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Home / Books / Review: Sahir – A Literary Portrait by Surinder Deol

Review: Sahir – A Literary Portrait by Surinder Deol

This volume of translations of Sahir Ludhianvi’s poems, nazms, ghazals and bhajans is a tribute to the lyricist-poet’s genius

books Updated: May 25, 2020 15:31 IST
Sudhirendar Sharma
Sudhirendar Sharma
Hindustan Times
A lyrical conversation: Sahir Ludhianvi and Shakeel Badayuni.
A lyrical conversation: Sahir Ludhianvi and Shakeel Badayuni.(HT Photo)
276pp, Rs 895; Oxford University Press, New Delhi
276pp, Rs 895; Oxford University Press, New Delhi

You can’t have enough of Sahir Ludhianvvi and even the millennial generation appreciates the contemporariness of lyrics like Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya. An enigma all his life, the poet, who consciously chose to call himself sahir or ‘wizard’, wrote verses with an aura of mystical mastery, earning a place second only to Mirza Ghalib in the popular imagination. Unlike Ghalib, however, Sahir’s literary output has not been widely translated.

In this volume, Surinder Deol has critically appraised a selection of Sahir’s poems, nazms, ghazals and bhajans alongside translations from the original Urdu of over 90 of his literary creations. Translated verses, which carry the essence of the accompanying original, are preceded by a thematic summary that touches on the poet’s relationships and the impact of life’s bittersweet experiences on his work. Sahir’s troubled childhood and equally troubled relationships found a permanent place in his poetry, making it difficult to separate him from his work. Perhaps that is what made him stand out, and stand tall.

A postal stump of Sahir Ludhianvi was released by President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi on Friday 08 March 2013. Sahir won the Filmfare Award in 1964 and 1977. In 1971, he was awarded the Padma Shri.
A postal stump of Sahir Ludhianvi was released by President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi on Friday 08 March 2013. Sahir won the Filmfare Award in 1964 and 1977. In 1971, he was awarded the Padma Shri. ( Vipin Kumar/HT Photo )

Touching on his enigmatic personality in the book’s foreword, literary theorist Gopi Chand Narang acknowledges Sahir’s great ability to connect with the deepest emotions and longings of listeners. His giving up the literary life was a great loss as “there was a lot more left unsaid”. The poet himself, however, claimed that his song writing was close to literary poetry. It was also more potent as it reached out to millions who rarely access high literature. Critics might not agree but Sahir was first a poet and then a lyricist, the only songwriter whose poetry made its way into films in its purest form. Kabhi kabhie mere dil mein khayal aata hai is one amongst many poems from his best-selling collection Talkhiyaan which became a popular film song. Sahir had a range of expressions to stir the imagination of readers and listeners and to prompt them to think of life and the lessons it teaches us. In Sahir – A Literary Portrait, the lyricist emerges as a reliable medium who evokes multiple human emotions as he masterfully uses metaphors to convey life’s painful realities.

Surinder Deol
Surinder Deol ( Courtesy the publisher )

By re-engaging with thousands of his verses, Deol’s work gives even the non-native reader an idea of the poet’s dexterity, while also offering a tribute to the genius. Those in awe of Sahir can relive moments of abundant romanticism through this book, while first-time readers will appreciate the freshness of the original that pervades the volume. Both sorts of readers will be struck by Sahir’s words that evoke the essential truths of life, which is but an unending struggle against despair and hope.

Maana k is zamin ko n gulzaar kar sake
kuchh khaar kam to kar gae guzre jidhar se hum

(Agreed that we failed to make this world a flourishing garden of hope/But we did remove some thorns from the paths that we traversed.)


Sudhirendar Sharma is an independent writer, researcher and academic.

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