‘Gareeb Hain To Is Liye’ – Majrooh Sultanpuri (1919-2000)

They have not because you have a lot
For each prince is of untold beggars wrought
Gareeb hain to is liye, ki tum ameer ho gaye
(poor there-are because that your rich have become)
Ki ek baadshah hua, to sau fakir ho gaye
(that one king is, so hundred paupers there are)
Majrooh Sultanpuri (Asrar Hassan Khan) is known as one of the greatest lyricists in Indian film history.

While it’s easy to dismiss him as a low-brow practitioner of Urdu poetry, that would be an egregious mistake. Indian cinema in his era was a serious, nascent and experimental art form that made profound contributions to literary culture – and prominent poets like Majrooh, Jigar Moradabadi, Sahir Ludhianvi, etc. were instrumental to this. One thinks of the laments people from the subcontinent make about the declining quality of the songs that Bollywood produces now compared to the olden days as wistful and sentimental, but when considering the class of poets that were involved with Indian cinema then, those complaints become all too credible.

Majrooh had communist leanings (he was imprisoned for two years for his leftist political opinions), and this is one of the rare and exquisite examples when it shows up in his filmic poetry. This couplet is from a song in the movie ‘Aarti’ (1962).


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