Sahir, like his name, was a "magician" of words. He wove fascinating images in songs and ghazals, spellbinding his listeners and readers for decades. For about thirty years, he remained associated with the Hindi film industry. He composed hundreds of songs for Hindi/Urdu films. Most of his songs became hugely popular and are even today sung and hummed by people of all generations. Sahir`s most remarkable contribution is that through his lyrics, he catapulted the standards of Hindi film songs to a level that became the benchmark for quality poetry. His lyrics have immortalized many songs in the memory of Hindi film lovers.
For a moment, imagine and visualize the scene from Guru Dutt`s Pyaasa (1957) :
Jinhe naaz hai Hind par wo kahan hain !
The song succinctly portrays the decadence in Indian society, even as the accompanying visual is the camera tracking through a street of brothels. Or remember a dashing Devanand in Hum Dono (1961), bellowing curls of smoke and singing :-
Main zindagii kaa saath nibhaataa chalaa gayaa
Har fikr ko dhuwein mein uRhaataa chalaa gayaa
Take a romantic Amitabh Bachchan, ambling about a bed of flowers and crooning in the sylvan color riot of Yash Chopra`s Kabhi Kabhi (1976).
Early life: A soul rending journey
1921. Abdul Hayi (later Sahir Ludhianvi) was born in 1921 in a jagirdar (feudal) family in Ludhiana, Punjab. He had several stepmothers but he was the only son of his father, a rich landlord.
1934. His childhood was hardly normal. When he was in his early teens, his parents separated. Sahir stayed with his mother choosing penury over luxury when his mother took the bold step of getting away from her man, forfeiting all claims to the financial assets. Father sued for child-custody and lost. There were threats that he will make sure Sahir does not live with his mother very long, even if that means taking the child's life. Mother found friends who kept a close watch on Sahir and din't let him out of sight. His mother and uncle took care of him. The formative years of Sahir were steeped in fear and financial deprivation. He studied at Khalsa High School, Ludhiana.
1939. He went to the Government College there. He soon became popular for his extracurricular activities, especially poetry. He fell in love with one of his fans, the daughter of a rich man. But, the affair ended because of Sahir`s poverty and he was finally expelled from college. The streak of tragedy developed early in his life -- his mother`s suffering, while his father enjoyed a comfortable life, and his own failure to find love.
1943: Out of college, and by now having finished writing his first serious work *TalkhiyaaN*, Sahir leaves Ludhiana and goes to Lahore to find a publisher who would take it. He does, after two years of getting shuttled here and there.
1945: The result was a collection of Poems, Talkhiyaan (Bitterness Galore), his first serious work. He left Ludhiana for Lahore and after struggling for two years succeeded in publishing his work. He then took up the editorship of Adab-e-Latif, Shahkaar and later on, Savera, which were reputed Urdu magazines.
1949. Sahir`s inflammatory writings in Savera got him an arrest warrant from the Pakistan government, and he had to leave Lahore. He fled to Delhi and stayed there for a few months. Finally, he went over to Bombay and settled there. For the next 31 years, he created history. He wrote more than 200 amazing ghazals, geets (songs), nazms (a genre of Urdu poetry), and songs, which have become a part of the evergreen and immortal body of Hindi film music. His style of writing lyrics revolutionized song writing in Bollywood.
Veteris Vestegia Flammae : Sahir, the Love of Amrita's Life?
A bachelor to the end, Sahir Ludhianvi fell in love with writer Amrita Pritam and singer Sudha Malhotra, relationships that never fructified in the conventional sense and left him sad. Ironically, the two ladies' fathers wouldn't accept Sahir, an atheist, because of his perceived religion. Had they seen the iconoclast in him, that would have been worse; being an atheist was worse than belonging to the 'other' religion. Sahir, perhaps, had an answer to such artificial barriers in these lines written for Naya Raasta (1970):
Nafraton ke jahan mein humko pyaar ki bastiyaan basaani hain
Door rehna koi kamaal nahin, paas aao to koi baat bane
(In this world, full of hatred, we have to build a colony of love,
Staying afar is no great achievement, come close so that we can achieve our purpose.)
A path-breaking writer in her language, Amrita chose to live life on her own terms. Locked in a loveless marriage to a businessman at the age of 16, she fell in love with the poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi and nurtured an infatuation for many years. She wrote his name hundreds of times on a sheet of paper while addressing a press conference. They would meet without exchanging a word, Sahir would puff away. After Sahir's departure, Amrita would smoke the cigarette butts left behind by him. According to Amrita, Sahir was a weaver of words, who, all his life, continued weaving the dreams of others but he, himself, could not become the dream of any. Amrita Pritam was that lady who not only loved him but worshipped him like a god. After his death, Amrita said she hoped the air mixed with the smoke of the butts would travel to the other world and meet Sahir! Such was their obsession and intensity. A Maude Gonne bye Yeats!
Aur mujhe lagta hai -
Ki shamshan ki aag, aag ka apmaan hai
Kisi Sohni, Sassi ya Heer mein -
Jo aag jalti thi
Mujhe us aag ki pehchaan hai
( I feel that the fire of the cremation ghat is an insult to the flame. I recognize the "flame" that burnt in the hearts of any Sohni, Sassi or Heer.)
