What Do Women Want? Sahir Ludhianvi Learnt It Early From His Mother

Sahir’s abiding respect for the feminine gender and her onerous duties gave us lyrical gems of everlasting beauty.

5 min read
Hindi Female

(This article was first published on 8 March 2023. It has been reposted from The Quint's archives to mark the birth anniversary of acclaimed poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi.) 

Every era brings forth great poets who lay bare the imponderables with their muse. In post-partition India, Sahir Ludhianvi has been one such poet as his profound verses not just overwhelmed the public psyche but still inspire millions with their unvarnished truths.

His soul-searching and stirring poetry were instrumental in catapulting films to box office success with his film songs gaining respect as a separate literary genre.


Immortal Lyrics Evoked the Religion of Humanity

Like millions, I confess Sahir’s lyrics have given greater meaning to life than exhaustive social philosophies and if I am a compassionate humanist today, it is thanks to the rare insights imbibed in the early years from two of Sahir’s immortal songs.

Undoubtedly, the soulful singing of Rafi Sahab heightened the magnetism, but it was their content that rid me of religious affiliations and societal biases.

Unlike the mumbo-jumbo of various religious texts, “Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalman Banega, Insaan Ki Aulaad Hai Insaan Banega” culled the essence of humanism in simple, unambiguous terminology. Likewise, “Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kya Hai” made me realise life was a transient bubble wherein all attainments led but to the grave!

No wonder, Sahir’s persona, and his poetry are shorn of any mediocrity or hypocrisy.


The genial poet brought dignity to the craft of writing in cinema as it was his call that led to credits (on and off the screen), better emoluments, and the formation of screenwriters’ association.

Generous with cash and gifts to writers and artistes, he even bequeathed his properties to colleagues but never allowed anyone to trample his self-esteem.

Proving his pen was mightier than a sword, the Piscean flourished even after severing ties with SD Burman and forcing giants like All India Radio and HMV to put the names of lyricists on their programmes and albums respectively. Not surprising as Sahir exhibited courage at a tender age itself when he forsook paternal wealth to live with his divorced mother as she had been wronged by his father!

That is why Sahir’s prophetic lyrics castigate hypocrisy as well as inspire humanism within the same text. A diehard romantic, Sahir was so committed to moral responsibilities and duties that even amidst tempests of passion, he never disowned social priorities and concerns.

Sahir's Pen Wielded Love & Revolution 

Be it bhajans, sufi songs, ghazals, nazms, love ballads, or qawwalis, Sahir stamped each genre with a thought that was unique, lyrical, awe-inspiring yet vividly different from others. Hence, while most lauded the Taj Mahal as a monument of love, Sahir denounced it as “Ek Shahenshah Ne Daulat Ka Sahara Leke, Hum Gareebon Ki Mohabbat Ka Udaaya Hai Mazaak” (“Ghazal”); an insult to poor that cannot advertise love through memorials!

He may have lauded patriotism vide “Ye Desh Hai Veer Jawano Ka” (“Naya Daur”) yet also mocked ruling elites with incisive “Chino Arab Hamara, Hindustan Hamara” (“Phir Subah Hogi”) as he was not blind to the plight of the masses.

Sahir’s riveting expressions of Urdu and Hindi have become part of folklore and from “Nighaein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai” (“Dil Hi To Hai”), “Aana Hai To Aa” (“Naya Daur”), “Chehre Pe Khushi Chhaa Jaati Hai” (“Waqt”), “Phailee Hui Hain Sapnon Ki Baahein” (“House No. 44”) to “Raat Bhi Hai Kuch Bheegi Bheegi” (“Mujhe Jeene Do”), “Man Re Tu Kahe Na Dheer Dhare” (“Chitralekha”), “Aaj Ki Raat Nahin Shikwe-Shikayat Ke Liye” (“Dharamputra”) and “Wo Subah Kabhi To Aayegi” (“Phir Subah Hogi”), each creation is unrivalled in its span, lyricism, intensity, and timelessness.

