Sahir Ludhianvi – Communist and a Poet

By Saswat Pattanayak

It was more than a coincidence that Sahir Ludhianvi was born on an International Women’s Day. His concern and respect for women was as much personal as it was political. For him, no one – and nothing – was more important than his mother Sardar Begum. Resenting her husband’s feudal properties, his mother had left that household and raised Sahir on her own. And Sahir grew up as an organic revolutionary against landlords and burgeoning capitalism of that era. And more importantly, as a progressive poet deeply aware of the capitalistic exploitations of women and the working class.

An avid reader of Marx, Sahir early on was influenced by Faiz and Josh – prominent communist poets of that era. His early compositions included “Jahaan Mazdoor Rehte Hai” [Where Workers Reside]. In 1937, Sahir joined All India Students Federation (AISF), affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI) – committed to anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles. He was expelled from both the colleges (in Ludhiana and Lahore) that he attended, due to his political activisms. Sajjad Zaheer’s Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWM) would subsequently provide Sahir his cultural platform, to express himself as a socialist poet rejecting ‘art for the sake of art’.

As a revolutionary poet, Sahir wrote “Kuchh Baatein” [Some Issues]:
“Des ke adbaar ki baatein karey
Ajnabi sarkar ki baatein karey
Agli duniya ke fasaaney chhoddkar
Is jahannumzaar ki baatein karey”

[Let us talk of the nation’s tribulations
Talk of the colonial power impositions
Why bother with heaven’s splendors
Let us talk of the hell we possess]

As a communist poet, Sahir wrote the poignant verses “Aurat ne janam diya mardoen ko, mardone ne use bazaar diya” [Women gave birth to men; men made them commodities]. His analysis of feudalism/capitalism manifested itself in the splendid tribute to Taj Mahal, full of scorn borne out of a materialistic outlook that defined his work.

He wrote,
“Anginat logoen ne duniya mein mohabbat ki hai
Kaun kehta hai ke saadiq na tha un ke jazbe
Lekin un ke liye tasahir ka samaan nahin
Kyon ki woh log bhi apni hi tarah muflis the”

[Countless peoples in our world have showered love in abundance
Who can claim their heartfelt love ever lacked sincere affections
But they lacked the means of advertisement, of crude exhibitions
After all, they were like you and I: submitted by birth to cruel situations]

Sahir’s secular credentials were unmatched. An avowed atheist, he rejected the organized religions as impediments on the path to attaining a sense of humanity. Addressing an abandoned child without a social identity, Sahir wrote:

“Accha hai abhi tak tera kuchh naam nahni hai
Tujh ko kisi mazhab se koi kaam nahni hai
Jis ilm ne insaan ko taqseem kiya hai
Is ilm ka tujh par koi ilzam nahni hai”

[A bundle of joy you are, sans a given name
Disconnected from religions, that’s your gain
Religious texts have only divided humanity
My child! So far they couldn’t attack your sanity]

As a communist poet, he was not just dedicated to women’s empowerment and secular values, he also was a peacenik who refused to believe in sanctities of geographical borders that justify militarism. He wrote –

“Khoon apna ho ya paraaya ho
Nasl-e-adam ka khoon hai aakhir
Jung mashriq mein ho ki magrib mein
Amn-e-alam ka khoon hai aakhir
Bomb gharoen par giren ya sarhad par
Rooh-e-ta’amir jakhm khaati hai
Khet apne jalein ki auroen ke
Jis’t faakoen se tilmilaati hai”

[Shed our blood, or theirs
Lives lost are of human race
War on the East or against the West
Casualty is troubled peace
Bomb our land, or across the borders
Afflicted are souls under construction
Homeless our people, or theirs
Suppressed is oppressed expression]

It was his internationalism that was recognized in the Soviet Union and his commitment to humanist values remain unchanged till the end of his life. In 1961, when Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by CIA, Sahir would protest and leave behind a haunting masterpiece, like none other –

