Abdul Hai “Sahir Ludhianvi” was born on 8 March 1921 in into a Muslim Gujjar family of Ludhiana, Punjab, India. His mother’s name was ‘Sardar Begum’. The house where Sahir was born was a red sand-stone haveli, in Karimpura, a Muslim neighborhood of Ludhiana. Sahir's parents had a very loose and estranged relationship. In 1934, when he was thirteen years old, his father married for the second time. In that situation, his mother decided to leave her husband, forfeiting all claims to the financial assets. Sahir's father then sued his mother for Sahir’s custody but lost. He threatened Sahir’s mother to grave consequences if Sahir lives with his mother. Friends of Sahir's mother kept a close watch on him and didn't let him out of sight. Financial problem, as well as fear surrounded the formative years of this young man. His parents' divorce forced him to face poverty and struggle in his early life.

Sahir studied at ‘Khalsa High School’ in Ludhiana. After matriculation, he joined the ‘Satish Chander Dhawan Government College For Boys’, Ludhiana. He has started writing poetry at that time and was quite popular for his Ghazals and Nazms in the college. He was expelled from the college within the year 'for sitting in the Principal's lawn with a female class-mate'.  Some people, erroneously mention Amrita Pritam as the girl, but in fact Amrit never lived in Ludhiana. They met after the partition of India, when she arrived in Delhi from Lahore in 1949. Some believe that the girl was the daughter of another rich man of Ludhiana's bourgeois society and the girl's father pulled the strings to get him expelled from college.

In 1943, after being expelled from college, Sahir settled in Lahore. Here, he completed the writing of his first Urdu work, “Talkhiyaan” (Bitterness). He then began searching for a publisher and, after two years, he found one in 1945. After his work was published, he began editing four Urdu magazines, “Adab-e-Lateef”, “Shahkaar”,” Prithlari”, and “Savera”. These magazines became very successful. He then became a member of the Progressive Writers' Association.

Sahir’s writing communist views and ideology in ‘Savera’ was felt inflammatory by the Government of Pakistan and resulted in the issuing of a warrant for his arrest. So, in 1949, Sahir fled from Lahore to Delhi. After a couple of months in Delhi, he moved to settle in Bombay.

Many books about him have been published both in India and Pakistan. In 2010 Danish Iqbal wrote a Stage Play 'Sahir' about his life which was directed by NRI Director ‘Pramila Le Hunt’. This Play became a commercial success. For perhaps first time, in the history of Indian Theatre, songs were used as narrative to recreate the life and struggles of ‘Sahir’. Attempts are being made to convert this Play into a film on ‘Sahir’.

Lyrics and Bollywood

In Bombay, Sahir lived on the first floor of the main building of an Andheri outhouse. His neighbors included the poet, ‘Gulzar’ and ‘Krishan Chandar’. In the 1970s, he constructed "Parchaiyaan" a posh bungalow, and lived there till his death

Sahir Ludhianvi made his debut in films writing lyrics for the film “Aazadi Ki Raah Par” (1949). The film had four songs written by him and his first song was "Badal Rahi Hai Zindagi". Both the film and its songs went unnoticed. However, with “Naujawaan” (1951), he gained recognition. ‘S.D. Burman’ composed the music for “Naujawaan”. The film's lilting song, "Thandi Hawaayen”, became very popular. His first major success was Guru Dutt's directorial debut, “Baazi”(1951).‘S.D. Burman’ was the music director of this film. After the success of ‘Naujawaan’ and ‘Baazi’, the combination of ‘Sahir Ludhianvi’ and ‘S.D. Burman’ became hit and produced many more everlasting songs.

Besides ‘S.D. Burman’, Sahir worked with many other music composers, including ‘Ravi’, ‘Roshan’ and ‘Khayyam’, and has left behind many unforgettable songs for fans of the Indian film industry and its music. His successful partnership with S.D. Burman ended after ‘Pyaasa’ as S.D. Burman did not like Sahir receiving more admiration and credit from audiences for the success for the words of the lyrics than S.D. Burman for his memorable tunes. Later, Sahir Ludhianvi teamed up with composer ‘Dutta Naik’ in several films. Datta, was a great admirer of Sahir's revolutionary poetry. They had already worked together to produce the music for ‘Milaap’ (1955). Sahir wrote many unforgettable lyrics for Datta.

