Urdu poet Jigar Moradabadi would have been 128-years-old now. In an article in an Urdu weekly of Delhi, Azhar Hayat has drawn attention to an incident soon after Independence, when a peon from Mohd Ali Sarai in Nagpur came to his father and said a dishevelled man had arrived dead drunk and was saying he was Jigar Moradabadi.

Hayat’s father picked up a bicycle and rushed to the sarai. When he reached there he found Jigar Sahib, wearing pyjamas and shirt, with all the buttons of his sherwani open, sitting on the staircase and crooning his verses. With the help of some people, who had collected there, he took Jigar to a room in the sarai and made him confortable.   That was how the most acclaimed shair of those days was generally found by his admirers. He, along with Josh Malihabadi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Fani and Dilgir, formed the illustrious circle of Urdu poets before Maikash Akbarabadi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Majaz came into the limelight.   With no formal education, Jigar began reciting “shers” at the age of 13 at his spectacles shop and later became a pupil of Asghar Gondvi, who took advantage of the young poet’s hospitality to coerce his wife into a long affair. To get over the embarrassment, Jigar hit the bottle and drowned his sorrows in the wine-cup. After that most of his poetry was imbuned with the pleasures of drinking. Jigar means liver and the “shers” that sprang from it intoxicated not only him but also lovers of Urdu.

Inspired to become a shair like his poet father (Syed Ali Nazar), Ali Sikandar, as he was named, was born in Benaras but passed most of his life in Moradabad. Before his death in 1961, on the same day as Pandit Govind Ballab Pant, he became a Sufi and gave up drinking. But like Omar Khayyam, still invoked wine, exclaiming: “Sab ko mara Jigar ke sheron ne/ Aur Jigar ko mara sharab ne. (Jigar’s verses annhilated everyone and wine killed Jigar)”.

However, his most famous couplet eulogised this last line: “Muddatton roya karenge jam-o-paimana mujhe (the wine-cups will mourn me for ages)”. Jigar’s disciple was Majrooh Sultanpuri, who made a name for himself as a ghazal and nazm writer in Bollywood and died a few years ago.

Incidentally, in 1936, the Pioneer was misinformed to publish Jigar’s obituary. The same evening the amused poet announced over the Lucknow station of AIR that he was very much alive and would keep going his own way for many years to come!