Having joined atish Chander Dhawan Government College after his matriculation in 1936, Sahir Ludhianvi soon emerged as one of the prominent voices of student dissent. While in college, Ludhianvi channeled his inspirations of Faiz, Josh Malihabadi and Majaz Lakhnawi into his poetry. It crystallised to emerge as one of the prominent voices of a new progressive generation. It was also during this time that he started penning down the ghazals and verses that would form the crux of his first published work, Talkhiyaan (Bitterness) in 1944.
As the poet describes in his debut publication,
'Gaaye hain is fazaa mein wafaaon ke raag bhi
Naghmaat e aatishi se bakheri hai aag bhi
(We have sung songs of love and fidelity in these gardens
And fanned flames through fiery verses as well.)
This verse was composed on the occasion of an alumni meet in 1970, honouring Ludhianvi. However, Ludhianvi's connection to his college was not always pleasant, after all he was expelled.
This incident took place in the late 1930s. It was a time when Ludhianvi had come in contact with the All India Students Federation (AISF). His interest in communism was on the rise. A voracious reader of Urdu, the words of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Iqbal and Majaz had already found a vessel in him. Prakash Pandit, publisher and one of Sahir's closest friends writes in his introduction: 'As a poet, Sahir came of age after Iqbal and Josh, Firaq, Faiz and Majaz reigned. It is evident that any new poet could not have remained impervious to the influence of his towering contemporaries. Consequently, Sahir came under the influence of Faiz and Majaz. In fact, so much so, in his early poetry, Sahir was suspected of echoing Faiz.'
Like Faiz, Ludhianvi too was charmed and was found charming, by women. After his first love Mahinder Kaur succumbed to tuberculosis, Ludhianvi fell in love again with Ishar Kaur. As members of the student union, the poet and his muse would often find themselves sharing ideas and dreams. The tempestuous affair between the Muslim lad and the young Sikh girl did not go down well with the authorities, or the family. It came to the point of Ludhianvi having to break up with the young girl. Her despondent face led him to compose one of his most famous nazms (poems), 'Kisi ko udaas dekhkar.'
The poem is an example of Ludhianvi's maturation as a romantic revolutionary in the model of Faiz and Firaq. His balance of emotion, verse and fiery idealism comes across as his finest strength. However, the poet could not stay away from his muse and was expelled after the authorities caught them together once more.
However, many believe that the affair was only an excuse. As a firebrand orator, Ludhianvi had often irked British authorities of the college repeatedly. In Sahir: The People's Poet, Akshay Manwani quotes Ajaib Chitrakar, a colleague of Ludhianvi, saying that the poet was never published in the college newsletter. His poems were too radical for the authorities. In one of his poems, Ludhianvi writes,
Bhadka rahe hain aag lab-e-nagmagaar se hum
Khamosh kya rahenge zmaane ke dar se hum
(We are fanning fires with our verses
We shall not fear the wrath of the world)
Author Manwani suggests in an article that Ludhianvi could have been expelled for attending a political rally to commemorate the martyrdom of Kartar Singh Sarabha, the leading face of the Ghadar conspiracy to overthrow the British rule. The poet was more than capable of it. Though he was never accused of sedition, the poet never stopped himself from criticising the government.
In an age when universities across the country are fighting simmering battles on ideological grounds. Students suddenly find themselves facing similar accusations as the poet of Pyaasa — going against culture and tradition. It is no surprise then that Ludhianvi's verses continue to find an echo. Like the ghosts of Christmas past, both Ludhianvi and Faiz continue to loom large. Whether it is his open criticism of the upholders of virtue and religion in 'Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Par' or him putting down men in 'Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne use bazaar diya', Ludhianvi's rebellion continues to find relevance.
In 1970, Ludhianvi returned to his alma mater for the opening of the auditorium named after him. At the venue, he recited his poem 'Nazr-e-College'. A poignant, memorable poem, it combines Ludhianvi's nostalgia with pain, anger and a sly sarcasm. Even as he pays tribute to his teachers, the poet signs off by saying ,
Lekin hum in fazaaon ke paale hue to hain
Gar yaan nahi to yaan se nikaale hue to hain
(But we are products of this environment
Though we do not belong here, at least we were removed from here)