“Zulm ki baat hi kya, zulm ki aukaat hi kya
Zulm bas zulm hai aagaz se anjaam talak
Khoon phir khoon hai, sau shakl badal sakta hai
Aisi shakley ki mitao toh mitaaye na baney
Aise sholey, ki bujhao toh bujhaaye na baney
Aisey naarey ki dabaao toh dabaaye na baney”

[Injustice can only do so much
Capable of nothing much
But the blood can take many shape
Shapes that are permanent
Inextinguishable Embers
And indomitable slogans]

Sahir’s dream coincided with that of a revolutionary who is capable of imagining not just a world without borders, but also a world without prison cells – a song that is so relevant today in light of sedition charges routinely applied to silence independent thinkers of the society Sahir once had sought to liberate.

He wrote –
“Jis subah ke khaatir jug jug se hum sab mar mar kar jeete hai
Jis subah ke amrut ki dhuun mein hum zahar ke pyaale peete hai
In bhookhi pyaasi ruhoen par ek din to karam pharmayegi
woh subah kabhi toh aayegi…

Manhoos samaaji dhaancho mein jab julm na paale jaayenge
Jab haath na kaate jaayenge jab sar na uchhale jaayenge
Jailoen ke bina jab duniya ki sarkaar chalaayi jaayegi
Woh subah hum hi se aayegi”

[For the dawn, that for ages, we nurtured with sacrifices
For that morning of nectars, have we not consumed poisons
These impoverished souls will finally be rewarded
And such a dawn, shall one day be ushered in…

As crimes cease to be structural givens of societies
Justice no longer served with torture, death penalties
A new world needs no oppressive prison
We shall usher in such a new dawn!]
——

As a communist poet, like Neruda, Sahir was close to the women of his life. Since none of his relationship could be formalized, and he died shortly after his mother’s demise whom he loved endlessly, he remained much misunderstood in his personal life. Many criticized him as an egotist megalomaniac seeking attention. But Sahir remained indifferent to both adulation and brickbats.

In 1971, when he was awarded with the prestigious Padma Shri, he told his close friend and fellow progressive poet Jan Nisar Akhtar, “Yaar Jan Nisar, ab sarkar ko tumhe bhi Padma Shri se nawaazna chahiye” [Jan Nisar, the government should now honor you with a Padma Shri as well].
Jan Nisar, amused, asked Sahir, why [“Bhala aisa kyoun”]?
Sahir wryly replied, “Ab yeh zillat mujh akele se bardaasht nahni hoti.” [I cannot bear this embarrassment alone.]

———

[All translations by Saswat Pattanayak]

More translation of Sahir’s poetry –

Fellow Decent Humans

Taj Mahal

Radical Child

Giving Back

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Fellow Decent Human Beings… (Translated)

Following is my translation of a poem by Sahir Ludhianvi: “Ae Sharif Insaanoen”

I find the poem to be deeply relevant to our times. Just when the majority of us are blaming the minority among us for criminal acts of terror caused by the militarists and suddenly believing in the words of “our” national politicians to caste doubts upon innocent people of another country, at a time when we Indians have become mute witnesses to cultural bans on Pakistan and artists from Pakistan even as racist communal elements in Bollywood such as Aadesh Srivastava or Abhijeet are gaining grounds, at a time when artists such as respected Ghulam Ali are being banned from entering the land of a country – India- whose people love him immensely, simply because suddenly some communal Hindu supremacist leaders are opposing any possible cultural exchanges with our neighboring nation, at a time when we are allowing a bunch of proven thugs – the politicians who we all know to be corrupt to the core every passing day, the politicians who have legitimized criminalization of politics in the land of the Buddha – are demanding across party lines to come up with draconic laws to silence resenting voices in India, at a time when ATS officer Karkare who was instrumental in uncovering the ugly masks of the terror from Hindu fundamentalists has been killed and has been converted into a hero by the very people he despised, such is a time to question our conventional wisdom.

