The Magician

He is the artist who was considered arrogant. He is the one who came to Bombay, claiming, "Bombay needs me." (No he was not Shahrukh Khan). He was the best of them all, among his contemporaries. 
Indeed Bombay (at least Indian Cinema) needed him more than it needed oxygen, wada-paav or local trains. I am talking about the greatest lyricist of Indian Cinema - Sahir Ludhiyanvi (real name-Abdul Hayie)

You definitely know him and fore sure you do respect him a lot. If I say something like, "let me introduce him to you', it would be the mockery of your affection and his legacy. So I shall try a different style to put this introduction part into words - 

"मै पल दो पल का शायर हूँ, पल दो पल मेरी कहानी है
पल दो पल मेरी हस्ती है, पल दो पल मेरी जवानी है
मुझसे पहले कितने शायर आए और आकर चले गए,
कुछ आहें भरकर लौट गए, कुछ नग़मे गाकर चले गए
वो भी एक पल का किस्सा थे, मै भी एक पल का किस्सा हूँ
कल तुमसे जुदा हो जाऊँगा, जो आज तुम्हारा हिस्सा हूँ"

Sahir Ludhianvi  belongs to the only era of Indian cinema where music made sense, where you could just lend your ears and 'get by with a little help' of those magicians of words. 

Not just him but all his contemporaries like Shakeel Badayuni, Mazrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi, Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri, were writing brilliant. If you ever wondered why the songs from our good old days are still alive in our memory, then the answer my friend is that these people were poets, not just a bunch of mechanics (as today's lyricists) fitting words into tracks.  

That time Sahri Ludhiyanvi was the one who insisted that he won't adjust even a single word of his poetry into the track or 'taal'. He would never sacrifice a word, 'khyaal' or even a 'maatra' of his songs for the piece prepared by the music directors of the movies. 

He wrote the first Hindi film lyrics for ‘Afsar’ [1950] for S.D. Burman sahab and later also he wrote for him for films like Sazaa, Naujawan, Baazi, Jaal, Taxi Driver, House Number 44, Munimji,Devdas, Funtoosh and Pyaasa. With composer Roshan, he wrote lyrics for Barsat Ki Raat, Tajmahal and Chitralekha and Bahu Begum. For music director O P Nayyar, he wrote lyrics for ‘Tumsa Nahin Dekha’ and ‘ Sone Ki Chidiya’. For Jaidev he wrote lyrics for films ‘Humdono’ and ‘Mujhe Jeene Do’.

The reason why each of his song could touch your heart is that they touched his heart first and then they came out of his pen. Whatever he wrote, had some connection with the life he had lived. There are many anecdotes people tell about the stories behind his songs. 

- The song, "tere ghar k samne" is said to be written to Amrita Pritam (the famous novelist, (writer of Pinjar and Raseedi Ticket) and his lover). When he asked her father that he wanted to marry her daughter, he was thrown out of the house saying that you can't even afford a house. After a few years of his success as a lyricist, he built a taller house in front of Amrita Pritam's residence in Ludhiana to show her father that he could afford a house.

"Ik ghar banaunga main tere ghar k samne
duniya basaunga, tere ghar k saamne"

- The song, Chalo ek baar phir se, in the movie Gumraah, 1963, is said to be originally composed for his another love Sudha Malhotra, whom he wanted to marry but could not, because her family objected that Sahir Ludhiyani was a Muslim (The same thought is penned in the song - 'tu hindu banega na musalmaan banega, insaan ki aulaad hai insaan banega'). Sahir blends nostalgia superbly with a sense of impending loneliness, a useless passion that will not, cannot, be either forgotten or fulfilled - 

"chalo ik baar fir se, ajnabi ban jaein hum dono

na main tumse koi ummeed rakhon, dil-nawazi ki
na tum meri taraf dekho galat andaz najaro se
na mere dil kee dhadkan ladkhadaye meri baaton me
naa zaahir ho tumhari kashmakash ka raaz nazron me 
chalo ik baar fir se, ajnabi ban jaein hum dono"
in silence, like a cigarette
out of the ash I flicked from it."

