With layered thoughts flowing endlessly, Sahir Ludhianvi’s words transcended generations

Millions have read him. Yet only a handful can claim to know him. Even fate, capricious as it often is, had not always dealt him the best cards. Understandable then that the joy of Sahir Ludhianvi’s fans knew no bounds last week when President Pranab Mukherjee released a commemorative stamp on his birth anniversary. It was a fine gesture befitting a man who was accommodated by all streams yet flowed like a little rivulet all by himself. Some thought he was a radical poet. Others hailed him for his patriotic songs. Not an insignificant number thought Sahir was the best poet of his generation when it came to matters of love and angst. It was a no mean compliment considering he counted among his contemporaries men of proven mettle answering to names such as Jaan Nisar Akhtar, Kaifi Azmi, Shakeel Badayuni and Firaq Gorakhpuri. Progressivism, patriotism, romanticism… Sahir drank deep from all the founts yet, unlike a river, he never merged into the ocean of varied thought. He was a sea by himself, the little rivulets of layered thoughts flowing endlessly.

The generation that grew up in 1950s and 60s identified with his tilt towards the have-nots, focus at deprivations and denials of life. They found a mirror to their plight when Sahir wrote a wonderfully nuanced song ‘Tum Mujhe Bhool Bhi Jao To Yeh Haq Hai Tumko’ (even if you forget me it is your right) for an easily forgotten film, Didi. In the song, he started with love and longing and seamlessly progressed to larger social responsibilities within a couple of stanzas. If the first part was all about love, unconditional and unending, the second part portrayed the helplessness of a man who felt love was not the be all, end all of everything in life. There were issues of strife, hunger, pain. ‘Is Bhook Aur Pyaas Ki Mari Hui Duniya Mein Ishq Hi Ek Haqeeqat Nahin Kuchch Aur Bhi Hai’, (In this world dead with hunger and thirst love is not only the reality there is something more) Sahir wrote. Romance, socialism, personal, social all woven into a single fabric effortlessly.

As was the case when he penned a poem called ‘Aawaz-e-Aadam’. It talked of the oppressed, those denied the right to hope. It was among his under-valued works. Sahir though had the best part of his innings in 1950s and 60s when he painted a rainbow with his words. One moment, he showed his patriotic streak, his rousing words depicting feelings of nation and nationhood. ‘Ab koi gulshan na ujde , ab watan aazaad hai ruh Ganga ki Himaalay ka badan azaad hai’ (now no garden will get destroyed, the country is free, the soul of Ganga and the body of Himalaya is free), he wrote. Patriotism though was not synonymous with xenophobia for him. Next moment, he talked of internationalism. For instance in ‘Cheen Aur Arab Hamara’, Sahir penned the couplet, ‘Kholi bhi chhin gayi hai, benchen bhi chhin gain hain / sadako pe ghumtaa hai, ab kaarvaan hamaraa / jeben hain apni khali, kyon deta varnaa gaali / vo santari hamara, vo paasbaan hamara Cheen-o-Arab hamara…’ Here he talked of a true humanist who believes that China and Arab belong to him even if he does not have a penny to his name; the names of the two countries being emblematic for the world.

Like his contemporaries, Sahir had to dumb down for Hindi cinema. For instance, his well known nazm ‘Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein Khyal Aata Hai’. It is remembered as the best song from Yash Chopra’s multi-starrer Kabhi Kabhie. Yet only a few know that it was an independent nazm adapted to cinema. Words such as ‘khalo’ (vacuum) were replaced by the much more easily understood ‘andhere’ with similar concessions all through the nazm.

Though most might remember Sahir because of his work in cinema, he was no prisoner of the medium. He sustained his body from it; his soul found solace from his non-film works. His best nazms lay beyond films. His words transcended generations. Sahir Ludhianvi was no ‘Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar’ — President has put a stamp to it!

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