Thinking About Sahir Ludhianvi
Some time ago I had written a short piece for Kafila titled ‘One Question‘. I had thought that I was articulating my anger fairly strongly at the refusal of the political apparatus to do any thing to punish the Guilty of the 1992 Bombay Riots, despite the fact that many perpetrators of those riots had been identified by the Justice Srikrishna Commission. My worry was that almost no one seemed to be bothered while every one was ecstatic about the “guilty” of the 1993 Bombay Blasts being brought to book.
There were a few responses that agreed with my contention and sent me links to sites where similar concerns had been raised. There was, however, one response that raised serious questions about my style of writing and went so far as to suggest that “Such a discourse ends up making the most harrowing human tragedies sound like the nearly fossilized shayari of Sahir Ludhianvi”.
Now this set me thinking, not so much about what Panini Pothoharvi was saying, about my language – that had apparently been blunted by the enemy to such an extent that it was in imminent danger of being damaged beyond repair, but about how we have looked at Sahir and how Mr Panini has read Sahir. The more I thought about it the more confused I became about the meaning of the word Fossil.
I do not wish to take on Mr Panini and his fulminations about my ‘inability to carry conviction’. I would rather address the issue of Mr Panini’s own understanding of Sahir and the language of his poetry.
Before coming to Sahir I wish to talk a bit about Urdu, the language that this angry poet from Ludhiana chose as a vehicle for communicating his thoughts. Urdu Poetry has been presented for several decades as a decadent language concerned only with wine and women. The speakers of the language were invariably shown spouting poetry as in Mere Huzoor, spending their time in the kothas of dancing girls as in Pakeeza or Umrao Jaan. They would only dress up in Sherwanis and Achkans and would go mukarrar, Adaab Arz Hai and Takhliya at the drop of a hat.
This depiction of the Speakers of Urdu went hand in hand with depicting Muslims as well (read speakers of Urdu) in a stereo typical fashion. In the 50s and 60s, and to a certain extent in the 70s as well, the language and the speakers were placed in the same unreal locations Kothas, Mushairas and such like, in what were called ‘Muslim Socials’.
Subsequently however the Muslim Social disappeared as a genre – presumably because Muslims were no longer ‘Social'; they were in fact all anti-socials. And so you had Bhais, Smugglers, Gun Runners, Terrorists and all kind of ‘Anti National’ characters who had Muslim names and “Muslim” looks and appearances (what ever that may mean) occupying the space vacated by the Johns, Peters, Michaels, Braganzas and Mogambos.
Urdu however remained suspended in the image that had been given to it in the 50s and 60s. The Jagjit Chitra, Ghulam Ali, Anoop Jalota quartet, that primarily picked up the most banal and trite verses to cater to those who were looking only for easily understood verses of love and drunken orgies, helped perpetuate the idea that Urdu is a decadent language and Urdu poetry is fossilized. I will not be surprised if Mr Panini Pothoharvi has also acquired his understanding of Urdu Poetry from the likes of those mentioned above and from its depiction in the Bombay Cinema, a Cinema that may not create stereotypes but certainly does much to perpetuate them once they have been generated.
It would be absolutely unjust to judge Sahir on the basis of his film songs, though even in those lyrics there is much that is living and vibrant, ‘Wo subah kabhi to aayegi’ and ‘Chin-o-Arab hamara Hindustan hamara/ Rehne ko ghar nahin hai sara jahan hamara’ being just two such.
I think there is need to look a little more closely at Sahir. I think there is need to exercise caution before condemning a writer’s entire body of work to oblivion. I think it will be instructive for Mr Panini Pothoharvi to read Sahir, to read ‘Talkhiyan’ and to read ‘Parchhaiyan’ I would specifically recommend ‘Chakle’ ‘Kuchh Baten’ ‘Tulo-e-ihstrakiyat’ ‘Bangal’ ‘Phir Wohi Kunj-e-Qafas’ ‘Ye Kis Ka Lahoo Hai?’ ‘Aaj’ and ‘Khoon Phir Khoon hai’.
Sahir was one of the leading lights of the PWA, a movement that gave us Faiz, Majrooh, Kaifi, Krishan Chandr, Ram Lal, Bedi, Ismat Chughtai and Majaz. A movement of writers that rose with the anti imperialist struggle to give creative expression, along with their friends and comrades in the IPTA and many other organizations of writers, poets, artists and actors from across the sub continent, to the aspirations of a people fighting to break free.
So don’t be hasty in judging others Mr Panini Pothoharvi, lest you be judged similarly.
Before I wind up a little story about Sahir. Years before he had actually seen the Taj, Sahir wrote a poem about the monument. The poem was full of sound and fury at a decadent ruler who had built a memorial to his beloved. Sahir saw the Taj as an insult to the memory of those nameless ones who could not even place a tomb stone upon the graves of their loved ones. But this was before he had seen the Taj. Have you my dear Panini Pothoharvi read him before condemning him to eternal hell and worse.