100 years of Sahir Ludhianvi: A writer who cast himself in the Nehruvian mould

Sahir Ludhianvi has the greatest relevance today than ever before. In these surcharged, difficult and testing times, Sahir serves as a beacon. He holds out the hope: Woh subah kabhi to aayegi.

Venkat Parsa

Sahir, as the name suggests, is a Jaadugar, who cast his magic spell across generations of people. Sahir combined literary genius, with being a powerful lyricist, who could fire the imagination of the people and sway the masses, like no other poet-lyricist could ever do.

Born Abdul Hayee and assuming the taqqalus, Sahir Ludhianvi, he went on to become a legend even in his own lifetime.

In a short span of 59 years (March 8, 1921, to October 25, 1980), Sahir deeply influenced Urdu literature, as much as he did the Indian Cinema, leaving behind his indelible imprint.

MS Education Academy

Nehruvian Mould

Although he belonged to Tarraqqi Pasand Tehreek, Sahir was essentially a great admirer of Free India’s First Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Sahir saw in Nehru the flagbearer (Alambardar) of Socialism and Secularism that have been the defining characteristics of the Indian ethos down through the ages. Despite the tragedy and trauma of Partition, Nehru did not give up on his cherished ideals and steadfastly remained committed to Socialism and Secularism, feeling for fellow human beings and commitment to peace, which is an essential condition for peace and prosperity.

In the wake of the Indian independence, there was an upsurge in idealistic zeal, like never seen before. In a way, Sahir gave articulation to the Nehruvian zeal for Socialism, the fight against Inequality and Injustice, batting relentlessly for the rights and dignity of women and the spirited struggle to outlaw war as a means of settling international disputes, thus securing the Ideal of World Peace.

Sahir’s Parchchaiyaan gave articulation to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s ideal of world peace, secured through the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that sought to steer clear of Bloc politics.

Like Nehru, Sahir, too, was never a pessimist. He held out a vision of a better future, despite the challenges of the present, as seen in his title-song of Phir Subah Hogi: “Woh subah kabhi to Aayegi, In kaali sadiyon ke sar se, jab Raat ka aanchal dhalkega, Jab dukh ke baadal phighlenge, Jab sukh ka saagar chhalkega, Jab amber jhoom ke naachega, Jab dharti naghme gayegi, Woh Subah Kabhi to Aayegi.”

Pandit Nehru is said to have been moved by Sahir’s lyrics in the film Pyaasa.

A Sahir’s poem, used in Pyaasa, was originally: Sanaa-khwaan-e-taqdees-e-Mashriq kahaan hain, Zara mulk ke rahbaron ko bulaao, Yeh kuche, yeh galiyaan, yeh manzar dikhao.

For the film song in Pyaasa, this was modified as, Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahaan hain.

It has a line, Madad chaahti hai yeh Hawwa ki Beti / Payambar ki Ummat, Zuleikha ki Beti.

When Pandit Nehru passed away on May 27, 1964, Sahir was shaken. In a stirring and an evocative tribute to Nehru, Sahir said, “Jism ki maut koi, Maut nahi hoti, Jism mit jaane se, Insaan nahi mar jaate. Dhadhkanein rukne se, Armaan nahi mar jaate, Saans tham jaane se, Elaan nahi mar jaate, Hont jam jaane se, Farmaan nahi mar jaate.”

Indira Gandhi took the decision in 1971 to confer on Sahir the national civilian honour of Padma Shri.

Ghalib, Faiz Influence

Faiz Ahmed Faiz influence is clearly discernible in the writings of Sahir. In fact, Sahir’s writings bear resemblance to Faiz Ahmed Faiz compositions, like Yeh daagh-daagh ujaala, yeh shab-ghazida sahar, woh intzaar tha jiska, yeh woh sahar to nahin…

Like Faiz, Sahir brought to bear an intellectual element that caught the imagination of the youth, at least during the decades of the 1940s, 1950s and the 1960s.

