Akhlaq Mohammed Khan, better known as Shahryar, who breathed his last in Aligarh on Monday following a prolonged battle with cancer, straddled the worlds of pure and popular poetry with equal ease
Akhlaq Mohammed Khan, better known as Shahryar, who breathed his last in Aligarh on Monday following a prolonged battle with cancer, straddled the worlds of pure and popular poetry with equal ease. As a lyricist, he courted fame and riches with the unforgettable lyrics of Umrao Jaan. As a poet, he catered to connoisseurs of the Urdu language. He served both from his perch at Aligarh Muslim University, where he was a widely respected academic. He did not need to change his address to taste success in Hindi films as filmmakers approached him in Aligarh with their stories. A much sought after name in mushairas – poetic soirees – Shahryar was conferred the Jnanpith award in 2008 and the Sahitya Akademi Award for “Khwab ka Dar Band Hai”.
Shahryar got success on his own terms. Eminent filmmaker Yash Chopra offered him three films after Faasle. However, Shahryar turned down the proposal as he did not want to be reduced to a “song shop” ready with wares according to the demands of the consumer. He preferred leisure and solitude for his work, something he got in Aligarh. In his poetry, he preferred to talk of the pain of the deprived, the social concerns of the man on the street. The feeling came out most aptly in the ghazal, “Seene mein jalan aankhon mein toofan sa kyun hai” which became part of Muzaffar Ali’s film Gaman in 1978.
Ali and Shahryar were friends from the student days. It so happened that Ali was a painter and once Shahryar went to show him some of the ghazals he had composed. Later, when Ali became a filmmaker, he used them in Gaman. They again worked together in Umrao Jaan. Incidentally, Asha Bhonsle got the National Award for rendering the ghazal, “Dil cheez kya hai” in the film.
However, Shahryar almost did not become a poet. In his younger days, he wanted to be an athlete. His father wanted him to join the police. Shahryar, though, ran away from his home and honed his craft under the watchful eye of Khalil-ur Rehman. To earn a living, he ended up teaching Urdu fiction in AMU, from where he retired as chairman of the Department of Urdu. He never taught poetry in the university as he believed poetry could never be taught. His first poetry collection, Ism-e-Azam was released in 1965 and he used to co-edit a literary journal Sher-o-Hikmat. He also composed songs for Ali’s forthcoming project Noorjehan.