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Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Voh Kahaan Hain: Songs of Sahir

April 2, 2014 | By

Sahir Ludhianvi was one of those rare talents who not just maintained the vulnerability of Urdu in his lyrics but also perfectly captured the essence of the situation.

It seems to be a thing of some mystical era when emotions were weaved into words to form songs, when lyricists were much more than song-writers and when songs were much more than a string of words.

We look back to the Golden Era of Bollywood, graced by some exceptional talents and songsmiths, including Shailendra, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Hasrat Jaipuri, Gulzar, Anand Bakshi, and Sahir Ludhianvi who struck chords and touched hearts with not just every song they crafted but with every word they weaved.

One of the legendary lyricists and magical poets stood apart from the rest in this Golden Era of Bollywood, for creating poetry that spoke of the anguish, agony, confusion and dejection of the present day generation that was struggling to find its feet in a fast-changing social scenario and yet spark a ray of hope amid the pervading gloom, was Sahir Ludhianvi.

Sahir was a victim of troubled childhood due to his parents’ divorce which pushed him to poverty and struggle when he was just 13.  The early experiences with conflict and adversity made him express his angst in ghazals and nazms which made him quite popular, right from his school and college days.

Sahir published his first Urdu work, Talkhiyaan (Bitterness), in 1945 which established him as a notable Urdu poet. He debuted in Bollywood as a lyricist with Azadi Ki Raah Par (1949). He wrote four songs for the film with ‘Badal rahi hai zindagii’ being his first song.

He was one of those rare talents who not only maintained the vulnerability of Urdu in his lyrics but also perfectly captured the essence of the situation.

Sahir gained recognition with Naujawaan (1951) for which S. D. Burman composed the music. The lilting Lata Mangeshkar number “Thandi hawayein” became a trend-setting composition.

Thandi Hawayein Lehra Ke Aaye (Naujawan,1951)

But he shot into fame with Guru Dutt’s directorial debut, Baazi (1951), ironically with a ghazal that was turned into a club song by the maverick S D Burman.

Writes HQ Chowdhury in Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, “It is not clear which particular song Sahir wrote first for Dada (SD Burman) as both Naujawan and Baazi went on the floors around the same time; the films were also released the same year. It is true, Dada took Sahir to AH Kardar and also spoke to Dev Anand about him. Not that Sahir had not written for films earlier. But with Dada it was the beginning of a highly successful combination at the same level as Naushad-Shakeel and Shankar-Jaikishan-Shailendra.

The Baazi songs were scintillating and perfect to match India’s first ‘Film Noir’ Hollywood. Sahir wrote the ghazal, Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le that Dada converted into a night club song. An aghast Sahir protested. But that did not deter the stubborn Dada to change the tune; he never liked interference in his work. There was Aaj ki raat piya, Yeh kaun aaya and Suno gajar kya gaye by Geeta who now came out of her melancholic world to float freely in the world of Hindi film music. Dada thus converted his wailing Geeta to a lively, sensuous singer.”

Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le (Baazi, 1951)

The “anguish” of “Jaayen toh jaayen kahaan” (Talat Mahmood singing for Dev Anand in Taxi Driver, 1954) and “Teri duniya mein jeene se toh behtar hai ki mar jaayen” (House No. 44, 1955) –  sung with deep pathos by Hemant Kumar (the Taxi Driver song had an equally melancholic Lata version too); the dreamy masti of “Phaili hui hai sapnon ki baahein” in Lata Mangeshkar’s dulcet voice (House No. 44) – all these songs transport you to a different world altogether, creating a mood that lasts.

Phaili Hui Hain (House No. 44, 1955)

“Jhoola dhanak ka dheere-dheere hum jhoolen,
Ambar toh kya hai taaron ke bhi lab chhoo len,
Masti mein jhoolein aur sabhi gham bhoolein”

The passionate romantic beckoning of “Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahaan” (Jaal, 1952), again by Hemant Kumar, became a cult song and the Sahir-Burman partnership spun a string of powerful lyrical poetry bound in melodies that perfectly captured the mood of the situation in which the songs were placed.

Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahan (Jaal, 1952)

Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) saw these two geniuses touch the peak of their partnership with songs that went beyond the film’s script to touch the pulse of a nation that was trying to find answers to its changing social landscape, post independence.

