Saturday, January 10, 2004

Sahirís tortured soul
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

I first met Sahir Ludhianvi at a small gathering of poets in the home of Dr Rafiq Zakaria and his wife Fatma. Zakaria was then a minister in the Maharashtra Government and lived in a spacious bungalow with a garden on Malabar Hill. The party was in honour of Firaq Gorakhpuri, who happened to be visiting Bombay. The guests included Akhtarul Imam, the novelist Krishen Chander, Sahir Ludhianvi and a few other lovers of Urdu poetry. The only misfit was Mota Chudasama, a Gujarati businessman who knew neither Urdu nor poetry. He was rich and a friend of the Zakarias. The party had just started with a few poets reading their compositions when Chudasama made some inane remark which upset Sahir. He exploded in bad temper: "Who invited you here? If you know nothing, you should keep your mouth shut." Or words to that effect. Chudasama walked out in a huff. The party was ruined.

I learnt that Sahir was prone to losing his temper and behaving rudely. He was a heavy drinker. When he arrived at Zakariaís home, he was already high. He expected to be served with Scotch and soda. Instead he was served tea and pakodas. That may have triggered off the explosion.

He invited me over to his bungalow by the sea in Juhu. I accompanied the Zakarias. I was on my guard lest I say something which might upset him. I spent most of the evening talking in Punjabi to his mother and a ladycousin or niece. I could sense his mother doted on him as he doted on him mother. More than once, she asked me: "Puttar (son)you tell him not to drink so much. He is ruining his health." I didnít dare. I joined him for a couple of drinks, had my dinner and departed.

I got Sahirís background in bits and pieces from his many admirers. He was by then the most celebrated composer of lyrics in the Bombay film industry. Though I did not get to see his films, I got to know many songs Sahir has composed for them. Unlike other men of letters who never miss an opportunity to praise themselves, Sahir modestly conceded that he was no more than a writer of songs designed to fit into a film plot. He rebelled against authority and hated the rich. In his celebrated poem on the Taj Mahal, he execrated emperor Shah Jahan, who ordered its construction and praised stone masons who gave it shape and beauty. In another poem Chaklay (brothels), he wrote sympathetically of prostitutes while castigating their rich clients. His forte was sarcasm.

An article by Shamim Ahmed in a Pakistani magazine filled in some gaps in my information about Sahir. He was born in Ludhiana (hence Ludhianvi). His real name was Abdul Haye. He took on the poetic pseudonym Sahir (enchanter). He had a very unhappy childhood. His father Fazal Din, who owned a little agricultural land, was an inveterate womaniser: he married 14 women in succession. Only one, Sardar Begum, bore him a son (Sahir). He divorced her to marry another. He took Sardar Begum to court, alleging her son was illegitimate. The Lahore High Court accepted Sahirís legitimacy and appointed his mother his guardian. Sahir developed a strong mother-fixation and loathing for his father: the relationship was an example of the Greek Oedipus complex, which made him incapable of consummating the few love affairs he had in the short life of 59 years.

Shamim Ahmed names three women in Sahirís life, all three non-Muslims. The first was a Hindu girl, Prem Choudhury, who died of consumption at a young age. Sahir wrote a poem Marghat (Place of cremation) about her. The second one was Ishar Kaur, a Sikh girl, whom he met while he was a student in Lahore. She spent a night with him in the college hostel. Sahir was expelled from the hostel.

She followed Sahir to Bombay, where he had shifted on the advice of S.D. Burman but married some distant cousin. No one knows what happened to this Ishar Kaur. The third was also a Sikh, the eminent poet Amrita Pritam. She admits to the love affair in her autobiography Raseedee Tikat (Revenue Stamp) he responded to her overtures and came to meet her in Delhiís Claridges Hotel. It was a non-starter. By then Sahir had burnt himself out with excessive drink and complexes, which rendered him impotent. Names of Lata Mangeshkar and Sudha Malhotra are also mentioned as Sahirís heart-throbs.

Sahirís mother died in 1976. With her went Sahirís will to live. She was the only real love in his life. Because of his doting on her, he developed a distrust for other women (gynephobia) and fear of marrying (gamophobia). Four years after his mother left, he died on October 25, 1980.

It is time someone researched Sahir Ludhianviís past life, poetry and his abortive love affairs because he was a poet of great stature.

Gurudev in Italy

Reba, the lovely wife of our Ambassador Himachal Som in Rome, has not only carried her exotic Bangla beauty to Italy but also her scholarship and Rabindra Sangeet with her. While discharging duties of an Ambassadorís wife, she not only completed her thesis on Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose and Nehru, but also recorded a disc of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagoreís songs. She has a melodious voice and was able to get together a sarangi and tabla player as her accompaniment. All the twelve songs recorded have been translated by her from Bengali to English and are available with the disc. I produce a couple of her renderings:

Majjhe majjhe tabo dekhaa payee

Why do I see you only sometimes, and not always and forever?

Why do clouds overcast my heartís skies and take you out of sight?

Even in the fleeting light and in an eyelidís blink when I chance to see you,

I live in constant fear of losing you and indeed, you are lost in a moment,

What must I do to keep you within the range of my eyes?

How can I find so much love, my beloved, to bind you to my heart ?

Never will I glance at any other, this is my pledge.

Should you ask it of me, I will give up, at this instant, all the desires of the world.

Tagore was at his best describing nature. This one on the advent of spring is entitled: Boshonto tar gan likhe jaye

Spring writes her song on the dust with such affection. That the dust smiles and awakens many times, in many forms, And beautyís basket fills itself again, and yet again, with such affection. It is the same touch that has made its way to the bottom of my heart. Blessing me with the strength of its magic And so I awaken again, and yet again, to an unknown wonder and thrill

And so, also, do blossoms of song appear again, and yet again, with such affection.

A topsy-turvy world

Seeing Nehru perform sheesh aasan, asked a friend with a gentle bow: "Why do you raise your legs so high and bend your head so dangerously low ?" Nehru smiled and replied : "This world is in utter confusion. I have also to stand upside down to see the world in its true position."

(Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)