Shahir Amar Shaikh and his Contributions to Working Class Culture and literature

Shahir Amar Shaikh


In today’s hubbub, the collective voice of descent of working masses appears to have melted away and ‘organizational strength’ of toiling and working masses is in retreat. Under such a chaotic situation, we are inevitably reminded of an eloquent popular voice, a poet and troubadour of the working class in India! — the Historic, mountainous and unique voice of SHAHIR AMAR SHAIKH—the poetic genius who articulated the multiple folds of experiences of working masses, their deprivation, misery, pain, anguish It was the Rhythm of his voice that made the tired and exhausted masses spellbound and made them spring to their feet. The Voice inspired them to gather strength and convert it into a collective vocal expression!

This is the story of Sharir Amar Shaikh (1916-1969), a Revolutionary poetic genius who represents the most creative phase of the working class movement in India. It is my endeavor to rekindle the historic period by reaching into the realms of Amar Sheikh’s unparalleled talent and voiceand his ability to spontaneously and uniquely articulate imagery from within the folds of experiences of working class. His voice could keep the audienceriveted and listeners spellbound.  More importantly, the poetic voice possessed the evocative power to provide collective impetus to unite the thought processes of masses of people and turn it into a collective, rhythmic uproar against injustice and deception.The imagery he created was rooted in his childhood and inspired by his mother Munerbi. The vocal Representation was created by compounding of various images gathered AND ASSIMILATED from collective experiences of pain and agony of laboring classes.


Amar was essentially a Poet and then Singer and fighter from the ranks of downtrodden working classes who possessed the Art of inspiring Lakhs to articulate their suppressed, unspoken ‘word’ and language. His emotionally saturated poetic creations sprung from his heart and were shaped by rational thought processes and were firmly grounded in multitudes of class experiences.Their impact in ‘tying together the masses’ by arousing the intellectual thought processes of mass of working people and weld them was phenomenal.

AMAR was not formally educated, but his ability to assimilate the experiences of innumerable working men and women in the midst of everyday life through agitations, struggles and events involving Class conflicts and injustice and articulate their collective ethos in to words and language of masses turned him into a vanguard of literati in Maharashtra! His poetics and poems are not the creations of ‘ARM CHAIR’ intellectuals and addressed to ‘Connoisseurs’ of literary tastes. His poetic creations were directed to understand and aimed at experiences of those who could not afford to take even two mealsa day, tocrores of partially educated and to those who did not have protectors, saviors, defenders. The sole intention of his songs was to arouse them to know themselves, make them stand on their feet and unite in ‘self defense’, organize and fight.His message through Poems and poetic verses was to ‘Create- assemblage, translate your energy into Unions and federations’.

His poetic songs, words and voice were magical and aimed at facilitating mass upsurge of energy. Two of his poetic creations,‘SutalayVadaliVara’ (Here rages the whirling Roaring of oceanic winds), truly represented the rhythmicmass uproar against the repression, injustice and exploitation under capitalism,on the other hand, ‘MajhiMainaGavavarrahili, Mazya jeevachi Zalihotiya Kahili’, ‘My beloved is left alone in our village, My heart and soul burns for her from unspeakable unease’, a poem written by Annabhau Sathe and sung by Amar Shaikh speaks out/up volumes of pain and anguish suffered by lakhs of textile workers uprooted from their village family life in Mumbai during 1910s to 1950s, the period that forms the painful process of formation of working classes in India. These popular poetic creations and songs shook the textile city of Bombay–took the textile city by a storm. The workers spontaneously responded with complete involvement, since the song represented their plight and pain! They were charged up and realized the need to organize and collectively express. This was the story of each poem sung by AMAR.

Mother Munerabi and Making of Shahir Amar Shaikh.

