If It Was Not For The Influence Of Sahir Ludhianvi, Yash Chopra Would Have Ended Up As A Retired Ics Officer…
(One More Tribute To The ‘Mazdoor Poet’ Who Continues To Cast His Spell)
Ali Peter John
It was some time in the fifties. There was some kind of a silent clash or call it even a ‘war’ between a father and his son. The father who was an aristocrat was very upset about his elder son, Baldev Raj first taking up film journalism as a career and then taking up filmmaking and was not even satisfied when the son had made a very big name for himself and even founded his own film making company and launched his own banner, BR Films. He was determined to see that his second son Yash Raj would not follow in his brother’s footsteps. He spends all his time in drilling the idea of becoming an ICS officer into the young and bright Yash Raj’s mind. But, little did the father know that Yash Raj had already come under the spell of Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry like his entire generation had. It had become a case of ‘jina to Sahir ke liye marna to Sahir ke liye’ for Yash Raj and his father kept making all the preparations and even pulling all the right strings in the right places to make sure that Yash Raj got through and fulfilled his (the father’s) dream’ of having an ICS officer in the family, Yashraj was busy going more and more crazy about Sahir’s poetry and was busy making plans of how to reach Bombay when he knew Sahir was a very successful film lyricist and what was more important was that he was working with hey ‘bhai sahab’, BR Chopra. Destiny was slowly but surely wapking in favour of Yash Raj. All plans to send him off to London to study for his ICS were finalized, but his father asked him to take a break in Bombay and stay with his bhai sahab for a few days before flying to London. Yashraj was delighted, but didn’t have the courage to show it to his father….
Yash Raj reached Bombay, the city of freedom and the city of Sahir Ludhianvi and he had already given up all his dreams of going to London. He decided to stay on in Bombay come what may. It was only on the third day of his stay in Bombay that he came face to face with his idol, Sahir in his bhai sahab’s house and he was speechless and felt that even if he had seen him it was a dream fulfilled and he wanted nothing else. But he was dreaming too small, because Sahir was a poet and a man with a very big heart. The two men soon struck up a bond which was never to be broken till Sahir died a full four decade later. How Yash Raj managed to talk to his bhai sahab to talk to their father to let him stay on and take up filmmaking and not go to London and how Yash Raj became Yash Chopra the man behind Yash Raj Films and the king of romance in Indian cinema and how Sahir Ludhianvi was a major part of his success story till he made films like “Kabhi Kabhi”, “Trishul” and “Deewar” is another story….
Like Yash Chopra, I too was one of those lakhs of young people who were challenged and conquered by Sahir and his poetry. But, for the life of me, just like Yash, I too couldn’t even in my most remote dreams could think that I would first come face to face with Sahir, then come in close touch with him and then spend many mornings, afternoons and evenings with him…
Again, like many of the good and great things that have happened in my life, Sahir also happened because of my mentor, K.A Abbas. I had made all the progressive writers and poets in the office of Abbas Sahab and in his spacious library which was the only luxurious place he had, where they met to discuss crucial issues under his leadership. I remember Sahir calling Abbas Sahab, “ek hi saccha communist, baki ham sab kya hai?Sirf Russ ki vodka aur cigarette peene Wale tattu”. And I saw all the fiery writers and poets sitting quiet after having all the provocations to scream their left lungs out. No one had the courage to scream back at Sahir except Abbas.
There was some kind of an unwritten and undescribable bond between Sahir and me. I used to feel charged and inspired even if I saw him in his old white Fiat car (3825) sitting in the backseat uncomfortably. They were times when I even felt like running after his car which I once used to do you only when I saw big stars like Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Raajkumar and Saira Banu.
The bond kept stronger when a joint ‘Screen’. I attended a press conference which was followed by a grand party to launch the recording of a song written by him for a film called “1965″ to be directed by JP Dutta, the war specialist, which unfortunately did not get made. There was the cream of the industry present at the Ball Room of the Taj Mahal Hotel. But to this day, I don’t know what attracted the Great Sahir Ludhianvi towards me. I was still a newcomer in ‘Screen’. I had still to start drinking the way I started drinking later. Sahir asked me why I was not drinking and he made me my first large peg of whisky. It was just pure Johnnie Walker whisky, no soda, no water, no nothing. He gave me the glass and asked me to hold the glass in the cusp of my right hand and drink the whiskey neat and asked, “never to insult whisky by adulterating it with soda or water”. I made him a promise which I unfortunately couldn’t keep, because when and how could I meet a Sahir Ludhianvi wherever and whenever I drink?
