Friday, March 13, 2009

The Poet of All Moments

Taj Mahal
Taj tere liye mazhare-ulfat
Hi sahi,
Tujhko is vadiye-rangin se
Akidat hi sahi,
Meri mehboob kahin aur
Mila kar mujhse,
Bazme-shahi mein gharibon
Ka guzar kya mani?
--Sahir Ludhianvi

``Aah! Sahir Ludhianvi,'' say banners at various spots in Ludhiana and these have been painted by his old friend Painter Bawrie, who once roamed the streets of the city with Sahir in the first flush of their youth. Ludhiana remembers its poet as Ludhiana is being remembered by many because of the poet. Abul Haye (Sahir's real name) was born on March 8, 1921. Just a year after the Government College of Ludhiana was born. He enrolled himself in the college on a hot summer day of May 1937 filling the form with a sensitive and delicate handwriting. In the form, which is still preserved in the college records, he stated in the column – which profession he would like to take up --``law''. Well, Sahir certainly became the advocate for the people's emotions and dreams for a better tomorrow:
Jis subah ki khatir jug-jug se ham sab mar-markar jeete hain jis subah ke amrit ki dhun mein ham zehar ke pyale peete hain
Who subah na aaye aaj magar, who subah kabhi to aayegi.
He wanted to disinherit the system, which would aid the foreign rule for the comforts of life:
Main un ajdad ka beta hoon
jinhone patham,
ajnabi kaum ke saye ki himayat
ki jai,
ghadar ki sayate-napakse lekar
ab tak.
Har karhe want mein sarkar ki
Khidmat ki hai.

It was on him on him to make amends for the betrayal by his forefathers. If they had let down the people their descendant would not and this commitment broke out in violent social protest in his verses. The first seeds were sown by a personal love for a girl of a different religion. A love which in those days could never hope to find a destination. But this love went beyond the personal tragedy which allows the romantic vision to imagine it as a paradisial pit. Love for him with his progressive cut look became the emotion of all social relations. Sahir had inherited a whole tradition of Urdu poetry and when Sahir blossomed as a poet Iqbal, Firak, Faiz and Majaz had already made a name for themselves. It would be impossible to envisage that Sahir remained uninfluenced by them. If Faiz had said ``Aur bhi gham hain zamane mein mohabbat kesiva'' we have from Sahir -- ``Tumhare gham ke siva aur bhi to ghum hain mujhe''. But Sahir cannot be accused of voicing an unfelt emotion and his personal experiences authenticate feelings. What brought his ``talkhian'' Published on inferior newsprint instant recognition was his ``andaze byan''. Here was a poet with a down-to-earth approach intermingling with his romantic vision and the words handpicked as it was. And there was a boldness which at that time would have needed great courage. Painter Bawrie recalled, ``I read the poem and was overwhelmed by the fact that here was a man calling a prostitute the daughter of
"Havva Yashodha and Zulekha''.
Among the early years of Sahir as a poet, his friends were Painter Bawrie. Harkrishan lal, Ajaib Chitrakar, Madanlal Didi, Mohan Sehzal.,Hamid Akhtar, Ghulam Murtaza and Faiz-ul-Hasan. There were the long evening walks the discussions and poetry in the evening culminating with a cup of tea at the railway station. Incidentally, Sahir those days got a rupee daily as pocket money. It is less if you go by his jagirdar background but more than enough for those days. One day when they were sipping tea they saw the railway station contractor beating up an employee mercilessly. They stopped him and went to the police chowki to file a report but the contractor was more powerful and the whole lot were in the lockup for a night for ``taking the law in their own hands!''
On the notice board of the college are written the lines from the poem ``Nazare-college'', which Sahir wrote when he was expelled or rather asked to migrate from the college. His sins were perhaps those of love and poetry, progressive at that, Sahir writes about it with the generosity which comes only when we have risen above our petty prejudices. But the irony is there:
Yahin seekha tha phan-e-nagmagari
Yahin utra she’r ka ilham
Main Jahan raha yahin ka raha
Mujhko bhoole nahin yeh darobaam
Ham inhi fizaon ke pale hue to hain
Gar yank ke nahin yan se nikale hue to hain.

