Book Review

Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet

Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet 

Author: Akshay Manwani

HarperCollins Publishers India

Year 2013

320pp

Indian Rupees 399

Reviewed by ASIF ANWAR ALIG

This October 25 marked 35th death anniversary of Indian subcontinent’s legendary poet lyricist, Sahir Ludhianvi. Three and half decades have passed since his death but his popularity is still intact in India and surrounding countries. Indian cinema ensured fame of legendary songwriter doesn’t wane in the culturally hollow environment that forgets as fast as foretells literary giants.

Born Abdul Hayee on 8 March 1921 in Ludhiana city of Punjab, he chose penname, Sahir Ludhianvi to associate with the place of birth. Troubled childhood of being deprived of comforts or growing under constant fear psychosis in adolescent period depicts in his poetry to exasperate negative experiences encountered then and literally scarring him for whole life. His father’s immoral lifestyle, repeated tortures and ill-treatment meted out on his mother brought uncertainty in mother and sons’ lives. He couldn’t forget bitter memories until death on 25 October 1980.

Sahir Ludhianvi distinguished him in Urdu poetry with that works that enlivened Indian cinema. “His poetry won’t fade so easily,” foresees biographer, Akshay Manwani in this book. He further stresses that “Sahir’s poetry is a brilliant portrayal of multiple aspects of his personality as a songwriter. His poetry was immortalized by Indian cinema in his lifetime itself through his poems being voiced during golden era of Indian cinema that ceased to exist without Urdu’s contribution.

The book is an immaculate research on Sahir Ludhianvi’s life and works. A narration of his agonies and relationships with men, women, peers or friends to his professionalism, Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet is a must read and an addition in treasure of works on this legend.

Highly research based description of Sahir Ludhianvi’s personality turns this book valuable asset for us to know the poet of an unequal caliber. His penchant for poetry was an interesting story— “His own inclination aside, one person responsible for Sahir’s development as a poet was his teacher at Malwa Khalsa High School, Faiyaaz Haryanvi. The Maulana taught him Urdu and Persian and fostered in his young ward a taste for poetry and literature. Other influences he admitted to be of Urdu poets of early to mid-twentieth century—Muhammad Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Majaz Lucknawi and Josh Malihabadi (Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet – p-13).

(This celebration, is not one of joy, but a circus; In the guise of something new, the attempt to plunder is afoot; After putting out the lights on communal harmony, this radiance; Is of those lanterns that have been nurtured in the dark; Such light that has been cultivated from the throes of darkness; If it spreads, shall only spark many a flame; And if it doesn’t spread, until the break of a new dawn; Will poison this nation’s soul)

Thorough detailing of Sahir Ludhianvi’s truculent time to prosperity while he was a helping hand for others are oddities in that personality. He was even forced to sell his mother’s gold bangles to pay electricity and water bills. Once he rewrote and faired Krishan Chander’s unintelligible handwriting from latters’ scripts for a measly sum of Rs. 150 to make his ends meet.

Sahir Ludhianvi had fulltime entry into Indian film industry in 1951 alongside other songwriters. The genius of works by them provided India’s film song its finest hour through 1950s and early 1960s with immaculate contribution by him and his counterparts. He partnered with stalwarts and his association with S.D Burman in more than 15 movies in a span of seven years’ professional relationship from 1951 to 1957 presented great work of poetry in cinema. Movies Jaal (1952), Taxi Driver (1954), Munimji (1955), Devdas (1955), House No 44 (1955) and Fantoosh (1956) couldn’t attain that success without Sahir’s magical lyrics.

Pioneering lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi is reminisced for Pyaasa (1957) and vestiges reference point in the Indian cinema’s songwriting history. Notable songwriting works for Yash Chopra’s Dhool Ka Phool (1959) and most of B.R Chopra’s movies starting with Naya Daur (1957) until those in later years were ultimate. His songwriting was appreciated then and still remains pathfinder for new generations—“Sahir’s unique ability to marry poetry and philosophy and take contemptuous view of world, even in a light number, places him several echelons above other songwriters. Sahir took songwriting extremely seriously to make that his identity.

Sahir Ludhianvi’s numinous poem in 1969, while India celebrated Mirza Ghalib’s 100th death anniversary (15 February 1869), showcased his anger and revolution. He wrote Jashn-e-Ghalib (Celebrating Ghalib) to expose the double standards of politicians commemorating Urdu’s finest poet but themselves responsible for demise of Urdu as a language.

Jis ahad-e-siyaasat ne yeh zina zabaan kuchli
Us ahad-e-siyaasat ko marhoomoun ka gham kyun hai?
Ghalib kise kehte hein, Urdu hi kaa Shaayar thaa
Urdu per sitam dhaa kar, Ghalib ke karam kiyun hai?

(The government that crushed this effervescent language; Why should that government grieve over the dead? The man called Ghalib, was a poet of the Urdu language; Why should they be unfair to Urdu and benevolent towards Ghalib?) Other wonderful poem of Sahir Ludhianvi, Gandhi Ho Ya Ghalib Ho (Be It Gandhi or Ghalib) composed on the occasion of 100th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi (2 October 1969) coinciding Ghalib’s death centenary, lamented the declining prominence of both personalities in the Indian society.

 

This biography raises an imperative question—“Regardless of Talkhiyaan’s overwhelming success and his immensely perceptive poems in Aao Ki Koi Khwaab Bunein, Sahir and his poetry don’t evoke same interest like those of Allama Iqbal, Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Ghalib among Urdu intelligentsia in the subcontinent. Neither is Sahir taught in classrooms, nor is there a detailed critique of his film or non-film works in Urdu or English by eminent Urdu scholars.”

Sahir Ludhianvi’s ability to merge the social conscience with poetry in songs makes him relevant anytime and every time. He had several firsts in the career as poet and songwriter—like a person being accepted as he was; with his language, vocabulary and imageries. Several successful films have become immensely popular due to his lyrics instead of the tunes or a singer’s prominences.

This book fiercely describes his lifetime from birth as Abdul Hayee to Chaudhri Fazl Mohammed and Sardar begum to death of Sahir Ludhianvi at age 59. This book also has complete list of songs he wrote. It is treasure for Urdu poetry lovers willing to explore his pied creativity.

Asif Anwar Alig was executive producer in ETV; Editorial Coordinator at Management Development Institute, Gurgaon; Media Specialist at Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University, Saudi Arabia before joining Ministry of Higher Education in Saudi Arabia as an Assistant Professor cum Media Relations Specialist.