Jaane woh kaise log thhe jinke pyaar ko pyaar mila speaks of an agony and dejection that is not only personal but also social in its context.

Jaane woh kaise log the jinke pyar ko pyar mila (Pyaasa, 1957)

The songs and poetry spoke of an impending gloom that was setting in following “the disillusionment of India’s poor with Nehruvian socialism in “Jinhe naaz hai Hind par voh kahaan hain,” besides castigating the crass materialism prevalent in society with “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai” (Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song).

Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai (Pyaasa, 1957)

The overtly “leftist ideology” apparent in the songs of Pyaasa, continued to sparkle through some of the later films of the 1950s including “Saathi haath badhana” (Naya Daur, 1957) and the clear stand against religious fundamentalism in “Tu Hindu banega na Mussalman banega, Insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega” (Dhool Ka Phool, 1959).

Says Akshay Manwani, author of the book Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet, “The heavy socialistic/social flavor of his lyrics and very blunt style of writing made him peerless. He didn’t say things in a round about kind of way. If he had to criticize the nation, he wrote ‘Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahaan hai’. When he had to preach the message of communal harmony, he wrote ‘Tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega’. He was also unafraid of criticizing the Almighty in a song like ‘Aasmaan pe hai khuda aur zameen pe hum’ from Phir Subah Hogi (1958).”

Read full interview of Akshay Manwani on his book Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet

The story goes that Sahir claimed that the songs of Pyaasa were popular because of their lyrics which understandably did not find favour with Burman dada. This brought this amazingly creative partnership to an abrupt end.

“His name evokes awe and respect on par with Lata Mangeshkar or Naushad, something no other lyricist has quite managed. Sahir did not write lyrics of songs; he wrote intense poems that composers gladly accepted for their tunes,” writes Ganesh Anantharaman.

Take for instance, Jaidev, who scored music for very few films but his compositions perfectly suited the depth of Sahir’s poetry.

“Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya,
Har fiqr ko dhnooye mein udata chala gaya”

Or the introspective
“Kabhi khud pe kabhi haalat pe rona aaya
Baat nikli to har ik baat pe rona aaya”

Or the refrain of every lover after a romantic rendezvous
“Abhi na jao chhodkar, ke dil abhi bhara nahin”.

Sahir next went on to strike up another enriching association with Roshan, and the duo came up with Roshan’s career-best songs such as “Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh barsaat ki raat” (Barsaat Ki Raat, 1960), “Jurm-e-ulfat pe hammein log sazaa dete hain” (Taj Mahal, 1963).

His command over Hindi was just as powerful as his mastery over Urdu, and these lines of “Sansar se bhaage phirte ho, bhagwan ko tum kya paaoge” (Chitralekha, 1964) portray that

“Ye bhog bhi ek tapasya hai,
Tum tyaag ke mare kya jano,

Apmaan rachaita ka hoga,
Rachna ko agar thukraoge…

Music director Khayyam too created some of his best compositions with Sahir, from the early “Jaane kya dhoondti rehti hai yeh aankhen mujh mein” (Shola Aur Shabnam) to “Kabhie kabhie mere dil mein khayal aata hai” and Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon (Kabhie Kabhie).

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

On a concluding note, we revisit Sahir’s words that spoke of the bitter reality as it was razor-sharp – verses that were used without orchestra as poetry recital in Pyaasa, giving them the value they deserved – as pure poetry and not as poetry cloaked in the garb of a song.

Tang aa chuke hai kashmakashe zindagi se hum

(with inputs from Pankaj Sharma)

More to read on Learning and Creativity

Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet
Khayyam: Making Poetry Come Alive With Melody
Pyaasa: Pristine Poetry On Celluloid

Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine. A former business journalist, Antara writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema. Her articles aim to provide well-researched information on the legends of cinema for the movie and music enthusiast. She is also the Founder-Editor of Blue Pencil, a New Delhi-based publishing house. She edited and published Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, the biography of SD Burman written by HQ Chowdhury. She has co-authored a chapter on Hemant Kumar's Bengali music in the acclaimed book The Unforgettable Music of Hemant Kumar, written by Manek Premchand. Her articles have also been published in and Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd.
All Posts of Antara Nanda Mondal

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4 thoughts on “Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Voh Kahaan Hain: Songs of Sahir

  • Jyoti


    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 in 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.

