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Today’s International Women’s Day & today also happens to be the 93rd birth anniversary of one of India’s greatest poets of the 20th century, Sahir Ludhianvi. (And one of my favorites too)

Although, it saddens me that the condition of women in this nation is more or less still the same as Sahir penned down in a song in 1958’s B&W movie Sadhna-

Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko
Mardon ne use bazaar diya
Jab dil chaaha masla-kuchla
Jab ji chaaha dhutkaar diya

In the patriarchal Indian society where men are born entitled & women are raised to be submissive, whenever a girl is abused people try to find a way to blame it on her; in such society Sahir wrote Chaklay. In this poem in his signature sarcastic style Sahir sympathizes with the prostitutes & castigates their rich clients.  He places a mirror before the honorable and the respectable to show them the scars caused by an unjust and hypocritical society. His scathing criticism of the pious acquires a deafening pitch in the poem.

However, this is not what I want to delve on today. Today’s the day of double celebrations, so I’ll talk about things that make me happy. For me, it’s a day meant to celebrated in Sahir’s style, i.e. by drinking Scotch & Soda. For the added trance like effect, I like to play his songs on the LPs my antique-y gramophone.

In my world, Sahir is a Women’s Poet: His life is an impression of the women who’ve touched it & his work is a reflection of the same.

Sahir has always been an Ombudsman for the cause of women, in my opinion it comes from the fact that he always had such strong female role models in his life. Starting from his mother: Sardar Begum.

Sardar Begum

Imagine, the spunks of a woman leaving her rich zamindaar husband for his womanizing ways; and not take a penny from him. A woman who was dragged to court by her powerful husband upon divorce on the allegations of the illegitimacy of her only child- Sahir. A woman who beats that husband in court & wins the custody of their son. When the bitter husband tries to kill the teenage son, the lady makes an arrangement with four friends to ensure his safety. A woman who chose a life of poverty & struggle over an undignified one. Now imagine all this in 1930s, set in the Gujjar family of Ludhiana, Punjab! How many of us can pull all that off even today!

Prem Choudhary

She was Sahir’s first love. An adolescent love affair that ended prematurely when Prem died of tuberculosis. From that dejection, the poet Sahir was born & Urdu literature got ‘Marghat Kee Zameen Se’.

Marghat is a very rare poem of Sahir. It was a part of the first edition of his first book ‘Talkhiyan’, but they removed it on the request of the girl’s parents. Years later, Sahir gifted this poem to a Delhi based fan. (Lucky guy! One day I am going to hunt him down & talk him into forwarding that gift to me).

Aishar Kaur

She was Sahir’s classmate in his college at Lahore. One of his friends suspects it to be a steamy, stormy affair. He confides that she was very attractive “Punjabi kudi jo si” & Sahir was a popular boy in the college, “Shayar jo the janab. Isha ban gayi unki Meerabai”. I think this must have been Yash Chopra’s reference point when he sketched the love-affair between Amitabh & Rakhee in ‘Kabhi Kabhi’.

Perhaps, that’s why Sahir work from that movie just hits like a joint.

Coming back to Sahir & Aishar, just before the break for summer vacation, their date gets busted by a watchman who snitched this incidence to the principal. Next day both of them are expelled.

His friend says that Sahir narrated that incidence with these lines;

Lekin hum in fizaon ke pale hue to hain, gar ya nahi to yahan se nikale hue to hain

This incidence led to a brief separation, but they kept  the spark alive with ‘frequent correspondence and infrequent meetings’.

Finally, Aishar left her father for Sahir. They spent a night together.

In my head, the mention of this incidence always brings the imagery of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas, when Paro sneaks into Dev’s bedroom at night. And just like eventually Paro leaves Devdas, Aishar also left Sahir. Unlike the case with Paro, here I don’t know why she left the very next morning!

This time she left for Bombay, where she met & married an old beau. That’s the last known fact about her.

What happened that night that snapped the relationship? A girl leaves her family for a boy, have a nocturnal delight with him & then she dumps him for a ‘Happily Ever After’ with someone else! Seriously, what happened that night!

Whatever happened, it left Sahir with a bitterness & he wrote, ‘Talkhiyaan’ his first published collection of poems.

Amrita Pritam

For Amrita, I need a whole blog no a book to write. Amrita was a woman of substance, an eminent poet herself & pretty like a princess. She has won a Sathiya Academy Award, when she admitted her love affair with Sahir ‘Raseedi Ticket’. She writes & I paraphrase:

We had heard of each other before we met in a mushaira. I was so impressed that I invited him for a cup of tea at my place. His friend, Hameed Akhtar, accompanied him. Sahir sat there uncommunicative, smoking endlessly.

When Hameed Akhtar stopped accompanying him, he sought the help of other friends for calling on. He never confessed his feelings.

In the book Amrita has recounted many incidents of her infatuation for Sahir. Like how she would pick up the buds of his discarded cigarettes & smoke them, hoping for a union with Sahir through that smoke. How once in a press conference she kept scribbling his name on the piece of paper in front of her. How while she was pregnant, she thought so much of Sahir and looked at his picture so frequently that her newborn son resembled him.

And yet her love remained unrequited. When Sahir’s  ‘Aao Ke Koi Khwab Bunain’ was published, they say that Amrita had remarked,

Bas khwaab hi bun sakte hain yeh, par un khwaabon se ghar nahin bana sakte

Despite having such captivating women in his life, Sahir could never consummate his love affair.

Why? This is the question, which has always haunted me, especially why he couldn’t work it out with Amrita Pritam?

Kushwant Singh begins his answer to this question by calling him someone who suffers from an ‘Oedipus Complex’ & goes on to the extend of saying,

It was a non-starter. By then Sahir had burnt himself out with excessive drink and complexes, which rendered him impotent.

Some scholars reason that he had developed a distrust for women & some believe that he had a fear of marrying. Some people gave quite funny reasons too: A ‘friend’ of Sahir blamed it on his ‘communist ideology’, another said that it was because of the struggles that generation faced against colonialism. I remember once I was having this discussion with a very senior journalist, who claims to’ve known both Sahir & Amrita, he explained this to me in a pretty patronizing tone;

Aap kaafi young hain. Aapki generation ko yeh samajhne mein takleef hoti hai ki pyaar sirf sex ya shaadi nahin hai. Kuch mohabattein roohani hoti hain, unka jismani pyaar se koi vaasta nahin

I don’t buy any of this. I am old school. I believe in love & its miracles. I know that all you need is love, everything else eventually falls in place.

And, love was there. Only, a heart full of love can write such innocent lines;

Tum agar saath dene ka waada karo, Main yun hi mast nagme lutata rahoon, tum mujhe dekh kar muskurati raho, main tumhe dekh kar geet gata rahoon.

These words can only be written by someone who has experienced love. A love that was reciprocated by Amrita. In her book Aksharon Ke Saaye she wrote;

“Phir ek baar zindagi ne humein do raahe par laakar khada kar diya. Hum dono ke raaston ke beech ek lambi khaai thi, usse bas ek baar hath badana tha aur main sab kuch chod kar aa jaati. Main khadi dekhti rahi par usne kabhi haath nahin badaya.”


I hope that by this time next year, when I’ll be celebrating his birthday, I’ll have the answer to this question & that Day this Woman will be so Happy.