A word weaver, a master of his craft, lyricist Naqsh Lyallpuri has been largely ignored by Bollywood bigwigs.
Decades ago one night, I caught my father crying over a Punjabi song floating across the airwaves. Engulfed in the blackout enforced by the Indo-Pak war, he was overwhelmed by Rafi sahab’s emotional rendering of Naqsh Lyallpuri’s poignant anguish, “Jee Karda Hai Is Duniya Nu, Main Has Ke Thokar Maar Deiyaan” (I wish to discard this world with a smile). My father was not known to be given to display of grief and yet, Naqsh’s poetry opened terrible wounds of Partition in him. Same as Sahir Ludhianvi’s equally philosophical “Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kya Hai” in Rafi’s mesmeric voice did to him.
Years later, I learnt that my father and Naqsh were not only born in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) and went to the same school but also lost their mothers while they were toddlers. Their common legacies of loneliness brought them together briefly but they were torn apart by circumstances and it took 55 years before the two friends met again and “wept more than they talked”. Though I had arranged that 1995 meeting, it was only when I met Naqsh sahab recently that I understood why Raj Kapoor regretted not having this “gentleman of gentle verses” in his team before “Henna”.
There are few in Bollywood who comprehend nuances of Hindi and Urdu grammar, poetry and metre better than Naqsh and while he has been prolific in recent times on television, the lyricist was ignored for decades by big banners and directors presumably because he wasn’t in any ‘camp’. The bard has high admiration for “outstanding geniuses like Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi and Shailendra who wove magic with simplest of lines,” but feels, “a vast majority of popular lyricists gained work through connections rather than craft and ability.” Despite having worked with as many as 145 music directors, from Husnlal Bhagatram, Shankar Jaikishen, Jaidev, Khayyam and Madan Mohan to Ravindra Jain and Rajesh Roshan, Naqsh was largely relegated to B and C grade movies though he always crafted first-rate songs.
Listen to just a few of his creations, say, “Teri Awaaz Ki Jaadugiri Se” (“Teri Talash Mein”), “Pyar Kaa Dard Hai” (“Dil-e-Nadan”), “Chitthiye Ni” (“Henna”), “Ye Wahi Geet Hai Jisko Maine” (“Man Jaiye”), “Har Janam Mein Hamara Milan (“Kagaz Ki Naao”), “Tumhein Dekhti Hoon” (“Tumhare Liye”), “Yeh Mulaqat Ik Bahana Hai” (“Khandaan”), “Na Jaane Kya Hua Jo Toone Chhoo Liya” (“Dard”), “Ulfat Mein Zamane Ki” (“Call Girl”), “Apni Aankhon Mein Basaa Kar” (“Thokar”), “Tumhein Ho Na Ho” (“Gharonda”) or “Teri Talash Mein” (“Teri Talash Mein”) and you realise how each verse has a profound thought behind its delicate fabric. Irrespective of limelight and adulation, the poet has indulged in his pursuit with sincerity so as to delight and satiate the heart and mind at the same time. Quite a misfortune that Raj Kapoor and Naqsh collaborated only at the end of their careers as it was an unadulterated truth that his refusal to conform to the dictates of producers or use indecent language harmed him in more ways than one.
In fact, perseverance has been the hallmark of Jaswant Rai Sharma alias Naqsh Lyallpuri since childhood when he read literature to overcome his loneliness. Scribbling an odd line or phrase to express his feelings turned into a full time vocation after an Urdu teacher came across a few stray verses in his notebook and encouraged him to be a word weaver. The subsequent transfer of his father to Lahore meant a separation from his mentor but the urge to wield a pen took strong roots when he received praise from many admirers and gained considerable popularity as an Urdu poet. However, Naqsh’s decision to discard science for literature was viewed as a rebellion by his engineer father, with whom he had a difficult relationship, especially after the entry of his stepmother. His father’s censures and the subsequent mayhem of India’s Partition impacted Naqsh so strongly that it took him years to come out of his melancholia.
Partition drove Naqsh to Lucknow, and then to Mumbai, to earn his bread and butter but it also converted him into a sensitive writer. A play for a group of theatre enthusiasts brought him in touch with noted producer Jagdish Sethi, leading to a break as a lyricist in “Jaggu”. The uphill journey was fraught with difficulties and insecurities but he faced everything with equanimity as he had little desire for riches and comforts. Thankfully, his marriage to Kamlesh, a friend’s sister, gave him a steadfast partner who ran the house within his frugal earnings. “Her motivational and housekeeping skills were the reasons for my survival as a poet,” admits Naqsh, also conceding that she gave him and his three sons an anchor to spread their wings.
Though overlooked by Bollywood bigwigs, Naqsh was a synonym for hit Punjabi songs for over three decades and many even refused to believe that those were his creations as he wrote impeccable and chaste Urdu! But the triumph of “Chetna” catapulted him into the top bracket and television soaps only helped enhance his glow forever. However, learning from his experiences, Naqsh became not just the pillar of the Film Writers’ Association (FWA) but also a founder member of the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS), helping writers and composers get their due from unscrupulous producers and exhibitors. Clearly, like his songs, his work at FWA and IPRS has brought smiles to many.