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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gopaldas 'Neeraj' - Chalta Rahe Yeh Caravan…

It was in the early 60s when a youngster from Aligarh, who had already established his credentials as a litterateur and a poet and had completed a whole gamut of scholastic pursuits, opted for higher sweepstakes of the tinsel world. He went on to leave his imprimatur as the finest literary talent from UP to have enshrined the terra-firma of Bollywood. Gopaldas Neeraj was his name.

In a career that lasted just about a decade, Neeraj came up with heart-tugging musical utterances that enhanced the elegance of poetic Hindi lexicon across the film firmament like never before. Not for him the loosely framed scaffolding of inane word-spinning that was the standard norm; every number of his bore the inimitable stamp of a rare alchemist in sensitive poetry. He made his foray through a B-grader flick called ‘Cha Cha Cha’ with the numbers - ‘Luti jahaan pe bewajaah paalki bahaar ki’ and ‘Subah na aai, shaam na aayi’ having the most exquisite wraparound of words and emotions, which instantly captured the attention of music lovers. But Neeraj’s finest moment came with the film, ‘Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal’ which was embellished by what has come to be rated as the poet’s ‘sacrosanct musical template’ - ‘Caravan guzar gaya, ghubaar dekhte rahe’, a turgid socio-economic parable that saw Neeraj pouring out his creative zest in the most perfect amalgam of meter, rhyme & poetry. Here was a number that attained the same measure of popularity within the ambit of films as outside of it. With his literary bona-fides having been established, Neeraj was all set to climb further up to the bigger league of song writers in films.

With the demise of Shailendra in 1966, Neeraj came the closest to filling the void in the Shanker-Jaikishan team as the one who could provide a poetic slant to Hasrat Jaipuri’s shairana style. And he did create some outstanding numbers for the high-profile duo, like the lyrical idyll, ‘Likhe jo khat tujhe’ (‘Kanyadaan’) written in iambic or open verse - a metaphor for astute penmanship, ‘Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo’ (‘Mera Naam Joker’) - an evergreen classic that almost created a colloquy with the audience, ‘Bas yehi apradh main har baar karta hoon’ (‘Pehchan’) - an wistful ode to human affiliation and the unabashedly romantic, ‘Aap yahan aaye kisliye’ (‘Kal Aaj Aur Kal’). Neeraj’s most famous teaming up however, was with the genial SD Burman that created a virtual cascade – in one sweep he could exhibit his mettle on a convoluted meter with ‘Rangeela Re’ or create a heady aperitif with 'Shokhion mein ghola jaaye phoolon ka shabab' (‘Prem Pujari’), create moonlit hues with ‘Megha chaaye aadhi raat’ (‘Sharmilee’), sound fragrantly effusive with ‘Jeewan ki bagiya mehkegi’, swear unfailing love with 'Hey maine qasam lee' or weave a socio-mythological parable with 'Jaise Radha ne maala japi Shyam ki' (‘Tere Mere Sapne’), disseminate arguably philosophical overtones with ‘Dil aaj shayar hai’ and on a faster beat, 'Choodi naheen ye mera dil hai' (‘Gambler’) or create a whimsical parody of sorts with ‘Dheere se jaana khatiyan mein’ (‘Chupa Rustam’) – counting just a few of several exquisite numbers that left indelible poetic sinews across the wellsprings of time.

With the turn of the 70s, Neeraj, having attained some measure of popularity, set up temporary base in Mumbai, without abandoning his roots of course. But he was too much of a simpleton to adapt to the hop, skip & jump style of Bollywood, besides being plagued by persistent ill-health, owing to a constant shuttle between Aligarh and Mumbai. Besides, the Mumbai industry thrived on team-work and here is where Neeraj, by his own confession was a victim of destiny’s decree. The composers with whom he worked with a fair measure of regularity – Roshan & Jaikishan (of the S-J duo) had passed away by 1971 and Dada Burman in 1975; the younger generation of composers had their own committed writers to look elsewhere. Neeraj was soon out in the cold despite the exquisite poetry that he wove into his works. Soon enough, the poet in him was rekindled and he returned to his hometown after a final tryst with destiny through a surpassingly lovely creation – ‘Jannat hai dekhni to kisi dil mein aashiyan bana’ from ‘Shatranj Ke Mohre’ reflecting his all-encompassing love for mankind that was axiomatically depicted in another of his poetic jargons – ‘Vaheen dhoondna Neeraj ko tum jahaanwaalon, jahaan bhi dard ki koi basti nazar aaye’. Another one of his lesser heard but well-crafted numbers was, 'Suryamukhi hai mukhda tera' from the film 'Tu Meri Main Tera'. The sad reality now was that he was no longer in the big league of cine-lyricists and the offers were for such obscure, low-budget films that stymied his growth as a writer. Goldie (Vijay) Anand, his old colleague and friend did apparently summon him to write for a film which he was directing for Dev Anand and Neeraj did come dowm from Aligarh to pen the song. Sadly, the film and as a result the song never saw the light of the day and are both languishing in the cans somewhere. Despite the allure of the tinsel world, he remained a poet at heart – 'Aatma ke saundarya ka shabd roop hai kaavya, maanav hona bhaagya hai, kavi hona saubhaagya’.

In a career spanning 55 years, Padma Bhushan Neeraj can well be given the sobriquet of the ‘Poet Laureate of India’ with a range & variety that epitomized his creative genius. Not many can claim to have received equal encomiums from the litterateurs as well the cine-goers, appealing to the connoisseurs as well as the commoners, which makes his art so timeless.

Just as the Bard of Avon sang, ‘If music be the food of love, play on’, Gopaldas Neeraj, a tsar in his own poetic fiefdom, continues to move along the whispering sand dunes leaving behind a trail of bitter, sweet musical intonations. ‘Yaad rakh jo aandhiyon ke saamne bhi muskuraate, voh samay ke panth par, pad chinnh apne chod jaate’.

‘Caravan guzar gaya’ he had once lamented but for unabashed loyalists of the lyricist-poet it would be - ‘Chalta rahe ye caravan, umr-e-rawaan ka caravan…’ .

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