On Sahir and On Manwani’s Book

Rupen Ghosh is a Delhi-based retired government officer with a keen interest in arts and literature.

Rupen Ghosh

Reading Sahir Ludhianvi’s well-researched biography– Sahir: The People’s Poet by Akshay Manwani – with an in-depth analysis of his poetry and songs, translations of some of his finest works, what emerges apart from his being a people’s poet, a progressive poet, a powerful poet of dissent, reflecting the conscience of society, is someone who gave the film song an intellectual quotient, producing a philosophical train of thought even in lighter moments, someone who was the only lyricist succeeding on his own terms alone. His songs became popular entirely because of his powerful lyrics, his language, his vocabulary and his imagery.

The conventional thinking in film songs was that the primary factors for success were the rhythm and the tune. The words followed. The words were to somehow match the melody and the rhythm and not the other way around. That is the reason, composers reigned, even if someone were to resort to plagiarism, at times. Sahir was the only songwriter and lyricist for whom the songs succeeded on the merit of his words alone, on the power of his poetry. His words had a ‘persona of their own.’ The tune and the melody followed the lyrics in what was quite unprecedented, and his name appeared ahead of the composers, in the posters, so powerful were the lyrics and so mesmerised were the audience over Sahir’s poetry. For the first time, the composers had to take a back seat, and it underlined Sahir’s importance in the success of the films with which he was associated.


Sahir never compromised with his craft, being the only songwriter ‘whose poetry made its way into films in its purest form.’ The author writes, ‘so great was his stature as an Urdu poet that he never had to mould his poetry to suit the demands of song writing for cinema; instead, composers and producers adapted their requirements to his poetry. He never really learned the film medium and wrote what he felt’. His songs in films like Pyaasa, Naya Daur, Devdas, Hum Dono, Phir Subah Hogi, Mujhe Jeene Do are acknowledged classics, at least in so far as their music was concerned. He never cheapened his craft to write what would sell. Instead, he gave Hindi cinema a social, material and economic consciousness, and as a socially aware poet, stood up for those who were on the margins of the society, investing his songs with the pain of love and its associated moods. No one, not even the contemporary greats of his time, could come anywhere near him in investing songs with intellectual or philosophical strain, while retaining his basic values as a socially conscious poet, his poetry remaining a beacon of hope for the underprivileged and impoverished, and the socially disadvantaged. The hope and vision, even if Utopian, in Sahir’s words, ‘where no suffering exists, where people live happily, together we have to build that world. That dawn shall come. We must illuminate the darkness, we must usher in a better tomorrow.’

The author in the epilogue to his book, narrates an interesting but poignant story, which had a happy ending, like most of the Hindi films of that era or for that matter of any era. Let’s listen to the author: “Sometime in 1966-67, Sahir, his mother, his cousin and the noted writer Krishan Chander were travelling by car to Ludhiana. Somewhere near Shivpuri in MP, close to Gwalior, the car was stopped by dacoits. The leader of the pack, Maan Singh (who would surrender later in 1972 before JP Narayan, the Gandhian Sarvodaya leader), took all five, including the driver, captive.”

“A few years before the incident, Sahir had worked on the songs of a dacoit-drama Mujhe Jeene Do. Sunil Dutt played the protagonist, a dacoit (Jarnail Singh), who marries Chameli Jaan (Waheeda Rehman), who would sing and dance to entertain people, a profession considered disreputable. The two have a child. The female protagonist, anxious not to let her son follow in the dreaded Jarnail Singh’s footsteps, voices her concern, her plaintive cry, through these lines written by Sahir. Her concern was universal as a mother, anxious to ensure a better and safe future to her child, while the fear existed that as a bandit’s son (even if the bandit wants to reform himself and surrender), the nemesis could catch up one day.”

Tere bachapan ko jawani ki duaa deti hun
Aur duaa deke pareshaan si ho jaati hun

Mere munne mere gulazaar ke nanhe paudhe
Tujh ko haalat ki aandhi se bachaane ke liye
Aaj main pyaar ke aanchal mein chhupaa leti hun
Kal ye kamazor sahara bhi na haasil hoga
Kal tujhe kaanton bhari raah pe chalana hoga
Zindagaani ki kadi dhup men jalanaa hoga

Tere bachapan ko jawani ki duaa deti hun
Aur duaa deke pareshan si ho jati hoon.

“The dacoits, as the story goes, had seen the film. The song, deeply poignant with heart-wrenching lyrics that were to make most eyes moist, was close to their hearts because it aptly mirrored their own struggles. On realising that the man they held captive was the writer of this song, they let go of them free. When Maan Singh got to know who Sahir was, ‘Unhey izzat se jaaney do (let them go peacefully). Even dacoits approved of him.” They had heard of this most poignant ode to motherhood to which they could all relate.” Even if the film was quite indifferent and was a disappointment with comic interludes forcibly thrown in to enhance its commercial appeal which spoiled the aesthetics and the seriousness of the story the film was trying to convey, the silver lining was by way of its music.

The music by Jaidev and Sahir’s poetry were transcendental and divine. So were Lataji’s vocals, which in melody and the sense of pathos and helplessness, had no parallel. We don’t get to hear such music and melody and such poetic brilliance these days. Times have really changed!

No one could have been more philosophical or melancholic than him, more self-deprecating.

Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shaayar hoon, pal do pal meri kahaani hai.
Pal do pal meri hansti hai, pal do pal meri jawaani hai
main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon.

mujhse pahale kitne shaayar aaye aur aakar chale gaye,
kuchh aahein bharkar laut gaye, kuchh nagme gaakar chale gaye.
Woh bhi ek pal ka qissa tha, main bhi ek pal ka qissa huun
Kal tumse juda ho jaa’uunga, jo aaj tumhaara hissa huun

kal aur aayeinge nagmon ki, khilti kaliyaan chunnevaale
mujhse behatar kahanevaale, tumse behatar sunnevaale
kal koi mujhko yaad kare, Kyon koi mujhko yaad kare
masaruuf zamaana mere liye, kyon waqt apna barbaad kare

Or this philosophical profoundness ..

Duniya ke tajurbaat-o-havaadis
ke shakl mein
Jo kuch mujhey diya hai,
lauta raha hoon main……


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