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Hindi poet and film lyricist Neeraj dies at 93

The poet had suffered a head injury after a fall at his home in Agra.

Our Correspondent

Neeraj, one of the leading Hindi poets of all time, died in New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) tonight. He was 93.

Neeraj, who lived in Agra, had suffered a head injury after a fall at his home. He was initially admitted in an Agra hospital, but when his condition worsened he was shifted to the AIIMS.

A report of the Press Trust of India news agency quoted the AIIMS trauma centre head, Dr Rajesh Malhotra, as saying that the poet's kidneys had failed and his body was wracked by infection when he was shifted there on Wednesday night.

Neeraj passed away at about 07:30 pm on Thursday. His family was by his side when the end came.

Born Gopaldas Saxena on 4 January 1925 in village Puravali in what is today Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh, Neeraj lost his father when he was just six years old.

After Matriculation young Gopaldas took up a job as a typist to look after his family. However, he did not give up his education and continued to study in his spare time until he completed his post-graduation and got a job as a lecturer in Aligarh.

Neeraj, who later dropped his surname in a move against the caste system, was teaching Hindi in Dharam Samaj college when his works began to be noticed. Soon the world of Hindi cinema also came calling. Neeraj's poem, 'Carvaan Guzar Gaya Ghubar Dekhte Rahe', inspired the film Nai Umar Ki Nai Fasal (1965). The film bombed but the song, rendered by Mohammad Rafi, became a superhit.

Neeraj worked with top music directors of the day like Sachin Dev Burman and Shankar-Jaikishan and actor-producers like Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, but he eventually returned to academia in the early 1970s when he could not bring himself to compromise with the demands of the newer producers and composers.

The poet was awarded the Padma Shri in 1991 and the Padma Bhushan in 2007 for his work in the fields of literature and education.

In his later years, Neeraj was close to the Samajwadi Party, whose founder, Mulayam Singh Yadav, also hailed from Etawah and this closeness resulted in controversies when he was appointed to state government positions.

Condoling his death, prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted that "Neeraj's unique style connected him with people from all walks of life, across generations".

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh wrote that he had been listening to Neeraj's poetry "since childhood and will always remember the depth he brought to his gems".