Remembering Sahir Ludhianvi – the pacifist poet

100th birth anniversary of the wizard of words

Culture

March 8, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Remembering Sahir Ludhianvi – the pacifist poet

Sahir Ludhianvi is remembered for his songs, the disillusion of love and separation in them & a tussle between rich & poor

As acrimonious debates rage around war, nationalism and free speech in India and even overseas, the pacifist poems of a rebel poet seem even more relevant than ever today.

“Kaho ki ab koi tajir idhar ka rukh na kare,

Ab is ja koi kavari na bechi jaegi;

Ye khet jag pade, uth khadi huyi fasalein,

Ab is jagah koi kyari na bechi jaegi”

Roughly translates to ‘ask no traders to come here, no more girls will be sold, And tell them that fields have woken up to a new season of crops, no more fields will be sold,’

Thus wrote legendary poet-lyricist, Sahir Ludhianvi in his epic anti-war poem: Parchhaiyan (Silhouettes) in 1958.

“This poem is a part of the ongoing worldwide movement to endorse aman (peace) and tehzeeb (civility). I understand that every generation should strive to pass on to the next generation a world that is better and more beautiful than the one that they inherited,” wrote Ludhianvi in the prologue to his ‘first narrative poem’, adding, “my poem is a literary manifestation of the same effort.”

In another poem, titled Chhabees Janwary (January 26), Ludhianvi invokes the beautiful dreams the nation had seen and laments the crushing of those dreams, blaming the leaders of the country for the situation.

“Aao ki aaj gaur karein is sawaal par

Dekhe the humne jo wo haseen khwab kya huye

Mujrim hun main agar toh gunehgar tum bhi ho

Aye rahabarna-e-kaum, khata-kar tum bhi ho,” meaning “come, and let us ponder over this question, What happened to those beautiful dreams we had dreamt; If I am the culprit, you are no less a sinner
O leaders of the nation you are guilty too.”

“By the time India celebrated its first Republic Day, Sahir Ludhianvi’s disenchantment with the new Republic was already visible in this poem,” says Kausar Mahzari, a professor of Urdu at University of Delhi.

Mahzari adds that if a poet wrote such poems today, questioning and blaming the leaders of the country for the current situation of the nation, they would easily land up in jail. “Still, I wish some artist today shows the courage and magic in their artform that Sahir Ludhianvi had shown,” he adds.

Born as Abdul Hayee on March 8, 1921, Ludhianvi is said to have taken the pen name of Sahir after chancing upon the word while reading Iqbal’s poems. Sahir in Urdu means enchanting or someone who can perform magic.

Poetry and cinema

Ludhianvi, who penned poems in Hindi and Urdu, also deeply influenced the music of Hindi cinema with his lyrics – some laced with sublime expressions of love and others that struck at the core of India’s numerous societal ills. “Was he a revolutionary or an eternal romanticist, a people’s poet or an armchair activist – these are doubts one faces while reading his poems. The excellence of Sahir is that you cannot confine his works into a genre; he has a share in all,” says Mahzari.

Ludhianvi is remembered for his songs, the disillusion of love and separation in them and a tussle between the rich and the poor. He throws in dark truths between the lines when he attacks the feudal society and a sense of hope when he shows the bright light ahead. Each of his songs, be it about love or oppression, has an air of romance.

Mahzari says poetry and Sahir Ludhianvi’s film lyrics are linked in a synonymous fashion. This is primarily because Ludhianvi would often present a watered-down version of his poems in the lyrics he wrote for Hindi movies. “One can find many of his timeless lyric-writing in his poetry book called Talkhiyaan (1944). Songs from both Guru Dutt – starrer Pyaasa (1957) and Amitabh Bachchan – starrer Kabhie Kabhie (1976) can be found in that collection,” he says.

“A great contribution of Sahir is that his presence in Bollywood marked an era where the poet or lyrics writer gained significance and respect. Before him, the poet was not given due recognition. Urdu poets were given their due credit in Bollywood because of Sahir,” he adds.

Despite his stupendous success as a lyricist of the highest order, Ludhianvi abhorred the tag of a lyricist. Instead, he always preferred to be called a poet.

A poet of peace

“One wonders what consequences peaceniks or poets would face if they write or recite something similar to what Sahir stated ruefully in a simple and direct diction in Parchhaiyan,” says Ali Javed, another professor of Urdu at University of Delhi.

Parchhaiyan is often called one of the finest anti-war poems in India and a magnum opus of Ludhianvi’s works. In one of the lines of his poetry, he questions “Why is every victor’s garment tainted by blood?”

He bitterly criticised super-powers of the world and viewed war as a business of death. “You act like apostles of peace; you provide the reasons for war as well. Though you grieve over murders, you distribute arms and ammunition as well.” In another poem, he wrote that war in itself is a problem and can’t resolve any conflict.

Professor Javed explains that the poem opposes ‘cry for war’ and describes the devastation that war brings with it and how it dehumanises people. “Ludhianvi makes fervent pleas for saving this world before lamenting the havocs war wrecks especially on human life and inter-personal relations.”

He adds that today when society is being divided into the lines of religion and politics, songs of Ludhianvi, can help build a collective conscience. “He was disappointed with the society he lived in and urged for the one he wanted,” says Javed.

“Sahir’s revolutionary stand is as relevant today as it was seven decades ago. The face of power changes, the way of dissent changes too; but the soul of his words remains intact. All artists, poets and lyricists have their own view of society, relationships and customs. Sahir is no different. He conveys his concern for the society in such a way that he seems to be talking only to you,” he adds.

Accolades & criticism

Ludhianvi’s work as a lyricist earned him the first of his two Filmfare Best Lyricist Award – for Taj Mahal (1963).  The second Filmfare Best Lyricist Award he received was for Yash Chopra’s Kabhie Kabhie. “He was outstanding at penning poignantly romantic lyrics as he was with poems on social causes and communal harmony,” says Professor Mahzari.

However, he also feels that mere two Filmfare Awards for a lyricist of Sahir’s calibre is a matter of major embarrassment for an award show which claims to be the Indian equivalent of the Oscars.

While many cheered Ludhianvi for his incendiary style, this very quality also earned him his share of detractors. He was dismissed as a pamphleteer, a sloganeer, a man whose poetry was capable of whipping up passions, but devoid of heft.

After his untimely death in 1980 in Mumbai, Ludhianvi left a gaping hole in the world of arts. From writing socio-political poetry to penning lovely songs for Hindi movies, the artiste experimented continuously.

Professor Javed says that today Ludhianvi’s words are as relevant as they were in 1959, because we still live in an era where communal strife remains an everyday reality, and politicians cynically foment further divisions between Hindus and Muslims to further their political objectives.

“Today we are witnessing new threats to democracy and the ideals of secularism. The boundaries between the spheres of the state and religion are being redefined. This is a time for reflection on our priorities as citizens and members of a global community and who we are as human beings. Contrary to one of his most celebrated poetries, Sahir is not a pal do pal ka shayar (a poet of the moment),” he adds.

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