A new book from Harper Collins, by Akshay Manwani, “Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet”, celebrates the Life of one of India’s greatest poets and one of Bollywood’s iconic lyricists, in this context. Manwani’s book is rare because it examines the Life of both the poet and the person in Ludhianvi. Manwani believes that it is impossible to look at one while ignoring the other! Manwani reveals that Sahir’s childhood was plagued by fear and anxiety – his mother was the eleventh wife of a landlord, whose clutches she sought to free and her son from. Sahir carried these scars and memories all his Life. In his later Life, he became an alcoholic after two failed love affairs – one with the renowned writer Amrita Pritam and the other with singer-actress Sudha Malhotra. Yet his ability to express himself through his verses never faltered.
Whatever may have been your Life’s story, however bitter the experience may have been, if, at all, you can leave behind a legacy where people can remember your work – and perhaps be inspired – your Life may have well been worth it!
He fell back on his Life’s experiences to produce some immortal lines. My favorites remain:
“Hum Dono” (1961)
“Mein Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhatha Chala Gaya
Har Phikr Ko Dhuen Mein Udaata Chala Gaya
Barbadion Ka Shok Manana Fizul Tha
Barbadion Ka Jashn Manata Chala Gaya
Har Fikr Ko Dhuen Mein Uda…”
It means: “I played along and went with the flow of Life, I blew (smoked) away all my worries…To grieve over misfortunes are a waste, so I celebrated my misfortunes and blew (smoked) away my worries…”
“Kabhie Kabhie” (1976)
“Mein Har Ik Pal Ka Shayar Hoon,
Har Ik Pal Meri Kahaani Hai,
Har Ik Pal Meri Hasti Hai,
Har Ik Pal Meri Jawaani Hai”
It means: “I am the eternal poet, my story is eternal, I am in every moment, my youth is in every moment.”
Yeh Kuche Ye Nilam Ghar Dilkashi Ke
Yeh Lutthe Hua Caravan Zindagi Ke
Kahan Hai Yeh Muhafiz Khudi Ke
Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par, Woh Kahan Hai”
I won’t even attempt a translation. It is impossible to translate the pain and the pathos in this verse into English. The song portrays the sentiments of the main protagonist of “Pyaasa”, Guru Dutt, who, while passing through a red light area, laments at how the selflishness of man, the greed for a woman’s body, ruins so many lives…and he asks, where are those who feel proud of India, when we can’t even protect the dignity of our women? Hearing Mohd. Rafi’s rendition of this song, it is said that the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was moved to tears.
“Dhool Ka Phool” (1959)
“Tu Na Hindu Banega, Na Musalmaan Banega
Tu Insaan Ki Aulaad Hai, Insaan Banega”
This verse was penned by Sahir based on the post-Partition experiences that he had been through. He had briefly shifted to Lahore, after Partition (he was born Abdul Hayee in 1921 and Sahir Ludhianvi is his pen name), but he could not bear being away from his Hindu and Sikh friends. So, he returned to Bombay, via Delhi. The song means: “You will not be a Hindu, nor a Muslim, you were born human, so you will be (a) human…!”
Sahir’s poetry lives on, long after he’s gone. It’s 34 years now. But each of his songs are relevant even today. In a way, his Life and his verse, are his message. And the learning is that if we can express ourselves, in whatever way we can, our Life’s work too can be meaningful – not just when we are alive, but also be remembered even after we’re gone!