Shahir Amar Shaikh (MehaboobHussainPatel) who was born in a Muslim Family inBarshi(Distr. Solapur, Maharashtra) rose from being a Cleanerand associate of Bus Driver to the ranks of a Textile worker in Mumbai. His participation in the Textile workers’ strike resulted into his arrest and imprisonment in Bilaspur Jail. To avoid subsequent arrests, he worked in Master Vinayak’s Film studio NAVAYUG, wherein he was renamed, ‘Amar Shaikh’. His journey as a child born to a landless, laboring, toiling mother to ayouthful, agitating Textile worker in a short span was highly energetic. He lived in front of Modern Mills and gathered life experiences of innumerable working men and women. It steeled not only his determination but also shaped his imagination, expressive language, his ‘writing skills’ and his passionate, poignant,lofty voice.

His mother, Munerabi, a farm labor, carrying sickle in her right hand and Child tied on her back with a Cloth and laboring and toiling on the Farm, tired and sweating,used to ask one question to herself:

“Life, O, Life’! Such alife should not fall into Share of a Dog!,

Why such a life falls into Share of Human and Laborer?”

Such Universal Question of her ripped into the core of Amar’s Psyche and heart and turned into lifelong guiding and driving inspirational forcein search of answer and pursuit of  ‘TRUTH’!

His pen and the powers of his speech and tongue were committed to organize and vocalize the Underprivileged, Neglected population. His songs and ballads, folk songs and Folk drama had an immeasurable capacity to captivate and infatuate the crowds and kindle their hearts.

His poetic creation, ‘My Mother’ – from his Book ‘Dhartimata’, recreates the image of his own Mother, the Universal Mother’,

“yes, right, she is my mother- my Mother’,

Yes, Shekeeps Cooling her Heels on roads,She is seen Standingat a corner, each corner,

“yes, right, she is my mother- my Mother’,


She carries with her, fully filled ingenuous naivety, “yes, right, she is my mother- my Mother’

Before the crack of the dawn, everything she winds up,Leaves home like Frenzied winds,

In a hurry to reach the work Place,Filthy, Dirty, feeble and weak Woman,

“yes, right, she is my mother- my Mother’,


Still, I am unable to decipher her grandeur;This is how is my mother, my mother’

He pictures and portrays his toiling, tired, Mother, engaged to work to feed the Child tied on to her Back and the image never left him. It inspired him, and her agony propelled him toward expression of collective anguish of all working women and keep away the proletarian working men and women from defeatist mood!We are reminded of ‘Mother’ by Maxim Gorky! What Gorky achieved through the Novel, Amar Shaikh aimed the same.

There are good numbers of noteworthy Poems, like ‘Malan KamaneSukali” (Malan withers with work), which expresses the agony of a Textile worker, about his Mill-employed Life Partner.The Male worker just witnesses the withering of his beloved Malan slowly over time as a result of super exploitation. The disastrous impact on the love life of the couple saddens the listener.

“With overwork in the Mill she tires up,

With Work my ‘Malan’ withers and wears’

Fresh ripened jambool at dawn

My galloping and dancing Doe-dear

Like fresh shear buttery cream

Her ‘youth’ thrown in to Joint of Molding cast

My ‘Malan’ withers and wears’

Here he narrates the experience and agony of working men and women who lose out on their complete youth and their life energies are burnt into the super exploiting Work Processes of Textile Mill work.

In his Poetic collection, ‘DHARTIMATA’, AMAR SHAIKH defines his poetry as ‘Life’–an uninterrupted, unobstructed, passionately burning pursuit of Truth. My Poetry is my agony and anguish. AMARGEET, a similar collection of Poems, and his poetic creations (Published in 1951 with 43 poems), with Introduction by researcher and Historian Prof. N.R. Phatak, and another of his poetic collection- DHARTIMATA’ stand out as part of best of the poems in Marathi Literature.

