Peace in Sahir Ludhianvi and Stephen Gill By Prabhat Kumar ‘Sarwar Lakhnavi’


Sahir Ludhianvi, and Stephen Gill, born in Panjab, shared the same language and culture, though they were born in different parts and in the families of different religious backgrounds. Sahir was born in Ludhiana that is still in India. Stephen Gill was born in Sialkot that is now a part of Pakistan, where he passed his early days and grew in India.
Sahir authored several collections of poems in Urdu. On the other hand, Stephen Gill writes usually in English and poetry also in Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi languages. Jazeera is his major and only collection of poems which is also in Hindi. He has authored novels, literary criticism and books of historical nature as well.
Sahir, meaning magician, wrote more than 200 lyrics for the Indian film industry. His real name was Abdul Hayee. He gained instant popularity in the subcontinent of India and Pakistan with his first collection of poems Talkhiyan. These poems, as in his subsequent poetry, there is emotional suffering that could be because of his consistent failures in love affairs. His first love affair with Amrita Pritam, who became a legend in Panjabi poetry, failed. His second love affair with Sudha Malhotra, a journalist, also failed. These failures could be the reason for his remaining unmarried. His emotional suffering may also be because of his unhappy relations with his father, who threatened to kill Sahir when he was a child. The mother of Sahir Ludhianvi was his emotional shelter.
Straight forward poetry of Sahir is notable also for intensity and the simple use of words. He has set new standards in poetry. Here are few lines in support of this view:

a-.Jane wo kaise log the jinke pyar ko pyar mila

Humne to jab kaliyan mangin kanto ka har mila.

(Who were those persons who received love for their love
When I asked for the buds, I received the garland of thorns.)
b-Aap aye to khalyale dil-e-nashad aya

Kitney bhulay huaye zakhmo ka pata yaad aya.

(When you came, the thought of happiness came

the address of many forgotten wounds I remember.

c-Ashkon se jo paya hai wo gitoon mein diya hai

Ispar bhi suna hai ke zamane ko gila hai.

(What ever, I got from tears I return in my songs

Even then, I hear the complaints of the world.)

Stephen Gill also shares the same feature of simplicity and intensity, however, without being romantic. These lines are from his book Jazeera:

Jehan nzren piyar ki hen /Mubarak wo kernen / Amn ki jhelen hen (page 75)

Where there are eyes of love / blessed be those rays / they are lakes of peace.


Nghmon ken ngene ho / ngeena ek mujhe de do / sangeet ke jherne ho/

jhernon ki jhlk de do / ankhon ka nsha de do

You are/ a diamond of melodies / give me one melody / you are the fount of songs /

Let me peep into the fount/ give me the intoxication of your eyes.

Sahir is an angry poet-- a poet of social protests. His concerns of injustice are largely rooted in his father’s treatment, and also the treatment of the fathers of his beloveds who refused to give consent to their daughters to marry a Muslim. As a poet of social protest, he became a representative of the concerns of the people. The following two lines make it clear:

Tu Hindu benega na Musalman banega

Insaan ki aulad hai insaan banega

Your will become neither a Muslim nor a Hindu

You are born of a human and shall remain a human


Along the same lines, Stephen Gill says in Jazeera:

Mera mazahab/ men ne chuna nahi/ Phir bhi mera pyar hai/

sab aqidon se/ na zban men ne chuni /phr bhi mera piyar he /

sb zbanon se / culture ek tar ke saz hen / (page 65 Jazeera)

My religion / was not my choice; yet I love all creeds..

I did not choose my tongue either;

yet I respect all breeds. ( page 93, Songs Before Shrine)

In Shrine on page sixty-three, Stephen Gill denounces religious fanaticism as “A leper / caressing humanity / under false pretences; / volcano / when it bursts.”

However the feature that Stephen Gill and Sahir share the most is their condemnation of war. This comes out in Sahir’s long poem Parchayian. Here are some lines that have been translated freely:

For long politics has been for the child to flower into youth to be slaughtered
in far- off lands

even now humans are silent
though there is a danger for the world to cease to exist
because of the use of the atomic bombs.
There shall not even the skies.

