Sahir, legend amongst poets
On Sunday, I happened to watch a total recall on Guru Dutt, for me India’s most gifted filmmaker, who was far ahead of his times and died so prematurely when he could have enriched the Indian cinema by many more classics.
There were clips from his films which showed his mastery at picturising song sequences and the way he used lighting in a black and white era gave ample evidence of his grasp over the craft of film making. But what made me write this blog were three songs from Pyaasa, which were depicted during the course of the programme to pay homage to this movie Moghul.
Pyaasa was one movie that had shaken the foundations of Indian society and it was also partially inspired by the life of Sahir Ludhianvi, undoubtedly, India’s most promising Urdu poet who also wrote all the songs composed under the baton of another genius Sachin Dev Burman. Sahir had this extra ordinary ability to capture all kinds of emotions in words and his progressive background came to the fore each time he wrote his songs.
In Pyaasa, he had written the soul stirring, “Jine Naaz hai hind Par who kahan hain’’ to drive home the plight of the deprived and exploited sections of society. The song was considered so revolutionary that All India Radio had virtually banned it. According to old timers, one could hear it only on Radio Ceylon in the mid fifties. The other Pyaasa hits,
“Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai’’, Jaane kya tune kahi’’ “Tel maalish Champi’’ etc were a big rage and it is said that Sahir thus became the first poet in the hindi film industry after the release of Pyaasa to command a price of Rs one lakh per movie. Sahir was close to Guru Dutt but his association with both BR Chopra and Yash Chopra lasted as long as he lived.
There was hardly a movie produced by the two brothers, both connoisseurs of Urdu poetry, which did not have songs by this lyricist.
Naya Daur, Dhool Ka Phool, Gumraah, Dharamputra, Waqt, Humraaz, Daag, Kabhie Kabhie all had unmatched poetry. Sahir also rose to the occasion and penned some of the most moving nationalist songs during the Indo-Chinese war. “Watan ki aabroo khatre mein hai tyaar ho jao’’ sung by Mohammad Rafi was a big hit at that time.
I have a vivid memory of the poet as he came often to our house. Sahir was a contemporary of my maternal uncle at the Government College, Ludhiana (from where he was rusticated for expressing his love to a Sikh girl) in the early forties. He was senior to my mother who was a student of FSc in the same college.
Subsequently, my sister who was very fond of Urdu poetry used to remain in touch with him. I can recall that Sahir would arrive in a Taxi carrying his tin of 50 State Express 555 cigarettes. He normally stayed those days (early seventies) in the guest house of I think Hind pocket books in Greater Kailish-I as I had gone to drop him back on some occasions. He would spend a few hours discussing poetry and puffing away at his cigarettes and his face with small pox marks would light up whenever praise was showered for any of his songs. He would never refer to his past but he always made it known how close he was to his mother whom he adored.
Since he would come to our house, I happened to read some of his books. “Sahir or uski Sahirika was one and another was “Talkhiyaan’’. I do remember, the two verses which were there in the first few pages of one of his book were “Duniya ne tajarbaat aur hawadis ki shakl mein jo bhi diya who luta raha hoon main’’ and “Hyaat ek mustaquil gaam ke siva kuch bhi nahin shayad, khushi bhi yaad aati hai to aansoo ban ke aati hai’’.
Some songs, which later became a rage were also a part of his poetry collection and were written much ahead of the time when they were used in the films.
“Yeh Duniya mil bhi jaaye to kya hai’’ and “Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaye hum dono’’ were among them.
Sahir lived in an era which had great poets—Shakeel, Kaifi, Jaan Nisar Akhtar, Majrooh, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Rajendra Krishan, Shailendra, Hasrat but he was always proud of the fact that he was a notch above all of them. He had great reverence for Iqbal and my maternal uncle would recall that he used to often recite Iqbal’s revolutionary poetry while he was in college. “Jis khet se dahkan ko myassar na ho rozi, us khet ke har khoshe gandam ko jala do’’ was one such verse of Iqbal that was very close to Sahir’s heart.
The poet remained a bachelor though his name was linked to many women including well known writers and those in the film industry. According to my uncle, he was in love in college with a woman by the name of Ishwar. One day, a group of orthodox students saw him holding and kissing her hand in college and made a lot of hue and cry. The two were subsequently expelled from the college. Ishwar’s parents ordered their daughter to only remain indoors and engaged a tutor for him.
The tutor, a married man also apparently fell in love with her and the two eloped to Bombay. Sahir found it difficult to get over his obsession with her and his early poetry was written with her in mind. He later also met her in Bombay and told her what he thought of her for deserting him.
Sahir had great respect for his mother and literally worshipped her. She had spent considerable period of her life in a brothel and Sahir therefore took up the cause of exploited women in many of his poems. “Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne use bazaar diya’’ remains amongst his best songs for the film, Sadhna. The tag of illegitimacy also constantly bothered him and his anguish was reflected in the song, “Tu hindu banega ya musalmaan banega, Insaan ki aulad hai insaan banege’’ for BR’s Dhool Ka Phool.
He was one poet who deserved a Dada Saheb Phalke award and much more and to me he was the legend amongst Urdu poets. Yash Chopra who had a long association with him must some day write about him in his memoirs.