Majrooh Sultanpuri: The Poet Who Braved Jail for Insulting Nehru
(This story was published on 24 May, 2016, and is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the death anniversary of poet Majrooh Sultanpuri)
Majrooh Sultanpuri was a poet who wrote thousands of songs for Hindi films, but called his songs a kind of exhibitionism. His uncompromising stance in politics led him to jail.
This poet, who read Marx and Lenin, never bowed down before politicians. Majrooh Sultanpuri’s first name ‘Majrooh’ means ‘injured’.
Below are the words coming out of this wounded heart, which have become immortal.
“My fellow countrymen are friends with the enemy now, while I stand here dressed as a stranger. The story of Majrooh’s caravan is about how my guide joined forces with the robbers against me. We lit the torch of our land and proceeded, filled with passion. However, those capable of setting their own house on fire also accompanied us. But this fire is the passion of the heart, a simple one. Whether or not there are lamps, these moths will continue to burn out after burning fervently. Majrooh, they write the name of loved ones while I stand here as the accused.”
Ghazals Lived in Majrooh’s Spirit
He wrote some extremely lyrical songs, like Babuji dheere chalna, and Aaj main upar aasman neeche from the movie Khamoshi. Another hit song of 90’s Papa Kehte Hain Bada Naam Karega was also penned by Sultanpuri.
Majrooh was a poet who lived through his ghazals.
“The non-violence in India has filled its heart with jewels of the dollar. Let this snake-skin not disguise itself in khaadi. Who said the flag of peace cannot be raised on this land? This looks like an acolyte of Hitler. Strike him, companion, and make sure he doesn’t escape. Nehru is Commonwealth’s slave. Kill him, companion, make sure he doesn’t escape.”
And the Poem Written on Nehru Landed Him In Jail
It was the time when everyone was celebrating India’s independence. People in cities and villages were dancing and singing with joy. Majrooh himself, while celebrating the event in the company of other progressive writers in 1947, made a long pen out of a bamboo because they felt it was important to have a pen of a size fit to signify freedom of a free nation.
Majrooh, whose heart throbbed for the exploited, was fighting for equality of rights for all. And during a meeting organised for the mill workers, he recited a poem on Jawaharlal Nehru. The song, which was written against Nehru and khadi, left politicians red-faced. Morarji Desai, the then-governor of Bombay, put Majrooh in Arther Road Jail and asked him for an apology. But the uncompromising poet refused to tender an apology, and instead chose to spend two years in jail.
But even while behind the bars, he continued writing his socially meaningful songs and poems, which every child in the country began humming. Under these circumstances, the political establishment was compelled to release him from jail.
This describes the story of this great poet’s fight with the political class.
(The story was first published on Hindi Quint and has been translated by Shambhavi Prakash)
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