Besides, there is an element of Mirza Ghalib’s diction and style discernible in Sahir’s writings. Like Ghalib, Sahir, too, touched upon metaphysical and philosophical themes, even in his lyrics for Hindi film songs.

Metaphysical Strain

In ordinary film lyrics, he introduced metaphysical strain. For insttance, in his Dil Hi To Hai song, Laga chunri mein daagh chhupaon kaise, there is a line that sums up Adi Shankarachary’s philosophy: “Odhi chunariya Aatma mori, Mail hai Maya-Jaal, Woh Duniya more Babul ka Ghar, Yeh Duniya Sasuraal, Haan jaake Babul se nazren milaun kaise, Ghar jaaun kaise.”

Same, with the song in Chitralekha, “Man re, tu kaahe na dheer dhare, Oh Nirmohi, moh na jaane, kin ka moh kare.” A line goes, “Utna hi upkaar samajh koyee, jitna saath nibha de, Janam-Maran ka mel hai Sapna, Yeh Sapna bhikhraa de, koyee na sangh mare.

Sahir’s mastery on chaste Hindi, as opposed to the heavily Sanskritized Hindi that has been brought into vogue by Hindu Right long after Indian independence, is seen in his songs. A classic example is his song in Chitralekha, “Sansar se bhaage phirte ho, Bhagwan ko tum kya paaoge, Is Lok ko tum apna na sake, Us Lok mein bhi pachhtaoge.”

During Sahir’s Centenary, which coincides with the Khilafat Centenary, one cannot help, but recall, his Bhajan in ‘Hum Dono’:

Allah tero Naam, Ishwar tero Naam. It takes off from Mahatma Gandhi’s Raghupati Raaghav Raja Ram, Patita Pawan Sitaram, Ishwar, Allah tero Naam, Sab ko Sanmati de Bhagwan.

Case for Urdu

Sahir was forthright and never hesitated to put across his viewpoint, firmly and with conviction. He strongly batted for Urdu, which is by far the most Indian language, while other languages came along with Dravidians and Aryans, when they came into India.

Urdu has the distinction of being born on the Indian soil. It was born during the intermingling of invading armies and local soldiers. Also known as Hindavi, Urdu was created by mixing Khari-Boli with Turkish, Arabic and Persian words.

Urdu was the language of the Freedom Struggle. Bhagat Singh, Ram Prasad Bismil, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and a host of Freedom-Fighters used the language. The Congress policy was to encourage use of rasm-ul-qhat and Devnagari for Hindustani. Gandhiji favoured the use of Hindustani, but against his wishes, a heavily-Sanskritised Hindi was created.

Dr Rajendra Prasad’s casting vote in the Constituent Assembly clinched the issue. Reasons were not far to seek. During Partition, Urdu was wrongly identified with Pakistan, which declared Urdu as its official language.

As a result, Urdu fell out of favour with the rulers after the Indian Independence and it was left to die a natural death in India.

This really pained and caused anguish to Sahir. He gave vent to it during the Death Centenary of Mirza Ghalib. With the then Union Information & Broadcasting Minister on the dais, Sahir recited a poem laced with sarcasm at the government that caused the downfall of Urdu after the Indian Independence.

Ghalib jise kahte hain, Urdu ka hi shaayar thaa, Urdu pe sitam karke, Ghalib pe karam kyon hai?” he asked.

Master of Izaafat

There is a Persian grammatical construct called izaafat, that links up compound phrases. While Ghalib used it extensively in his poetry, Sahir introduced it even in his film songs. In his song in ‘Taj Mahal’, Sahir uses izaafat to a great extent:

Khuda-e-Bartar, Teri zameen par,

Zameen ki khatir yeh jung kyon hai,

Har ek fath-o-zafar ke daanan mein

Khoon-e-insaan ka daagh kyon hai.

