A new book on Sahir Ludhianvi delves into his art and creative peaks. Edited extracts from a chapter on Khayyam and him
Phir Subah Hogi was based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment. It had Raj Kapoor (Ram Babu) in the lead with Mala Sinha (Soni). In need of some money, Ram accidentally murders a moneylender. But the police are unable to nail Ram for his crime as someone else claims to have done it. The film deals with Ram’s subsequent internal struggle of coming to terms with the punishment meted out to this other person for his own wrongdoing.
The film gave music director Khayyam, still looking for his first big commercial success, his maiden opportunity to work with Sahir. Khayyam had read Sahir’s poetry and had a fair idea of the poet based on his anthology of poems, Talkhiyaan. The music director had also seen Sahir attend the meetings of the Progressive Writers’ Movement held once a month at Red Flag Hall in Khetwadi, Bombay. But the two hadn’t met at any of these meetings. It was when Khayyam was working at Shaheed Lateef and Ismat Chughtai’s house for the music of their film Lala Rukh (1958) that the music director met Sahir for the first time.
‘Kaifi [Azmi] saab, who was writing the lyrics of the film, was also present at their house. It so happened that Sahir saab and Jan Nisar Akhtar dropped by at that time. Everyone, including Sahir saab, was very impressed by what they heard of our work that afternoon,’ recalls Khayyam. ...
Khayyam recalls the role Sahir played in securing Phir Subah Hogi for him:
“Director Ramesh Saigal went to Sahir saab’s house and told him that he wanted Sahir to write the lyrics for his film... Sahir saab agreed readily. But he asked Saigal who would do the music for the film. Ramesh-ji replied, ‘If Raj Kapoor is the hero, it is obvious that Shankar–Jaikishen will give the music. They are a team.’ To this, Sahir saab said, ‘There is no doubt they are a very successful and competent team. But the music director should be someone who has read and understood Crime and Punishment. Read and understood.’ Saigal asked, ‘Who do you have in mind?’ Sahir saab replied, ‘Khayyam’."
The songs of Phir Subah Hogi, like the film itself, had a very sombre feel to them. And like Pyaasa, Sahir’s lyrics here too were distinctly poetic. Every word, every line, every couplet packed a punch, broached the subject of human suffering and lampooned the status quo in the same breath. Sample this stanza from ‘Do boondein saawan ki’ (Two drops of rain):
Do sakhiyaan bachhpan ki
Ek singhaasan par baithay aur roopmati kehlaaye
Dooji apney roop ke kaaran galiyon mein bik jaaye
Kisko mujrim samjhey koi, kisko dosh lagaaye
Do sakhiyaan bachhpan ki
(Two girls, friends from childhood
One sits on a throne and is termed the beautiful one
The other, owing to her beauty, is sold in the streets
Whom do we blame for these inequities, whom do we hold guilty?
Two girls, friends from childhood).
‘Aasman pe hai Khuda’ criticized the Almighty for his lackadaisical attitude:
Aasman pe hai Khuda aur zameen pe hum
Aaj kal woh is taraf dekhta hai kum
Aaj kal kisiko woh tokta nahin
Chahe kuchh bhi kijiye rokta nahin
Ho rahi hai loot maar, phat rahe hain bum
(God sits in the skies while we humans languish on earth
These days, He hardly gives us enough attention
These days, He doesn’t chastise anyone any more
Whatever people do, He doesn’t stop them
Even when larceny is afoot, bombs explode everywhere).
While heroes and heroines in Hindi films usually seek recourse to the Almighty in troubled times—‘Aye Maalik tere bandey hum’ (Oh Almighty, we are your children; Do Aankhey Baaraah Haath, 1957), ‘Allah megh de’ (God, let the rains pour; Guide, 1965), ‘Itni shakti humey dena, Daata’ (Give us the strength, o Lord; Ankush, 1986)—Sahir vented his ire, mockingly, at God for the deteriorating state of affairs on earth. Right at the end of the song, he even urged humanity to stop persecuting themselves for Him:
Jo bhi hai woh theek hai zikr kyun kare
Hum hi sab jahaan ki fikr kyun kare
Jab usay hi gham nahin kyun humey ho gham
(Whatever is happening why talk about it
Why should we alone bother about the world?
When He does not seem to care, why should we?)
Equally scathing was ‘Cheen-o-Arab humaara’. The song is a satirical take on two of Allama Iqbal’s poems, ‘Taraana-e-Hind’ (Anthem of Hindustaan) and ‘Taraana-e-Milli’ (Anthem of the Community). The former goes ‘Saare jahaan se achcha, Hindustaan humaara’ (Better than the entire world is this India of ours), while the latter’s opening lines are the same as the song in Phir Subah Hogi, namely, ‘Cheen-o-Arab humaara’. ... Sahir, instead, lampooned Iqbal’s poems with barbed lyrics of his own:
Cheen-o-Arab humaara, Hindustaan humaara
Rahne ko ghar nahin hai, saaraa jahaan humaara
Jeben hain apni khaali, kyun deta varna gaali
Woh santari humaara, woh paasbaan humaara
Jitnee bhi buildingey thi, sethon ne baant lee hain
Footpaath Bambai ke hain aashiyaan humaara
(China and Arabia are ours, India is also ours
There is no roof over our heads, yet the entire world is ours
Our pockets are empty, why else would they abuse us
They who are meant to protect us, they who are meant to guard us
Whatever buildings were there, the wealthy have divided among themselves
These footpaths of Bombay now remain our only source of shelter).
This was vintage Sahir, expressing the woes of the poor and the homeless while the rich and wealthy live their lives of excess, oblivious to the plight of the former. With that singular couplet ‘Jeben hain apni khali . . . woh paasbaan humaara’ he indicted the long arm of the law for only being available to suit the purpose of aristocrats. It was this ability to show us a mirror to our worlds without in any way compromising the intellectual and poetic quotient of a song that made Sahir peerless. That he said these things fifty-five years ago also showed he was a poet much ahead of his time.
Excerpted from Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet, by Akshay Manwani, HarperCollins, 340 pages, 399.