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Monday, March 27, 2017

Sahir Ludhianvi: The Poet of Musical Words that whet Appetite…

Here we pay our tribute to Sahir Ludhianvi, the Urdu poet and lyricist, who said, “Ashkon mein jo paya hai, woh geeton me diya hai” (what I got in tears, gave it back in songs), on his 96th birthday that falls on March 8.

Evenly measured lines with easy rhymes are what we read carefully pausing at punctuation marks and even loading certain words with emotion in our younger days as poetry. We even learnt to quote a few stanzas so passionately. But entering college as I dipped into science of cells, cytoplasm; mitochondria, chloroplasts; chromosomes, chromatids; RNA, DNA; haploid, diploid; compatibility, sterility, poetry had lost its mind space. Thank god, it hasn’t been lost totally, for by then, I was drawn towards ‘poetry’ aired by radio Ceylon and Vividh Bharati. It’s the music—the flight of the tune, the drive of the percussion, violin phrases, waltz beats, mandolin breaks —that has indeed drawn me towards Hindi songs. If the music is good, it hardly mattered whether I know the language the lyrics are in or not, for I could still experience an emotional pleasure listening to it—indeed that’s what I experienced when I first heard the song, “Yeh raat yeh chaandini phir kahaan / sun ja dil ki dastan …” (‘Jaal’, 1952).
Of course, it’s an altogether different kind of a pleasure listening to a song the language of which you know, for you can see how beautifully music is flowing around the lyrics and how lyrics are locked into the music, which ultimately doubles your pleasure. But then, you may question: are lyrics really poetry? May be in strict sense, “lyrics, even poetic ones, are not poems. … poetry is an art of concision, lyrics expansion … poems depend on packed images, on resonance and juxtaposition, on density … every reader absorbs a poem at his own pace, inflicting it with his own rhythms, stresses, and tone …” All this may be true but with a clear understanding of the language when I listened to the lyrics, “Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi … (that morning will dawn one day) / jis subah ki khaatir jug jug se, ham sab mar mar kar jite hain (that morning, for which since many epochs, we are all passionately dying to live …) … / Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi …” (‘Phir Subah Hogi’, 1958) for the first time, I experienced a similar effect, indeed, the mood and image produced by the sublime music of violins in harmony and double base for rhythm and the voice behind the lyrics … that ennui as well as the notes of hope for a better, more just and equitable tomorrow … simply put me off from this prosaic world for a while. It no longer mattered whether it is a song or a poem but I got instantly connected to Sahir Ludhianvi, the poet who belonged to that narrow intellectual stratum of Hindi film world which is conscious of the social contradictions.


