Sahir Ludhianvi’s legacy comes alive at alma mater with ‘Wo Afsaana…’

Divya Goyal

Scene of the play "Wo Afsaana..'. at SCD Government College in Ludhiana. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)

As part of its centenary celebrations, the SCD Government College of Ludhiana, one of the oldest educational institutions of Punjab, established in 1920, paid tribute to its once 'ousted' student, whose name is now an indispensable part of the college's identity and glorious history, shaayar Sahir Ludhianvi. Incidentally, it is the late poet's 100th birth anniversary next year.

On Wednesday evening, there was a much-awaited homecoming.

As the poetic play 'Wo Afsaana..', portraying Sahir's intriguing and beautiful relationship with Amrita Pritam was performed at the Sahir Auditorium on the British-era college campus, the audience including alumni, who met their shaayar collegemate once again. There was nostalgia, tears, nazms as Sahir's classics coupled with Amrita's bold, romantic poetry evoked thunderous applause.

Sahir Ludhianvi as a student. (Second row from above, second from right)

College Principal Dharam Singh Sandhu said the play was performed by Delhi-based theatre group 'Team Raabta', who were invited in coordination with the Ludhiana Sanskritik Samagam (LSS) to celebrate Sahir's association with the college for centenary celebrations as part of the initiative 'Safar-e-Sahir'.

Though this beautiful relationship between two creative geniuses of undivided Punjab has remained a mystery even after so many years, it still evokes love, admiration, respect and passion.

The play derived its name from Sahir's timeless nazm, which he had written for Amrita, '...Wo afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin, usey ik khoobsurat modh dekar chodna achha..', indicating that for Sahir, his affair with Amrita was a 'beautiful journey, but without a destination'.

And as portrayed in the play Wednesday, Amrita on the other hand, was madly in love with him. She was heartbroken when a photograph published in Blitz magazine informed her that Sahir had found a 'new love'. She writes the 'aakhri khat' (last letter) to Sahir, but never posts it. Later, her literary works, 'Sunehray' (Messages), 'Dil Diyaan Galiyaan' (Lanes of my heart), 'Aakhari Khat' (The Last Letter), and her autobiography 'Raseedi Ticket' spoke of how madly she loved him.

The play had artistes Jaishree playing Amrita Pritam and director cum actor Shamir as Sahir on stage. The narration of dialogues was weaved with Sahir's musical classics such as 'Main Zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya...', 'Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khyaal aata hai' and 'Abhi na jao chod kar ki dil abhi bhara nahi...' among others.

The campus still lives with the immortal memories of its shaayar student -- his old group photograph hangs in the corridor, his not-so-illustrious marksheets are preserved in magazines, and an auditorium and a botanical garden 'Gulistan-e-Sahir' are dedicated in his name. Though the college has several other famous alumni including space scientist Satish Chander Dhawan (after whom the college is named SCD), bureaucrat N N Vohra, former MP Manohar Singh Gill among others.

According to principal Sandhu, Sahir was an Arts student in the college from 1939-41, but had spent only two years there, and left when his graduation was still incomplete. The story goes that Sahir was expelled for having an affair with a girl, Ishar Kaur, and sitting on the college lawns with her, much to the disagreement of the principal ACC Hervey, a British man. Veteran Urdu poet and writer Kewal Dheer says he was “asked to leave”, following which Sahir left Ludhiana and moved to Lahore. Another story suggests that he was asked to leave the college during his second year of graduation because his poems against the British rule irked the authorities.

Today, more than eight decades after Sahir walked out of the SCD campus, the college is proud of Sahir being their alumnus. "There was an era in the Hindi film industry when not a single film came which did not had Sahir's lyrics," says principal Sandhu.

Some parts of the play Wednesday evoked wide applause from the audience, such as when Amrita, professing her love for Sahir, said, "Main ohde cigarette de totey sambhaal ke rakh laindi...Enjh ladga oh mere kol hai...(I would preserve his cigarette butts. I would feel he is here with me)".

And then Sahir, knowing well how madly Amrita was in love with him, says, "Mere jaane ke baad bhi mere tasabbur mein rehti hogi...par wo afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin, usey ik khoobsurat modh dekar chodna achha... (She lives with my memories even when I am not with her, but it is better to leave a journey, which has no destination, at a beautiful turn)".

And when in 1980, Amrita gets to know about Sahir's death, breaking into tears, she says, "Ajj main apne dil de dariya vich, main apne phul pravaahe ne... (Today, in my heart, I have cremated myself too)".

The curtains fell with Sahir's words reminding one that life goes on, "...Kal tumse juda ho jaunga, aaj tumhara hissa hoon. Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon, pal do pal meri kahaan hai..."