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Sahir’s Poetry Awakens Me From My Slumber

August 7, 2014 | By

Sahir’s works even today have the power to whip up storms. True to his name… Sahir = wakeful… he awakens me from my slumber and makes me sit up and notice.

Sahir Ludhianvi (centre)

Sahir Ludhianvi (centre)


My earliest memories of being aware of this name was when in 8th grade, in the collection of Hindi plays that we were studying, the first play had this line… “Sahir aur Majrooh, sunte toh gash khaa kargir jaate.” ‘Sahir’ and ‘Majrooh’ are lyricists… my teacher explained… as if… that was enough to explain the phenomenon that Sahir was.

Never the less… my curiosity was piqued.

I had seen some Hindi books at my neighbor cum classmate’s house. They belonged to his father. I remembered that one of the books was about Sahir or by Sahir or had something to do with Sahir. Had half a mind to ask it… but chickened out. But Fate had other plans.

Around that time, the same neighbor cum classmate’s father’s poetry got published in one of the local circulations. I read it and was impressed beyond words. Unable to resist I told uncle how awe-inspiring that was. He showed me more of his publications and soon one thing lead to another… and I did get to borrow that elusive book.

Sigh… it was one of Sahir’s own works. The earlier print… 1956 I believe. I could not make head or tail of most of the non-filmy work in the book. Not only was the urdu beyond my grasp, the poetry, the concepts, the train of thought… they existed at a level I could not even begin to comprehend. Such was the depth of Sahir’s poetry.

I gave up!

But all was not lost for me. That one week of attempts to read that tiny less than 150 pages book… lead to an unexpected benefit for me. Serendipity… if you may.

Of all the poems I read or attempted to read… just one clicked simply for the reason, it had been featured in a movie. “Chalo ek baar fir se… ajnabi bann jaayein ham dono”. It had a word… Taarruf. The word means… acquaintance. I hadn’t known the word until then. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the word for the first time. The book you see.. had come with a list of difficult words and their meanings. That one word, lead to another , then another… I started making note of words, meanings. I started penning my own half baked Urdu poetry on scraps of paper.

This was way back in the Summer of 89.

Chalo ek baar fir se… ajnabi bann jaayein ham dono (Gumraah, 1963)

Then in the world of education, exams and all the other boring stuff… Sahir and Urdu took backseat.

Years later, I got acquainted with the exciting world of blogging. Again, one thing lead to another and soon I was dishing out half baked poems… again.  But this time… Internet became my buddy. I’d look for synonyms, homophones, homonyms, antonyms… you name it.

One of the searches lead me to I started reading Gulzar, then Ghalib, Ahmed Faraz, Nida Fazli, … With the Internet at my fingertips,  Sahir could not stay away from me for too long. Rather I could not stay away from Sahir for too long. I reignited my teenage crush on his works.  I had mentioned once, reading Sahir’s works made me feel like I was doing homework… not doing light reading. I still get that feeling.  The depth in his work is unsurpassed.

From the point of social relevance… everyone agrees that Sahir is as relevant to the society as he was decades ago. But there are other poets who are relevant after centuries. I mean, who does not relate to the love-lornness of Ghalib’s works. But beyond merely relating to his works, Sahir’s works even today, after multiple reads, have the power to whip up storms. One feels as though a layer of torpor has been ripped off from our consciousness and we see things in the new light as though just waking up. True to his name… Sahir = wakeful… he awakens me from my slumber and makes me sit up and notice. That was, is and shall remain the USP of Sahir Ludhianvi.

Sahir is much more non-chalant about his works though. Like all true geniuses… he took his works rather lightly. In his own words… “mujhse pehle kitne shaayar aaye aur aakar chale gaye. Woh bhii ek pal ka qissa the, main bhii ek pal ka qissa hoon… ” brings the lament and the irony to the fore. If Sahir were around… I’d tell him. You are not just one of the poets who come and go. You, Sahir Ludhianvi… are timeless. You, sir, were an enigma.

Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon (Kabhie Kabhie, 1976)

While I derive great pleasure reading his works… his works leave me feeling helpless and heavy. It makes me feel as if there is something Sahir knows and I don’t. Sahir’s own words sums up my cold/hot relationship with his works…

“chand kaliyaan nashaat kii chunkar
muddaton mahv-e-yaas rahtaa huun
teraa milnaa Khushii kii baat sahii
tujhase mil kar udaas rahataa huun”

I pick a few blooms of joy every now and then, just so I can immerse myself in grief for long spells. While knowing you is a reason enough to rejoice, the more I meet/know you… the more sad I become.

taaj tere liye ik mazahar-e-ulfat hii sahii
tum ko is vaadii-e-rangiin se aqiidat hii sahii
mere mehboob kahiin aur milaa kar mujh se!
bazm-e-shaahii mein Gariibon kaa guzar kyaa maanii
sabt jis raah pe hon satavat-e-shaahii ke nishaan
us pe ulfat bharii ruuhon kaa safar kyaa maanii

Tum mujhe bhool bhi jao to yeh haq hai tumko (Didi, 1959)

Sahir’s poetry has a strong anti-establishment feel. It makes you question yourself and others.

