Sahir, will you be my Quarantine?

Poet spoke of human suffering in an unequal world

Ever since the fear of coronavirus pushed governments across the globe to put countries into lockdown, people on social media have busied themselves with different distractions. One of the most interesting questions is: Who would you like to be quarantined with?
People have taken names of their favourite celebrities, fictional characters, friends, exes, crushes, imaginary species, etc. As for myself, one of the people I would love to be quarantined with is Sahir Ludhianvi. Not only because his poetry resonates with the reality of today—an unequal society with unprecedented human suffering—but also because Sahir is not remembered enough in Pakistan.
Sahir, born Abdul Hayee, was a poet and film song lyricist who wrote in Hindi and Urdu. He was born in 1921 in Ludhiana, Punjab which is where the suffix Ludhianvi comes from.
In 1943, Sahir settled in Lahore. He published his first book of Urdu poetry Talkhiyaan in 1945 and worked with various literary magazines and became an active member of the Progressive Writers Association.
Sahir’s work constantly revolves around the themes of inequality, exploitation, class difference and revolution. His famous poem, “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jayee to kiya hai,” later became a song in the movie, Pyaasa (1957), starring Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rahman.
His communist ideals earned him a warrant for his arrest courtesy the Government of Pakistan soon after Partition. By 1949, Sahir migrated from Lahore to Delhi and finally settled in Bombay. It was his departure from Lahore which also explains why Sahir is not remembered enough in the collective nostalgia of readers in Pakistan.
So why did I pick Sahir? I was introduced to him a few years ago even though I have been listening to his songs for a long time. Unknowingly, we have all been relishing his words. Some of the popular songs include:
Udden jab jab zulfein teri (Naya Daur, 1957)
Jaaney woh kaisay log thay (Pyaasa, 1957), also sung as OST for popular drama, Pyarey Afzal.
Abhi na jao chor kar (Hum dono, 1961), the song has become a cult classic after it was covered by new singers in the recent past.
Ae meri zohra jabeen (Waqt, 1965)
Tera mujh say hai paihlay ka naata koi (Aaa galay lag ja, 1973)
Kabhi kabhi meray dil mein (Kabhi Kabhi, 1976)
In times of coronavirus, we are not only facing a pandemic but also living in a world becoming more and more unequal by the day. We are not only waiting for a time when this madness is over but also when we can breathe, when each human has equal rights and worth. Me and my quarantine will recite Sahir’s Umeed (also sung as, “Woh subah kabhi tou ayeegi”) from our balcony.

In kali sadiyon kay sar say, jab raat ka aanchal dhalkay ga
Jab dukh kay baadal pighalengay, jab sukh ka sagar chalkay ga
Jab ambar jhoom kay nachega jab dharti naghmay gayegi
Woh subah kabhi to ayeegi
Jis subah ki khaatir jug jug sey hum sab mar mar kay jeetay hain
Jis subah kay amrit ki dhun mein hum zahar kay pyaale peetay hain
In bhooki pyaasi ruhon par ik din to karam farmayegi
Woh subah kabhi to ayeegi
Maana kay abhi teray meray armanon ki qimat kuch bhi nahin
Mitti ka bhi hai kuch mol magar insanon ki qimat kuch bhi nahin
Insanon ki izzat jab jhootay sikkon mein na toli jaayegi
Woh subah kabhi to aayegi

The writer is pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Central European University. He tweets @@jasirshahbaz


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