Hindustani poetry master who included Hindi film songs
It is the responsibility of its paladins to make sure that literary traditions keep up with societal conventions and, in particular, don't lose out on technological advancements if they are to stay relevant.
This "shair" in Urdu poetry is credited for not only utilising more straightforward language to increase the attractiveness of his work but also starting the genre's long relationship with Bollywood movies.
The leading mainstream poet "Arzoo Lakhnavi" was one of the first, if not the first, to start writing lyrics for the budding film industry. He started in the 1930s in Calcutta's New Theatres and moved to Bombay in 1942 because he understood how this association would preserve and expand the reach of Urdu poetry beyond its natural followership.
Much before Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, or Shakeel Badayuni became known, he was crafting lyrics for Indian cinema's first superstars — K.L. Saigal ("Karun kya aas niras bhayi" from "Dushman", 1939) and Kanan Devi ("Lachmi murat daras dikhaye" from "Street Singer", 1938) as well as for emerging stars like Madhubala ("Aayi Bhor Suhani" from "Beqasoor", 1950), and more.
Syed Anwar Hussain 'Arzoo Lakhnavi' (February 16, 1873–April 16, 1951), an exceptional representative of 'Dabistan-e-Lakhnau' or the Lucknow School of Urdu poetry, looked destined to be a poet.
His mother Amna Begum also came from a scholarly and literary family, and he took to poetry with enthusiasm from an early age. His father, Mir Zakir Hussain "Yas," and older brother, Mir Yusuf Hussain "Qayas," were also poets. He was a "shagird" of Syed Zaman Ali "Jalal Lakhnavi" (1831–1909), much like his father, and only then did he begin to display his talent. He then went on to tutor the other disciples while his mentor was still alive and eventually took the title of "ustad" for them.
He also took a different route, opting to employ just Urdu despite having a thorough understanding of both Arabic and Persian, while maintaining the tradition's themes and concentration, and forgoing its complex flourishes.
He demonstrated his brilliance in all forms of poetry, including geets, masnavis, rubai, as well as marsiyas, naats, salams, and qasidas, and he also created stage dramas, dialogue, and songs for more than two dozen films. But, he is most known for his ghazal-goi.
The author of "Arzoo" admitted that his work had echoes of his great predecessors Mir and Ghalib, but he also expressed a wish to be distinct from them and from other writers of his day, like Dagh Dehlvi and others.
The opening words of his collection "Sureeli Bansuri," one of his most renowned works, are an example of how successful he was in forging his own unique path. "Jis ne banayi bansuri, geet usi ke gaaye jaa/Saans jab tak aaye jaaye, ek hi dhun bajaaye jaa," they read.
A well-known critic noted that "Arzoo" "made it evident that the language of poetry is not separate from the language of the world, nor is it always trapped in the captivity of old traditions" by bringing the ghazal closer to the language of speech.
Even when dealing with beauty, love and courtship — a staple though not the sole focus of the Lucknow School or the whole tradition itself, 'Arzoo' could be different: "Dafattan tarq-e-taaluq mein bhi rusvaai hai / Uljhe daman ko churhate nahi jhatka de kar", or, "Kis ne bheegi huye baalon se jhatka pani / Jhoom ke aayi ghata, toot ke barsa paani" or even "Allah Allah husn ke ye parda-daari dekhiye / Bhed jis ne kholna chaha voh deewana huya".
'Arzoo' could also create some unique imagery in those familiar settings, be it the tavern: "Haath se kisi ne saghir patka mausam ki be-kaifi par / Toot ke itna barsa badal dhoob chala maikhana bhi" or the mehfil: "Awwal-e-shab voh bazm ki raunaq shama bhi parvana bhi / Raat ke akhi hote hote khatam tha yeh afsana bhi", or even encounters: "Baat karne mein vo un aankhon se amrit tapka / 'Arzoo' dekhte hi munh mein bhar aaya paani".
After that, he displayed the humorous nature of the Lucknow School and was skilled at subtly adjusting the atmosphere in subsequent couplets. Take: "Zamana yaad tera ai dil-e-naakaam aata hai / tapak padhte hai aansu jab wafa ka naam aata hai", go on to "Wafa tum se karenge dukh sahenge naaz uthayenge / Jise aata hai dil dena use har kaam aata hai" and end "Haseenon mein basar kar di jawaani 'Arzoo' ham ne / Lagaana dil ka seekhe hain yahi ek kaam aata hai".
Aankhen kuch dekhen to batlayen ke kya kya lut gaya; "Jab koyal kook sunaati hai to pati pati lahrati hai; Ham kisi se kahen aur kaun sune, Hamdard hamara koi nahi" are only a few examples of the melancholy touches he could make in his rhyme, like Mir.
This could also extend to a sort of hopelessness towards life and its purpose: "Hamari zindagi to ek guzar gah havadis hai / Ajab hai shamaa ka aandhi ke jhonkon main basar karna" or: "Har gul ko is chaman mein kya zarq barq paya / Dekha to ek jana sungha to farq paya" and "Koi hasrat mein dil ka sarmaya / Kuch kahi kuch kahi padha paya" or even maybe: "Hasti ki haqeeqat ko gar bad fanaa jaana / Ab soche to kya soche ab jaana to kya jaana".
The 25,000 ghazals that have been ascribed to him and are compiled in seven "divans" include all of this and much more.
He was just as adaptable in his cinematic career. If in Saigal's "Street Singer", he could write "Jeevan been madhur na baaje jhoote padh gaye taar / Bigde kaath se kaam bane kya megh baje na malware", he could also compose the ghazal "Sukoon dil ko mayassar gul-o-samar mein nahi / Jo aashiyaan mein hai apne vah bagh bhar men nahi".
Given the title of "Allama," which is only given to a small number of literary giants of the modern era, Arzoo and his poetry best capture the way that Urdu ghazal and other forms of poetry are intertwined with the Indian ethos, which is characterised by vibrant diversity rather than staid uniformity. That alone is reason enough to think about him.