Sahir Ludhianvi was born as Abdul Hayee, into a wealthy, zamindar family in Ludhiana, Punjab on March 8, 1921. His parents’ bad marriage culminating in an acrimonious divorce in 1934, resulted in a troubled childhood for Sahir. The bitter custody battle fought by her mother to keep him made Sahir very close to his mother. The divorce also meant the beginning of a life of poverty and struggle.
After being expelled from his college in 1943, Sahir moved to Lahore. It is here that he started writing and worked at several Urdu magazines. In 1949, his communist views and criticism of the Pakistani regime, led to the issue of an arrest warrant against him. Sahir fled to Delhi to escape the warrant and then to Bombay.
Sahir had an uneventful debut as a lyricist for the film “Aazadi Ki Raah Par in 1949. He had to wait till 1951 to get some recognition when he wrote the lyrics of “Thandi Hawayen” to S.D. Burman’s music for the film “Naujawan”. Sahir worked with S.D. Burman again that year for “Baazi”. His dismay at S.D. Burman’s usage of his ghazal “Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer” in a hip, sexy song, turned to trust and respect, when the song became a big hit. Thus began a long and successful partnership between the two. Unfortunately, an angry S.D. Burman ended this relationship in 1957, when Sahir attributed the huge success of “Pyaasa” more to his lyrics than to Burman’s music.
He may not have been as prolific has his contemporaries, but in the following years, he continued to write immensely memorable lyrics for music directors like Roshan (“Dil Hi To Hai”, 1963; “Taj Mahal”, 1964) and Ravi (“Aaj Aur Kal”, 1963; “Kaajal”, 1965). While the highlight for the 1960s may have been the Filmfare Best Lyricist Award he won for “Jo Wada Kiya” (“Taj Mahal”), the opportunity to work for the Navketan film “Hum Dono” must also have been special. It was perhaps more than just a coincidence that Sahir wrote for the one Navketan movie than had a music director other than S.D. Burman - Jaidev.
In the 1970s, he extended his impressive body of work with catchy but lyrically light songs like “Wada Karo Nahin Chodoge” (“Aa Gale Lag Ja”, 1973) and “Mere Dil Me Aaj Kya Hai” (“Daag”, 1973). In 1976, he returned to his former brilliance with “Kabhi Kabi” (“Kabhi Kabi”, 1976) for which he won his second Filmfare Best Lyricist Award. Although he continued to write till 1980, “Kabhi Kabhi” would remain his swan song.
By getting music labels to agree to pay him royalties, Sahir acquired a stature that no other lyricist had in the past. His personal life, however, remained unfulfilling. Despite his several love affairs, including a much publicized one with poetess, Amrita Pritam, he remained a bachelor.
Sahir Ludhianvi died of a heart attack on October 25, 1980. For someone who penned the line “Kyun Koi Mujh Ko Yaad Kare”, he left behind plenty of reasons for posterity to remember him.