I was twenty-two and had already made a name as a rebel, a revolutionary, an atheist and a Communist – Ali Peter John
The only reason as I can remember now is because I had put up a fight against the local Catholic Priest and had sported a long beard and had hair right up to my shoulders which was because I could not afford a barber!
It was at this time that I decided to bring out a collection of my youthful scribblings.
I had a co-writer in my school-day friend Cyril Barrows because he worked in the Reserve Bank of India and had the money.
We were given the hall of our school to have the release function to which we had invited my school- time hero Khwaja Ahmad Abbas as the chief guest.
Little did I know that the priests who ran the school would know about the Communist leanings of Abbas, but when the head priest heard about Abbas, he called me and said he would certainly not let a Communist like Abbas to be a part of any function in the school.
It took me an hour to explain to the good priest how embarrassing it would be for me if I had to tell Abbas that he was not welcome at the holy school.
It was only when I told the good priest how his school would be criticised by Abbas in his column, The Last Page in the well-known weekly “Blitz” that he called a meeting of the other priests and they finally agreed to let me have the function.
There was a huge crowd and there was the press too. There was a question and answer session after the book release.
One of the senior journalists asked me who my favourite writers and poets were and I did not take a second to take the names of Abbas, Sahir Ludhianvi, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Saadat Hasan Manto and Kaifi Azmi .
The man who asked me the question and the audience looked at me in silence. They had never heard of such names and expected me to take the names of Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Byron.
I did not change my opinion because the names I took were the men who had actually inspired me, Sahir Ludhianvi more than the others because of his direct connect with the feelings of the common man.
That evening most of my friends kept mumbling “Sahir, Sahir, for God’s sake, who is this Sahir” and I knew it would take me several generations to tell them who Sahir Ludhianvi was…
I next met Sahir Ludhinavi several times in the office of Abbas Sahab who had taken me on as his literary assistant on a royal salary of rupees hundred a month which I didn’t mind at all because it was in his office that I met some of the greatest writers, poets and intellectuals and even the great Raj Kapoor.
There was something about this poet called Sahir which appealed to me and I struck up a friendship with him and he never treated me like a bachcha, but talked to me as an equal.
I once heard Abbas Sahab firing the daylights out of all the Communist writers for being the stooges of the Russian Government only for a few cartons of Vodka and cigarettes all made in Russia, the only man to be spared was Sahir who Abbas Sahab said was “a people’s man” in the true spirit and my admiration for Sahir grew.
It was after a few weeks that I saw him enter an old bungalow in Seven Bungalows where one of his old friends Dr. R.K Kapoor was practising.
The doctor was my doctor too and was a college-time friend of people like Sahir and B.R Chopra and a family doctor to all the Chopras and the Mangeshkar family who travelled all the way to where Dr. Kapoor had his clinic which was a part of the bungalow which belonged to Sahir who had bought it a long time ago and lived on the first floor and gave away the down floor to Dr. Kapoor to have his clinic and his residence.
He once called me for breakfast to this bungalow and what he served me was like a feast.
I later heard that he called anyone he took a liking for to have breakfast, lunch or dinner with him.
I had joined “Screen” and one of my first major assignments was to attend a party in honour of Sahir who had written a song for J.P Dutta’s “1965”.
I came face to face with him and the first thing I noticed was the way he held his glass of whisky, he held it in the cusp of his left hand and drank his whisky “neat” which meant there would be no soda or water in it and the first sentence he spoke to me after holding my hand in his was, “sharaab aise hi peena chaahiye, nahi toh sharaab ki tohmat hoti hai”.
I was also impressed by the way he was dressed in ordinary trousers, a loose shirt and a Nehru jacket which only some leaders and ordinary workers wore those days.
That was the day I decided to drink like him whenever I could afford it and I still try to dress up like him.
The jacket has now become a style and a way of life for all classics of people, it looked dignified only on Sahir.
I attended several of the kavi sammelans and mushairas organised in the office of Abbas Sahab and they went on all evening and till the next morning with one poet after another reciting some of the best poems I have heard and understood in Urdu, but without any bias, Sahir was always the king of the night.
