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Javed Akhtar's debt to Sahir

Sahir Ludhianvi's enigmatic shadow looms large on the Hindi film industry, even after his passing. Friend, mentor, and often protector of young poets, Sahir was a soul remembered by people in many different ways. In his 'Half A Rupee Stories' collection, writer Gulzar paints a touching anecdote about the great poet and another young man, Javed Akhtar

Shriram Iyengar

When Guru Dutt was planning to make a film on a rebellious, cantankerous poet, there was only one man that he sought out as the archetype - Sahir Ludhianvi. Born in an aristocratic family in Ludhiana, Sahir nee Abdul Hayee was a poet of the people. His verses rang out with anger, pathos, and heartbreak that found resonance amongst youngsters across the country. But his contribution to literature did not end there. A poet who understood the terrors faced by young sensitive poets in a cruel world, he mentored many young men to find themselves in poetry. One of whom was Javed Akhtar.

Javed Akhtar shared a close relationship with Sahir Ludhianvi during his formative years. As a rebellious youngster, Javed Akhtar would spend many weeks at Sahir's apartments in Juhu. Maybe Sahir saw something of himself in the young Javed. The sight of a chafing young poet looking to step out of his father's shadow is something Sahir understood very well. It led him to support Javed Akhtar unconditionally and offer him moral and monetary support during some of the latter's toughest times. One of the many witnesses of this close bond between the elder and younger poet was Gulzar. The director-lyricist-poet be himself was one of Sahir Ludhianvi's big fans. A regular visitor to the informal poetry sessions that filled Sahir's apartments, Gulzar wrote down a touching story about two of his peers in his collection 'Half a Rupee Stories.'

The collection 'Half a Rupee Stories' contains several portraits of actors, directors and lyricists whom Gulzar knew personally through his long career in the industry. The veteran director-lyricist paints enchanting human portraits of artists and their lives behind the screen. In the story 'Sahir aur Jadu' (Sahir and Jadu), the writer talks about the debt Javed Akhtar owed Sahir Ludhianvi. Having borrowed a 100 Rs from the elder poet, Javed would often joke about never returning it. Sahir would join the boast by saying he would find a way to collect the money. Through the story, the reader is privileged to be given an insider look into the sweet and sour relationship between the mentor and the pupil. The final twist in the tale arrives with the death of Sahir Ludhianvi. Working through the funeral preparations in shock, Javed Akhtar realised he had forgotten to pay the taxi driver who had helped bring Sahir's body home. Lost in his own thoughts, the poet's grief awoke to the realisation that the amount to be paid is the same amount he owed Sahir Ludhianvi.

True to his style, Gulzar manages to capture the intricate and complex personality of two of the most popular poets of Hindi cinema. The story is a wonderful work that suggests both the allure of Sahir Ludhianvi and the lasting nature of his enigma.