Well-known Urdu poet Munawwar Rana brings his choicest couplets to the table

Having always been far away from poetry, I wondered how my meeting with Munawwar Rana, a well-known Urdu poet, would go. On meeting him at Le Belvedere, the 20th floor restaurant of Le Meridien, I realised all my doubts were unfounded; Munawwar was in full flow, regaling with anecdotes, excellent poems and some very profound observations.

Munawwar, who was in the Capital to attend a function hosted by the Press Club of India, was born in a family of maulvis in Rae Bareli in 1952. The communal atmosphere due to Partition in 1947 compelled his grandparents to migrate to Pakistan along with other family members. His father refused however, arguing he needed to take care of the forefathers’ graves and mazaars. “I am the guardian of their memory,” he said.

The situation became desperate, but he stayed back because he remembered the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s assurance to minorities that the nation and its constitution will safeguard their interest.

Munawwar recites the following lines to drive home the point: “Hizrat ko bhool bhal ke aabad ho gaye, hum pandito ke ishq mein barbad ho gaye” (Forgetting migration we stayed and flourished here due to our love for Pandits). He emphasises that the word “barbad” does not mean destruction. On the contrary it signifies that you should love till it pains. The poet is certain that the age-old composite culture of this nation will never allow divisive forces to fulfil their agenda.

The Chef arrives with prawn salt pepper, fish steamed with ginger garlic sauce along with stir fried vegetables, for Munawwar, who has finished the fresh orange juice. The poet says he enjoys different types of cuisine and food provided it is tasty and hygienically cooked. But his friends have a different opinion. “Jahan miele khaana, wahan Munawwar Rana,” (wherever there is food, you will find Munawwar Rana), they say in jest.

“I identify different cities by the special food each offers. Also in each city I have a favourite outlet which I definitely visit during my stay there. Like in Delhi I go to Karims and in Mumbai to Shalimar,” Munawwar says. Recalling a visit to Karachi where he tasted the big sized chhapatis at Burns Road, he remarks that back home these could be used as umbrellas.

The poet does not cook and is fond of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. He loves mangoes too. “During the season I eat the fruit for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Does he like any other fruits? No; he prefers waiting for mangoes – “Sabra ka phaal meetha hota hai” (the fruit of patience is always sweet).

Munawwar’s family moved to Calcutta where he started acting in plays (“Moti Bibi” (in Bangla) and “Aankh ka naasha” among others). “Jai Bangladesh” a play written and directed by him – on the liberation of Bangladesh – won the second prize in a competition for which he received praise in the Press. Swayed by Baburam Ishara, the film director, he decided to move to Bollywood. His father pleaded with Ishara not to take him as, being the eldest son, much was expected of him. Munawwar played obedient son and gave up his dreams of joining the film industry.

Though living in Lucknow at present, Kolkata is very close to Munawwar. “Hum jahan se aaye hain jadoogaron ka sheher hai, hum se bachiye warna Kalkate ootha le jayenge,” he says. The denizens of that State are very warm and find happiness in simple things of life.

The poet is well known for his poems in praise of the figure of the mother. He narrates the reason for this. While in Umesh Chandra College, Kolkata, his friends remarked that when Bengali literature was busy espousing the cause of Indian freedom movement, Urdu poetry was confined to tawaifs (nautch girls). Chagrined, Munawwar decided to write ghazals on mother referring to her as beloved. When critics – “there are far too many for Urdu literature,” says the poet – objected to this, Munawwar answered: Undaunted, he continued, and is today famous for these verses.

Munawwar enjoys a rare distinction – his poems adorn the residence of Sonia Gandhi and L.K. Advani.Mere darwazea pe likh do yahan maa rehti haiSindhu sadiyon se hamare desh ki pechchan haiYe nadi gujre jahan se, samajho Hindustan hai

The poet who has been participating for the last 20 years in the famous DCM mushaira (completing 50 years in 2015) says this one-time prestigious event is slowly losing its sheen because of the lack of talented poets. He finds the Delhi audience very different from those at other places as it is constituted of common people, leaders, bureaucrats and academics etc.

Rounding off, Munawwar promises to meet when next in Delhi and talk more about present-day politics, poetry and of course himself. We shall wait.

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