In former wars

only homes were destroyed
but this time even our solitudes shall no more be there.
In former wars
only bodies were destroyed
but now even the shadows will disappear forever.

The poetry of Stephen Gill is almost entirely about global peace and against war and blood shed. In his collection Jazeera, his poems Bukhar (21), Mat Batao (22),Aman Kesey (23),Jang Kia He (24), Teesri Jang (25),Bad (26), Sewal (27),Jazeera (86) and several others condemn wars. Stephen Gill believes that nuclear bombs would annihilate the human civilization in minutes that took centuries to build up. On page 27 in Jazeera he puts questions:

If the nuclear bombs drop / Will the buds bloom again? / Will the birds chirp again?

Will the spring return again?

If the nuclear bombs drop /Will maidens be wedded again? / Will love`s moon arise again?

Will rains kiss the earth again?

If the nuclear bombs drop / Will the dawn be born again? / Will the players play again? /Will

the children swim again?

If the nuclear bombs drop / Will God save anyone? / Who will cry, who`ll console?

Will not all be lost? (Songs Before Shrine, p. 82).

On page 25 of Jazeera, Stephen Gill imagines a scene after the third world war. Below are the first two paragraphs that the poet himself has translated in Songs Before Shrine on page 81:

If another war breaks out / no one may survive / to watch / the white front of the moon /

that is often so fascinating / and to sit in pleasant warmth / of the sunshine /

or be captivated by the vastness / of an unmoving glossy ocean / under a starlit stilly night.

The clear blue skies will glow / through the mist and rains / seasons may come and go /

but no singer to glorify them / and also / the gleam from the moon / glancing off the ruffled lakes.

Terrorism and suicide bombings have changed the landscape of modern wars. When Sahir was at the height of his writing and during his early life, international terrorism, particularly of religious nature, suicide bombing and problems connected with them were almost non-existent. Moreover, there were no emails and therefore there were no good and bad sides associated with them. Life was relatively peaceful. That is why there is no condemnation of terrorism in Sahir. On the other hand, Stephen Gill talks very strongly against terrorism. Below are first two paragraphs from a poem on page 154 of Shrine:

Why / terrorists profess / their targets are / not innocent / yet they engineer / sneaky devices /to awaken the dogs / of gloom.

Why / all that runs / opposite to their fabric / is unholy for their mind.

Why do they hold / their book in one hand / and the sword / in the other.

Why / hiding behind / the fungus of hate / they rape / the sanctity of life.

On page 47 of Jazeera, there is a poem, titled “Imarat,” that means building in English. The first paragraph is also to denounce terrorists:

Do not look inside / through its windows / painted with the pigment of poison. / Under its

ceiling / terrorists have raised / the beasts of their twisted creeds. / They are prisoners /

to their meaningless rituals / to become martyrs.

Stephen Gill draws his inspirations from his days in New Delhi where he saw much of the bloodshed during the partition of India. In his introduction to his collection Shrine and also Jazeera, he talks about those days. Those early experiences shaped his outlook, and made him a poet of peace. He says in his introduction to Shrine:

In 1947 shortly before and after the partition of India, the Hindus, Muslim and Sikhs got involved with killing each other. The Hindus and Sikhs were on one side and Muslims on the other. Human were killed in the midst of a crowd because they happened to look different because of their dress or shaving pattern. Someone would come close and stab someone else either in the back on the stomach right in the waves of people into which the stabber melted in no time. In several cases, the stabbers could be friends, neighbors or any one who knew the religion of the victims. Many made use of the lawlessness to settle old scores.

