Gopaldas Saxena ‘Neeraj’

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Avijit Ghosh, July 20, 2018: The Times of India

Neeraj, whose introspective and gently-hurting poem, Karwaan guzar gaya gubaar dekhte rahe (film: ‘Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal’, 1965), ranks among the finest Hindi film songs ever written, and who formed a rewarding creative collaboration with top composers such as SD Burman and Shankar-Jaikishan, passed away.

A Padma Bhushan awardee, Neeraj had suffered a head injury after a fall in Agra and was undergoing treatment there.

Neeraj’s most memorable songs came in megaflops such as ‘Mera Naam Joker’, ‘Prem Pujari’, ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ and ‘Gambler’. But the poet, who was born in Uttar Pradesh’s Etawah, also wrote for box-office winners such as ‘Sharmilee’ and ‘Cha Cha Cha’. For Neeraj, poetry and film songs went hand in hand. His verse was often a creative blend of Hindi and Urdu. He would seamlessly glide from one language to another. Songs like Shokhiyon mein ghola jaaye phoolon ka shabab and Phoolon ke rang se (both from ‘Prem Pujari’) typify this rare gift. He could also write a geet such as Jeevan ki bagiya mahkegi (‘Tere Mere Sapne’) with the same felicity.

Neeraj, whose real name was Gopaldas Saxena, lost his father at an early age. He quit studies, did odd jobs before going back to education and earned his postgraduate degree. He taught Hindi literature in Aligarh, the city he loved and where he lived much of his later life.

In his prime, he was a popular poet who presence guaranteed a kavi sammelan’s success. Satyanand Nirpuam, editorial director, Rajkamal Paperbacks, recalls being told that in the 1960s and 70s, Neeraj’s books were a standard gift between young lovers. “He was like a rock star. Even our biology teacher would find excuses to quote his poetry in class,” he recalls. “Neeraj was an extremely sensitive poet who explored love in all its dimensions but he could be philosophical too,” says writer Sheoraj Singh “Bechain”. Actor Chandrashekhar’s reformist musical, ‘Cha Cha Cha’ (1964) was his first film. Woh hum na thhey and Subah na aayee, poetic declarations of a defeated heart, announced his arrival in the Hindi songwriting scene of the 1960s.

The following year Karwan guzar gaya, one of his most popular poems, was used in ‘Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal’. The poem captures the existential plight of idlers and dreamers, referred to by Greek poet Homer as “the lotus eaters.” Music director Roshan produced the minimalist tune to match its mood and singer Mohd Rafi rendered it pitch perfect to create a classic.

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