He once told me that he always charged more than the music composers and singers he worked with because he always felt that the composers, even the best of them borrowed their tunes from the west “jahaan par inke naukar kaam karte hai aur ye log sirf unke kaam ko churaane ka kaam karte hai”.
He later shifted to the building he had built in Juhu opposite the Sun-N-Sand hotel and lived on the top floor with his sister and had his own ramshackle Fiat car numbered BML3825.
He was always a restless soul and kept travelling from place to place with his smoking giving him company by day and whisky being his companion till the early hours of the morning.
Yash Chopra was the one man who treated him like “God” because he said it was because of Sahir that he had decided to be a filmmaker or his father wanted him to be an ICS officer.
The Chopras never made a film without Sahirtill he died. He worked for some of the very small producers and directors without charging them any money provided their subjects were good.
He took a taxi one night and was drinking all the way and finally reached his old bungalow and asked the taxi driver to wait for a few minutes.
He sat with his friend, Dr. Kapoor and even the experienced doctor did not know when he had a massive heart attack and slumped in his lap.
I did not have any money to travel to Juhu to attend his funeral and had to borrow a rupee from my same old friend Shantaram, the manager of the hotel where I had my tea and dinner without paying him any money.
When I reached his house, his body had already left for the Santacruz kabristan and I was lucky to get a lift from my friend Tinu Anand who worked as an assistant of Abbas Sahab, but had to walk back home where I reached late in the evening and came to life only after having a glass of tea at my favourite hotel, Rajnish Refreshments.
The world had grown poorer that day with the passing away of one of the greatest poets of our time, Sahir Ludhianvi…
There is a sudden spurt of interest being shown in Sahir and it is only now that I have realized that those who are showing intesfret are only interested in his affair with the great Punjabu poet and writer, Amrita Pritam.
There are any number of books in different languages coming up about Sahir and so are there any number of plays being staged based on the love affair between Sahir and Amrita Pritam, the best being ‘Ek Mulaqaat” with Shekhar Suman playing Sahir and Deepti Naval playing Amrita Pritam.
The play has been staged all over the world and has made lots of money which was I feel the only motives of the people behind the play.
There are also a number of students who are doing their thesis on Sahir and the latest I have heard is that Sanjay Leela Bhansali is planning to make a film about Sahir and Amrita.
There was a plaque put up in Sahir’s name on Linking Road, but it was vandalised by unknown miscreants.
The BMC had promised to put up a new plaque, but they seem to be suffering from amnesia and most of the corporators of that time had not even heard of the name Sahir Ludhianvi like I had to ask Amitabh Bachchan to agree to unveil a plaque in honour of Abbas Sahab to make the local corporator and the entire BMC to know who Khwaja Ahmad Abbas was…
I received a call from the actress Rehana Sultan and the wife of BR Ishara one morning.
They told me about the “horrible condition’ in which Sahir’s house was and when I had a glimpse of his room I could see his trophies including the Padmashri thrown all over the place and what was most shocking was to see his collection of books in a state that could only be described as rotten.
The building he built, Parchhaaiyaan is now under the charge of a housing society because there are no claimants to the property and the matter is in court and his bungalow in Seven Bungalows where I spent several mornings having delicious breakfasts with him and evenings drinking with him has been demolished and a multi-storeyed building is coming up. Who sold the bungalow?
Was it the son of his friend, Dr Kapoor who he had given the bungalow as a gesture of goodwill and which Dr Kapoor turned into his clinic where he had patients like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle,B.R Chopra and Yash Chopra, Ramanand Sagar and his entire family, yours truly and the entire Koli (fishermen) community without charging them any fee and who went on to build the Versova Welfare School and College?
These questions can never find any answers as all those who could are not heard of or seen anywhere.
To put it briefly, Sahir Ludhianvi was a loser on all fronts of life and that more than reflects in his poetry and the songs he wrote, especially the songs in Guru Dutt’s immortal classic, “Pyaasa”…..
