The other day I returned home from office a little late than usual, it was about 1.30 am. Like every day I switched on the TV and served myself some cold dinner as usual and settled on watching the last bit of Tarentino’s blood fest Kill Bill for the umpteenth time.

It suited me fine. I thought by the time I finish my dinner it would be over and I could go to sleep. But the movie channel had other ideas! As soon as the Kill Bill credits rolled they were ready with another movie without even going for an ad break, perhaps because the channel is new it doesn’t get many ads.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t resist the temptation to check out which movie was next. So I waited and the moment the titled rolled I knew I was done sleeping for the night, it was already 2.30.

It was a movie that I wanted to see for a long time — Merchant-Ivory production’s In Custody. Trust the movie channel to show it on a day I needed some sleep badly.

In Custody or Muhafiz (preserver or custodian in Urdu) is based on Anita Desai’s Booker-nominated novel of the same name. This film marks the feature directorial debut of Ismail Merchant, who had been till then the producing partner with James Ivory directing most of the duo’s classics such as Howards End and Remains Of The Day.

The film portrays the decline of Urdu through the sunset years of a great shayar (poet) Nur Shahjahanabadi played by Shashi Kapoor, perhaps one of the greatest roles of his career, and the desperate attempts of his fan Deven, played by Om Puri, to preserve his idol’s works for posterity.

Deven is a teacher of Hindi at a college in Delhi, but his passion is Urdu and he considers Nur to be the greatest exponent of the language among modern poets. So when he gets a chance to interview the great poet he is ready to sacrifice anything, even his job, which is but a means for him to feed his family.

Packing off his wife to her father’s place, Deven reaches Bhopal, where his idol lives, only to discover that Nur has long since given up the fight against the onslaught of time that has taken away his desire to write in a language, which has lost its appeal to the masses.

He has given in to the pleasures of what is left of his life merrily drinking and eating with a bunch of sycophants who admire his whiskeys and biriyanis more than his shayari. They are all that is left for this great poet who had countless admirers once upon a time.

But Deven with his devotion to the language and Nur’s poetry wins his trust and the shayar grants him an interview. In a moving sequence, Nur confesses that he still has poetry left in him if only he could find a person who would just listen to him.

The ghazals and poetry used in the film are by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the celebrated Pakistani poet, who is as revered on this side of border by the few who love the language like your’s truly.

When I started writing this post I had not intended to write a review of the movie. I just wanted to express my feelings of loss after watching the movie. Perhaps I identified with Deven who felt frustrated by the apathy of people around him towards the declining language symbolized by Nur’s poetry that he struggled alone to preserve.

Although I have no such lofty projects at hand neither do I know the language well, but I love Urdu poetry and feel frustrated that there are not enough people in my circle of friends and acquaintances with whom I could have the pleasure of sharing a beautiful couplet that I may have found scrounging the Net.

There were and are a few but not nearly enough. I wish there were many, many of them.


PS: This poetry by Faiz Ahmed Faiz became the anthem for the lawyers’ march in Pakistan against President Musharraf. More on Faiz and his poetry in my next post, meanwhile, enjoy this ghazal that was also used in the film.

aaj baazaar meN paa-bajaulaaN chalo;
chashm-e-nam, jaan-e-shoriidaa kaafii nahiiN;
tohmat-e-ishq-poshiidaa kaafii nahiiN;
aaj baazaar meN paa-bajaulaaN chalo

(paa-bajaulaaN – shackles on feet like a prisoner, chashm-e-nam : teary eyes; jaan-e-shoriidaa : distressed soul; poshiidaa : hidden)

dast-afshaaN chalo, mast-o-raqsaaN chalo;
Khaak-bar-sar chalo, Khuun-baa-damaaN chalo;
raah taktaa hai sab shah’r-e-janaaN chalo;
aaj baazaar meN paa-bajaulaaN chalo

(dast-e-afshaaN : swinging hands; mast-o-raqsaaN : dancing in trance; Khaak-bar-sar : kicking the dust; khuun-baa-damaaN : blood on sleeves; shah’r-e-janaaN : city of the beloved)

haakim-e-shah’r bhii, majmaa-e-aam bhii;
tiir-e-ilzaam bhii, sang-e-dushnaam bhii;
subh-e-nashaad bhii, roz-e-nakaam bhii;
aaj baazaar meN paa-bajaulaaN chalo

(haakim-e-shah’r : ruler of the city; majmaa-e-aam : the crowd of common people; tiir-e-ilzaam : arrow of accusation; sang-e-dushnam : the stones of accusation; subh-e-nashaad : morning of sorrow; roz-e-nakaam : a day of failure)

in kaa damsaaz apne sivaa kaun hai;
shah’r-e-jaanaN meN ab baa-safaa kaun hai;
dast-e-qaatil ke shaayaaN rahaa kaun hai

(damsaaz : friend; baa-safaa : sincere; dast-e-qaatil : hands of the murderer; shaayaaN : worthy)

rakht-e-dil baandh lo, dil figaaro chalo
phir hamiiN qatl ho aayeN yaaro chalo
aaj baazaar meN paa-bajaulaaN chalo

(rakht-e-dil : heart beats; dil figaaro : broken hearted)


7 thoughts on “Muhafiz

  1. Aaj ek harf ko phir dhoondta phirta hai khayal
    Madh bhara harf koi, zeher bhara harf koi
    Dil-nashin harf koi, qeher bhara harf koi
    Aaj ek harf ko phir dhoondta phirta hai khayal

    1. Hello Sophia thank you for reading and commenting on the post. When I wrote the post nearly six years ago I was quite disillusioned but now I see there is indeed a revival of interest in the language. For instance Rekhta did a fine job recently in Delhi I wish I could attend the programmes. Thanks again. Cheers!

  2. Hey that’s very interesting I didn’t know about the Urduwallahs. Actually I’m kind of new to the city though it’s nearly two years! Would love to be at the Mehfil. Thanks for the info:)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s