों के भी पहिए ढुलकते-फिरते हैं ।
हर एक दाँत से पेड़े अटकते-फिरते हैं ।
इमरती उछले हैं लड्डू ढुलकते-फिरते हैं ।

Verses on Holi

और एक तरफ़ दिल लेने को महबूब भवैयों के लड़के ।

हर आन घड़ी गत भरते हों कुछ घट-घट के कुछ बढ़-बढ़ के।

कुछ नाज़ जतावें लड़-लड़ के कुछ होली गावें अड़-अड़ के ।
कुछ लचकें शोख़ कमर पतली कुछ हाथ चले कुछ तन फ़ड़के ।
कुछ काफ़िर नैन मटकते हों तब देख बहारें होली की

Verses on Guru Nanak

हैं कहते नानक शाह जिन्हें वह पूरे हैं आगाह गुरू ।
वह कामिल रहबर जग में हैं यूँ रौशन जैसे माह गुरू ।
मक़्सूद मुराद, उम्मीद सभी, बर लाते हैं दिलख़्वाह गुरू ।
नित लुत्फ़ो करम से करते हैं हम लोगों का निरबाह गुरु ।
इस बख़्शिश के इस अज़मत के हैं बाबा नानक शाह गुरू ।
सब सीस नवा अरदास करो, और हरदम बोलो वाह गुरू ।

From Aadminama

Achcha bhi aadmi hi kahta hai, ai Nazir
Aur sab main jo bura hai, so hai woh bhi aadmi

(They who are the best of all, are but men O Nazir
And they who are the worst of all, they too are men)

(The writer is is an editor with a well-known publishing firm)

Also read:

Chest-Thumping Nationalism Won’t Improve Condition of Minorities

Hindi Literature is Going ‘Readers-First’ Again

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