Shed our blood, or theirs

Lives lost are of human race 

War on the East or against the West

Casualty is troubled peace

 

Bomb our land, or across the borders

Afflicted are souls under construction

Homeless our people, or theirs

Suppressed is oppressed expression 

 

Tanks march across or in our lands

Leave Mother Earth barren stretch

Victory cry or vanquished sighs

Countless lives mourn the death

 

War itself the biggest crisis

What problem can it ever solve?

Seeds of hatred it perpetuates

What necessities will it absolve?

 

Hence, fellow decent humans,

Better if we avert these wars 

Ours and theirs – in all the lands

Better if candle of peace sparks

 

To prove our point of advancements

Do we need to flow their bloods?

To rid our houses of darkness

Do we need to set theirs on flames?

 

Wars we must differently showcase

Battlefield’s not the sole option

Humans also exhibit intelligence

Fanaticism not the only emotion 

 

Come, in this age of bitter darkness

Let us spark some lights of care

Those steps that foster peace and progress 

Let us consider some new thoughts to share

 

War, results of heartless barbarism

Peace, results of civilized progress

War, proud catch of power structure

Peace, humble heritage of humaneness

 

War, in the name of enslaved people

Peace, to promote socially just system

War, voiced by misguided zealots

Peace, for hapless masses supreme

 

War, a shameful occupation of few

Peace, for equity, prosperity for all

Fight the war, and the war-mongers

For peace, progressives everywhere

 

(Translated by Saswat Pattanayak, Peoples’ Poet)

 

  

Original poem by Sahir Ludhianvi – 

Ae Sharif Insaanoen

Khoon apna ho ya paraaya ho

Nasl-e-adam ka khoon hai aakhir

Jung mashriq mein ho ki magrib mein

Amn-e-alam ka khoon hai aakhir

Bomb gharoen par giren ya sarhad par

Rooh-e-ta’amir jakhm khaati hai

Khet apne jalein ki auroen ke

Jis’t faakoen se tilmilaati hai

Tank aage badhe ki peeche hatein

Kokh dharti ki baanjh hoti hai

Fatah ka jash’n ho ki haar ka sog

Jindegi mayatoen pe roti hai

Jung to khud hi ek mash’ala hai

Jung kya mash’aloen ka ha’l degi

Aag aur khoon aaj bakhshegi

Bhookh aur eh’tiyaj kal degi

Is liye ae sharif insaanoen

Jung talti rahe to behtar hai

Aap aur hum sabhi ke aangan mein

Shamaa jalti rahe to behtar hai

Bartari ke suboot ki khaatir

Khoon bahaana hi kya jaroori hai

Ghar ki taarikiyan mitaane ko

Ghar jalaana hi kya jaroori hai

Jung ke aur bhi toh maidan hai

Sirf maidaane kushtoen-khoon hi nahni

Haasil-e-jindagi khi’rad bhi hai

Haasil jindagi joonon hi nahni

Aao is tirabakht duniya mein

Fiqr ki roshni ko aam karein

Aman ko jinse taqbiyat pahunche

Aisi jung-oen ka ehtimam karen

Jung, baha’sat se barbiriyat se

Aman, tahaziboen irtika ke liye

Jung, magr-afreen shiyasat se

Aman, insaan ki baka ke liye

Jung aflaas aur gulaami se

Aman behtar nizm ke khaatir

Jung, bhatki huyi qiyaadat se

Aman, bewas aawam ke khaatir

Jung sharmaaye ke tas’loot se

Aman, jumhoor ki khooshi ke liye

Jung, jungoen ke falsafe ke khilaaf

Aman, pur’an jindagi ke liye

 

Vote for Taj! But find for me yet another place!

As India (and the world) goes to vote for Taj Mahal tomorrow, an ugly form of patriotism and appreciation has surfaced utilizing a monument declared to be most beautiful by some.