Mother Munerbi’s question, ‘Why such a life falls into share of Human and Laborer’? turned into never lasting impetus and guided the ‘Poet’ and Bard in him throughout. This turned into a creative immortal instinct. It inspired him to form Lal Bavta Kala pathak (Red Flag Troupe).,


His active profile as an Ordinary Mill worker and as Minstrel of working people began in 1930 and flourished during the 1937 mass general strike of Textile workers and agitation and during world war II. Again, his involvement in every class-based agitationcontinued after Indian Independence and during ‘United Maharashtra Movement’ and till 1961. It is sad that the value of this most Popular Minstrel of Maharashtra, his Scientific and literary Imagination has not been recognized by Marathi literati! His Scientific understanding of Marxism was Natural, born and flowered out of class experiences. His mountainous and beautiful voice was universally expressive of inner meanings of pains, emotions embedded in everyday work-life and rushing out like the blossoming of the red flower. The Symbols, similes, Imagery and figures of speech used were spontaneous, natural, and aimed at explorations and aesthetic articulation of class pains and were filled to the brim by the wrath of struggles. The Epochal Literary Value of Amar Shaikh’s Contributions needs to be restored and brought to the fore.

Amar Shaikh’s understanding of Classical Marxism was scientific. It is interesting to see how AMAR SHAIKH articulates the Commodity Fetishism that is experienced by Labor and the working massesunder the yoke of capitalist production, circulation and surface expression of the essence of commodity fetishism as exchange of ‘Commodities’. How the labor surrenders his Creative Powers and energy to the Authoritarian ‘Will of the Capital’every day.The Metaphor of the “Ass tempted to run in rotation, never-ending circular mode to catch hold of carrot tied to its own head”. It’s a beautiful and appropriate Metaphor used to expose Commodity Fetishism!

Amar Shaikh portrays and makes the Birth of Commodity Fetishism intelligible to ordinary workers’metaphor and the allegory of the apparently never-ending role of the Capitalist Reproduction process as internalization of the class experiences as his own. His poem, “PavShatak’ (Quarter century) speaks of his struggle and enormous efforts over twenty five years since 1930, to unveal the secrets of Fetishism in the course of struggle to conquer it and to get ‘FREE” from it. It begins from the British Imperialist Rule and continues inPost‑ independent India.

The situation of working masses did not undergo any changeand Freedom from Capitalism is rooted in Freedom from Fetishism,and in the aftermath of Political Independence from British Imperialism, ‘FREEDOM’ remained an illusion. His Poem recreates the natural process of recreation of the deceptive illusion of freedom, glittering and overlapping under capitalist production, circulation and exchange.

Struggling-Stumbling for Quarter Century,

To win this Life-consuming War!


‘The moment I opened my eyes,

Exposed I was to sorrow, misery-plight and poverty’.

Life slavish, ephemeral and fleeting impregnated with pain.

Catastrophic un-employment,Starvation all around despite pouring out my efforts!


‘Got up in the Heat of moment,

like an arrow to invoke the songs of revolution’

In the course of life, ‘prey’ of the Deception’

of Independence from British Rule.

“Struggled to become victorious’,

Received ‘Self Rule’ as Victory

Struggling-Stumbling for Quarter Century,

To win this Life-consuming War!

For a Momentexperienced the semblance of freedom,

Achieved the ‘Invaluable freedom’

Struggle resulted in to fruitation,

 exploitation ended, Britishers ran away”

“However, soon, exploded the Pumpkin.

the blob of illusion, hallucination”

‘And I understood the entire ‘secret’,

 of Fetish, of illusory Independence”,


It need not be stated again to say that as a Proletarian Intellectual, Shahir Amar Shaikh understoodthoroughly the cyclical process of regeneration of CAPITAL, Selling of Labor Power, compensation (Wages), Work and Exploitation, capital accumulation and consumption for survival and recreation of labor powerand surrender of labor power again. This circular process-movement is the mother of hallucination-delusion. This tempo and its consolidation due to its unceasing, incessant movement makeimpossible the revelation of its mystery and the enigma inherent in capital accumulation. The Metaphor of the “Ass tempted to run in rotation, never-ending circular mode to catch hold of carrot tied to its own head”is a beautiful and appropriate Metaphor used to expose Commodity Fetishism!

