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What Would Sahir Ludhianvi Have Written On His 99th Birthday?



Ali Peter John

He was not related to me, not even in a remote way. He was born in Ludhiana 29 years before I was born in a village in Bombay. He had made a name for himself as a poet of love, revolt and the cry for freedom and I was in a school where I was learning my first lessons in English poetry without even understanding what I was learning and without even being interested in what which poet was trying to say. I had started taking interest in poetry after a priest called Fr Jude Fereira, who was my English teacher and also the principal of my school was teaching me a poem called ‘The Patriot’ by the well known English poet Robert Browning and his explanation of the poem was so searing and soul-stirring even for a 15 year old boy like me that I decided to do something that would have to do with what Fr Fereira open my eyes and heart too, the world of poetry with just one poem.

I heard Naseeruddin Shah telling me about how if one followed one’s ambition with passion, the entire universe would conspire to make it happen. Something like that is what happened to me and my ambition two pursue poetry. I started visiting the British council and American libraries in town after travelling without tickets on trains and going hungry during lunch and having what is now my living liquid, tea. I started reading all the American and British poets, but after a few months, a neighbour Zaheer D Lari open the world of Sahir Ludhianvi and his poetry to me and I couldn’t do anything to control my madness over Sahir’s poetry, even though I had to read it in Hindi translation. My craze for Sahir’s poetry grew into some kind of an addiction which I couldn’t give up even though I was a student of English literature. The crowning point was when I brought out my own first book of poems at the age of 22, the same age I was told when Sahir released his first book.

The universe continued to conspire when I was the luckiest man in the world to be chosen by the giant of a man called K A Abbas, who of the thousands of men who aspired to work with him, chose me to be what he called his literary assistant. It was during my stay with him that I unlearned all that I had learnt in the 6 years it took me to do my MA in literature. It was Abbas who made me learn that the best things of life are not learnt from lessons in books, but from experiences in life. There are countless things that I have learnt from Abbas and for which like I always say, I shall be grateful all my life, but the one thing I cannot express my gratitude enough is for him introducing me to the man my heart, soul and my eyes looking for, Sahir Ludhianvi, who was to be the new University of my life and all I have to do to pass out of this mighty University was to spend some intense and lovable evenings with him. It was during these meetings that a bond which was stronger than many human relationships was born between us.

As I kept meeting him, I realised that we had a lot of things in common. He was a boy who had to go through a great deal of hardships and had a mother as his only support and pillar and so was I. He was a great lover even when he lost in love and so was I. He cried out against man’s inhumanity towards man, he cried out against the exploitation of the working class, he cried out against exploitation of the women and how they were being sold as objects in bazaar and how they were made to sell their bodies to men for a few rupees to keep their children away from hunger and he cried out against the dreams seen after independence being trampled on and he cried out to finish off the system which was going into to a gangrene, but in the midst of hopelessness and gloom he saw hope and sang,“woh subah kabhi to aaegi”. I joined my voice with his voice and felt very fortunate to do it….. till he suddenly died in 1980, leaving millions of his disciples and followers bereft, broken and shattered.

Yesterday (March  was Sahir’s 99th birthday and I don’t know why and I cannot explain why I waited for his birthday as if it was one big celebration or all the feast put together. My expectations of how his birthday would be celebrated went way beyond my expectations. I saw people in different places in the country celebrating Sahir’s birthday like a national event. There were mushairas, panel discussions and more mushayaras even in the most remote corners of the country and I decided to spend a whole day celebrating Sahir’s birthday with the people who were so very close and dear to him and his poetry. It was a day so meaningful and memorable, a day that comes just once in a way.

The celebration was given a glorious turn by Dr Salman Abid and his Sahir Ludhianvi Genius Global Research Council. My friend Zain Husain from Dubai had told me about Dr Abid’s love and abounding admiration for Sahir. Dr Abid had proved it to me every time he reacted to something I had written about Sahir. On Sahir’s 99th birthday, Dr Abid proved that he knew more about Sahir and loved Sahir more than me.

The highlight of the day was Sahir’s own voice reciting his two most popular poems, “chalo ek bar FIR se ajnabi ban jaaye ham donon” and “kabhi kabhi mere Dil mein khayal aata Hai”.

As the day and I remember the lines Sahir had written in “Kabhi Kabhie” and sung by Amitabh Bachchan in it, “kal koi Aur aaega, mujhse behtar kahane wala, tumse achcha sunane wala…. Kal koi kyon mujhe yad Karega, mashruf zamana mujhe  kyon yad Karega?” How I wished Sahir was here, yahi kahin to see how he was proved wrong and how lakhs of people still love him and as the Sahir celebration enters its centenary year, I am sure Sahir and his poetry will be around and alive for hundreds of years to come.

How would Sahir have reacted to the state of affairs in the country today? Nothing much has changed, the inhumanity of man continues, the exploitation of labour continuous, women are still being sold in high-fashioned Bazaars and are forced to earn a living dancing in liquor bars, even though such dancing is banned by the law, the children and the elderly are still begging in the streets and at traffic signals and farmers are killing themselves!! I can only hear Sahir crying out again, “jeene Naaz Hai Hind par woh kahan hai” and “jala do, jala do, jala do ye duniya mere samne se, hata do ye duniya, tumhari Hai yah duniya, Tum hi sambhalo ya duniya”.

Happy Birthday, Sahir Sahab. Thank you for happening during my lifetime, Sahir Sahab!!!

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