Remembering Sahir Ludhianvi—the pacifist poet

As acrimonious debates rage around war, nationalism and free speech following Gurmehar Kaur’s online campaign against ABVP, the pacifist poems of a romantic rebel poet seem even more relevant today

Photo courtesy:
Photo courtesy:

Ashutosh Sharma

The cost of living in these times is either gallows and noose or humiliation.

Thus wrote legendary poet-lyricist, Sahir Ludhianvi in his epic anti-war poem: Parchhaiyan (Silhouettes).

“This poem is a part of the ongoing worldwide movement to endorse aman (peace) and tehzeeb (civility). I understand that every young generation should strive to pass on a better and more beautiful world—which they inherited from their elders—to the next generation before they leave this world,” the poet wrote in the prologue to his ‘first narrative poem’, claiming, “My poem is a literary manifestation of the same effort.”

And Ali Sardar Jafri—a leading light in Progressive Writers Movement—described Parchhaiyan as one of the finest anti-war poems. “The subject of this poem is the most important question of this era. The international peace movement is witness that every country, ethnic group, race, community and individual belonging to any school of thought has answered this question. More than half of world’s population has expressed its faith in world peace. They have unanimously put a stamp on an accord—that has Sahir’s poem as signature on it.”

The poem opposes ‘cry for war’ and describes the devastation that war brings with it and how it dehumanises people. Also, it refers to apprehensions of nuclear war and concludes with a powerful pacifist plea:

Guzishta jang mein ghar hi jale, magar is baar

Ajab nahin, ke ye tanhaaiyaan bhi jal jaayen

Guzishta jang mein paikar jale, magar is baar

Ajab nahin, ke ye parchaiyan bhi jal jaayen

In the previous war only houses were gutted, but this time

Nothing strange, if the sense of loneliness gets burnt away

In the previous war only bodies were burnt

Nothing strange, if shadows also get burnt down

In his magnum opus, Sahir makes fervent pleas for saving this world before lamenting the havocs war wrecks especially on human life and inter-personal relations:

Tumhaare ghar mein qayaamat ka shor barpaa hai

Mahaaz-e-jang se harkaaraa taar laayaa hai

Kay jiska zikr tumhein zindagii se pyara thaa

Vo bhaai narga-e-dushman mein kaam aayaa hai

Unbearable wails have prevailed in your home

The messenger has brought letter from the battlefield

Whose mention for you was dearer than your life

That brother has got killed in the enemy encirclement

Har ek gaam pe badnaamiyon kaa jamghat hai

Har ek mod pe rusvaaiyon ke mele hain

Na dosti, na takalluf, na dilbari, na khaloos

Kisi ka koi nahin aaj sab akele hain

At each step there is a crowd of insults

At every turn there is a carnival of humiliations

No friendship, no formalities, no affection, no candour

No one belongs to anyone, today everyone is all alone.

Well, Sahir wrote this incredibly moving poem in 1956 following the Suez Canal crisis. He gave a clarion call through his poem: “Come let’s tell these powerbrokers, that we hate jingoism that leads to war. What doesn’t appreciate a colour other than blood, we hate that cloak of human life.”

But in 2017, Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur—daughter of Kargil martyr Captain Mandeep Singh—when she opposed war and upheld peace, was threatened with rape and murder. The “patriotic and nationalist” social media warriors trolled her over a fake video showing a drunk woman dancing in a car. Consequently, she had to leave Delhi.

What does it really mean to be brave? Isn’t it something similar to the spirit and spunk which Gurmehar exhibited amidst hostile mob hysteria? How many of us have the courage to put aside emptiness created by personal loss and talk about compassion for human beings at large?

Those who fail to comprehend a complex issue such as war and enormity of its legacy must pay visit to any village near volatile border with Pakistan—and get the cobwebs in their brains (if any) removed instead of trivialising war mindlessly.

Ironically, noted writer and poet, Javed Akhtar—a recipient of Padma Bhushan—also became target of right-wing hate mongers for supporting Gurmehar. Many started questioning his secular credentials and nationalism. Javed Akhtar has been bestowed with National Film Award five times for his distinguished work including lyrics like: Jang to chand roz hoti hai, zindagi barson talak roti hai (War lasts but a few days, though life cries for years that follow) for Border in 1997 and Panchchhi, nadiyaan, pawan kay jhonke, koi sarhad na inhay rokay. Socho tumne aur maine, kya paaya insaan hoke (Birds, a river, a gust of wind, no border can stop them. Borders are only for human beings. Just think what you and i have achieved by being human) for Refugee in 2000.

While the writer of our country’s national anthem Rabindranath Tagore himself proclaimed that ‘humanity and not nationalism is my spiritual refuge,’ the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, after the Kargil war, recited his poem Jang Na Hone Denge at the Governor's House in Lahore. The poem reflected a resolve not to have any more wars between India and Pakistan. After he finished reciting the poem, reports said, there were tears in many Pakistani eyes. He also expressed his pacifist feelings in his poem Hiroshima Ki Peeda (Hiroshima's Pain). But those were perhaps good old times.

One wonder what consequences peace inks or poets would face if they write or recite something similar to what Sahir stated ruefully in a simple and direct diction in Parchhaiyan:

Us shaam mujhe maaloom hua, jab baap ki kheti chhin jaaye

Mamta ke sunahare kh(w)abon ki anmol nishaani bikti hai

Us shaam mujhe maaloom huaa, jab bhaai jang mein kaam aaye

Sarmaaye ke qahvaa-khaane mein, bahnon ki javaani bikti hai

Suraj ke lahu mein lithdi hui, woh shaam hai ab tak yaad mujhe

That evening i realised, when father’s farming gets snatched away

Souvenirs of motherhood’s glittering dreams also get auctioned

That evening i realised, when a brother sacrifices life in battlefield

In the brothels of capitalism, the youth of sisters is put on sale

Doused in the colour of blood, i still remember that dusk

Of course, Sahir wrote many other powerful anti-war poems. He questioned: Why is every victor’s garment tainted by blood? He bitterly criticised super-powers of the world and viewed war as a business of death: “You act like apostles of peace, you provide the reasons for war as well. Though you grieve over murders, you distribute arms and ammunition as well.” In another poem, he wrote that war in itself is a problem and can’t resolve any conflict.

A biopic on Sahir’s life is being awaited with much anticipation. Would the filmmakers dare to depict Sahir as a rebel and a thoughtful poet—who wrote anthems of dissent and resistance? Or will they just glorify his unrequited love affair with poetess-novelist Amrita Pritam and poignant romantic poetry—avoiding the risk of being dubbed as ‘anti-nationals’ unlike Gurmehar Kaur?

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Published: 08 Mar 2017, 11:21 AM