Amar spells out the determination of working people to conquer freedom by tireless prolonging struggle till reaching the goal of ‘Victory’.

“Ass runs and walks in Rotation to catch it up!

Nothing reaches his mouth.

Matching is the circular movement of Freedom.

What solution Amar Offers is to ready the working people through songs, which

“Evoked  me to rise again! I Got up again to strive for the Battle

To sing the songs with same urge,

Infuse in them soul and heart to win the war

To pull the heaven on to earth, walking on the precise road/route.

With neither ease nor rest to my soul still Struggling-Stumbling for a Quarter Century,

To win this Life-consuming War!”

As a crusader, he dedicated his life to create songs and poetry, as articulator of pain, agony and strife andpropagate active message and way forward to all fellow working men and women,stumbling and falling to rise again, awaken till you unveilthe Fetishism of Capital.

Production Processes-centered Poetic Imagery

The period from 1933 to 1939 was a mile stone period that made him the ‘Historical AMAR SHAIKH’ that we know. His Psychological, Emotional and Intellectual thinking processes and his understanding of proletarian History springs from the impact of 1905 and October 1917 Russian Revolutions.

During this period and the subsequent period, he was fully involved with the Textile Industry, firstly in the capacity of a worker and then, as an activist and minstrel. He matured during this period. In his own poetic words, he understoodhow the class Unity grows. He likens it with ‘Weaving and close and firmly knitting together of a Cloth/Yarn on Handlooms or Powerlooms (MAG-Treadles) in a Textile Mill! The shuttle becomes the symbol of strength and solidarity of working masses! It spins like Lord Krishna’s ‘Sudarshan Chakra’. In 1939, AMAR SHAIKH carried throughAnti-War strike, uniting the workers.With the Textile labor process, Amar uses the symbol of ‘DHOTA’(Shuttle) to represent the combined-collective force of the working class.

Here we come across its striking similarity with Sigmund Freud’s quote from Goethe’s Faust. His quote “when we enter the ‘dream work’ we ‘Find ourselves in Factory of thoughts’, as in Weaver’s masterpiece”.

“— a thousand threads one treadle throws,

Where fly the shuttle hither and thider,

Unseen threads are knit together,

And an infinite combination grows”

Amar Shaikh’s uses his everyday life symbol, Factory, to explain how the combination grows, the means by which all thought processes of the working masses are structured and organized Unconsciously and consciously in the minds of collective work force!His voice facilitated the expression of verbal imagery as a natural process rushing from within the Collective Unconscious like flowering of a Dream!

His poem, “CHHATI ASEL TAR YA—–(‘If you dare to confront’)challenges the oppressors and repressing Rulers during the General Strike by Textile workers.

“The shuttle has sprung out from the Dies!

All Dies have come to standstill!

Here we all have gathered with the shuttles!

Are on the roads! To put up our struggle! To arrest their Advance!

“ Shuttle, Bobbin, Bamboo, the Persian Wheel”

Shoulders to shoulders, holding hands in hands,

With our strength, have taken to the streets

No retreat, the outcome is on the walls!

They assault our strength, to dismantle Unity, to shoot out with Bullets

Remember, if you dare to confront! (It is of no use)

Note, our shuttles have already departed(to strike at you)!


The allegories and Images to articulate the Unity and also to throw up challenges have origins in the production processes–industrial and agrarian.

All his poetic creations are great illustrations in Marathi literature and have the capacity to transcend the linguistic and regional barriers.


