When author Akshay Manwani penned the biographical ‘Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet’ in 2013, it was hailed as a glimpse into the prolific poet’s life.

What set the legendary 20th-century Hindi and Urdu poet-film lyricist apart from others of his time were his straightforward writings.

Born as Abdul Hayee (Sahir Ludhianvi was his pen name) on 8 March, 1921, into a wealthy family of zamindars in Ludhiana, his childhood was marked by fear and trauma.

His father, “a despotic zamindar”, married multiple times. Manwani notes how Sahir lived in constant fear of abduction as his father failed to get custody following a divorce from Sahir’s mother, who was his 12th wife.

It was during his college days that Sahir’s immense talent for poetry flourished. And in 1945, he wrote ‘Talkhiyaan’ (bitterness), which was his first published work in Urdu.

Later he also joined the famed Progressive Writers’ Association which believed that art could not be for art’s sake alone.

These writers, including Munshi Premchand and Saadat Hasan Manto, were determined to write about the issues that the oppressed classes and the common man faced.

Following the horrors of partition, the Pakistani government issued a warrant for Sahir’s arrest, and in 1949, he fled to the then Bombay.

As Manwani explains, “The writers of the Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWM) were not happy with the outcome of this Independence, which they believed further accentuated divisions across religious lines with partition.”

Sahir expressed these emotions in the song ‘Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaye toh kya hai’ (Even if I get the entire world, what difference does it make) that he wrote for the movie Pyaasa (1957).

His other songs ‘Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko’ and ‘Khali dabba, khali botal’ expressed his political position.

One of his most famous lines was in a song in the 1959 film ‘Dhool ka phool’, directed by the legendary B R Chopra and sung by Mohammad Rafi.

‘Tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega, insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega’ (You will not become a Hindu nor a Muslim, a human’s child will become a human).

Irrespective of which film he was writing for, there would always be a political angle in his songs.

“Before and after him, people have written political songs, but you have to read between the lines and identify the underlying theme. Sahir’s writings, on the other hand, are anything but subtle and this is why he stands alone among his peers,” says Manwani.

However, throughout his interactions with the media, Sahir maintained the refrain that his writings were a product of his experiences, which is why he could write about them.

In a career spanning around 30 years, Sahir wrote 718 songs for 111 films, leaving a legacy behind.