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Sahir under scrutiny

A copy of Surinder Deol’s “Sahir: A Literary Portrait”  

The poignant portrayal of wisecracking angst of unmoored youths, coupled with a strong desire for social change and nuanced depiction of unrequited love keep Sahir Ludhianvi (1921-1980) immensely popular several decades after he left us.

His nuanced response to successive waves of public events and movement and depiction of tantalising tales of romantic experiences gave him a far wider readership immensely. Still, naïve-seeming and sentimental poems hardly go well with highbrow critics.

Though much has been written on the strong bond with his mother, described as mother fixation, affair with Amrita Pritam, and his unprecedented success as a film lyricist, his public and poetic persona remains a mystery and this is what Surinder Deol’s astutely written book, “Sahir: A Literary Portrait” articulates that has been recently published by Oxford University Press India.

Surinder Deol, an accomplished translator and author attempts to bring together the impressive array of material that skilfully creates a panoramic yet perceptive view of biographical details and poetic dexterity of a poet whose work has not been appropriately assessed by the critics.

One can find some books and special issues of journals on Sahir in Urdu and some of his widely known poems have been rendered into English, and Akshay Manwani’s book “Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet” (2013) does analyse his poetry from the standpoint of idealism-oriented realism. Deol endows the book with a marked sense of analytical acuity and it has the potential to make it a standalone, readable and scholarly biography, beyond the format of life and works.

Sahir’s creative oeuvre, in the form of poems, ghazals, and bhajans, has been made the object of critical scrutiny. The author has also taken pains in unlocking autobiographical conceits, and semantic connotations of the poems, transporting readers to a world of time the poet lived. Analysing Sahir’s widely- known poems perceptively, Deol zeroes in on the immortal saga of our struggle for existence beyond the life of desire, in all its fullness and produced, and in a style that has a direct, emotive effect on the readers.

The book is primarily premised on the psychological interpretation of the poem, and autobiographical conceits and details are delineated with ease. The author’s assertion that “there is no way to separate his biography from his poetry” seems to be simplistic as poetry needs to be made accessible through the signature vocabulary and epistemological framework of the poet.

Each chapter carries a large sample of his poems and the author has translated almost two-third of his poems and a detailed thematic summary precedes the verse.

The themes and signature qualities of Sahir’s poetry – imagery, metaphors, similes, metonymy and other literary troves – need more elaboration.

Several prominent Urdu critics described Sahir as a poet of the teenagers, and Surinder does well to deflate the myth that his poetry draws its sustenance from the romantic notion of love. The poems have been meticulously translated with occasional clumsiness. The author usually employed the conversational style, which makes the poems quite accessible to the common readers

The book carries an insightful and incisive foreword by eminent scholar, and literary theorist professor Gopi Chand Narang who described Sahir as a major Urdu poet. His poetry never fails to connect with our deep seating emotions and longings, but his popularity does owe a great deal to music set by some of the best music directors of our time.

Not many have attempted to discuss Sahir without referring to his film songs, and the book establishes Sahir’s literary credentials up to a considerable extent. One may not agree with the author, who describes Sahir as an iconic literary poet, still, Deol seems quite convincing when he concludes, “Sahir wrote long and short poems, ghazals, and lyrics, but essentially, he was a poet of the nazm. It was only through the medium of the nazm that he was able to convey the revolutionary message and romantic hues.”

Deol’s translations do capture the aesthetic sensibilities the poet who tries to create a wrinkle in time that hights the experience that is intuitive and instinctive. One of the poems, “Your voice” flawlessly rendered into English by the translator, bear testimony to the fact:

All of a sudden,

I heard your voice,

pouring in from somewhere

Like water rupturing

the heart of a mountain

to become a fountain.

Or, accidentally,

for the love of the land,

with great agitation

of mind and body

a bright star

falls from the sky

The book undoubtedly provides a readable account of Sahir Ludhianvi who is best known for his lyrical film songs and his poetry still enthrals us and for this Surinder Deol deserves compliments.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 9:12:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/sahir-under-scrutiny/article29841432.ece

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