The incisiveness of his writing is visible in this romantic albeit sarcastic poetry where Sahir asks his lover to meet him anywhere but at the Taj Mahal (the modern symbol of eternal love). He goes on to describe the grandeur of the mausoleum and then scorns it with the words. “One unthinking arrogant emperor has mocked every poor man’s love by using his money to build a mausoleum to advertise his love to the world when those that worked hard to give the structure it’s beautiful face, have remained faceless in history, their individual love being lost to the world as they were too poor to advertise.”

Here is the poem, which some 50 years after it’s been written, still makes one sit up and wonder if Taj Mahal should indeed be celebrated as the symbol of love or not. Does it deserve the adulation?

taj mahalताजमहल

ताज तेरे लिए इक मज़हर-ए-उल्‍फ़त ही सही
तुमको इस वादी-ए-रंगीं से अक़ीदत ही सही
मेरी महबूब कहीं और मिला कर मुझसे

बज़्म-ए-शाही में ग़रीबों का गुज़र, क्या मानी ?
सब्त जिस राह पे हों सतवत-ए-शाही के निशाँ
उस पे उल्‍फ़त भरी रूहों का सफ़र क्या मानी ?

मेरी महबूब पस-ए-पर्दा-ए-तशहीर-ए-वफ़ा
तूने सतवत के निशानों को तो देखा होता
मुर्दा शाहों के मक़ाबिर से बहलने वाली,
अपने तारीक़ मकानों को तो देखा होता

अनगिनत लोगों ने दुनिया में मुहब्बत की है
कौन कहता है कि सादिक़ न थे जज़्बे उनके
लेकिन उनके लिये तशहीर का सामान नहीं
क्यूँकि वो लोग भी अपनी ही तरह मुफ़लिस थे

taj mahal 2ये इमारात-ओ-मक़ाबिर, ये फसीलें, ये हिसार
मुतल क़ुल्हुक्म शहंशाहों की अज़्मत के सुतून
दामन-ए-दहर पे उस रंग की गुलकारी है
जिसमें शामिल है तेरे और मेरे अज़दाद का ख़ून

मेरी महबूब! उन्‍हें भी तो मुहब्बत होगी
जिनकी सन्नाई ने बख्शी है इसे शक़्ल-ए-जमील
उनके प्यारों के मक़ाबिर रहे बेनाम-ओ-नमूद
आज तक उन पे जलाई न किसी ने क़ंदील

ये चमनज़ार ये जमुना का किनारा, ये महल
ये मुनक़्क़श दर-ओ-दीवार, ये महराब ये ताक़
इक शहंशाह ने दौलत का सहारा लेकर
हम ग़रीबों की मुहब्बत का उड़ाया है मज़ाक़
मेरी महबूब कहीं और मिला कर मुझसे


I shall never see Taj without thinking of Sahir’s words now. There is a lot about Sahir’s poetry that is difficult to grasp at one go. But one thing that does not fail to register instantly is his anger at the disparity in the society. Using Taj Mahal to highlight that disparity yet again… was Sahir’s genius. One can only bow in awe when one reads this.

With Sahir… a glossary is a must. 🙂

So here it is:

मज़हर-ए-उल्‍फ़त = mazaar (tomb/symbol) of love
वादी-ए-रंगीं = literal valley of colors. Figuratively… ‘a beautiful spot’
अक़ीदत = respect/ preference
बज़्म-ए-शाही = royal court
सब्त = etched
सतवत = grandeur
पस-ए-पर्दा-ए-तशहीर-ए-वफ़ा = tasheer (advertisement) pas-e-parda (veiled)
the whole phrase may mean…
( the one who is veiled by my love from any advertisement )
तारीक़ मकानों = dated/jaded dark mansions
मक़ाबिर = makbara (tomb)
सादिक़ = true, genuine
मुफ़लिस = penniless
फसीलें = battlements
हिसार = fort
मुतल क़ुल्हुक्म = unthinking and arrogant
अज़्मत के सुतून = display of extravagance/greatness
दामन-ए-दहर = daaman( sleeves) dahar (way/world)…
this phrase may imply… on the face of the world (created by Shahjahaan)
अज़दाद = ancestors
सन्नाई = artistry
शक़्ल-ए-जमील = beautiful form/ elegant appearance
बेनाम-ओ-नमूद = nameless and traceless
क़ंदील = candle
चमनज़ार = gardened/ landscaped
मुनक़्क़श = adorned, full of engravings( in this case picturesque)
महराब = arch
ताक़ = loft in this case the frieze or the cornice.