Amar Shaikh also testifies his exposure to Classical Singing.In Introduction to his ‘AMARGEET’ he says, “I firmly believe and insist that our songs must have foundations of classical Music”. However, those who sing my poems are financially not rich, they encounter innumerable difficulties and torturous living conditions, and I cannot expect the same from them. What I expect is for those singers to sing melodiously and rhythmically”. Rhyming forms the indivisible quality of his Poetry. I have not seen even a single poem or even a single stanzafrom his poetic creations, which is not casted in Rhyme. Rhyming was spontaneous and could provide aesthetical value and beauty to his structured poems. However, he ensured that he could cast his voice and rhythm in to essence and spirit of classical music to articulate uproar and commotion in the collective psyche of the mass of agitating working class people. His similes, well rooted in to everyday working life of people, were extremely powerful in conveying messages in poetic forms and styles. Prof. N.R. Phatak, Professor of Marathi by profession, a renowned and intellectual journalist, Historian and literary critic calls Amar Shaikh’s voice as gifted, melodious and mountainous, which proved to be moving and fascinating for the masses of working men and women and agrarian labor and farmers. “His songs used the common language used by people in everyday life and can be identified as mass propaganda, which could touch the hearts of millions of people. A number of political parties copying his singing style only stamps AMAR SHAIKH’s popularity. His handwritten Manuscripts were confiscated by police under British Rule (1930 onward) and also by Bombay State Police under Morarji Desai’s rule. They are still under lockup. Only whatever AMAR SHAIKH could reproduce from his memories has reached Publications. His publications-Anthologies-अमरगीत (Amargeet) (1951), कलश (Pitcher) (1958), धरतीमाता, (Mother Earthe) (1963)and Drama- पहिलाबळी (First Victim) (1951) have survived since Amar Shaikh recollected number of poems from memories. His poetry and songs and their impact on the masses of working people created fears in the minds of Rulers.

He was the Vanguard Minstrel of agitating workers and the downtrodden laboring mass and Social revolutionary literary Artists, and as an inveterate communist, his powers of imagination used to incessantly spin around problems of Misery of working masses and Unity of the dispossessed and unprotected popular masses. It was the chorus of all of his songs. Several of his songs reiterate, reemphasize, self-uplift, self-activityand‘self-organization and assemblage’ of agrarian and manufacturing-based working masses. It appears that it was his spontaneous urge and at the same time assimilation of experiences of the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolution. His poetry was dedicated to ardha- nagna ani ardh-poti working population and his poetry touched their hearts. Even in 1950s, the written versions were seized by Mumbai Government. AMAR recreated the poetry from his memory as ‘AMARGEET’(1930-These songs reached every corner of Maharashtra, every city, every chawl, every village. It will be astonishing to learn two things from Amar. One,‘Our Songs must have the foundations of Classical Music’ and second, they must be ‘melodious and rhythmic’.

His several of poemsare centered around the working conditions and ‘precarious environmental living conditions of the working individuals and the groups. His poems cover the typical representatives of the working people. Simple and gullible female workers, ordinary workers, Farmers and peasants,workers, fishermen,landless laborers, Factory workers, Women, youth, Old aged and Striking workmen in the midst of their health hazards–their pains, anguish and misery became the subject and object material and matter of his poetics.In poetic verses, he creates their living characters. In this sense, he was characterrologist par excellence. He recreates them in their physiognomy (Physical Appearances), Phrenology (Psychological Character), their passions, their ethnology and sociology as well.

We can illustrate it with translating a stanza from his poem to show how he recreates the  Character  of‘Baby’–Babu’s sister who dies with Tuberculosis.He creates it to demonstrate the impact capitalist exploitation on the health and its hazards on the life of ordinary working population under capitalist Supreme exploitation fiercely perused by Capitalist mode of production is the Mother and birth location of frightening deadly diseases and resulting agonies, pains and sufferings of the poor. Amar Shaikh’s Poem, ‘Kshayane Meli Babuchi Bahin” portrays the rampages and rage of such epidemics of Tuberculosis and how the super exploitation creates the tradition of deaths

“Babu’s  sister dies with (Kshay), Tuberculosis,

Youthful robust Keshav also died with tuberculosis.

Baby’s mother also dies with tuberculosis,

Young baby, aged sixteen, Rumpled and crumpled did she,

and so also her youthfulness!

