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People's poet

Friday, October 26, 2018

Raju Kane gets nostalgic about Sahir Ludhianvi, the iconic poet who passed away on October 25, 38 years ago

Kal Aur Aayenge Nagmon Ki Khilti Kaliyaan Chunney Wale,

Mushsey Behtar Kehene Wale, Tumse Behtar Sunney Wale,

Kal Koi Mujko Yaad Kare, Kyu Koi Mujko Yaad Kare,

Masroof Zamaana Mere Liya, Kyu Waqt Apna Barbad Kare,

Mein Pal Do Pal Ka Shaayar Hoon ….

Loose Translation

“There will be others tomorrow who will be plucking the flowers of poetry,

Poets better at expressing, audiences better at appreciating,

Why should anyone remember me? Why should a busy world waste its time,

I am just a poet for this moment.”

These lines appeared in a memorable song in the film Kabhi Kabhi. The movie, starring superstars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor and Rakhi and produced and directed by Yash Chopra, was released in 1976 and was a huge hit. Four years later, the man behind these memorable lines was dead.

Yet, such is the power of his poetry that the poet – born Abdul Hayee – known to everyone who loves Urdu Poetry and Bollywood lyrics as Sahir Ludhianavi – is immortal.

Yesterday marked Sahir’s 38th death anniversary – an event almost completely forgotten by Bollywood. But, given the time we live in, a time of communal polarisation and strife, it has never been more important to remember this remarkable poet and his poetry.

Sahir was born on March 8, 1921, in Ludhiana. His father, Chaudhari Fazal, was a feudal landlord, and according to Ashkay Manwani, author of  Sahir – A People’s Poet, the most definitive biography of the poet, is said to have married Sahir’s mother, Sardar Begum, to have a male heir. Sardar Begum eventually rebelled against her despotic husband and fought an acrimonious divorce battle to retain her son’s custody. It was something that left a lifelong scar on her son, and bred in him a lasting hatred for women’s exploitation. It was reflected in lines like this:

Aurat ne janam diya mardo ko

Mardo ne use bazar diya

Woman gave birth to men

Men prostituted her.

One of Sahir’s teachers in the Malwa Khalsa High School, Faiyaaz Haryanvi, taught him Urdu and Persian and fostered in him a taste for poetry and literature. Sahir was also influenced by poets like Muhammad Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Majaz Lucknawi and Josh Malihabadi. In fact, according to Mawani’s book, the ‘takhallus’ (pen name) young Abdul Hayee adopted (of Sahir) was inspired by a couplet by Mohammed Iqbal. Sahir in Urdu means magician, certainly a name he lived up to.

While he struggled to get recognition early on his career, by the time Sahir was 23, his first collection of Talkhiyaan was published in 1944. The work went into 25 editions, besides being translated into several languages including English and Russian.

In the Progressive Writers’ Movement, with its focus on fighting feudalism and exploitation Sahir found kindred souls and writing that resonated with his own deeply held convictions.

Partition saw Sahir disdainfully reject the celebrations of Independence. In his poem Mafaahmat (A Compromise) he wrote:

Yeh jashn, jashn-e-masarrat nahin, tamasha hai

Naye libaas mein nikle hain rahzani ka juloos

This is not a celebration, but a circus;

In the guise of something new, an attempt to plunder is afoot.

Sahir spent a couple of years after Partition in Lahore, Pakistan, but when his leftist leanings fell afoul of the ruling establishment, he moved to Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1949.

He got his first break in Bollywood in 1951, when Music Director S D Burman got him to write Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui, Taqdeer Bana Le for the film Baazi. It was a lyrical journey that was to last for almost three decades, till his death.

It is safe to say that it was Sahir who got lyricists their due recognition in Bollywood. He insisted and got remuneration that was equal to that of the music directors. It was because of his insistence that All India Radio started also naming the lyricist (along with the singer and music director) when it broadcast any film songs. At its peak, such was Sahir’s popularity that he forced producers to give him star billing on movie posters. ‘Lyrics – Sahir’ was a line that used to appear even above the names of the actors in the film.

Sahir won two Filmfare awards for his songs Jo Wada Kiya Wo Nibhana Padega (Taj Mahal, 1964) and Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Me (Kabhi Kabhi 1977). The Indian government honoured with India’s fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, in 1971.

It is interesting to note here that while Sahir wrote the lyrics for Taj Mahal, his own views on the great monument were radically different. Here is what he had to say:

an-ginat logoñ ne duniyā meñ mohabbat kī hai

kaun kahtā hai ki sādiq na the jazbe un ke

lekin un ke liye tash.hīr kā sāmān nahīñ

kyūñki vo log bhī apnī hī tarah muflis the

Countless people have loved in this world

Who says that their emotions were true

But they did have the means to flaunt their love

Because they were, like us, poor

He ends the poem by saying

ik shahanshāh ne daulat kā sahārā le kar

ham ġharīboñ kī mohabbat kā udāyā hai mazāq

An emperor, using all his wealth,

Has insulted the love us poor people feel.

While Sahir is justly loved by millions for his hundreds of memorable songs, true connoisseurs of his poetry are actually moved by dozens of his poems which never made into film songs. Here is one example. This was Sahir decrying the “Government-Sponsored” celebration of the centenary of great poet Mirza Ghalib death in 1969.

Jis ahad-e-siyaasat ne yeh zinda zabaan kuchli

Us ahad-e-siyaasat ko marhoomoun ka gham kyun hai?

Ghalib kise kehte hein, Urdu hi kaa Shaayar thaa

Urdu per sitam dhaa kar, Ghalib ke karam kiyun hai?

The government that crushed this beautiful language;

Why should that government grieve over the dead?

The man called Ghalib, was a Urdu poet;

Why then after persecuting Urdu is there a celebration of Ghalib?

The same year was also Mahatma Gandhi’s 100th birth anniversary and the state-sponsored celebrations of the event drove a despairing Sahir to write:

Khatam karo tahzeeb ki baat,

Band karo culture ka shor,

Satya, ahinsa sab bakwaas,

Tum bhi qaatil hum bhi chor,

Gandhi ho yaa Ghalib ho!

Khatam huwa dono kaa jashn,

Aao inhein ab kar dein dafan!

Stop this claptrap about civility

Stop screaming about culture

Truth and non-violence are irrelevant today

All of us are thieves and murderers

Be it Gandhi or Ghalib

Their celebrations have ended

Come, let’s bury them once and for all.

Sahir never married but had two passionate affairs with the playback singer Sudha Malhotra and the great Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam. His relationship with Amrita Pritam was so passionate that at one time while attending a press conference Amrita wrote his name hundreds of times on a sheet of paper. The two of them would meet without saying a word; Sahir would puff away at cigarettes, and after he left Amrita would smoke the cigarette butts left by him. After his death, she said she hoped the smoke from her cigarettes would meet him in the other world.

Sahir died in 1980, at the age of 59. When one looks at Bollywood music today, where even the great Gulzar is reduced to writing songs like Beedi Jalaile, one wonders what Sahir would have made of the situation.

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