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A warm tribute to Sahir Ludhianvi, ahead of his birth centenary

A diary with rare photographs of the poet and lyricist and remembrances by his collaborators is being published in advance of his birth centenary next year

Sahir Ludhianvi in his Juhu home, circa 1976. Photograph courtesy: The Meesam Raza Collection

Next year marks the birth centenary of lyricist and poet Sahir Ludhianvi, who was born on 8 March 1921. One early tribute is in the form a collectible diary published by Westland, to be released on 9 November. In the Year of Sahir has been conceived and put together by author, producer and director Nasreen Munni Kabir. “In essence,” she writes in the introduction, “this diary is not a history of Sahir but a personal tribute to a poet whose work still astounds me.”

Apart from his poetry, Ludhianvi’s song-writing in Pyaasa, Hum Dono, Waqt and Kabhi Kabhie, to name just a few films, is among the most memorable in Hindi cinema. Along with several rare photographs, over 30 remembrances and tributes are included in the diary, by luminaries ranging from Lata Mangeshkar to Majrooh Sultanpuri to Javed Akhtar, which testify to Ludhianvi’s mastery and enduring influence. Kabir also managed to track down and include a translation of Ludhianvi’s pacifist poem Parchhaiyan by writer-director K.A. Abbas, published in 1958. Here are excerpts from four of the tributes:

Gulzar, poet/lyricist/director/screenwriter

In the 1950s, Sahir Ludhianvi lived on the first floor of Coover Lodge, a house rented by the great writer Krishan Chander in Seven Bungalows in Andheri, Bombay. I happened to live in a small room at the back of the property and would bump into Sahir Sahib occasionally. He was a friendly man but could sometimes be moody. He was the first writer we knew who owned a car: a Morris. During those Andheri days, his book of poetry, Parchhaiyan, had been published to great acclaim, whilst the popularity of his film songs was ever increasing.

In most songs of separation people have written lyrics like ‘I’ll lose my mind if you go’, ‘Loneliness will be the death of me’ – excessively sentimental lines. Before Sahir Sahib no one expressed romantic separation with such a fine sense of etiquette and grace as in his ‘Chalo ik baar phir se ajnabi ban jaayen hum donon’. Grace is the word.

Sahir Ludhianvi with Lata Mangeshkar. Photograph courtesy: Kamat Foto Flash
Sahir Ludhianvi with Lata Mangeshkar. Photograph courtesy: Kamat Foto Flash

Lata Mangeshkar, singer/composer

One completely forgets that Sahir Ludhianvi was a Punjabi and his mother tongue was not Urdu, yet he wrote in fine Urdu and his command of the language was impeccable. The words he used had meaning and melody. Since the early 1950s, I have sung many of his songs and liked his lyrics very much. I sang one of his early hits, the 1951 Naujawan song, ‘Thandi hawaayein lehra ke aayen’.

He wrote for many composers, so over the years we used to meet often at recording studios. We joked about many things and laughed a lot together, especially if Kishore Kumar was there. Sahir Sahib was a fearless man who spoke his mind. Perhaps some people did not like that, but we must appreciate everyone has their own personality and their way of being.

Sahir Ludhianvi photographed at a poetry symposium. Photograph courtesy: The Meesam Raza Collection
Sahir Ludhianvi photographed at a poetry symposium. Photograph courtesy: The Meesam Raza Collection

Kausar Munir, screenwriter/lyricist

‘Sar jo tera chakraaye’ from Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa is a perfect example of Sahir’s mastery over the lyrical form. Known for his philosophical approach and social messaging, with this song he delights us with the quirky slant of his pen. While doing so, he paints a charming portrait of an everyman who plies his uniquely Indian trade on the street – ‘the maalishwala’ [the masseur].

Sahir uses colloquial words like ‘ganj’, ‘khuski’ and ‘champi’ to describe the mundane reality of the character played by the inimitable Johnny Walker, and then with one deft line, ‘jis ke sar pe haath phira doon, chamke qismat uski’, he reveals the maalishwala’s bittersweet fantasy of his own importance. From ‘leader’ to ‘public’ and ‘raja’ to ‘sainik’, Sahir covers the whole social gamut of the maalishwala’s clientele and, even in a seemingly funny song, he strikes a socialist note aligning with Dutt’s ethos in Pyaasa.

'In The Year Of Sahir' cover. Courtesy: Westland
'In The Year Of Sahir' cover. Courtesy: Westland

Shankar Mahadevan, singer/composer

All my life I have felt the Hum Dono song ‘Abhi na jao chhod kar’ is the greatest song ever written and composed. I am no one to talk about Sahir Sahib’s lyrics because I’m such small fry. But I can say certain phonetics act like speed breakers on the tongue, and when you’re singing you suddenly feel a word sticking; this is usually a sign of weak writing. Sahir Sahib’s song is phonetically perfect, and there’s so much romance in his lyrics that the words flow like a river: ‘Abhi na jao chhod kar ke dil abhi bhara nahin abhi abhi toh aayi ho bahaar ban ke chhaai ho hawa zara mehak toh ley...’ No stopping that rising and falling water.

In the Year of Sahir, by Nasreen Munni Kabir. 499, Westland.

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