I started reading more of his poetry after that meeting with him at theTaj and a few months later I had to release my first ever book of poems, ‘Voices in Turmoil’ with who else, but my mentor and everything, Abbas Sahab as the chief guest. When the press which was present in good numbers even at that time for a function held in my own school hall, ask me who my favourite poet was, I didn’t blink twice and said, “Sahir Ludhianvi.”
The bond continued to grow as I one day discovered that the new house I had shifted to after leaving my gaon was hardly 5 minutes away from the old bungalow where Sahir lived when he was still new to Bombay and had kept one of the floors and given the rest of his house to his friend and doctor, RP Kapoor, who was also the personal doctor of celebrities like Lata Mangeshkar, BR Chopra, Ramanand Sagar and their entire family. He had built his own apartments in Juhu, next to the bunglow of his comorade, Balraj Sahni called ‘Ikram’. Sahir called his building ‘Parchhaiyan’ after his collection of poems, the name used in the poet, Vijay’s poems in “Pyaasa”.
I can never forget that night. He was hale and hearty the whole day. He was also drinking. Towards late evening, he felt the urge to go to his old bungalow in Versova. He was travelling by a taxi. He stopped the taxi outside his bungalow and asked the driver to wait for him and told him that he would be back in 10 minutes. He went in and sat with his friend, Dr Kapoor and placed his head in his lap and said, “bahut thak Gaya Hun” and he never got up again. Woh subah had not and would never come again for him. Sahir Ludhianvi was dead. Strangely, I didn’t have any money on me on the morning of his funeral, but like I had often borrowed a rupee from my childhood friend, Shantharam, who was a canteen manager in an industrial area, I borrowed a rupee again from him and walked to the Santa Cruz kabrastan to bid my final farewell to Sahir who was buried in a grave where the most common, the poor and the downtrodden are buried entirely like Sahir would have liked to be buried because I don’t think he believed in dreams like Jannat or nightmares like Jahannum.
Today, years after Sahir has gone, what remains of him? His building, ‘Parchhaiyan’ stands like a dark shadow of the building he had built. I was once taken to the apartment where he lived with his sister by the filmmaker BR Ishara and his actress-wife Rehana Sultan, who lives in the same building and I was horrified to see the state in which the apartment was. His books and awards were lying on the floor, all rotten and eaten away by rats, rodents and termites. The whole place was stinking, there was no signs of the place experiencing any human touch and before I could explain, oh my God, I could almost see Sahir standing at the entrance, dressed all in white like Guru Dutt as the poet Vijay in “Pyaasa” and singing ‘yeh duniya agar mil Bhi jaaye to kya hai’… ‘Jala do jala do jala do ye duniya’ and his bungalow in Versova has been taken over by sharks who are coming up with a multistoried monstrosity covering the sea. Every morning and evening when I pass that place, I wonder what Sahir would have to say if he saw what they have done to his legacy today.
They have made his name to make a way to make a living in the name of doing him an honour and paying him all kinds of tributes. They are doing plays based on his great love story with the poetess Amrita Pritam. Some time last year, Shekhar Suman and Deepti Naval too talented and out of work actors came together to do a play called ‘ek mulaqat’ with Shekhar playing a very healthy version of Sahir and Deepti giving expression to her own dream of idolizing the Punjabi poetess, Amrita Pritam. They made a lot of money, but what about doing justice to two of the most celebrated and even controversial literary figures of the century? If you ask me, without any bias, the only man who has done justice to Sahir is the late actor, Tom Alter, who everyone called a videshi actor, but who was genuine Indian from Dehradun as who could teach Urdu to some of those who claim to be the ultimate lanterns of knowledge about the language. Last year, there was a vow to make a so-called commercial Hindi film with Irrfan Khan playing Sahir and of all actresses, Kareena Kapoor play Amrita Pritam. Irrfan would have done a great job like he always does in the film which was called “Sahir Ludhianvi”, but now that Irrfan is out because of the big C claiming him at least for now, I wonder which other actor can bring Sahir alive, anyway we don’t have to bring Sahir Ludhianvi live, because his poetry has made sure that he will stay alive and be alive as long as Urdu poetry and even poetry in the whole world is alive. India must be grateful that it ever had a son and a poet who could write a line like ‘tu Hindu Banega na Musalman Banega Insaan ki aulad Hai Insaan Banega’…