Princely flavour

Notes of class Shahryar at The Park's Fire restaurant

Notes of class Shahryar at The Park's Fire restaurant   | Photo Credit: Photo: V.Sudershan

Shahryar sticks to his guns — be it his poetry or his palate

“Seene Mein Jalan, Akhon Mein Toofan Sa Kyon Hai, Is Shahar Mein Har Shaqs Pareshan Sa Kyun Hai”. Every time you hear this song, you tend to think that the poet must have been a disturbed soul in a bustling metro. No, not at all! The man is Akhlaq Mohammed Khan popularly known as Shahryar. He spent most of his life teaching Urdu fiction – for he thinks poetry can't be taught – at the languid environs of Aligarh Muslim University. “That's how poetry should be. It should transcend place and generations. That's why Ghalib is relevant even today. Mumbai people think the song tells their story. Delhiities feel it belongs to them,” says Shahryar settling for a leisurely lunch at The Park, where the Fire restaurant is hosting an Oudhi Food Festival. Good for the veteran, as he doesn't want to put his taste buds to test for anything except Indian. “Once I survived for three days without food in Rome. Eventually I found Shahid Mehdi (former diplomat) and he got me some Indian stuff. I am overweight and my doctors say I am not helping my cause but I can't do without tasty food. That so-called drab, hygienic food is not for me.”

The Umrao story

One of the novels that he taught for years was “Umrao Jaan”. With a peg of gin for company, Shahryar reels out the story, “When I had just joined the Urdu department, Muzaffar Ali was a science student. At that time he was known for his paintings. During a meeting, I presented him a collection of my poems. Years later when he ventured into filmmaking with Gaman, he remembered me. We used to discuss the need for an authentic film on Oudh culture. Muzzaffar is from the region and I was well aware of the nuances of Umrao, so things fell in place. During those meetings, I fell in love with Oudhi food particularly tunde kababs.”

Here executive chef Aditya Jaimini tries to match it with murgh tikka and gets Shahryar's nod. “I am a Marxist but I don't believe in changing the world if I can't better it. I drink wine but I don't glorify drinking. Also I don't expect the audience to respect me even if I behave awkwardly after drinking as my drinking habit has nothing to do with my poetry.”

Never to romanticise his pain and pleasure, Shahryar says he was good at hockey and wanted to be an athlete but his father wanted to see him in a police uniform. “I ran away from home and found a patron in poet Khalil-Ur-Rehman Azmi in AMU. While staying with him I realised there is a poet lurking in me as well. He helped me in honing my craft but I never learnt technical things like getting the metre right. It used to fall in place on its own. I used to write Kunwar before my name, so when I started writing my ustad suggested using Shahryar because it means prince.” There must be female fans. “Of course, I was good looking but as a poet one should learn to distinguish between the applause for the poetry and the personality. It is not easy as there is no single button to keep yourself in check. And in such situations plenty of buttons get pressed automatically!”

Was his literary bent responsible for keeping him away from Bollywood? “Partly, those days, the film industry wanted lyricists who could set words to tunes. It is not that I was obstinate about my literary goals. When required I moulded my original lines to suit the situation. For instance, in the song ‘Zindagi teri bazm mein jab bhi laati hai hamein, Ye zameen chaand se behetar nazar ati hai humein', the latter half of the line was written in a ‘progressive movement' context for another nazm. But I gave it a romantic angle by adding the first half. After Faasle, Yash Chopra promised three films a year if I shifted to Mumbai but I couldn't match Mumbai's pace. The traffic makes me fidgety. Now even Aligarh is getting crowded.”

For the moment, his plate is getting packed with lagan ka murgh, Lucknowi murgh biryani and paneer lazzatdar. Trying ulta tawa parantha, Shahryar says he is good at cooking exciting combinations of vegetable and meat. “Lauki gosht and turai gosht are some of my favourites.”

Delhiites will soon get to hear Shahryar at the prestigious Shankar-Shaad mushaira organised by the DCM group on March 6, where he will share the stage with eminent Pakistani poets. “It is one of the rare ones, which is maintaining its standards. Otherwise organisers follow a fixed format in the name of public demand – some female poets, some practitioners of satire, some overzealous types, who will explain the motive – terrorism, US imperialism, etc….There is no dearth of audience for quality poetry. I never indulge in drama and let the listeners make their own meanings of the imagery but I still get invitations.”

With shahi tukda lending a royal touch, Shahryar parts with a not-so-sweet reality. “Today people have a lot of money to spend but no time to splurge. Poetry demands time. It is like fishing….”


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