- Each and every song of the movie Pyasa was inspired from his life. The movie itself is said to be inspired from the journey of Sahir Ludhiyanvi. The character played by Gurudatt - Vijay - is Sahir Ludhiyanvi. That is why Pyasa is his best work, when he writes - "Tang aa chuke hain" - he is brilliant because it actually is the struggle of the entire life- 

"tang aa chuke hai kashmakash-e-zindagi se hum 
thukaraa na de jahaan ko kahi bedili se ham 
lo aaj hamane tod diyaa, rishtaa-e-ummeed
lo ab kabhi gilaa na karenge kisi se hum"

The conversation in this song, "are zanaab is khushi k mauqe pe kya be-dili ka raag suna rahe hain" depicts why he did not write on clichéd subjects like other contemporary urdu shayars and why Sahir did not write much about lips of a gorgeous lady, Zulfein or 'Nazar'. Even when he wrote about love then he wrote more about its bitter part (let us say the 'true' part) and he rather preferred to write about philosophy, humanism, secularism and Allah. The answer is in his lines - 

"Hum gham-zada hain...layein kahan se khushi k geet
dengein wahi jo paaenge is zindagi se hum"

No other lyricist in Indian Cinema covers the variety of subjects as he does - 

"tu hindu banega na musalman banega
Insaan ki aulaad hai insaan banega"
(Dhool ka fool, 1959)

"aage bhi jane na tu, peechhe bhi jane na tu
jo bhi hai...bas yahi ek pal hai"
(Waqt, 1965)

"main zindagi ka sath nibhata chala gaya
har fiqr ko dhuein me udaata chala gaya"
(Hum Dono, 1961)

"Sansaar se bhaage firte ho 
bhagwan ko tum kya paoge"
(Chitralekha, 1941)

(Again the above mentioned songs come out as the lyrical pieces of his life. He was a 'Musalmaan' and an atheist and he was a chain smoker)

It would not be possible to do justice while I write about Sahir Ludhiyanvi and his style of writing without talking about Amrita Pritam. Both of them were madly in love with each other. The longing made them the finest artiest of Indian literature. Once her son came to her and said, "People say that I am Sahir Uncle's son." Imagine the inner courage and conviction of Amrita who could reply, " I wish you were Sahir Uncle's son."

While Amrita ji was attending a press conference, she wrote his name a couple of hundred times on a sheet of paper and she was never embarrassed of such things. They used to meet without saying a word and Sahir only used to smoke some twenty cigarettes and leave. Amrita would smoke the cigarette butts left by him. 

(Strange, isn't it? Indeed love is ...)

This habit is depicted in a very beautiful piece written by Amrita Pritam, for Sahir, hoping that she would meet him in their next life. Gulzar has given his voice to this poem - 

"There was a grief I smoked
in silence, like a cigarette
only a few poems fell
out of the ash I flicked from it"

Sometimes before Sahir died, both Amrita and Sahir had gone to Russia to attend a conference and their nameplates got exchanged in some confusion. Sahir asked her to exchange them back but she said no to it saying that this way his name will be more near to her heart. After she returned from Russia, Sahir Ludhiyanvi died. She said, "I made the biggest mistake of my life in not exchanging the plates. It was actually my death that was destined but the god of death, mistakenly, took away Sahir seeing my placard pinned on his chest."

In her autobiography, Raseedi Ticket, Amrita has displayed her eternal love for Sahir. She has said, "my life is an open book and am never ashamed to show my love for Sahir". 

If you want to feel the love and the longing that they shared, listen to this song - 

It was due to Sahir Ludhiyanvi only that people started giving credit to lyricists too. Earlier in All India Radio programs they would only mention the actors and music directors. He openly said that it is us who create the songs as much as the singers and the musicians, so we should be credited equally. He always charged a rupee more than what Lata Mangeshkar used to charge for a song.

I would finish this post with his best song - 'ye duniya agar mil bhi jae to kya hai' and with praying to God to give us Sahir back and take those who write every song just by fitting jaan, jaanam, jan-e-jigar, jaan-e-jahan, aitbaar, aitraaz, izhaar, ishq.....


{ Pushpendra Kumar } at: April 20, 2012 at 1:39 AM said...

Brilliant man, brilliant article. I am not admin now, am a fan!! Will need to download most of his songs today

{ adarsh khare } at: April 20, 2012 at 1:49 AM said...

my love for you grows with every piece you write. BRILLIANT.

{ B. Kamna Will...... } at: April 20, 2012 at 2:09 AM said...

read it and now the world seems a lot nicer place to live ...I feel so blessed after reading this... awesome piece on an amazing human being and an ultimate artist...his songs defined life ... :)
@Pushpendra...I don't need to download his songs ... I pretty much have them all.. :D..

{ vakrachakshu } at: April 20, 2012 at 10:23 AM said...

I take a bow in gratitude :)

{ pappu } at: May 6, 2012 at 2:19 AM said...

Thank you so much for this......

{ Mandy Kumbi } at: May 15, 2012 at 6:58 AM said...

yeh dunia i think portrays his genius.

{ shivendra } at: May 24, 2012 at 5:01 AM said...

Brilliant....One would feel like doing some research work on his life and writings..

{ Abhishek Deo } at: May 29, 2012 at 11:57 PM said...

this was plain n simple..awssssum!!!

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