However, on this International Women’s Day, it is pertinent to note that Sahir was a visionary who despite failed romances, remained a strong advocate of women empowerment. Most applaud his song from “Sadhana”: “Aurat Ne Janam Diya Mardon Ko” which castigates men for treating women as commodities but most forget that Sahir always penned heart-rending lines in support of women:


"Zakhm-Khurda Hain Takhayul Ki Udaanein Teri

Tere Geeton Mein Teri Rooh Ke Gham Palte Hain”

(Injured are your various flights of imagination

Your songs reveal pain dwelling in your soul)

Or the bitter criticism in “Pyaasa” vide “Jinhein Naaz Hai Hind Par Wo Kahan Hain (Where are those that take pride in Hindustan) at the exploitation of women in India.


Ode to Women Stems From a Deeply Moving Personal Space

Obviously, his romantic poetry had to be different as his understanding of the woes of women came from the travails of his mother. A reason why Sahir’s poetry is sensitive of feminine sensibilities and extremely dignified even in the throes of sensuality; romanticism, therein, is serene yet solemn and seeks “understanding” rather than fulfilment of carnal desires.

If “Tum Ek Baar Mohabbat Ka Imtihaan To Lo” (“Babar”) exudes a manly plea to a woman to commit only if she finds the lover worthy of commitment, “Tum Apna Ranjo-Gham, Apni Pareshani Mujhe Dedo” is a mellifluous exposition of the selfless devotion of a woman!

Similarly, who can forget the immortal lines of “Tum Mujhe Bhool Bhi Jao” (“Didi”) wherein the female accuses the lover of being aloof to her advances but Sahir painstakingly explains that in a world afflicted with hunger and thirst, love is not the only elixir for survival! Yet the poet-romanticist recognises the physical yearnings of a woman and his “Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Laga Lo” is akin to the spiritual consummation of the souls rather than a mere fusion of bodies.

Clearly, Sahir’s abiding respect for the feminine gender and her onerous duties as daughter, sister, wife, and mother gave us lyrical gems of everlasting beauty. Though difficult to lay down all the verses that depict concern, care, and compassion for women, his “Tere Bachpan Ko Jawani Ki Dua Deti Hun” from “Mujhe Jeene Do” is a poignant tribute to women, emphasising their superiority as well as salutations to their sacrifices for mankind!


Message for Peace Over War & Hatred

Introspection makes it clear that romance is a form of spiritual enlightenment for Abdul Hayee (who chose the pen name of “Sahir” meaning magician) and “Ye Ishq Ishq Hai” (“Barsaat Ki Raat”) is the perfect specimen of how this visionary articulated synthesis of cultures, defining love and devotion as unique gifts of nature.

With compelling logic, this finest Qawali of all time opines how love has made mankind exalt stones as Gods. It also elucidates why Sahir remained a steadfast pacifist who advocated love and understanding rather than war: “Khoon Apna Ho Ya Paraya Ho, Nasle Aadam Ka Khoon Hai Akhir, Jung Mashirk Mein Ho Ke Magrib Mein, Amne Alam Ka Khoon Hai Akhir” (Shed your own blood or of a stranger's, It is ultimately the blood of mankind, Be it a war in the east or west, It is ultimately the murder of peace and tranquility).

As death haunts our world again, it is wise to remember that war (killing) is itself a problem and can never resolve another problem. If our bigoted rulers and citizens learn from Sahir that “Nafrat Jo Sikhaye Wo Dharm Tera Nahin Hai, Insaa Ko Jo Raunde Wo Kadam Tera Nahin Hai” (Religion that teaches hatred is not to be yours, A step that kills mankind cannot be yours), India would be a much happier and prosperous nation than what it is today!

(Deepak Mahaan is a documentary filmmaker and an eminent author. A specialist on Cinema and Sports, he has published numerous pieces in prestigious publications in India and abroad. He tweets at @mahaanmahan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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