Sahir Ludhianvi – The ‘People’s Poet’


Kabhi kabhie mere dil mein yeh khayal aata hain
Woh pal do pal ka shayar ki kahani yaad aata hain

Source: Urduwallahs
Source: Urduwallahs

Whenever we think of lyrical songs and poems, we tend to remember Sahir Ludhianvi’s memorable lyrics. It is obvious that a nation obsessed with Bollywood Cinema can only think of the ‘People’s Poet’, rather than anyone else. Sahir was the voice of common people; he experienced to the fullest extent that which every person undergoes in the face of tragedies. What distinguished him from other singers attempting to do the same was that he expressed the suffering without explaining it away.

Khushiyon ki manzil dhoondiii to gham kii gard milii
Chaahat ke naghme chaahe to aahen sard milii
Dil ki bojh ko duunaa kar gayaa, jo ghamkhwaar milaa
~Jaane Woh Kaise Log The

Sahir Ludhianvi was born in Ludhiana as Abdul Hayee into an already mashed-up bowl of truth-ridden life on 8 March 1921. Right from his birth, he was treated not with shallow smiles but to a trailer of the harsh world that awaited his arrival. The estranged relationship of his parents became the basis of the harsh reality that Ludhianvi was to bring about in his songs, poems and ghazals later in life.

Turbulent childhood

At a young age of 13, his mother, Sardar Begum took the brave decision to walk out of her marriage and their home, giving up all financial claims. She took this decision after his father married for the second time. Having lost the custody of Sahir, his father threatened to take him away his mother, but she approached some friends who took care of them amidst heavy turbulences throughout his childhood.

We are often insulated against such harsh reality of life by the cushions of money and derivative luxuries, but for Sahir this truth became a brother who was to help him create a world of rhythmic art. After he shifted to Lahore, he completed his first Urdu compilation, “Talkhiyaan” (Bitterness), which was published in 1945. With the publication of this work, he became the editor of four Urdu magazines, which flourished greatly after his appointment. He joined the ‘Progressive Writers’ Association’, which became the platform for courageously voicing his communist ideology, leading to an arrest warrant by the Government of Pakistan. Later in 1949 Sahir landed in Delhi and later in Bombay.

Solitudinal Evolution

Source: Bollywood Helpline
Source: Bollywood Helpline

The renowned poet Amrita Pritam and Sahir Ludhianvi threaded a profound affair in erstwhile Bombay, marked by Amrita’s unabashed expression of love towards him. Her love encompassed Sahir as the roots of two trees intertwine with each other. Although he came in touch with many women throughout his life, he decided not to be with any of them in a matrimonial alliance. His bachelorhood resonates the ideal of solitudinal evolution echoing through Gabriel Garcia Marquez when he says “Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

“Azadi Ke Raah Par” was Sahir’s debut in films where he wrote lyrics for four songs, the first of which being “Badal Rahi Hai Zindagi”. While this movie and its songs did not gather much notice, Naujawaan released in 1951 placed Sahir Ludhianvi as the pioneer in lyricism. His lyrics “Thandi Haawaye Lehraake Aaye” were composed into a song by S.D. Burman. He shared this time and blazed great success with Guru Dutt’s birth as a director in Baazi and yet another Ludhianvi-Burman composition.

Burman-Ludhianvi compositions

S.D. Burman and Sahir Ludhianvi went on to compose music for 18 movies, superseded by his work with Ravi (19 movies) and followed closely by N.Dutta (18 movies) and Roshan (8 movies). Some of the well-known films are characteristic of Burman-Ludhianvi team: Devdas, Jeevan Jyoti, Jaal, Society, Armaan and Taxi Driver.

His association with S.D. Burman came to a close with Pyaasa. Sathya Saran, in her book “Ten Years with Guru Dutt- Abrar Alvi’s Journey” recounts that such a break occurred due to Sahir’s view about the importance of lyricist over a music director. At an evening of drinks and fun Sahir sarcastically remarked about music directors being lesser mortals than composers.

Source: Mr. & Mrs. '55
Source: Mr. & Mrs. ’55

Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa is considered the masterpiece of Sahir Ludhianvi. The plot is often likened to the real life story of the poet who gave to the movie what silence gives to songs just as Mozart said: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” As his words became the baton that sliced together the story of movies, Sahir overrode the formats set by his contemporaries.

He began to insist on lyrics-writing before its composition into music, while others were glad to squeeze in words to the tune. It is said that he even asked to be paid a rupee more than Lata Mangeshkar, causing contention between them. Such a metamorphosis is often interpreted as arrogance, while others regarded it as a symptom of his growing loneliness. In 1970s, Sahir mostly worked with Yash Chopra on movies like Kabhi Kabhie (1976). Taj Mahal (1963) brought him Filmfare Award for the Best Lyricist.


Source: Bags, Books & More
Source: Bags, Books & More

During the last years of his life, Sahir suffered from alcoholism and underwent a radical personality alteration marked by moodiness and despair. Sahir Ludhianvi passed away at the age of 59 (25 October 1980) from heart attack. A bungalow named Parchaiyaan in Andheri, Mumbai became Sahir’s abode from 1970s till his last days. Resting in the verandah of his Andheri house, Sahir could be heard humming the words of his ghazals and songs, pooled in the company of poet Gulzar and Urdu scholar Krishna Chander.

Sahir Ludhianvi epitomised the actions and situations in our life that cause self-estrangement. He had the halo that hung over the minds of such seers of suffering like T.S. Eliot and Mirza Ghalib. At a level, Sahir knew that each of us were patients of suffering and his works revealed it.

Sahir Ludhianvi’s Poetry

Yahaan peer bhii aa chuke hain jawaan bhi
tanuumand bete bhi, abbaa miyaan bhi
ye biwi bhi hai aur behan bhi hai, maan bhi
jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahaan hain?

Aap daulat ke taraazuu me.n dilo.n ko tole.n
Ham muhabbat se muhabbat ka silaa dete hai.n

Takht kya chiiz hai aur laal-o-javaahar kya hai?
Ishqvaale to khudaayii bhii luuTaa dete hai.n

Har ik jism ghaayal, har ik rooh pyaasi
Nigaahon mein uljhan, dilon mein udaasi
Yeh duniya hai ya aalam-e-badhawaasi,
Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai?
~Yeh Duniya Mil Bhi Jaaye

Sahir Ludhianvi Songs Playlist

Image Source

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