Sahir Ludhianvi was arguably the most-accomplished Urdu poet of the subcontinent. He was a legend among poets and wrote some of the most memorable songs, many of which have figured in Bollywood films, notably in those produced by the late Guru Dutt and the Chopra brothers — BR and Yashraj.
His fans have always held the view that Sahir should have been honoured with the Dada Saheb Phalke award. Unfortunately, it never happened.
But finally some justice to the great talent was done when the department of posts at the initiative of former Delhi Police Commissioner KK Paul, a Sahir fan himself, issued a commemorative postage stamp to honour the genius.
The stamp was released by President Pranab Mukherjee on March 8, which was Sahir’s 92nd birth anniversary.
Sahir had the extraordinary ability to capture a range of emotions in words. His progressive background also reflected in his poetry.
Though at one stage he was greatly influenced by Iqbal, another legendary poet, Sahir did not fall for his philosophy that to some extent had a role to play in the creation of Pakistan.
Sahir wrote all kinds of songs. He was a firm believer in women’s rights (March 8, his birthday, is also the International Women’s Day,) and he championed their cause. ‘Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne use bazaar diya’ from Sadhna stands out because of its lyrics that depicted the condition of women.
The poet’s disillusionment with the establishment after India became independent came out strongly in ‘Jineh naaz hai hind per wo kahan hain’ (Pyaasa).
So powerful and compelling were the words of this song, which was composed by SD Burman and sung beautifully by Mohammad Rafi, that the government banned it from being played on All India Radio. Listeners had to tune into Radio Ceylon to hear it.
Other Pyaasa songs including, “Yeh mahlon yeh takhton yeh tajjon ki duniya’’ won him universal acclaim and he became the first poet to command the princely price of Rs.1 lakh in the 1950s.
For BR Chopra’s Dhool Ka Phool, Sahir wrote the ultimate tribute to secularism when he penned “Tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega, insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega’’.
Soon after that the romantic song for Dev Anand’s Hum Dono, “Abhi na jao chhod kar ke dil abhi bhara nahin’’ became immortal for its words set to music by Jaidev.
According to composer Khayyam, who provided the score for some of Sahir’s lyrics, the poet impressed upon the producers of Phir Subah Hogi to take him as the music director since he wanted someone who had read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment on which the movie was based.
The combination and their songs proved to be a hit. Khayyam also gave the music for Yash Chopra’s Kabhie Kabhie for which Sahir wrote some exceptional songs.
Sahir was romantically involved with several women though he never married. His first love was a Sikh girl, Ishwar, and the two were rusticated from the Government College in Ludhiana for holding hands.
His early poetry collections, ‘Talkhian’ and ‘Sahirka’ have many poems that were written with her in mind.
Some of these lyrics later figured in films such as ‘Chalo ekbar phir se ajnabi ban jayen hum dono’ for Gumrah.
Sahir was exceptionally fond of his mother and believed her to be a great inspiration. It is said that both Pyaasa and Kabhie Kabhie were influenced by the poet’s life.
Writer Javed Akhtar once recalled that Sahir had a very high opinion of himself and would boast that after his death people from Ludhiana would line up on the roads there to pay homage to him.
The Bard passed away in Bombay in 1980 and was buried there. His poetry, however, will live on forever.