The Truth - Her Life was an Open Book - Including Her love for Sahir Ludhianvi
The greatest aspect of Amrita Pritam's life was the way she embraced truth. She gave a new meaning to the expression "my life is an open book." Whatever she experienced, she recorded in her poems and novels - her legendary love for Sahir Ludhianvi, the famous Urdu poet, included. So many of her anecdotes revolved around her love for this man. Like the time her son came to her and said, "People say that I am Sahir Uncle's son." Imagine the inner courage and conviction of a woman who could reply, " I wish you were Sahir Uncle's son."
Amrita Pritam's Tribute on Sahir's Death
Amrita's tribute, on Sahir’s death, was also above par and it could not have been any better by anybody other than Amrita Pritam. Sometimes before Sahir died, both Amrita and Sahir had gone to Russia to attend a conference. There, they were given small name plates to display on their body but since the plates had been made in Hindi, Sahir’s plate went to Amrita and her plate went to Sahir. Sahir wanted to exchange but she said no to it saying that this way his name will be more near to her heart. After a short period of their return from Russia, Sahir died. She said, "I made the biggest mistake of my life in not exchanging the plates. It was actually my death that was destined but the god of death, mistakenly, took away Sahir seeing my placard pinned on his chest."
Vignettes of tragedy and revolt
duniyaa ne tajrubaat-o-hawaadis ki shakl meiN
jo kuchh mujhe diyaa hai vo lauTaa rahaa houN maiN
This couplet appeared on the first page of Sahir's first poetry book : 'talkhiyaaN' (Bitterness), and aptly so.
Ashkon mein jo paya hai, woh geeton me diya hai...
Sahir was basically a romantic poet. He had failed in love many times and therefore, his poetry is full of tragic emotions. He excels in portraying tragedy without going overboard. He talks of personal romance and the ensuing disillusionment. Then he talks of universal romance, and
the inevitable frustration that follows it. His poetry is an amazing canvas of romantic shades.
Bichchad gaya har saathi de kar, pal do pal ka saath
Kisko fursat hai jo thaame deewanon ka haath
Humko apna saaya tak, aksar bezaar mila
Humne to jab kaliyan mangin, kaaton ka haar mila !
The style is simple, straight, and direct. He minces no words. He expresses his thoughts directly without sublimating emotions. Sahir at times gets angry too. His anger can be against God or society. He challenges God and he challenges moribund traditions of society. He throws a gauntlet at the bourgeoisie members of society and their feudal mentality:
Are O Aasmaanwale! Bata isme bura kya hai
Khushi ke chaar jhonke gar idhar se bhi guzar jaaen
As a poet, Sahir belonged to the Progressive Writers` Movement. His poetry had a clear leaning towards socialist philosophy. Sahir was a multifaceted poet. Though his poetry was mostly tragic, romantic, and socialist, he also gave his perspectives on humanism, secularism, and
Sansaar kii har ek besharmii,
ghurbat kii god mein paltii hai
Chaklon mein hii aake ruktii hai,
faaqon mein jo raah nikaltii hai
Mardon kii hawas hai jo aksar,
aurat ke paap mein dhaltii hai
A colossus among song writers, Sahir fought for, and became the first film lyricist to get, royalty from music companies. He would deeply involve himself in the setting of tunes for his songs. Any wonder why they are extra melodious? There was a negative trait too: Sahir would
insist he be paid a rupee more for each song than Lata Mangeshkar was.
Sahir will always find place in the hearts of his fans and his words will always echo ...
maiN pal do pal ka shaayar houN
pal do pal meri kahaanii hai
pal do pal meri hastii hai
pal do pal meri javaanii hai
mujhse pahle kitne shaayar aaye
aur aa kar chale gaye
kuchh aaheiN bhar kar lauT gaye
kuchh naGhme gaa kar chale gaye
vo bhi ik pal ka qissa the
maiN bhi ik pal ka qissa houN
kal tumse judaa ho jaaouNgaa
go aaj tumhaaraa hissaa houN
The truth is, that Sahir, the magician of lyrics, was perhaps the last of his tribe. His place in Hindi film music remains at the top, unchallenged, and untouchable. We lost this magician to death, in 1980.
Sahir was considered a *romantic*: personal romance and the resultant disillusionment, followed by universal romance and the resultant frustration with *the way it is*. He never minced the words, did not sublimate emotions. He expressed thoughts clearly and directly. He used to get angry and sarcastic, and at the same time he used to dream. It was the dreamer in Sahir that gave him his characteristic style: *narm-o-naazuk swar, shabdoN ki sundar taraash-kharaash aur neeNd mein doobaa huaa vaataavaran*:
Talkhiyaan (1943), Parchhaiyaan (1953), Tanhaiyaan Aao Koi Khwaab Bune (Collected works), Gaata Jaaye Banjaara (Movie songs)
His famous nazms include Parchhayiaan, Taj Mahal, Gurez, Kabhi kabhi, Kisi ko Udaas dekh kar, Chakley, etc. among others.
Here is a short documentary on great Poet Sahir Ludhianvi's work and life :-
Here is another documentary on the great Poet Sahir Ludhianvi created by Rajya Sabha TV :-