    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 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 Ludhiyanvi.

    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.

    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 chunakar
    muddaton mahv-e-yaas rahataa huun
    teraa milanaa 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.

    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” 😀

  • Jyoti

    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?


    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

    ये 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.

    1. admin

      कभी खुद पे, कभी हालात पे रोना आया
      बात निकली तो हर एक बात पे रोना आया

      Sahir’s first impact on me was this song – it left me ploughing its depths…

      This song was relatively easy to understand. The Urdu is basic, not much flowery in style but immensely moving and true. It suddenly made me sit up and think, “baat to sahi hai… baat nikli to har, ek baat pe rona aaya”… I promptly noted it down in my song diary.

      But the song did not leave me. It made me relook at those ultimate Chitra Singh Jagjit Singh ghazals (Chitra-Jagit Live in Concert was the first inaugural cassette tape my mother had bought along with tape of The Sound of Music when we had bought our first tape deck)… it made me try to read between the lines of songs I loved – jurm-e-ulfat pe humey log sazaa dete hain or the breezily romantic phaili hui hai sapnon ki baahein, the soulful rasm-e-ulfat ko nibhayein to nibhayen kaise… basically songs that were rich in poetry, not necessarily written by Sahir but poetry that makes you ponder over the truth they express.

      And then I started watching out for Sahir. Interestingly, he was the one poet-lyricist who could be identified by his songs, his thoughts, his choice of expressions and words. I have this very personal hobby of listening to a song and trying to identify the lyricist, composer and singer (if I don’t know about them already) and also trying to identify the instruments and acoustics being used in the melody. Sahir helped me guess right at least with his songs. 🙂

      When writing on Sahir, I found myself in a great quandary – which songs to leave out? They were all priceless…

      When I was still in school, my mother had given me an article, a rather long article to read. It was a sort of biography of Sahir, a wonderful heartfelt tribute, written by Taroon K Bhaduri, the celebrated journalist who was famous for his exposes and treatise on the Chambal dacoits. I was always a great admirer of his books in Bengali, especially Abhishapt Chambal and Behadh, Baaghi, Bandook (which was serializing in Desh at that time) and hence, I first thought that this article too would be something to do with the dacoits. As I flipped through the pages, I saw a lot of poetry being quoted and I wondered if it was something to do with cinema, since Taroon Bhaduri’s daughter the famed Jaya Bhaduri was my favorite actress from childhood.

      But no, it was on Sahir – it had nothing to do with films or dacoits – it was a close and emotional look at the life of a poet who was more misunderstood than understood. Filled with anecdotes and little stories about Sahir, his rigid and unflinching loyalty to his social beliefs and also his struggle to uphold the thoughts in his poems in the face of the marketing-oriented Hindi film industry, this article blew my mind.

      Sahir has made me discover the beauty of shayari, and enjoy the lyricism and depth behind seemingly simple film songs. Your comment made me feel good about several things – about the opportunity of being able to write on Sahir, and then when you know what you wrote is being read it feels even better… about revisiting the poetry that makes you look at life with a new perspective.

      Thank you Jyoti, my dost!

      1. Jyoti

        🙂 I want to read that article.

        You know.. when I read poetry… I try to see myself as the poet. What would he have gone trough while writing this? Was he smiling at the irony? Was he deliriously happy or insanely sad? What genius was he to think of this analogy? How come I don’t think it? Was it a dusky evening or a dark ominous night… the questions and the speculations go on.

        When you said you have a personal hobby of trying to identify the lyricists, composer, singer… I could not help but think how I speculate about a totally different set of guesswork I do… LOL.

        Another uncanny similarity between your anecdote and mine… the book I had mentioned, was not filmy either. Much like the article you have mentioned. It dealt with Sahir’s poetry independent of movies. My guess is… even the “Chalo ek baar fir se” song was not written for any movie. May have later been included in the movie.

        It feels good read these articles and to reacquaint with something so much larger than ourselves. Sahir, Gulzar, are like oceans. Every time we dive in, we come back with a new experience. 🙂 Thank you for these amazing opportunities to take a stroll on the memory lane.

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