Many of us, hooked on a diet of cricket, politics and more cricket, didn’t remember the great poet Sahir Ludhianvi on his 90th birth anniversary on March 8. Perhaps, this has something to do with his poetry being more resonant in post-Independence India of the 50s and 60s rather than in these ‘optimism-only-please’ times. Whatever be the case, Ludhianvi deserves to be feted by us today.
Sahir’s first collection, Talkhian, was published in 1944 while he was still in college. It brought him instant recognition, the poems casting a spell on contemporary Hindi and Urdu literature. He tried his hand at editing two literary journals, Preet Lari and Shahrah, from Delhi, but was unable to resist the call of the world of movies and moved to Bombay in 1948.
The initial reception of the film industry, unsurprisingly, was rather cold. But Mohan Segal, a well-known film producer also from Ludhiana, took him to meet SD Burman. This would be the beginning of an all-time great partnership. Sahir and SD came together for the first time in Naujawan (1951) with the song ‘Thandi hawayen laharae ke aayen’, a favourite of Lata Mangeshkar. The duo then took the country by storm in the Guru Dutt-directed, Dev Anand-starring Baazi (1951).
But this partnership wasn’t without its hiccups. The famous ‘Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le’ from Baazi was written in a ghazal style by Sahir. But Burman composed a peppy tune suited for a ‘cabaret-type’ scene. A shocked Sahir wanted to quit. But Burman stood his ground. It was left to Guru Dutt to broker a compromise. When released in 1951, the film was an instant hit with Geeta Roy’s (later Geeta Dutt) husky voice enchanting a whole nation.
Sahir reached his creative heights in the 1957 classic, Pyaasa, again hooking up with the SD Burman-Guru Dutt team. Once again, the poet passionate about his lyrics clashed with the composer. But this time it was Sahir who refused to budge and SD had to give way and compose music based on the meter and the mood of his lyrics.
The youthful rebel in Sahir and his portrayal of emotional dilemmas faced by the poor and the anguished often led people to identify him with Leftists. A crusader against society’s false and hollow values, he continued to write with his trademark heightened realism. While most of his Urdu poetry revolved around women, beauty and wine, Sahir addressed the fundamental problems of the human condition and injustice — whether in society or in love.
Sahir had a fan following, especially among women. He is known to have had at least two intense relationships, dying a bachelor. The famous ‘Chalo ek bar phir se ajnabe ban jayen hum dono…’ (Come, let the two of us become strangers again) from Gumrah (1963) was supposedly written when he found a woman he loved getting engaged.
Towards the end of his career, Sahir wrote for Kabhi Kabhi (1976): “Main pal do pal ka shayar hun… Masaruf zamana mere liye kyon waqt apna barbad kare”, (I’m a poet for a second or two… why would the busy world waste its time on me). This pretty much summed up his approach to life.
KK Paul is former Delhi Police Commissioner
The views expressed by the author are personal