Rahat Indori: A Symbol of Resistance

Unlike many other renowned poets, Rahat Indori was never one to use his poetry as an exhibition of his vocabulary or his knowledge of the Urdu language. Rather, his poetry was for people to understand, to find joy in, to find mischief and humour in, and to find possibilities of resistance in.

Rahat indori
Courtesy: BBC, Jagran

Jin charaghon se taasub ka dhuaan uthta hai
In charaghon ko bujha do toh ujale honge

Born on January 1, 1950, Rahat Qureshi changed his last name to Indori after the city he was born in. He was a well known poet and lyricist, performing at mushaira after mushaira across the country and outside of it, drawing huge crowds every single time. Rahat Indori passed away due to a heart attack on August 11, 2020, just one day after he tested positive for COVID-19. 

Rahat’s father Rafatullah Qureshi was a cloth mill worker. He completed his schooling and his graduation in Indore, after which he went on to study Urdu literature at Barkatullah University in Bhopal. In 1985, he was awarded a PhD for his thesis, Urdu Main Mushaira, from Bhoj University, and later he would go on to teach Urdu at Islamia Karimia college and Indore University. Indeed, his immense command over a mushaira and the skill of his performance shows the amount of knowledge he had about his artform. 

Yet, unlike many other renowned poets, Rahat Indori was never one to use his poetry as an exhibition of his vocabulary or his knowledge of the Urdu language. Rather, his poetry was for people to understand, to find joy in, to find mischief and humour in, and to find possibilities of resistance in. Instead of reciting ghazals in a melody as was prevalent when he started out, Indori would simply recite his ghazals. Instead of romantic themes of love and beauty and individual feelings told in esoteric language and admired quietly, he used the medium and the fluidity of language to comment on society and represent collective sentiments. He also did not use pure forms of any language, often mixing Urdu and Hindi in the way that was often spoken. 

While all of us may not have had the fortune of attending any of his performances, even watching a recording can draw one in into the infectious joy and excitement that his recitation could create in an audience. Pausing in between each line, sometimes to explain, sometimes to make a joke, sometimes to point out something interesting, he would perform as if he was sharing an inside joke with the audience. 

Unlike many poets who may be hailed as the finest poets of our time or receive awards after awards, Rahat Indori struck a chord with people across the country, and outside, like no other, because of the sensitivity and nuance with which he critiqued those in power, whoever they were, never putting himself in any camp. It was with warmth and empathy that he would gauge the audience’s reaction to his ideas, like when while performing in Kashmir he sensed that a line from his shayari had created discomfort in the audience, he explained, “I was trying to put forward my point of view, but you’re Kashmiris and the real prey of the system. You know better”. 

Just like in the midst of this fascist regime and protests against the CAA and NRC, his poem echoed from every corner of the country and floated across crowds on posters, even during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, his ideas and poetry were just as much of a threat to the State. He narrated humorously during one of his performances, that after he had called the government corrupt in his poem, the police had arrived at his door the next day. When they accused him of calling the government corrupt, he said, “I did say that the government is corrupt, but I didn’t say which country’s government”. In response, the police said, “Do you think we are stupid? As if we wouldn’t know which country’s government is corrupt”. 

During the movement against CAA and NRC, he attended and performed at protest gatherings across the country. Sometimes he performed the poem that had become the revolutionary cry across the country –

Main jaanta hoon dushman bhi kam nahin

Laikin hamari tarha jaan hateli pe thodi hai

Sabhi ka khoon shamil hai yehan ki mitti mein

Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai

At a protest gathering in Hyderabad in January, he recited another poem, pointing at the ridiculousness of being asked to produce documents to prove one’s identity-

Main jab mar jaaonga to meri alag pehchaan likh dena

Lahu se meri peshani pe Hindustan likh dena

In spite of what he meant for so many people of the country, due to the threat he had come to present to the current government, he was hounded by insults and trolls even after his death. An old video of him poking fun at the then-PM Atal Bihari Javpayee, made him a target for right wing hate after his death, with people making conspiracy videos about him being a ‘Mujahid’, and the Prime Minister did not even acknowledge his death. 

Never aligning himself with any political party or group, Rahat Indori aligned himself with people’s interests over the interests of the powerful throughout his life, and he will be a symbol for the spirit of justice and equality that people’s movements are striving for, for years to come. 

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