Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet by Akshay Manwani
I connect to Sahir Ludhianvi for more than one reason. I knew he had penned some of my favorite film songs from the golden era of music in Indian films i.e the 1950s and 1960s. But I discovered much more, that I did not know was also penned by him in this book. He and I were born in the same region 60 years apart. And to my knowledge, he is the only one who uses Ludhianvi in his name. At my graduation ceremony in Panjab University, the chief guest – whom I do not remember quoted Sahir Ludhianvi on what he said for his alma mater:
- Tu Aaj Bhi hai mere liye Jannat-e-khayal,
Hain tujh mein dafn meri jawani ke chaar saal
- You are still the heaven of my dreams
I have spent 4 years of my youth with you
Those lines stayed with me for a long time. I could never locate them anywhere but found them in this book – only 2 lines though. His songs from Pyaasa still make us think and most of them have a timeless quality to them. I assume like me many of you may have found solace in them many a time. So I picked up this book with many expectations.
In the beginning, the author mentions his process of selecting the poet for writing a biography. And how he eliminated other names from the initial list he had. This gave me a message that author was not really looking at the life of Sahir. But was looking for a candidate among his contemporaries to study and write about. It also threw light on the paucity of material available on these legendary figures. People who have worked with them or who knew them are also on their way out. So for the author, it was like catch them while you can. And get some first-hand information about the poet he has chosen to profile.
Sahir’s initial life was spent living with a mother who separated from his father to keep him away, to protect her son from a bad influence. This in those times was not usual. And played a major influence in Sahir’s life. And reflects later in his poetry. This part of his life gives an insight into the formation of the personality of Sahir including his deep attachment to his mother. Progressive writer’s movement that involved all the leading poets of those times like Jan-Nisar Akhtar, Kaifi Azmi etc tells you about the times when poets had a platform to voice their opinion. And share their works. But then when you look at their work you also know that they had something to say from those platforms.
I got to know about his works outside the film lyrics. Though I wanted more of it as it is not readily available for us to read. That poetry was written not for any purpose and would reflect the true essence of a poet. I was happy to read that many of poems were picked up by the film makers as such for their films. I was surprised to know that Pyaasa was loosely based on Sahir’s life. And the book in the film had the same name as his book of poems. It was a landmark film in the careers of all those who were a part of the film. But what made it special for Sahir was that with this film he gave lyricists of the films the status that they never got with respect to the music directors.
The author brings out the fact that Sahir used to write the songs first. And then tell music directors to make a tune for it. While the vice-versa is a norm in the industry. He brings out his eccentric nature. His lifestyle that included throwing parties for friends and colleagues. And his deep connection with his mother.
The book Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet, is full of poetry and lyrics. Many of which an average film song listener would recognize. Author has painstakingly translated all the lyrics. And I must admit I did not read the translation as I do understand Hindi/Urdu and enjoyed them in original. It is not a complete biography or a complete analysis of the poet’s work. But I guess this is the best an author could have done with the material available.
Read it if you have enjoyed Sahir’s songs and if his personality intrigues you.