But poets like Sahir will not be remembered because of the money they made or the buildings they built, but by the work they have done as poets.
Even today, as millions wait for the achchhe din promised by Mr. Modi, there are millions who are waiting in the hope ki woh subah kabhi toh aayegi, one of the lines from a song from “Phir Subah Hogi” written by Sahir. Sahir- the voice for all times
SAHIR’S POETRY CHANGED THE LIFE OF YASH CHOPRA
Yash Raj Chopra was the younger brother of Baldev Raj Chopra, they had been refugees who had come from Pakistan and settled in Punjab Baldev Raj Chopra was a film journalist in pre-Partition Pakistan and was a known name even in the Hindi film industry because of the reviews of films he wrote Baldev Raj found a friend in Ashok Kumar who encouraged him to make films and Baldev Raj made several films, most of them films based on social themes and he soon established his own banner B. R Films…
Yash Raj Chopra was his younger brother who lived in Ludhiana in Punjab with his father and brother and went to the best college and was a graduate.
His father wanted him to keep away from the attraction of films and did not want him to follow in the footsteps of his elder brother Yash was not only a brilliant student but was interested in the challenges of life and his father wanted him to be an ICS Officer and wanted him to go to London to pursue his studies and Yash almost agreed But his life took one big turn when he read the poems of the popular Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi.
His love for Sahir’s poetry turned into his passion and he dreamt of meeting Sahir and soon realized that Sahir lived in Bombay and was even working as the lyricist of his elder brother, he looked for ways to reach Bombay.
He found his chance to come to Bombay when his father finally decided to send him to London for his ICS, but he had to come to Bombay before he left for London, he lived with his brother for some time and his only ambition was to meet Sahir.
Sahir was a regular visitor to Baldev Raj’s house and office and Yash found his chance to meet his dream poet, Sahir.
The two became very good friends and Yash showed Sahir how much he knew about his poetry and their friendship grew stronger.
Yash’s father was now putting pressure on Yash to leave Bombay and go to London, but his meeting and friendship with Sahir changed his mind, he did not want to do his ICS, he wanted to join his brother as an assistant
The elder brother was caught between his love for his father and his younger brother, but Yash had made up his mind to work with his brother
The father kept telling Baldev Raj to send Yash away to London, but Yash was adamant and asked his brother to make their father understand his position, the father decided to ask Baldev Raj to give him a job which would take away the passion of films from him.
Baldev Raj decided to get him to work as an assistant to an actor, comedian and director called I. S Johar.
Yash worked with him for only 3 days and came back crying to his brother, saying that he didn’t want to work with anyone else but him.
It was Sahir who asked Baldev Raj to give the young Yash a chance and Yash was thrilled when his brother took him on as his assistant during the making of “Naya Daur”
The entire unit which included Dilip Kumar and Sahir lived and worked in Poona for over a month, during which time Yash not only made an impression with his hard work but also became a dear friend of both Dilip Kumar and got closer to Sahir and his poetry
Baldev Raj finally decided to tell his father to let him stay back in Bombay and try his luck in the film industry
Yash went on to direct films like “Dharamputra”, “Dhool Ka Phool”, “Waqt”, “Admi Aur Insaan” and the other films for B. R Films and was accepted as a major director, but one thing was common in all the films he made, he had Sahirto write all his songs for all the films he made till Sahir suddenly died of a massive heart attack and Yash was shattered
But he had to continue because he had now started his own company, Yash Raj Films.
There are stories and stories about one man changing the life of another, but being close to both Yash and Sahir, I can say that the kind of impact Sahir made on Yash was something unusual and unheard of
Yash always said he couldn’t imagine living in a world where there was no Sahir, no Dilip Kumar and no Lata Mangeshkar.
Now, Yash is gone , Sahir is gone, Baldev Raj is gone, Lataji and Dilip Kumar are very old and very sick and in their nineties, but the magic they created whenever they came together is something that will enlighten generations to come because together they created history which no one, however powerful or successful in the world can dare to forge