Such scenes act as seed in the mind of Stephen Gill to write for global peace with a mission. In poems after poems he deals with peace with the same zeal. He writes against terrorism, fundamentalism, war, peace and discriminations based on colors and religion. In introduction to Songs Before Shrine, he says:

To me every creation is beautiful. Poetry is beauty. The other forms of beauty are also poetic, including dance, painting, fiction and all that one can name. But there is no beauty in terrorism and the violation of human rights. There may be beauty to the perpetrators of those destructive activities. Such activities are the aberration of creativity and beauty. Violence is a disgusting aberration of beauty, and beauty is the music of creation. (28)

There are several poems in Urdu and English collections of Stephen Gill that appear to be romantic. A closer reading, particularly after reading introductions, it becomes clear that even such poems are connected with peace and social concerns. The approach appears to be romantic but the subject is the same. The poems that appear to be romantic are actually addressed to the goddess of peace. In the poetry of Stephen Gill social concern are present in remarkably noted manner. His main focus is peace and unity of human race. He believes that without this unity and harmony the world will destroy itself. He is much against terrorism. At the time of Sahir Ludhianvi, there was not much violence at global level. Obviously, the peace poetry of Stephen Gill is the global need of today.

In the poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi pains and frustration dominate. The elements of social reform reflect his anger against the evils of society. Failures in love made deep wounds on his life. The pains of these wounds did not let him do anything seriously. Sahir essentially is a romantic poet but not vulgar. Even those poems that are about war carry the color of romanticism. He is noted for his simplicity, directness, realities and intellectual elements. He never sacrificed his art to gain popularity as a lyricist.

In the poetry of Stephen Gill romantic elements is not that strong. If there is any personal sufferings, that is for lack of peace. His subdues his romantic elements unlike Sahir. Primarily, Sahir Ludhianvi is a poet of common human emotions. Social reforms are secondary to him. Stephen Gill is primarily a poet of social concerns and one of the greatest poets for global peace and unity. He condemns war and terrorism, the urgent requirement of the present world. Romance is secondary to Stephen Gill.

Considering peace as the common feature between both, Sahir Cultural Academy of Panjab, India, honored Stephen Gill. The citation of this honor states:

“Stephen Gill significantly symbolizes the struggle of a modern man against odds. Gifted with patience and sincerity, he is committed to world peace, better world order and universal love. “It is as poet that he has established his place. He shares with Sahir his dreams as expressed in the classic Parchhaiyan.”

Dr. Stephen Gill was honored by Sahir Cultural Academy in 1999 in Ludhiana. A year before that, 1991, Poetry in the Arts, Inc., from Texas, USA., honored him with Pegasus International Poetry for Peace Award. In a letter to Dr. Stephen Gill, its founding directors, Dr. Peggy Lynch and Colonel Edmund C. Lynch state:

“Your publications, such as The Dove of Peace, provide leadership for world harmony through love. Your sensitivity to man’s desire for a peaceful planet is a recurring theme in your poetry. Man’s humanity to man advances imperceptibly. But voices such as yours through the centuries plead for brotherhood. Often poetic appeal does cause man to pause even at times to step to hear and try to affect peace. Your consistent appeal is therefore recognized with this award.”

In addition, Stephen Gill has been honored with doctorates by three universities of three countries and other honors. However, these are not the honors that are important. This is the work based on sincerity that is important and Dr. Stephen Gill shows abundance of it in his writings, including his poetry and prose both.

Sahir was also recognized with prestigious awards, including Padma Shri, Soviet Nehru Award, Urdu Academy Award, and Maharashtra State Award.

The message of Stephen Gill is clearly peace that he conveys in simple words. However, Stephen Gill’s simplicity is deceptive because of the use of his strong and fresh imagery. His well of inspiration is not romance, but the bloodshed that he witnessed in New Delhi during the partition of India. Like Sahir, Stephen Gill also drank heavily to forget his past, but has come out of it. Sahir lived mostly in the subcontinent of India. On the other hand, Stephen Gill left India to seek an oasis of peace abroad.

Prabhat Kumar “Sarwar Lakhnavi” is a prominent poet of Hindi and Urdu, and a member of World Poets Society. He is author of khudaon ki duniya (the World of Gods.) Email:

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