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SAHIR & I: A Journey From Romance To Revolution by Zaman Habib

It was the early 80s, I was writing my first love letter. To make it more striking and stirring or, for better words, impressively soulful and romantic, a friend of mine had shared few couplets written by Sahir:

Mere khwabon ke jharokon ko sajane wali

Tere khwabon mein mera guzar hai ki nahi

Poochh kar apni nigaahon se bata de mujh ko

Meri raaton ke muqaddar mein sehar hai ki nahi

While writing the letter, using such romantic lines from Sahir, I heard a song from my neighbor’s house that was playing on ‘All India Radio’.

“Pochh kar ashk apni aankhon se muskaraao toh koi baat bane”

I stopped at once. Mohammed Rafi’s soulful voice was clear now… And the next lines overwhelmed me…

Zindagi bheek mein nahi milti, badh ke chheeni jaati hai

Apna haq tum bhi is zamaane se chheen paao toh koi baat bane

(Naya Raasta, 1970)

The song was written by Sahir. SAHIR LUDHIANVI.

Such was the impact of the song that as soon as I heard it, the seething romance in me withered away. I hurriedly put my radio on, leaving my first love letter aside, half written. The program was “Sahir Special” on AIR. One after the other as the songs played on Radio, it took me through his creative genius.

“Dukhi mann mere sun mera kahna”(Funtoosh, 1956)

“Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya” (Hum Dono, 1961)

“Kabhi Kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai” (Kabhie Kabhie, 1976)

“Saathi haath badhana, Ek akela thak jaay toh mil ke saath nibhaana” (Naya Daur 1957)

“Man re tu kaahe na dheer dhare” (Chitrlekha, 1964)

“Tu Hindu banega na Musalman banega, Insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega” (Dhool Ka Phool, 1959)

I listened to each song with so much awe and amazement and for the first time I discovered the true realm of Sahir. From melancholic romance to revolutionary thinking, his journey as a poet and lyricist is something to be dug deeper.

Born on March 8, 1921, to a feudal landlord Chaudhary Fazal Mohammad and Sardar Begum in Ludhiana, Sahir was named Abdul Hayee. His father was full of aristocratic vices and his mother was Fazal's eleventh wife. After getting the heir from her, Fazal dumped her and married a twelfth time. Sahir’s father wanted his custody because he was his only male child and patriarchy demands that legacy is bequeathed on male inheritors. But Sahir’s mother fought and won the case, getting Sahir’s custody. The mother-son duo faced huge emotional and financial hardships.

Sahir’s first poetic collection Talkhiyaan (Bitterness) is a kind of notebook of his life.

The difference between a poet and a songwriter of cinema is that a poet expresses his inner feelings; write about his own endeavors post the internalization whereas a lyricist writes for the characters, for story, for the subjects. And Sahir thought through the characters and stories with aplomb and yet he kept the poet in him alive.

The same poet who wrote, “Teri jawaani tapta maheena, aiy naazneena/Chhoo le nazar toh aaiy paseena aiy nazneena”(Amaanat 1977) wrote the song, Aurat ne janm diya mardon ko, Mardon ne usey bazaar diya (Sadhana, 1958). And these two songs define the poet and the lyricist.

“Pyaasa” (1957) can easily be called Sahir’s milestone. Not only he was at his best in the movie, the variation in each song is enough to showcase his genius. The sheer romance of “Hum aapki aankhon mein is dil ko basaa de toh”, the sense of betrayal in “Jaane voh kaise log thhe jinke pyaar ko pyaar mila”, the quirkiness of “Sar jo tera chakraay yaa dil dooba jaay” or the disillusionment in “Jinhein naaz hai hind pe voh kahan hain”or the frustration and detachment in the song “Yeh mahlon yeh takhton yaa taajon ki duniya/Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaay toh kya hai” are something no one could achieve in ONE movie/album.

Such was the range of Sahir. When common people were humming his popular songs like “Husn haazir hai muhabbat ki saza paane ko” he was penning down “Ek raasta hai zindagi jo tham gaye to kuchh nahi” (Kaala Paththar, 1979). More than often, Sahir came up with radically different thoughts in one movie. In “Waqt”(1965) if one remembers the popular song “Aiy meri zohra jabeen, tu abhi tak hai haseen aur main jawaan” who can forget the lilting deep philosophic song “Aage bhi jaane na tu, peechhe bhi jaane na tu/”Jo bhi hai bus yehi ek pal hai”.

Sahir was a voice. Sahir was a slogan. He wrote for laborers, for integrity, against the exploitation, against the suppression:

Takhta na hoga taj na hoga kal tha lekin aj na hoga Jisme sab adhikar na paye wo sacha sawaraj na hoga

(Aaj Aur Kal, 1963)

Not only he raised his voice for the suppressed, he fought for his own writers fraternity. He successfully demanded lyricists name to be announced on AIR along with the names of singers and music composers. He fought for royalty. He cut ties with S D Burman after Pyaasa just because Burman Da allegedly didn’t give credit to the songwriter. He didn’t write songs for OP Nayyar even after a successful streak. Sahir did for lyricist what Salim-Javed did for screenwriters in the film industry.

We often talk about his love and muses. But the fact is that he only loved one woman in his life. HIS MOTHER. Woman in his poetry, filmi or non-filmi has always been a subject to be respected, to be admired, to be glorified.

And it is amazing to see his birthday centenary falls on the day the world celebrates as WOMEN’S DAY. Today when we are celebrating his birth centenary, I am realizing that I don’t remember what I wrote in my first love letter but I do remember his songs, his magical words:

Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi

Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi

In kaali sadiyo ke sar se jab

Raat kaa aanchal dhalakega

Jab dukh ke badal pighalenge

Jab sukh ka sagar chhalkega

Jab ambar jhum ke naachega

Jab dharati nagame gaaegi

Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi

Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi

(Phir Subah Hogi, 1958)

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Kaunain Shahidi
Kaunain Shahidi
Mar 07, 2021

Thank you Zaman Habib for reminding us the wonderful contribution of the legend Sahir Ludhianvi sb.

The article is very creatively written and reflects a great tribute to one of the most respected lyrists of Indian Cinema and Padma Shri awardee on his birth centenary.

This reminds me of his so powerful words... "samjhe the ki ham bhuul ga.e haiñ un ko, kyā huā aaj ye kis baat pe ronā aayā".

My heartfelt gratitude to the great soul. ~ Kaunain Shahidi, UAE.


Just highly researched and a complete write up by zama ... fabulous

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