Sahir, announcing his arrival in Hindi cinema world in a breezy style with the song, “Thandi hawaaein lehera ke aayein, rut hai jawaan, tum ho yahan, kaise bulayein… (cool breeze waft in as waves, everything around is young, how do I call you here) that was set to music by SD Burman for the film ‘Naujawan’ (1951), strode his way regally for over three decades, claiming a place in the hearts of cinegoers as people’s poet. This Sahir-SD Burman combination, taking a distinct shape with the film Baazi’ (1951), in which we could see Sahir’s flair for injecting depth into his lyrics as he asks the protagonist to make himself accountable for his future in the song, “Tadbeer se bigadi hui takdeer bana le” — get the ruined future back on track by deliberation, in short directing the protagonist to take reins in his hand and move forward—had taken firm roots with Sahir writing lyrics for about 15 films at a stretch making them the most successful duo of the 50s.
Love for Sahir existed always entwined with nature. See, how romantic his poetry sounds in the backdrop of silent moon and stars in the film, ‘House No. 44’ (1955): “chup hai dharti, chup hain chaand sitaare (The world is silent and so are the moon and stars) / mere dil ki dhadkan tujhko pukaare (My heart beat is calling you). As the mysticism of night—khoye khoye se yeh mast nazaare (these so mesmerizing sights) / thhehare thhehare se yeh rang ke dhaare (these streams of colors that stood still) / dhoondh rahe hain tujh ko saath hamare (searching for you along with me)”—evokes longing for the love, Hemantda’s voice oozes a soft warbling, “a jaa meri tanahaai ke sahaare (come to the rescue of my loneliness).” Wow! What a lyrical romance, the hallmark of Dev Anand. Sahir, SD Burman, Hemant Kumar and Dev Anand, all coming together simply beautified the edifice of romance.
Sahir’s romantic songs always stand out as distinctly different from what we hear in Hindi films. For instance, look at this apparently sad and poignant song: “Teri duniya mein jeene se to behtar hai ke mar jayen (to live in your world, I should die rather) from the film, ‘House No. 44’. But if you look at the picturization of the song keenly, you would observe Kalpana Kartik going about her chores in her bedroom, apparently unconcerned, but humming the tune of this very song, which suggests an obvious romantic association between them. And picking up the tune, Dev Anand wonders in the melodious voice of Hemant Kumar, “Koi to aisaa ghar hota, jahaan se pyaar mil jaataa (At least, a heart may exist where love may be found) / vohi begaane chehre hain, jahaan pahunche jidhar jaaein” (Same unknown faces, wherever I reach, wherever I go). In the same vein, he coolly challenges God, “Arey o aasmaan vaale bataa, ismein buraa kya hai khushi ke chaar jhokein gar, idhar se bhi guzar jaaye (Arey o Lord of skies, tell me what’s wrong, a couple of waves of joy may pass even from here, if ever).” As he finishes his singing, Kalpna Kartik looks at Dev Anand with enigmatic smile. When viewed from this perspective, this pathos-laden song that expresses the anguish of a lost heart ruing the absence of love in the most heart-wrenching lyrics is not after all what it all literally sounds but suggestive of something else. That is the greatness of Sahir’s craft.
No one had perhaps described the lamentations of an anguished heart of a hurt love better than what Sahir wrote for ‘Taxi Driver’ (1954): “Jaaye to jaaye kahaaan (If I must go, where could I go?)/ samajhegaa kaun yahaaan dardabare dil ki jubaan (who here will understand the words of a heart full of pain?). So going on with whispering of his own misfortunes, the hero, as though suddenly remembered of his love, confesses, “Un kaa bhi gam hai apna bhi gam hai (She has her sorrows, I have my own) and obviously this double whammy makes him lose all the hope as is reflected in his cooing, “ab dil ke bachne ki ummid kam hai (now there is little hope of saving my heart).A sweet pain but a pleasure to listen! And that is the fair (feminist?) heart of the poet, Sahir.
Distancing himself from the run of the mill vocabulary—husun, shamma, parvana, etc.—Sahir attempted in his lyrics to peek into the minds of lovers and effectively articulated their state of mind—the suffering that they are undergoing at the non-fulfilment of love without of course, explaining it away. Having established himself as a poet to be reckoned with at a very young age with his publication, ‘Talkhiyan’ (bitterness), Sahir used to portray in his lyrics an intense, and deeply emotional state of mind of a lover-dejected that is steeped in melancholic reality as in the song, “Kis ko khabar thi kis ko yaqeen Thaa aise bhi din aayege haay (who had the information, who had the belief that such a day will dawn)  from ‘Devadas’ (1955) that was set to tune by SD Burman. Incidentally my refrain from this song is the verse that defines the haplessness of the protagonist so pithily: “Ham jaise barbaad dilo ka / Jina kya aur marna kya (For a man like me with a ruined heart what is living and what is death). A perfect sad song—lyrics, music and Talat’s soft and sombre voice—simply strikes the mind making me involuntarily hum the line “Kis ko khabar thi …" whenever I am alone and sad.


Sahir, the man, for whom love does not exist in vacuum—away from the sufferings of the society—has even written lyrics for a number of films from this stance, the stance of universal love. For instance in the film, ‘Didi’ (1959), the heroine sings, “Tum mujhe bhool bhi jao to yeh haq hai tumko / meri baat aur hai maine toh mohabbat ki hai (If you wish to forget me, you have every right to, but I can’t be expected to since I have loved you).  Listening her, the hero elucidates: “Love is not the only thing in life, there is something else too / in a world besieged by hunger and poverty / love cannot be the only reality / if you wish to shut your eyes to this, so be it / my heart goes out to others too—“Zindagi sirf mohabbat nahin kuchh aur bhi hai / Bhook aur pyaas ki maari huyi iss duniya mein / ishq hi ek haqeeqat nahin, kuch aur bhi hai / tum agar aankh churao to yeh haq hai tumko / maine tumse hi nahin sabse mohabbat ki hai”. That is his love and its shades.
... to be Continued 

Thanks to Khurram Imtiaz for the video - Kis ko khabar thi....
Thanks to for the video - Yeh raat yeh chaandini


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