meet the poet

For Sahir Ludhianvi, the best kind of love was unrequited

On the celebrated Urdu poet’s 96th birth anniversary, a reminder of his contradictory attitudes towards women and relationships.

The poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi was deeply empathetic to women, and yet, Ludhianvi remained single and, as they say, unfulfilled throughout his life. His early poetry spoke of unrequited love, never more evident than in his film songs. When Ludhianvi wrote from a woman’s point of view, it felt as though he had been able to get under her skin.

He authored the celebrated song Aurat Ne Janam Diya Mardon Ko (It is the woman who has given birth to the man) in the film Sadhna (1958), in which the protagonist was a prostitute played by Vyjayanthimala. The songs he gave to so-called fallen women – cabaret dancers, street singers and molls – are rare gems of grace and reflection. He penned a Vaishnav bhajan for the character of the street walker Gulabo, played by Waheeda Rehman, in Pyasaa (1957). In Baazi (1951), Geeta Bali lures Dev Anand by singing the philosophical song “Tadbeer se bigdi hui taqdeer bana le, apne pe bharosa hai to yeh daon laga le” (Gather the resolve to change your fate, if you have faith in yourself then take a bet.)

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Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui from Baazi (1951).

The qawwali singer played by Shyama in Barsaat ki Raat (1960) could have been a gopi or Radha herself, when she sang in Na To Caravan Ki Talaash Hai, “Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki, Ab kya bhar laoon main Jamuna se matki” (The path to the water’s edge is difficult, but should I fill my pot at the river Yamuna?)

Ludhianvi’s mother was a strong woman, forced to leave her feudal landlord husband so that she could raise her son away from the depraved environment at home. She lived on meagre means, on an allowance provided by Ludhianvi’s grandfather, and received constant threats from her husband that he would kidnap their son.

The only wish of hers that Ludhianvi did not honour, was that he marry her niece. His relationship with the poet Amrita Pritam ended when she returned disillusioned from Mumbai, where she had gone to build a life with him. Pritam could not bear Ludhianvi’s use of abusive language, which frequently undermined women.

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Na To Caravan Ki Talaash Hai from Barsaat Ki Raat (1960).

For Ludhianvi, desire remained restricted to his verse. The poet accepted the fact that consummation of a relationship, whether it was serious or a fling, was simply not to be. This became evident in his early poem Kabhi Kabhi, included in his first anthology Talkhian and later in the celebrated title track from Yash Chopra’s 1976 film Kabhi Kabhie. The anthology included Taj Mahal, in which the poet implores his beloved not to meet him at the monument, which he calls an expensive advertisement by an indulgent emperor.

However, it was his poem Chakle, or Brothels, which remained his most emotive ode to womanhood. Chakle was later used as a song in the film Pyaasa. Ludhianvi decries the exploitation and oppression of women across faiths and communities.

After Ludhianvi’s death in 1980, the poet Painter Bawari dotted Ludhiana with cloth banners that read, “Hai Sahir”. Speaking of the old days and Ludhianvi’s youth, Bawari agreed that Chakle was the poet’s most evocative work: “He raises the curtain of the hypocrisy in society, calls prostitutes by the names of most revered women of the three religions of the time and that too in a climate of communal turmoil…there will never be a poet like him.”

Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam.
Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam.
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.