Sahir Ludhianvi (1922-1980) is the poet who was neither afraid of authority, nor afraid to be outspoken. Neither afraid of going to jail nor to voice against the prison system. Neither afraid of the momentary life, nor of the eternal death. His involvement in the Left politics in the pre-and post-independent India, in organizing the peoples’ theatres, in writing for the peasants, farmers and the factory workers should serve a reminder to the wordsmiths of the present day that there is indeed a tool to choose a side with. But that’s a side between the material and the mystical; between the working class and the owning class; to side with the profit-hungry or the wage-hungry.
To Sahir, just like to Robeson , and to Neruda there was nothing to debate about which side an artist must choose. The question is redundant. The artist cannot afford to establish bonds with the heaven and the promises of spiritualism. The artist must cry with the beloved oppressed peoples all over the world. The choice is clear, as Robeson said: “Every artist, every scientist must decide, now, where he stands. He has no alternative. There are no impartial observers. Through the destruction, in certain countries, of man’s literary heritage, through the propagation of false ideas of national and racial superiority, the artist, the scientist, the writer is challenged. This struggle invades the former cloistered halls of our universities and all her seats of learning. The battlefront is everywhere. There is no sheltered rear. The artist elects to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice! I had no alternative!”
In the following attempt to translate a poem by Sahir, I have tried to remind ourselves of our desirable commitments, and a sheer lack of choice. We are not free to make a choice anymore in regards to who we need to lend our support to. As the world is increasingly growing individualistic in the euphoria around capitalistic utopia, we need to recollect our personal experiences in the shared human history of our age, that is stifled with pain, remorse and tears of the majority.
Rajaata pasanda hum, ke tarakqi pasanda hum maim
Isa bahasa ko fizula-o-abasa janata hum maim
Aina-e-havadisa-e-hasti haim mere saira
Jo dekhata raha hum voha kahata raha hum maim
Tarom ki anjumana se mujhe vasata nahim
Insaniyata pe aska bahata raha hum maim
Duniya ne tajurbata-o-havadisa ki sakala mem
Jo kucha mujhe diya hai voha lautata raha hum maim
(by Sahir Ludhianvi)
Am I conservative by outlook, or progressive by orientation
A non-issue this is, its redundancy to me is well known
My words like mirror, the reflections of myriad nature
What I witness is what I recite: sans color nor alter
I do not heed to the conscience of stars and the heaven
On my land of humanity, I have enough to shed tears on
All that I have to return to you, to give back in word
Is what I have gained from my experiences in this world..
(Trans. by Saswat Pattanayak)