The claim for “seven wonders” (and one wonders why they need to have it to be only seven, and not thirteen, or a hundred) has been reduced to a competitive exercise where people representing their countries exhibit some version of solidarity to showcase monuments that have absolutely nothing in relevance to either the present, or the future.

Moreover, the past–related to sites like the Taj Mahal–also needs to be investigated further before the glorifications continue in a world where human beings have less worth than marble stones.

In our world where visual appeal and exhibitionism is so rampant as to have become a required criterion for assessment of objects, events and people, it is no wonder that huge architectures are recalled with how they merely have been standardized to generate individualist awe, and not with any form of collective remorse.

To mark this day with regret, therefore, I have translated one song which was written more than four decades ago by the great progressive Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi. The original poem follows the translated version:

Taj Mahal

For you, Taj Mahal is no less a splendor of love
Amidst the eldritch, obsessed are you with its trove

My beloved! Discover for me yet another place where we can meet!

Grandeur of royal palace is deliberately contrasted
For the commoners; it’s a sordid message so crafted
We mortals have no permit to tread the paths so strewn
With baits to allure us into that maze, to dream to its tune!

Before being inveigled into the royal sparks, my beloved!
You should have descried the mammoth trickery and fraud!
You could have felt the roars of your insignificant abode!

Countless peoples in our world have showered love in abundance
Who can claim their heartfelt love ever lacked sincere affections
But they lacked the means of advertisement, of crude exhibitions
After all, they were like you and I: submitted by birth to cruel situations

This monument, this mausoleum, this unmitigated embankment
These are apparition of regal wealth and unmerited enchantment
For the records of the wretched, these disdainfully antique afflictions
Were erected upon the toil, labor and sweat of many a poor generations

O my beloved! They must indeed have been in love forever
Those that could shape such magnificence by their love’s labor
Yet not a candle is lighted in memory of those that were enslaved
Nor a lamp they could plant to cherish the love of their beloved
This opulent yard, this palatial lap of luxury that marks the ruler
Bedizened with gaudy presence of stately, colossal architecture
It’s merely an act of mockery on part of an autocratic monarch
Who usurping wealth, has smudged the poor, with this indelible mark!

My beloved! Discover for me yet another place where we can meet!

(Trans. by: Saswat Pattanaya, The Peoples’ Poet)
—-

The original poetry by Sahir Ludhianvi follows:

Taja tere lie eka mazahara-e-ulafata hi sahi
tujha ko isa vadi-e-rangina se aqidata hi sahi
mere mehabuba kahim aura mila kara mujha se

bazama-e-sahi mein gharibom ka guzara kiya maini
sabta jisa raha mein hom satuta sahi ke nisana
usa pe ulafata bhari rahazana ka safara kiya maini
meri mehabuba pase parde tasahira vafa

tune satuta ke nisanom ko to dekha hota
murda sahom ke maqabira se behalane vali
apane tarika makanom ko to dekha hota
anaginata laugom ne duniya mem mauhabbata ki hai
kauna kahata hai ke sadiqa na tha una ke jazabe
lekina una ke liye tasahira ka samana nahim
kyonke vaha lauga bhi apani hi tarah mufalisa the

yaha imarata-va-maqabira ye fasilem ye hisara
matalaqa-ula-hukma sahanasahom ki azamata ke sutum
sina-e-dahara ke nasura haim kahate nasura
jajbe hem una mem tere mere ijadada ka khuna

meri mehabuba, inhem bhi to mauhabbata hogi
jina ki sanai ne bakhasi hai use sakla-e-jamila
una ke piyarom ke maqabira rahe be nama namuda
aja taka ina para jalai na kisi ne qandila
ye chamana zara ye jamana ka kinara, ye mahala
ye munakqasa dara-o-divara ye maharaba ye taqa
ika sahanasaha ne daulata ka sahara le kara
hama gharibom ki mauhabbata ka udaya hai mazaqa

mere mehabuba kahim aura mila kara mujha se