Zameen bhi Teri hai, hum bhi Tere

Yeh milkiyat ka sawaal kya

Yeh qatl-o-khoon ka rivaaj kyon hai

Yeh rasm-e-jang-o-jadaal kya hai

Jinhe talab hai jahaan bhar ki

Unhi ka dil itna tang kyon hai

Qaza ke raste pe jaane waalon ko

Bach ke aane ki raah dena

Dilon ke gulshan ujad na jaaye

Mohobaton ko panaah dena

Jahaan mein jashn-e-wafaa ke badle

Yeh jashn-e-teer-o-taffang kyon hai.

Principal Works

Sahir’s principal works include Talqhiyaan (Bitterness) Parchchaiyaan (Shadows) and Quliyaat-e-Sahir (Collected Works).

Talqhiyaan was the first book brought out by Sahir. For someone to give the title of Bitterness to his very first book really shows Sahir was gutsy.


Parchchaiyaan has the unique distinction of being perhaps the first narrative poem that was part of the then-ongoing worldwide movement to espouse the cause of Aman (peace) and Tehzeeb (civility). Parchchaiyaan is seen as the literary manifestation of such an effort.

Sahir believed that every young generation should strive to pass on a better and more beautiful world — which they inherited from their elders — to the next generation before they depart from this world. India does not eye nor does she desire to snatch the land of other countries, but needs to irrigate her own land and needs machinery to create employment. Sahir avers that this is the land of Gautam Buddha and Nanak and on this sacred land, no evil designs will ever succeed. Sahir fervently says our blood is committed for future generations and it cannot be shed for raising Armies.

The theme of Parchchaiyaan was the most important question of his era. World War II ended on the deadly note of the nuclear holocaust. Soon in its wake, the world was polarized into two rival Blocs of military alliances. With horrendous insensitivity, more lethal nuclear weapons of mass destruction were being amassed, with the potential to blow up planet Earth several times over.

The poem opposes the cry for war. It describes the devastation that war brings in its wake, dehumanizing human beings.

It makes a veiled reference to apprehensions of nuclear war, where there will be no distinction left between the victor and the vanquished, where even the fruits of victory turn ashes in the mouth.

In earlier wars, houses were razed to the ground; next time around, even the shadows will be burnt down, is Sahir’s warning.

Ghuzishta Jung mein Ghar hi jale, magar is baar, Ajab Najib, ke yeh tanhaaiyaan bhi jal jaayen, Ghuzishta Jung mein paiker jale, magar is baar, Ajab nahin, ke yeh Parchchaiyaan bhi jal jaayen (In the previous War, only houses were gutted, but this time round, Nothing strange, if the sense of loneliness and even the shadows are burnt away).

Moving Compositions

Equally powerful were his lyrics for the film songs. Sahir wrote on a wide variety of themes like Left-of-the-centre humanism, his cry against war and his passion for feminism like in his song in ‘Sadhana‘– Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, Mardon ne use baazar diya.

His moving composition in Mujhe Jeene Do is an all-time great. In the film, a Dacoit marries a courtesan and the song sets out the fears for the future of their child.

Lyrics are such that it can be a telling commentary on the plight of the minorities in the current surcharged, difficult and testing times.

From a mother’s eye, it looks as though he painted a graphic picture of their plight: Tere bachpan ko jawani ki dua deti hun, Aur dua deke pareshaan si ho jaati hun.

It has a line that captures the spirit of our times. Mere masoom farishtay, tu abhi kya jaane, tujh ko kis-kis ki gunaahon ke sazaa milni hai, Din aur Dharm ke maare huve insaanon ki, jo nazar milni hai, tujh ko woh qafa milni hai. Bediyan leke lapaqta huva qaanoon ka haath, Tere Maa-Baap se mili hai tujh ko yehi saughaat, Kaun laayega tere vaaste khushiyon ki baraat. Mere bachhe, tere anjaam se jee darta hai, teri dushman hi na saabit ho jawani teri, kaamp jaati hai jise sonch ke mamta meri, usi anjaam ko pahunche na kahaani teri.