It was years later when the college celebrated its Golden Jubilee that Sahir came. The college gave gold medals to two friends – who were born on the same day, same time, samecity, both remained bachelors but one was taken away by death. They were Sahir Ludhianvi and Harkrishan Lal, the world famous artist, who is in Ludhiana these days and shattered by the death of a friend with whom he remained in close with who he remained in close association till the end. Harkrishan lal recalled that Sahir had been the one to tell him of the death of the death of Shiv Kumar Batalvi. Sahir was sitting with Jaidev and other friends when Harkrishan walked in Sahir said ``he has become a star'', taking one from the celebrated poem of Shiv ``Joban rutte bhi marta phul bane ya tara.'' When Harkrishan asked who, Sahir replied. ``Wohi Shiv, phhol ban gaya hoga ya tara. Ham to mareinge to karele ke phool hi bane, Kyon ki jawani mein nahin marne wale.'' After his mother's death, Harkrishan said, Sahir was a broken man. She had been the motivating source of his life.
Sahir said to Harkrishan Lal, ``My home is like a hotel now. It is no longer a home.'' And one cannot stay indefinitely in a hotel! Sahir's home in Ludhiana was no longer his, the house which had seen Sahir pen down his first lines. Sahir was forced by circumstances to go to Lahore after partition where his mother was. But when he returned a year later, his house had been declared evacuee property and allotted to someone else. Now the owner of the house is in Canada and is wanting to sell it. The admirers of Sahir are trying that the Government should acquire it and turn to into a memorial.
Sahir never married and got a wife who would have turned any house into a home. Thus his palatial bungalow in Bombay named ``Parchhaiyan'', after his long poem too remained a hotel. It was not that love did not come his way again. Many women loved him. Love came to him to the form of pure devotion, musical overtones and poetic passion. Sahir too returned the love but some psychological barrier prevented him from taking love to the destination of marriage. Later one could see in his poems a faint regret:
Kisi ki ho ke to is tarhan mere
Ghar aaye!
Ki jaise phir kabhi aaye to
Ghar mile na mile''
``Yeh jaan kar tujhe kya jaane kitna gham pahunche
Ki aaj tere khayalon mein kho
Gaya hoon main.

Sahir was committed to the society. His friend Krishan Adeeb recalled that not only he but many joined the Communist Party in the early forties after reading the poems of Sahir. But for Sahir it remained only an ideological commitment, he could not become an active worker. Perhaps, he realized his limitations:
Tumse kuvvat lekar main
Tumkoraah dikhiaoonga
Tum parcham lehrana saathi
Main barbat par gaoonga.
Kaifi Azmi felt that this condition in Sahir led to the melancholy in his life. But even singing on the ``barbat'' is not without merit and the role of the intellectual lies in creating an awareness though he may not be able to join the fray.
Some consider Sahir's entry into the film world a loss to poetry. But with Sahir the complexion of film songs changed and he became a significant literary influence on the film industry, though not losing his progressive outlook. He always wrote less but the promise which he showed in the beginning was kept to the end. Much later he gave us poems like:
Khoon apna ho ya parya ho
Nasle-aadam ka khoon hai
This he wrote in the contest of the 1965 Indo-Pak war and his poem on the Ghalib centenary has him at his ironical best:
Gandhi ho ki Galib ho,
Insaf isnazaron mein
Ham dono kekatil hain, dono
Ke pujari hain.

Sahir's death is, no doubt, a loss but one does not mourn a death when the poet leaves to much of life in his poetry. Sahir himself said:
Na muhn chhupa ke jiye ham,
Na sar jhuka ke jiye
Sitamgaron ki nazar se nazar
Abe k raat agar kam jiye, to
Kam hi sahi
Yahi bahut hai ke mashale
jala ke jiye
Sahir will remain with us. We will remember him in so many ways, so many times. Every time we hear on the radio his song''
Main pal do palka shair hoon'',
We will remember him as the poet of all moments.