In 1958, Sahir wrote the lyrics for Ramesh Saigal's film ‘Phir Subah Hogi’. The male lead was Raj Kapoor ‘Khayyam’ was chosen as the music composer for the film. The song "Woh Subah Kabhi Toh Aayegi" with minimal background music remains an all-time hit. ‘Khayyam’ went on to work with Sahir in many films including ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ and ‘Trishul’. Sahir also wrote songs for "Laila Majnoon" and "Daagh"

Sahir's final works were released for the Hindi film ‘Lakshmi’ (1982). He will always be remembered along with ‘Kaifi Azmi’ as the poet who brought Urdu literature to Indian motion pictures. Over twenty-five years after Sahir Ludhianvi's death, his poetry and lyrics remain an inspiration for lyricists of the day. As singer ‘Mahendra Kapoor’ said in an interview, "I don't think a writer like Sahir Ludhianvi will be born again."

Last days
Sahir Ludhianvi, suffered a massive heart attack On 25 October 1980, at the age of 59, and died. He was buried at the Juhu Muslim cemetery. His tomb was demolished in 2010 to make space for new bodies.


After the Partition of India, when in Pakistan Sahir was unhappy without the company of his Hindu and Sikh friends who had all fled to India. Sahir preferred a secular India than Islamic Pakistan.

Sahir Ludhianvi was known to be very egotistic, perhaps as a result of his zamindar background. He fought for, and became the first songwriter, to get royalties from music companies. Sahir insisted on writing the songs before the song was composed which was against the prevailing norms of Bollywood. However, some of his songs were written after the tunes were ready, for example, “Naya Daur”,composed by O.P. Nayyar. At the height of his popularity, Sahir is known to have demanded a rupee more than what was paid to Lata Mangeshkar for singing it. It was on Sahir's insistence that ‘All India Radio’ started crediting lyricists along with singers and music composers for songs it aired.

Sahir Ludhianvi was slightly different from his contemporaries. A poet not limited to traditional praise of ‘Khuda’, ‘Husn’ or ‘Jaam’ but pouring out bitter but sensitive lyrics over the declining values of society, the senselessness of war and politics, and the domination of materialism over love. Whenever he wrote any love songs, they were tinged with sorrow, due to realization that there were other, starker concepts more important than love. Close to his heart were the farmer crushed by debt, the soldier gone to fight someone else's war, the woman forced to sell her body, the youth frustrated by unemployment, the family living on the street and other victims of society. His lyric from “Payasa”, “Yeh Kooche …..Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par Wo Kahaan Hain” moved even Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime minister of India that time.

Sahir Ludhianvi's poetry has similarity to Faiz. Like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, he too gave Urdu poetry an intellectual element that caught the imagination of the youth of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Sahir would pick on the self-appointed custodian of religion, the self-serving politician, the exploitative capitalist, and the war-mongering super-powers.

Sahir's poetry reflected the mood of the age. Whether it was the arrest of progressive writers in Pakistan, the launch of the satellite ‘Sputnik’ or the discovery of ‘Ghalib’ by a government, Sahir reacted with a verve not seen in many writers' work. “Qahat-e-Bangal” (The Famine of Bengal), written by a 25-year-old Sahir, speaks of his maturity in young age. His “Subah-e-Navroz” (Dawn of a New Day) mocks the concept of celebration when the poor exist in squalor.

Perhaps Sahir is the first renowned Urdu poet, who could express his view towards “The Tajmahal” in a complete different way. The poet asks his lover to meet him anywhere else but “Tajmahal”. Taj is a tomb which has been a symbol of luxurious monarchy for years, there is no need to make journey of love by two beautiful but not famous hearts there.

Personal life

His most famous love affair was with Amrita Pritam, who had become his most ardent fan. She has openly acknowledged her love for Sahir in interviews and her books. Some say that his relationship with Amrita Pritam was so passionate that at one time, while attending a press conference, Amrita wrote his name hundreds of times on a sheet of paper. The two of them would meet without saying a word and Sahir would puff away with his cigarettes, and after he left, Amrita would smoke the cigarette butts left by him.

Apart from Amrita, another serious love affair of Sahir was with singer/actress ‘Sudha Malhotra’ but he never accepted any of them as his life partner. He remained a bachelor all his life.

Published collection of Urdu poetry

“Talkhiyan” (Bitterness)

Famous works

English Translations Of Sahir's Poetry -

Shadows Speak tr. by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas English text only.

The Bitter Harvest tr. by Rifat Hassan, Urdu & English texts.

Sorcery/ (Sahir) tr. by Sain Sucha, Urdu & English texts

Gaata jaye Banjara - A Collection of film lyrics


“Filmfare Best Lyricist Award”: Jo Wada Kiya ( Taj Mahal) - 1964:

“Filmfare Best Lyricist Award”: Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein (Kabhi Kabhi) - 1977:


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