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Sahir - A Timeless Treat

Author: Vinay (vpj@bigfoot.com)
Date: Oct 28 1998


Here's an article by Balpreet on Sahir that appeared 
in Indian Express of October 25, 1998 - exactly 18 
years after "the social conscience of Hindi cinema took 
its final blow." My comments are enclosed in "< >".

- Vinay P Jain

Duniya ne tajurbaat-o-havadis ki shakl mein
jo kuchh mujhe diya hai, wo lauta raha hun main
(I am returing whatever the world has granted me by way of experiences).

He did. Compulsively. He couldn't have lived otherwise for, as filmmaker B.R.Chopra says, Sahir Ludhianvi(even his first name literally means a poet ) was "poetry itself".

Eighteen years ago, when he breathed his last, Sahir, born Abdul Hayee, may have lost the battle to mortality but this stubborn Punjabi, as his friend and Professor of Urdu, Punjab University, Madhukar Arya, affirms, "never gave in to time".

Sahir may have related with various people at various levels but there's a common strain of fond association with the poet that runs through all of them. Actor-director Sunil Dutt, for instance, talks nostalgically about this "fine human being with an unusual sense of humour". Poet-filmmaker Sardar Anjum remembers this "man with a bouncy exterior but inside whom grappled a soul with the non-creative undercurrents of the film world ". And Vijay Vashishth, senior announcer at AIR, Chandigarh, is completely enamoured with his poetry which he calls "serious-light". Vashishth explains: "If on one hand, it was the bittersweet 'Ik shehanshah ne daulat ka sahara lekar, hum ghareebon ki mohabbat ka udaya hai mazaaq (Tajmahal)', there was also a light sprinkling of 'Sar jo tera Chakraaye, ya dil dooba jaaye' or 'Khaali dabba, khaali botal'."

Primarily, though, Sahir Ludhianvi stands tall in the annals of Hindi cinema as its social conscience. Much before he took to writing lyrics, he had already won reknown as the heart-rendering poet of social protest. He may have carried on to write meaningful and memorable lyrics in other genres but his hallmark remained his haunting expression of relentless lament. Recalls poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar: "There was a certain hypnotic quality, a youthfulness about Sahir's poetry that made it popular, even before he came to films. It wasn't academic. It was his life, in first person, which coupled with social consciousness made him stand out, besides Faiz Ahmed Faiz, among the literary giants of his time." Director Yash Chopra, with whom the poet worked for Daag and Kabhi-Kabhi, says it all when he claims that "Sahir's lyricism lent a distinct respectability to films."

So, if Shailendra remains the greatest lyricist of Hindi Cinema, Sahir stands out as the greatest poet who wrote poetry in the garb of lyrics. He could communicate with the masses simply because he gave voice to their concerns. As Khayyam, the music director with whom Sahir created musical masterpeieces like Shagun, Phir Subah Hogi and Kabhi-Kabhi, says: "Sahir bared problems of farmers, the youth, the unemployed. 'Majboor budhaapa sooni galiyon ki raakh na phaankega, maasoom ladakpan bheekh na maangega' - film lyrics could rarely achieve such depth ever again."

For Gopichand Narang, Urdu scholar and retired professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Milia Islamia, Sahir was a "highly creative fireband poet who spoke up for the marginalised sections of the society, including women." The song that immediately springs to the mind is his 'Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne use baazaar diya'.

Poet-lyricist Kaifi Azmi, however, is more direct in his assessment: "Sahir was essentially a protest poet. His progressive perspective could never take a backseat. For example, Parchhaaiyaan has a dash of romance swelling into a magnifying glass on war and violence."

But sometimes, just sometimes, the revolutionary sat back and the romantic took over. Says Yash Chopra: "Who can match his vivid imagery melting into limitlessness and yet such proximity to actuality?" Or, as Khayyam asks: "Can we ever have lyrics like 'Main dekhoon to sahi duniya tumhein kaise satati hai, koi din ke liye apni nigehbaani mujhe de do' (Let me see how the world dares to make you suffer, just allow me to guard you for a few days)."

Why is then that Sahir came in for criticism for writing for films? Why is it that the 'serious' poets said he had stopped growing as a poet once he began to pen lyrics? Narang speaks for the scholars when he says that Sahir could have risen higher had he not drifted towards films, "for they sap your blood. The audience, aesthetic levels, lyricism ...are all different from the literary world".

But, says Javed Akhtar who has seen both sides of the fence: "Sahir's language became simpler for films, but never at the cost of intensity. And what about the heavy Urdu in 'Na to karvaan ki talaash hai...mere shauq-e-khaana kharaab ko...'?" B.R. Chopra also feels Sahir set new standards in poetry instead of succumbing to formulaic writing. "Sahir, with his wisp of Urdu, handed down romantic poetry that never let vulgarity touch it." he recalls. Not without reason then that 'Choo lene do naazuk hoton ko' or 'Maine shaayad tumhen pehle bhi kahin dekha hai' still tug at the heart-strings of an entire ethos. And with good reason. As Sunil Dutt points out: "Isn't there war today? Aren't women ill-treated? Isn't there romance?"

The void Sahir left remains, though. It gapes when you listen to his 'Aage bhi jaane na tu', or 'Aadmi ko chaahiye waqt se dar ke rahe', or .... The list is endless. And even though the poet is no more, his dirge can infuse life within us and even acquaint us with its vagaries time and again.

Source: From the archives of ALUP (alt.language.urdu.poetry)
Maintained by Nita Awatramani
URL: http://www.urdupoetry.com
Last updated on: 20th September, 2001