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Why Sahir Ludhianvi Is Relevant Today

Last updated on: January 23, 2024 13:53 IST
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While the country is gripped by Ram Mandir frenzy, Danish Husain -- without shouting from the rooftops -- silently staged his opinion with this play on one of India's best-known poets, observes Neeta Kolhatkar.

IMAGE: Danish Husain as Sahir Ludhianvi in the play, Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon. Photograph: Gorky M

It was a housefull show at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai on the weekend as The Hoshruba Repertory staged Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon.

This 'Hindustani' play, conceptualised and directed by Danish Husain, is on the life of the renowned poet Sahir Ludhianvi and began with his famous couplets -- the audience, with an average age span of 60-65 years, sang Sahir's famous Hindi songs uninhibitedly.


Photograph: Gorky M

The play begins with a moving rendition composed by composer and percussionist Aneesh Pradhan.

Then, Srijonee Bhattacharjee sang while Vrinda Vaidhayaat, more like a sutradhar, narrated Sahir's couplets and sang on a few occasions too.

Sahir, played by Danish Husain, is shown surrounded by books at his writing table.

At one point, the two ladies and the musicians referenced the late film-maker Guru Dutt, and the lighting was straight out of his memorable film Kagaaz Ke Phool and its song, Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam. The audience was engrossed as they took in every spoken word, prose or poetry.

Photograph: Gorky M

Sahir, whose birth name was Abdul Hayee, was born on March 8, 1921 in Ludhiana.

His father Chaudhri Fazl Mohammed was a wealthy Punjabi, his mother Sardar Begum originally belonged to Kashmir.

Sections in the play were devoted to Sahir's struggle to find a footing in the Indian film world and his journey to post-Partition Pakistan after facing rejection.

After being separated from his mother, they were reunited in Lahore.

While he stayed there, Sahir became the editor of an Urdu magazine, Savera (Dawn).

When he recited his poem Avaaz-e-Adam (The Voice of Adam), it prompted the Pakistani government to issue an arrest warrant against him. The stress of flying to India fearing imminent arrest left him with a fear of flying for the rest of his life.

When he returned to the land of his birth, he realised that India was waiting for him.

The focus of the play was also on his love for the poor as Naaz-e-Hind. The original Nazm (poem) -- 'Jinhe naaz hai Hind par, woh kahan hai? -- was later incorporated in Guru Dutt's classic Pyaasa.

In the 1940s, a young Sahir became a sensation after his unpopular opinion in his famous poem, Taj Mahal.

'Ik Shahenshah ne daulat ka sahara lekar/Hum gharibon ki mohabbat ka udaya hai mazaq/ Meri mehboob kaheein aur mila kar mujh se.'

(An emperor, with help of his wealth has belittled the love of us poor folk, but henceforth my beloved, meet me somewhere else.)

Photograph: Gorky M

Danish took us through Sahir's journey between British India, Pakistan and the new India.

While we see Sahir's struggles in his childhood, his decision to stand by his mother and be with her till the end, the play focuses on Sahir's indefatigable spirit to stand on the side of justice.

Photograph: Gorky M

Despite Sahir's fame and fortune, he rued the fate of the farmer who feeds others only to go hungry himself, a view he highlighted in his poem, Mujhe Sochne Do (Let Me Think):

Lahlahaate hue kheton pe javaanii kaa samaan
Aur dahqaan ke chhappar mein na battii na dhuaan

(All the ingredients of fulsomeness are bedecked on lush green fields.
While there is neither light under the farmer's shed nor fire in his hearth

Photograph: Neeta Kolhatkar

Behind me sat three youngsters who had just turned 20 and were only recently introduced to Sahir's work.

One among them narrated an incident which occurred the day before: "My maid was upset that the central government was spending so much publicity and money on the Ram mandir which she felt they could have spent on better schemes for the poor."

Sahir would have been heartened to hear this.

The youth claimed he did not "correct the maid" and preferred not share his political views.

A girl among them, who had just learned of Sahir's take on politics, said, "It is distressing what is happening in our country right now."

It was as if Sahir was present in those moments.

Photograph: Neeta Kolhatkar

While the country is gripped by Ram Mandir frenzy, Danish -- without shouting from the rooftops -- silently staged his opinion by holding this show in an auditorium, frequented by Mumbai's elite.

In February 1969, Sahir was invited to speak at an event to mark Mirza Ghalib's 100th death anniversary where he conveyed his distress in Jashn-e-Ghalib (Celebrating Ghalib), exposing the hypocrisy of Indian politicians who were commemorating the finest Urdu poet, but responsible for the demise of the language.

Jis ahad-e-siyaasat ne yeh zina zabaan kuchli
Us ahad-e-siyaasat ko marhoomoun ka gham kyun hai?
Ghalib kisse kehte hein, Urdu hi kaa shaayar tha
Urdu per sitam dhaa kar, Ghalib ke karam kiyun hai?

(The government that crushed this effervescent language. Why should that government grieve over the dead? The man called Ghalib was a poet of the Urdu language. Why should they be unfair to Urdu and benevolent towards Ghalib?)

One could hear the sighs of the audience listening to these words, which was followed by a round of applause.

Ironically, the same Bollywood that once celebrated Sahir for his Urdu verse has systematically obliterated Urdu from its dialogues and lyrics.

Photograph: Gorky M

Danish highlighted Sahir's attempts to give the rightful stature to poets, writers and lyricists in Hindi films.

After Pyaasa, he fell out with Composer S D Burman because he told producers he should be paid one rupee more than composers.

In this changing scenario while most prefer to remain silent, this silent majority found a voice at NCPA through Sahir Ludhianvi.

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