Sahir, like his name, was a "magician" of words. He wove fascinating images in songs and ghazals, spellbinding his listeners and readers for decades. For about thirty years, he remained associated with the Hindi film industry. He composed hundreds of songs for Hindi/Urdu films. Most of his songs became hugely popular and are even today sung and hummed by people of all generations. Sahir`s most remarkable contribution is that through his lyrics, he catapulted the standards of Hindi film songs to a level that became the benchmark for quality poetry. His lyrics have immortalized many songs in the memory of Hindi film lovers.
For a moment, imagine and visualize the scene from Guru Dutt`s Pyaasa (1957): "Jinhe naaz hai Hind par wo kahan hain!" The song succinctly portrays the decadence in Indian society, even as the accompanying visual is the camera tracking through a street of brothels. Or remember a dashing Devanand in Hum Dono (1961), bellowing curls of smoke and singing.Take a romantic Amitabh Bachchan, ambling about a bed of flowers and crooning in the sylvan color riot of Yash Chopra`s Kabhi Kabhi (1976).
Early life: A soul rending journey
Abdul Hayi (later Sahir Ludhianvi) was born in 1921 in a jagirdar (feudal) family in Ludhiana, Punjab. He had several stepmothers but he was the only son of his father, a rich landlord. His childhood was hardly normal. When he was in his early teens, his parents separated. Sahir stayed with his mother choosing penury over luxury. His mother and uncle took care of him. The formative years of Sahir were steeped in fear and financial deprivation.
He studied at Khalsa High School, Ludhiana, and then went to the Government College there. He soon became popular for his extracurricular activities, especially poetry. He fell in love with one of his fans, the daughter of a rich man. But, the affair ended because of Sahir`s poverty and he was finally expelled from college. The streak of tragedy developed early in his life -- his mother`s suffering, while his father enjoyed a comfortable life, and his own failure to find love.
The result was a collection of Poems, Talkhiyaan (Bitterness Galore), his first serious work. He left Ludhiana for Lahore and after struggling for two years succeeded in publishing his work. He then took up the editorship of Adab-e-Latif, Shahkaar and later on, Savera, which were reputed Urdu magazines.
Sahir`s inflammatory writings in Savera got him an arrest warrant from the Pakistan government, and he had to leave Lahore. He fled to Delhi and stayed there for a few months. Finally, he went over to Bombay and settled there. For the next 30 years, he created history. He wrote more than 200 amazing ghazals, geets (songs), nazms (a genre of Urdu poetry), and songs, which have become a part of the evergreen and immortal body of Hindi film music. His style of writing lyrics revolutionized song writing in Bollywood.
Vignettes of tragedy and revolt
Ashkon me jo paya hai, woh geeton me diya hai...
Sahir was basically a romantic poet. He had failed in love many times and therefore, his poetry is full of tragic emotions. He excels in portraying tragedy without going overboard. He talks of personal romance and the ensuing disillusionment. Then he talks of universal romance, and the inevitable frustration that follows it. His poetry is an amazing canvas of romantic shades.
"Bichchad gaya har saathi de kar, pal do pal ka saath Kisko fursat hai jo thaame deewanon ka haath Humko apna saaya tak, aksar bezaar mila Humne to jab kaliyan mangin, kaaton ka haar mila!"
The style is simple, straight, and direct. He minces no words. He expresses his thoughts directly without sublimating emotions.
Sahir at times gets angry too. His anger can be against God or society. He challenges God and he challenges moribund traditions of society. He throws a gauntlet at the bourgeoisie members of society and their feudal mentality:
"Are O Aasmaanwale! Bata isme bura kya hai Khushi ke chaar jhonke gar idhar se bhi guzarjaaen"
As a poet, Sahir belonged to the Progressive Writers` Movement. His poetry had a clear leaning towards socialist
philosophy. Sahir was a multifaceted poet. Though his poetry was mostly tragic, romantic, and socialist, he also gave his perspectives on humanism, secularism, and feminism:
"Sansaar ki har ek besharmi, ghurbat ki god me palti hai Chaklon me hi aake rukti hai, faaqon me jo raah nikalti hai Mardon ki hawas hai jo aksar, aurat ke paap me dhalti hai"
The truth is, that Sahir, the magician of lyrics, was perhaps the last of his tribe. His place in Hindi film music remains at the top, unchallenged, and untouchable. We lost this magician to death, in 1980.
Talkhiyaan (1943), Parchhaiyaan (1953), Tanhaiyaan Aao Koi Khwaab Bune (Collected works), Gaata Jaaye Banjaara (Movie songs) His famous nazms include Parchhayiaan, Taj Mahal, Gurez, Kabhi kabhi, Kisi ko Udaas dekh kar, Chakley, etc. among others.