The unforgettable legacy of Sahir Ludhianvi
It was inspired by Allama Iqbal’s tribute to Dagh Dehlvi ‘Is chaman mein honge paida bulbul-e-shiraz bhi, saikron sahir bhi honge, sahib-e-ejaz bhi’ that the legendry poet and lyricist, who was named Abdul Hayee by his feudal father, chose the pen name Sahir for himself.
True to his pen name, Sahir, who was born on March 8, 1921, was a wizard of words. He was only eight years old when his mother was divorced and became his legal guardian. She enrolled him at Malwa Khalsa High School, Ludhiana, from where he matriculated in 1937. He joined Government College, Ludhiana, but left in 1941 without passing the bachelor of arts course he was pursuing.
An anthology of his poems, Talkhiyan, was published in 1943 but his ambition was to become a film lyricist. So, off he went to Bombay. However, little notice was taken of his first film Azadi Ki Rah Pe (1948). In 1950, his college friend, Mohan Sehgal, advised him to meet SD Burman, who was looking for a writer who could pen a song for his new tune. Burman played the tune to Sahir, who on the spur of the moment, composed the evergreen song ‘Thandi hawayen lehra ke aayen’ for Noor Jahan (1951). It was, however, the film Baazi (1951) that made him famous.
Pyaasa ranked one of 100 greatest films
His association with Burman ended after Pyaasa (1957), which was adjudged by Time Magazine as one of the 100 greatest films of all times. Even former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was touched by his lyrics.
In a career spanning around 30 years, Sahir wrote 718 songs for 111 films. Sahir said, “I have always strived to bring song writing close to literary poetry and use it to provide political and social perspectives to people.” He believed film songs made poetry accessible even to illiterate film goers. He incorporated many of his poems and ghazals in films. Pyaasa and Kabhie Kabhie became blockbusters because of such poems. His songs explored social evils and the plight of women in man-dominated society. Despite constraints under which a film lyricist has to work, Sahir put across his progressive and secular philosophy.
Sahir’s songs are an epitome of youthful romance and the beauty of nature. They convey a message of hope and optimism. Despite being an atheist, he wrote memorable bhajans and qawwalis. He had no training in music but his songs lend themselves to musical tunes.
He also had a great deal of self-respect. Once a music director had remarked ‘Sahir sahib without Lata’s voice your songs will be ineffective.’ He took a pledge there and then that for two years he would not write songs for films where Lata Mangeshkar would be a playback singer. His films succeeded nonetheless and Sudha Malhotra became a popular singer.
He raised the status of film lyricists to such an extent that song writers’ name started appearing on gramophone records. All India Radio was made to announce the name of the songwriter along with the names of singer and music director. Sahir made it a point to charge a rupee more than the fee of the music director
Though, Sahir passed away on October 25, 1980 his songs remain as popular as they were forty years ago. Exemplifying Sahir’s genius on crafting the musings on human mortality is his iconic song from the film Kabhie Kabhie: ‘Mai pal do pal ka shayar hoon, pal do pal meri kahani hai, pal do pal meri hasti hai, pal do pal meri jawani hai’.
(The writer retired as professor of English at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana)