No contemporary poet has been capable of engineering thoughts on social awakening through poetic lyricism.
Such has been its lyrical contemporariness that ‘main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya’ has been taken to heart by even the millennial generation, justifying the adage ‘you can’t have enough of Sahir’ which best describes the work of iconic poet and lyricist who remained an enigma all his life. A poet who consciously chose to call himself sahir – meaning a wizard – created lyrical verses with an aura of mystical mastery, earning a place second only to legendary Mirza Ghalib in poetic excellence. Unlike Ghalib, however, Sahir’s literary output has been restricted within the linguistic boundaries where it was watered and sustained. Surinder Deol deserves credit for lifting such restrictions by spending time to give wings of translation to over ninety of Sahir’s literary creations to make them fly across the world to spread the poetic fragrance.
An accomplished translator of Urdu poetry, Deol puts under critical scrutiny a selection of poems, ghazals and bhajans from Sahir’s creative oeuvre to present a mosaic of his poetic dexterity for a non-native readership. While ensuring that the translated verses carry the essence of the accompanying original, the preceding thematic summary touches upon contours of poet’s twisted relationships and impact of life’s bittersweet experiences on his work. Sahir’s troubled childhood and equally troubled relationships found a permanent place in his poetry, making it difficult to separate the poet from his poetry. That’s perhaps what made Sahir stand out, and stand tall.
Drawing a portrait of his enigmatic personality in a foreword to Sahir – A Literary Portrait, noted literary theorist Gopi Chand Narang acknowledges Sahir’s proclivity as a lyricist in connecting with listeners’ deep-seated emotions and longings but argues that his giving up on the literary life was a loss as ‘there was a lot more left unsaid’. However, living life on his own terms Sahir had instead claimed that his song writing was close to literary poetry, and more potent in reaching out to millions of people who rarely access literature. Critics may hold it differently but Sahir was first a poet and then a lyricist, the only songwriter whose poetry made its way into films in its purest form. Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein Khayal Aata Hai is one among many poems from his best-selling collection Talkhiyaan which made into a popular film song.
Deol’s translation reveals that Sahir has been as much an enigma as a poet of extraordinary brilliance, reflecting subtle charms of beauty and the pain of love with strong social, material, and political undertones. From poems to nazms and from ghazals to bhajans, Sahir had a range of expressions to stir readers’ imagination to think of life and life’s messages. Sahir – A Literary Portrait draws a sensitive imagery of the poet who emerges as a reliable medium to evoke multiple human emotions, mastering the art of using metaphors and similes as outer layer of confection to convey the painful realities of life. No contemporary poet has been capable of engineering thoughts on social awakening through poetic lyricism.
By re-engaging with thousands of Sahir’s verses, Deol offers a tribute to the genius through his literary output. For those who have been in the awe of the poet, the book will help relive moments of abundant romanticism, and for those who are first-time reader of the iconic poet, the volume will work like a gust of morning breeze with its freshness. In both ways, it will leave the reader with the everlasting truth of life, which is but an unending struggle against despair and hope.
‘maana k is zamin ko n gulzaar kar sake
kuchh khaar kam to kar gae guzre jidhar se hum’
(Agreed that we failed to make this world a flourishing garden of hope. But we did remove some thorns from the paths that we traversed.)
Sahir – A Literary Portrait
by Surinder Deol
Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Extent: 276, Price: Rs 895.
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)
First published in the Hindustan Times on May 25, 2020.