After all these years… Sahir is still not completely in my grasp. But I have not given up on him yet. Someday, I’ll understand completely. “Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi”…

More to read on Sahir

An interview with Akshay Manwani, author of Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet
Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Voh Kahaan Hain: Songs of Sahir

Jyoti Suravarjula is a wife, a stay-at-home mom of two absolutely amazing kids, a dreamer, a foodie, a poet and last but not the least... a passionate photographer. When she is not chasing clouds to capture sunset or creating portraits for family 'n' friend... you'll catch her with a cup of tea in hand, playing scrabble with her kids or reading a book.
All Posts of Jyoti Suravarjula

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8 thoughts on “Sahir’s Poetry Awakens Me From My Slumber

  • Antara

    कौन रोता है किसी और की खातिर ऐ दोस्त
    सबको अपने ही किसी बात पे रोना आया

    Sahir never minced words when it came to speaking out the truth, however harsh it may be.
    The poem you have quoted in your personal journey with Sahir brings back many memories… memories which have not faded with time primarily because the impact which created those memories was way too powerful.

    I have never been much into poetry although I had to dig into verse for my Eng Honours and most of my friends from Calcutta dabble in poetry. But Sahir and Gulzar were two poets who literally pushed me towards appreciating shayari and the “sher”. Trying to figure out the meaning of a complex Urdu word would typically start with guesswork (the guesses were based on the words that preceded and succeeded the particular word). When guesses didn’t reach anywhere, I would ask around among my friends. For instance, “Jhoola dhanak thha dheere dheere hum jhoole” (one can guess dhanak means rainbow) but when the phrase ends with something like “tasavvoore jana kiye huey”, even your friends end up scratching their heads. Gulzar stopped short of peppering his poetry too much with Urdu of very high order (perhaps keeping in mind that the lay audience would not understand), but Sahir did not follow any such rules. So you have a rather simple song “aap aaye toh khayale dil-e-naashad aya” having words that make you go back to scratching your head thinking “ab ye naashad kya hota hai”.

    Along with Sahir’s high class Urdu poetry, what appealed to me a lot was his equally powerful command over Hindi. Can you think of an Urdu-speaking Muslim poet penning stunning devotional songs such as the very Baul-like “Aan milo shaam saanware, Braj mein akeli Radhe khoi khoi si re” (in Bimal Roy’s Devdas) or the kirtan-style “Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo” (Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa). Similarly “Mann re tu kaahe na dheer dhare” (Chitralekha) is almost a bhajan in its lyrics and rendering.

    Thank you Jyoti, my dost, for always putting me up on a little cart and giving it a slight push down memory lane. I love sliding down… floating… effortlessly, peeping through the doors and windows of the memories lined up on both sides of the lane with a smile and a laugh to myself 🙂

  • Jyoti

    “Trying to figure out the meaning of a complex Urdu word would typically start with guesswork (the guesses were based on the words that preceded and succeeded the particular word). When guesses didn’t reach anywhere, I would ask around among my friends.”

    LOL… exactly what I used to do.

    Except the asking friends part. I don’t know anyone who knows the complex words in Urdu.

    Up until last year… there used to be a website called It does not exist any more. It was my go to site for dictionary, thesaurus, rhymer and reverse dictionary. The domain is no more in use. 🙁 So to interpret a complex Ghalib sher for a friend… I actually had to ask some of my photography friends from Pakistan. Which made me realize an interesting fact… that some Urdu words are area specific or era specific. Bollywood and it’s lyricists have created newer versions of words which Urdu speaking people from Pakistan could not recognize. Who would have thought of that?? I am not sure if these are just for a few examples or a common trend.

    Anyways… coming back to Sahir.. I agree. His Urdu was of a high order in terms of pure words. But when you see his sentence structures…,they are simpler… more straight forward than Gulzar. Just that we are not used to pure Urdu so we do not know the meaning immediately. Gulzar on the other hand spins multi-layered images with simpler words. Even when one understands his words… one will be left either in awe or wondering about the imagery. I was once humming.. “Gila Gila paani” and my kids asked me… “What do you mean gila paani. Is there anything called sookha paani.” I was stumped to explain to my kids.

