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Born Abdul Hayee in Ludhiana in 1921, Sahir Ludhianvi once mentioned how his takhallus or nom-de-plume came about in a radio program. He had read poet Allama Iqbal’s couplet:

“Is chaman mein honge paida bulbul-e-shiraaz bhi,
Sainkdon saahir bhi honge saahib-e-eijaaz bhi”

And picked ‘Sahir’ (magician) as his pseudonym. An apt name, considering the magic he was to weave with his pen.

Born to a feudal family, Sahir’s childhood was nevertheless clouded by fear and penury. His father re-married, several times, and his mother finally took the bold step of leaving her husband and foregoing all financial assistance to raise his only son. Her husband sued for custody of his only son, lost, and threatened to kill his ex-wife and child, if only to ensure that the boy did not live with his mother. This fear and sense of loss was to stay with him right through his life; his failed romances with first a classmate, and then with poet Amrita Pritam and singer Sudha Malhotra would only exacerbate his loneliness. But this sorrow was to also influence his poetry.

His romance with Amrita Pritam was possibly the most intense, the flame burning brightly at both ends. In her autobiography (Raseedi Ticket), Amrita was to write:

“Aur mujhe lagta hai
ki shamshan ki aag, aag ka apmaan hai
Kisi Sohni, Sassi ya Heer mein
Jo aag jalti thi
Mujhe us aag ki pehchaan hai”

Sahir never moved far from his preoccupation with romanticism. In his own words:

“Mere sarkash taraane sun ke duniyaa ye samajhti hai
ke shaayad mere dil ko ishq ke naghmon se nafrat hai

Magar ae kaash dekhein vo meri pursoz raaton ko
Main jab taaron pe nazren gaadkar aansu bahaata hoon”

Amrita and he met and spent hours together without talking; when Sahir left, she would hurriedly smoke the cigarette butts he left behind, hoping the smoke would mingle with the air and meet up with him in the heavens. Sahir once invited her and her much younger partner Imroz to meet him in a hotel room. They ordered whiskey, sat and talked for a long time. At midnight, Amrita received a call from Sahir. “There are still three glasses lying on the table, and by turn I am sipping from each of them, and writing Mere Saathi Khaali Jaam.”

However, his relationship with her was never destined to be. Neither was his relationship with Sudha Malhotra, whose father objected on account that Sahir was Muslim. Perhaps it was his failed romances that lined his poetry with disillusionment as he wrote:

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 maangi, kaaton ka haar mila

The joy of romance and the bitterness of its aftermath, the cynicism and the socialist fervor, the voice of revolt, and his empathy with the common man’s struggles were voices from his own personal experiences. As he wrote in Talkhiyaan (Bitterness / Bitter Words):

“Duniya ne tajrubaat o hawaadis ki shakl mein
Jo kuch mujhe diya hai, wo lauta raha hoon main”

Courtesy- Anuradha Warrier

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