Over the past few weeks, Badaun in western Uttar Pradesh has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. With daily news reports about the rape and murder of two innocent girls, it seems everything that can be wrong with a town is wrong with Badaun. Even as politicians fish in troubled waters, it is time to remember Badaun for much better things, much better individuals. For instance, a man answering to the name Shakeel Badayuni. An utter romanticist at a time when it was fashionable to be in the league of Progressive writers, Shakeel made his short life count.

Though he passed away in 1970 at the age of 53, he had done enough by then for lovebirds in the Hindi-Urdu speaking world to sing his songs, listen to his ghazals. A poet like few others, he came into his own in mushairas. He composed some of the most romantic couplets, steering well clear of the everyday reality of disease and death, poverty and pain that was the hallmark of many of his contemporaries. He wrote of roses and beauties, he wrote of shama, he understood the plight of the parvana. Then he spared a little kalaam for the film industry. Incidentally, it was while coming back after attending a mushaira that Shakeel wrote the famous title song of Chaudhvin ka Chand with some help from music director Ravi.

Talking of Ravi, with whom Shakeel gave many memorable songs like “Husnwale tera” and “Woh aurat hai”, his best work in the film industry came when he was associated with music director Naushad and tragedy king Dilip Kumar. It was Naushad who gave him the first break with A.R. Kardar’s Dard. Shakeel’s first moment of glory in films also gave Uma Devi — aka Tun Tun — her lasting claim to fame with the song, “Afsana likh rahi hun dil-e-beqaraar ka”.

Shakeel’s first meeting with Naushad also came about courtesy a mushaira where he had recited his kalaam with Naushad among the audience. At the conclusion of the mushaira back in 1946, Naushad asked Shakeel to express his skills in a couplet. Shakeel immediately recalled his words, “Hum dard ka afsana duniya ko suna denge / Har dil mein mohabbat ki ek aag lagaa denge.” It was a couplet that was to seal a bond. Soon Shakeel became a regular with Naushad; and as Naushad often gave music for films starring Dilip Kumar, it helped Shakeel write for the tragedy king too. Shakeel whipped up magic with Naushad with songs like “Suhaani raat dhal chuki” in Dulari, “Pyar kiya to darna kya” in Mughal-e-Azam and “Aaj ki raat mere dil ki salami le le” in Ram aur Shyam.

Incidentally, it was purely on the insistence of Naushad that filmmaker Vijay Bhatt agreed to give a chance to Shakeel to pen songs for Baiju Bawra, his first choice being Kavi Pradeep. However, Shakeel vindicated the faith invested in him with songs like “O Duniya ke rakhwale”, “Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj”, “Bachpan ki mohabbat” and “Tu Ganga ki mauj”. A little later, when working for K. Asif’s magnum opus, Shakeel wrote the song, “Pyar kiya to darna kya” some 100 times before he got it just perfect. It was during such moments that his early training in Arabic and Persian came in handy.

Many years later when Shakeel was fighting tuberculosis and diabetes, Naushad once again stepped in to help him out by getting him to sign films like Aadmi, Ram aur Shyam and Sunghursh. Shakeel needed the money and Naushad was not to be found wanting.

A little before he could relish the fruits of his labour for songs like “Aaj purani rahoon se” and “Mere pairon mein ghungroo bandha de”, Shakeel passed away. With him went away the only votary of love and romance in his generation; all his contemporaries like Sahir Ludhianvi, Jigar Moradabadi, Ali Sardar Jafri and Kaifi Azmi talked of the have-nots in their shayari. Only Shakeel could pull off “Chaudhvin ka chand ho ya aftab ho” or “Ae ishq yeh sab duniyawale”.

Today, the little town of Badaun has all but forgotten him. All that the township offers by way of remembrance is a little lane and a family-maintained library under his name. Yet when Badaun has come into focus for all the wrong reasons, it is thanks to a man answering to the name of Shakeel Badayuni that the town can still hold its head high and tell the countrymen that one of its sons has given them ample reasons to love and smile.