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What Sahir Ludhianvi can teach us about love and revolution

The poet was disillusioned by lofty and palatial spaces of emperors where women were objectified merely for amusement.

 |  5-minute read |   14-02-2018
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I don’t actually know how love is being pursued these days with the help of selfies, teddy bears, chocolates and some other comestibles.

Neither do I wish to comment on it, especially in that era of post-truth where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has informed the Parliament, “India did not get democracy due to Pandit Nehru”! Though, the fallible Nehru — as projected by Modi — is the same statesman who was once lauded by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the same floor of the Lok Sabha as the “Ram-like” figure who would turn loads of impossibilities into firm possibilities and by Sahir Ludhianvi as the “Jesus-like” messiah.

The world is deteriorating day by day, so is the concept of love amid our quotidian material obsession. From Meer Taqi Meer’s "Ishq Ik Meer Bhari Patthar Hai" (love, to Meer, is a gargantuan task) to "Munni Badnam Hui" (Munni is defamed), the meaning and perception of love has been relegated to naught; and more sexist filth is yet to appear on the horizon thanks to TRPs and corporate investments in films that exhort filmmakers to go for more scenes of debauchery in cinema.

sahir-ludhianvi-690_021418042425.jpgSahir Ludhianvi established love as the crux of religion.

From Meer, Ghalib, Iqbal to Bashir Badr, there is a extensive galaxy of Urdu poets who tell us different meanings of ishq (love); but in this Valentine’s week, we shall re-read Sahir Ludhianvi — a doyen of the Progressive Writers’ Association.

Love, according to Sahir Ludhianvi, is unrestrained by any limit of society, religion or any other compulsion. One special element that Sahir’s poetry reveals to us is that true love is not sullied and mired by materialistic lust. Sahir didn’t want a person turning into a “wannabe lover” who would love the beloved the way some emperor had loved!

Requesting his beloved to step on to a pedestal other than the Taj Mahal, he says:

  • Ik Shahanshah Ne Daulat Ka Sahara Lekar
  • Ham Ghareebon Ki Muhabbat Ka Udaya Hai Mazaq
  • Mere Mehboob Kahin Aur Mila Kar Mujhse

Love is true only when it is not dictated by some external obsession, lust et al. Love is not the imitation of others. Love is a revolution that must be undertaken anew every day as per one’s nature and belongingness with the beloved. Love shouldn’t follow tailor-made rules, for love is not a Weber’s bureaucracy! It is more a business from within than without, as observed by Allama Iqbal in the transcendental sense, “Hai Tera Maddo Jazar Abhi Chand Ka Mohtaj.”

In secular terms, however, Sahir Ludhianvi has docked it with one’s material possessions and not material obsession. Guiding his beloved, he puts his case and asks her not to be enticed by mausoleums of “dead” emperors but get inspired by her own dark house that was seemingly devoid of life but accommodated those spirited people who had love in their hearts.

  • Murda Shahon Ke Maqabir Se Behelne Wali
  • Apne Tareek Makanon Ko To Dekha Hota!

He furthers asks why was she mired by such lust and obsession — there were numerous people, poor and in tatters, who too had loved and yet their feelings were more truthful.

  • Anginat Logon Ne Duniya Mein Muhabbat Ki Hai
  • Kaun Kehta Hai Ke Sadiq Na The Jazbe Unke.

Sahir was disillusioned by lofty and palatial spaces of emperors where love was not cherished; instead, women were objectified merely for amusement. He writes in Noor Jahan Ke Mazar Par

  • Kaise Maghroor Shahanshahon Ki Taskeen Ke Liye
  • Saal`ha Saal Haseenaon Ke Baazaar Lage!

Women have always been treated as market commodities and this was one of the strong reasons why Sahir was so critical of markets in an aura characterised by conflicts of labour and capital (Nau-e-Insaan Me Yeh Sarmaya o Mehnat ka Tazaad). In his Chakle, his heart bleeds:

  • Ye Bhooki Nigahen Haseenon Ki Janib
  • Ye Badhte Hue Hath Seenon Ki Janib

In many of the poems and songs written by Sahir, readers would find that Sahir was not reactionary against his beloved when he couldn’t succeed in love. Rather, he adores her and cherishes her in every condition. He respects her consent (to be loved by her) as Tu Jise Chahe Tera Pyar Usi Ka Haq Hai and expresses his own humility in the saga of love as Maine Jazbaat Nibhaye Hain Usoolon Ki Tarah, Apne Arman Piro Laya Hun Phoolon Ki Jagah.

Sahir expects her beloved to become bold in the course of love and is purged of all timidities and ceremonial or ritualistic affairs; he demands close association with the beloved:

  • Zindagi Shola e Bebaak Bana Lo Apni
  • Khud Ko Khakastre Khamosh Banati Kyun Ho?
  • Main Tasuwwuf Ke Marahil Ka Nahi Hun Qayal
  • Meri Tasveer Pe Tum Phool Chadhati Kyu Ho?
  • And as a last ditch effort, he invites her,
  • Duniya Ko Bhool Kar Meri Baahon Me Jhool Ja
  • Aawaaz De Raha Hun Wafa Ke Maqam Se

Another important element in Sahir’s love poetry is the spirit with which he acknowleges the legends from society, culture, religion, mythology et al and his poem written for the Madhubala-Bharat Bhushan starrer Barsaat Ki Raat is a clear testimony.

Sahir cherishes dissenting ethos in the legend of Radha-Krishn:

  • Jab Jab Krishn Ki Bansi Baaji, Nikli Radha Sajke
  • Jaan Ajaan Ka Dhyaan Bhula Ke Lok Laaj Ko Taj Ke

Establishing love as the crux of religion, he goes further:

  • Allah aur Rasool Ka Farman Ishq Hai
  • Yaani Hadees Ishq Hai, Quran Ishq Hai
  • Gautam Aur Maseeh Ka Armaan Ishq Hai
  • Yeh Kainat Ishq Hai Aur Jaan Ishq Hai

In the end, Sahir established that the divine elevation of mankind up to the God can only be achieved by love — and love is so potent that it turns man into God.

  • Khak Ko But aur But ko Devta Karta Hai Ishq
  • Inteha Yeh hai Ke Bande Ko Khuda Karta Hai Ishq

References to the legends from culture, religion and mythology made by Sahir are of immense importance, especially in these days when progressive forces of our time reject them outrightly as “irrational”.

Indian society can’t be visualised sans these legends and there lies the failure: progressive forces are lagging behind in making close contact with the masses while fascist forces are utilising the same to suit their objectives at the cost of love and democracy.

Also read: Sad if my love for India is measured over whether I stand up for the national anthem or not


Naved Ashrafi Naved Ashrafi @navedashrafi

Author is a research fellow at the Department of Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University.

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