O my friends, My Brothers and My Mothers and my sisters,

See this Baby, this flaring fluffy, tender creeper, prematurely quenched like an incense stick!”


Sucha poetic creation of Poetic Characters from among the Laboring classes,resulting from Super Exploitation caused by Capital give a shocking, shaking and stunning impact!

AMAR SHAIKH’S Poetry and Singing was projected on to the Silver Screen with the Popular Film ‘Prapanch’ (1961), a Sterling Film based on poet Ga. Di. Madgulkar’s novel ‘AKASHACHI PHULE’ directed by Madhukar Gopal Pathak. The Film won the highest National & Regional awards. There was another Film ‘Vaijayanta’ made where he starred and he sung as well. In ‘Prapanch’, Amar Shaikh was casted in the role of a pauperized potter,and the quality of his voice rooted in classical tradition came to the forefront for entire Maharashtra.


However, during his life time, he became the target of few lunatics, whose obscene witch-hunting from the ‘ESTABLISHED’ literati in Maharashtra.One notable name was of a renownedAuthor, Novelist, Dramatist, Pu. Bha. Bhave (पुरुषोत्तमभास्करभावे), who believed that ‘Popular literature’ is deceptive. He gave a Directive Order to Marathi and Hindu Litterateur to boycott ‘Shaikh Minya’ (Amar Shaikh) and not to call him Poet and throw out the ‘Minya’ and CARPING HIM WITH ADJECTIVES ‘MINYA SHAIKH’ and ‘Bedekarcha Lal masala’!

Amar Sheikh replied to his Nagging in the most courageous Fashion. He narrates his individual development in the course of few decades from an individual praying to ALLAH to the most courageous Poet and Leader who experienced the world historic developments and who gave out everything he had and gained. In the subsequent ‘LITERARY EXHIBITIONS’,the Secretaries offered full-fledged apologies!

The stormy personality of Amar Shaikh, the driving force and facilitator of truth-seeking powers of Laboring and downtrodden-trampled population, had a stunning accidental death in 1969.  In 1966, Amar was fatally attacked by a fanatical begot. He was heckled with a sexually derogatory remark identifying him as Muslim and Anti-Patriot! The entire surrounding was overshadowed by black clouds. The three greats, Amar Shaikh, Annabhau Sathe and Acharya Atre, all three of them died one after another, marking the end of an age of exploration and struggle!

Amar, the cyclone, had the heart of Saint Tukaram. His village-living, uneducated mother Munerbi made requests to God for blessings for the child in her womb. She pleaded

“O God ‘Suryanarayana’, please appear in my womb at least as a Grain!

For the sake of my Child in my womb, for the well-being of ‘Everyone’!

The Non-Existent God responded, but Fanatics did not forgive all of us, AMAR and Mother MUNERABI also”

Mumbai’s Girangaon (Textile City) has collapsed, Lokanatya Tradition ( People’s Troup) led by Annabhau Sathe, Amar Shaikh and Gavankar has withered away, Cultural Renaissance once witnessed by Girangaon has disappeared as of now. So also,the mode of production and production conditions for working masses have undergone momentous and radical changes; however, super exploitation, unemployment, health and hazards, pains and agonies of working masses have also increased by multiple folds and are under an envelope of Fetishism of commodity capital.But,vocal expressions of them have faded, driven underground. Today is the need of Resurrection of their voices, stifled and repressed, need rhythmic and collective articulations! Is New Renaissance round the corner?  Long Live AMAR SHAIKH and his Poetic creations.

Anil Pundlik Gokhale is an Engineer by profession and have been a reader and student of Marxist and Freudian literature for last four decades.He has been a professional translator of medical and other literature from English to Marathi. As a non regular writer on political literature he has always been attempting to intigrate Psychology and Marxism.He has recently published books ‘Condensation And Condescension In Dreams And History: Essay – From Sigmund Freud To E P Thompson’ by Author House London. Psychoanalysis & A- Historical Story of GENGHIS KHAN, Author House- London


Join Our News Letter



Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News