    “Man re.. tu kahe na dheer dhare” is an all time favorite.

    Sahir’s command over Hindi khadi boli and Khalis Urdu reminds me of another classic poet who is the inspiration to Ghalib and many other poets… Amir Khusrau. Par unke baare kisi aur din baatein karte hain. 🙂

    Loved this line of yours… “for always putting me up on a little cart and giving it a slight push down memory lane. I love sliding down… floating… effortlessly, peeping through the doors and windows of the memories lined up on both sides of the lane with a smile and a laugh to myself 🙂 ”

    Memory is a beautiful place to visit indeed. 🙂

  • Antara

    “Sahir.. I agree. His Urdu was of a high order in terms of pure words. But when you see his sentence structures…,they are simpler… more straight forward than Gulzar. Just that we are not used to pure Urdu so we do not know the meaning immediately. Gulzar on the other hand spins multi-layered images with simpler words”

    So very true… bang on target! Its just that it never occurred to me. But now that you say this, it all falls into place. Taroon Bhaduri’s long article on Sahir had made me discover that the “sher” is actually a stand-alone poem… a couplet that has a meaning and completeness with or without the rest of the ghazal/nazm…. Your observations clear the cobwebs further. It is true Gulzar uses simpler words but wraps them up in layers of meaning. Sahir’s style is straighter although the Urdu is of a higher level. Its just that I never noticed this before. Thanks!!!!

    I never had the patience to sit with dictionaries… English or Bangla… Fortunately at home I had a walking dictionary my Mother… just had to yell and would get the answer, with explanation and illustrations, which no dictionary could provide. After Ma, my father took up the baton, so the “what’s the meaning of this” yells continued and the laziness increased. Hindi I had quit after 8th Std. so dictionary was not needed. For Urdu my friends helped, albeit very often I ended up learning the wrong meaning 😛

    About Ghalib, I did not progress beyond the songs of Suraiyya and Talat Mahmood… they were delightful. But the ghazals of Jagjit Singh-Chitra Singh kept my interest alive in shayari and the ghazal…fortunately, they chose less complex ghazals and I did not have to scratch my head much to guess the meaning.

    Thanks for opening up a new angle for me to ponder on – which is quite opposite the one I had so far believed. I will now start mulling over the simplicity of Sahir vs. the complexity of Gulzar. 🙂

    Also feels great to know that the memories are as sharp and fresh as ever… I may forget where I kept the keys half an hour ago but I won’t ever forget my delightful brushes and trysts with shayari 🙂 🙂

    Jo guzar gayi, kal ki baat thhi
    Umra toh nahin, ek raat thhi
    Raat ka siraa agar phir mile kaheen

  • Jyoti

    Hmmm… Jagjit Singh… less complex…

    The second difficult urdu word I learnt(around the same time as Tassavvur was zehn(mind… as a space). It was in a Jagjit Sigh Album – Insight, Song Badala na apne aap ko…

    “Duniya na jeet paao toh, Haaro na khud ko tum
    Thodi bahut to zehn mein, naarazgi rahe”

    LOL… you can guess where I’ll take this journey if I write another word. LOL

    I’ll wait. Oct 10th is coming. Maybe then. 🙂

    Tab tak ke liye…
    “Badala na apne aap ko, jo the wahi rahe
    Milte rahe sabhi se magar, ajnabi rahe”


  • Antara

    Zehn, inaayat, takalluf, talaffuz… these are words I had managed quite successfully with guesswork… But that’s about it.

    “Oct 10th is coming. Maybe then…” Ab is sher ke moonh mein khoon lag gaya hai….:)

    So before the hungry tiger keeps pinging you every other day…. start your journey with Jagjit Singh. I am with you in the little tag along trolley attached with your scooter – Sholay ishtyle!!! 😀

    Us modh se shuru karein, phir ye zindagi
    Har shai jahaan haseen thhi, hum tum thhe ajnabee

  • T. J. Natarajan

    First Sahir means magician.
    About Tajmahal by Sahir…. मज़हर-ए-उल्फत means ‘manifestation of love’… not tomb of love. He used the word Mazhar, not Mazaar. Being a fan of Sahir I am bringing these to your notice. Corrections if made will add value to your essay.

  • Taiyeb Shaikh

    This is a beautiful post on my most fav poet of our time. I’m lucky to listen him live in private gatherings. Sahir means magician who mesmerises us with his classic poetry. I used to memorise his ghazals or poetry after listening to him live.

    Although I’m a Urdu School product still I had to refer to the dictionary while reading his poetry. It’s an excellent write up by Jyoti Suravarjula ji.

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