Sure of Intrinsic Worth

Sahir had great confidence in the intrinsic worth of his compositions. So much so that he even dared singers and music directors, saying songs moving up on the popularity charts is sheerly on strength of his lyrics.

Irked by his attitude, when bigtime music directors and singers refused to work with him, Sahir went on to produce super-hits with not-so-popular music directors like N Datta, Jaidev and Khayyam, or singers like Mahendra Kapoor, Asha Bhosle and Sudha Malhotra. These included films like Dhool Ka Phool made in 1959, with music by N Datta and Mujhe Jeene Do made in 1963, with music by Jaidev. Sahir also worked successfully with music directors Roshan (Barsaat Ki Raat, Taj Mahal) and Ravi (Gumraah, Waqt).

Sahir’s musical hits include Taj Mahal, Barsaat ki Raat, Dil Hi To Hai, Hum Dono and Ghazal.

Inveterate Romantic

Sahir was romantically linked to Amrita Preetam. Years later, when she visits Sahir’s place and is chatting, she gets a call that her daughter has developed labour pains, forcing her to leave abruptly. After she leaves, Sahir turns to his mother and tells her, “Ma, kabhi yeh tumhaari bahu banne waali thi.” Retiring to his room, he penned a poem that was used in ‘Dooj Ka Chand‘: Mehfil se uth jaane waalon, tum logon par kya ilzaam, Tum aabaad gharon ke basi, main awara, badnaam, Mere saathi, mere saathi, mere saathi khali jaam.

Sahir was similarly romantically linked to Sudha Malhotra. He penned a song widely perceived to be for her, which incidentally she herself sang the duet with Mukesh in the film ‘Didi’: Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao, to yeh haq hai tum ko, meri baat aur hai, main ne to mohobat ki hai. Sahir includes in the song his own response, Zindgi sirf mohobat nahi kuch aur bhi hai, zulf-o-ruqsaar ki Jannat nahi, kuch aur bhi hai, Bhook aur Pyaas ki maari huvi is Duniya mein, ishq hi ek haqeeqat nahi, kuch aur bhi hai. Tum agar aankh churaao, to yeh haq hai tum ko, main ne tum se hi nahi, sab se mohobat ki hai.

A Match for Shakeel

Contrary to the popular notion, Sahir wrote the greatest romantic songs that match and even dare someone like Shakeel Badayuni, who was hailed as the Uncrowned King of Romance. Sahir penned some of the most romantic songs of all times.

There are two such songs are in ‘Dil Hi To Hai‘: Tum agar mujh ko na chaho to koyee baat nahi, Tum kisi aur ko chaho gi toh mushkil hogi.

And the other is, Bhule se mohobat kar baitha nadan tha bechara Dil Hi To Hai, Har Dil se khata ho jaati hai, bigdo na khudara Dil Hi To Hai.

In Ghazal, he penned some of the soulful numbers like Naghma-o-sher ki saughaat kise pesh karun, Yeh chalak te huve jasbaat kise pesh karun.

A variant of this is rendered in the voice of Mohammad Rafi: Ishq ki garmi-e-jasbaat kise pesh karun, Yeh sulag te huve din-raat kiss pesh karun.

Among his best is the song in ‘Taj Mahal’: Jurm-e-ulfat pe hume log saza dete hain

Kaise nadaan hain, sholon ko hawa dete hain. It ends on the note, Taqt kya cheez hai aur laal-o-jawahar kya hai, Ishq-waale to khudaai bhi luta dete hain.

Relevance of Sahir

Sahir Ludhianvi has the greatest relevance today than ever before. Sahir survived troubled childhood and tragedy and trauma of Partition that forced him to migrate from Lahore to Mumbai and had to struggle hard to gain a foothold. But he never lost faith in the values of Socialism and Secularism and in the basic decency of human beings.

In these surcharged, difficult and testing times, Sahir serves as a beacon. He holds out the hope: Woh subah kabhi to aayegi.

Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.

Views expressed are personal

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