June 18, 2021
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Blank Paper

It was the 25th death anniversary of Sahir Ludhianvi on October 25. This is what Amrita Pritam wrote on his death in 1980.

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Blank Paper

On the night between October 25 and 26, around 2 AM, when I learnt on the phone that Sahir was no more, the night mingled with the night exactly 20 years back. I was in Bulgaria then and the doctors had warned me of possible heart-attacks. Then, that night, 20 years back, I had written the poem that went, "aj aapne dil dariyaa de vitch maiN aapne phul parvaahe [today I offered my own ashes to the ocean of my heart]'. I looked at my hands. With those hands I had offered my own bones to the ocean of my heart, then how had the bones changed? Did death make a mistake or did these hands?

Along with that came memories of the time when the first Asian Writers Conference had taken place in Delhi. Poets and writers were given name-tags which they had affixed on the lapels of their jackets. Sahir had taken off his tag and put it on my jacket; he had taken my nametag and put it on his. Someone noticed it and said that we had put on the wrong nametags. Sahir had laughed and said someone must have made a mistake. We neither fixed the 'mistake' nor did we wish to. Now, years later, when I heard the news at 2 o'clock at night that Sahir was no more, it seemed as if death had made its decision on the basis of that nametag - it had my name, but was affixed on Sahir's jacket.

My friendship with Sahir had never had to employ words. It was a wonderful relationship of silences. When I was awarded the Akadami award for the verses I had written for Sahir, the press-reporter had wished that I pose as if I were writing something on paper. When the press people went away after clicking the photographs, I saw that I had only written one word again and again: Sahir, Sahir, Sahir...

After this madness, I was apprehensive that the morning paper would have my picture and the name on the paper would be clearly visible. What would happen then? But nothing happened. The photograph was published, but that paper seemed blank.

It is a different matter altogether that later I wished to God that the paper which seemed blank were not so...

The dignity of that blank paper is still the same. The story of my love is recorded in Rasidi Ticket. Sahir read it, but despite that, in none of our subsequent meetings, did he or I ever mention it again.

I remember, in a mushaira people were taking his autographs. Everyone had gone, and I alone was left with him, so I laughingly opened my palm out to him, like a blank paper. And he had signed his name on my palm and said it was a blank cheque that he was signing - I could fill in any amount and cash it whenever I felt like it. Although that paper was a palm made of flesh, but it too had the fate of a blank paper, so no letters could be written on it...

Even today, I have no letters, no words. Whatever is there is Rasidi Ticket, and today this as well, is the story of this blank paper..

The beginning of this story was silent, and the end too, all through the age, has remained silent. Forty years back, when Sahir used to visit me in Lahore, he would come and quietly smoke cigarettes. When the ashtray was filled to the brim with cigarette-stubs, he would go away. After he had gone, I would light and smoke those cigarettes alone. The smoke from me and his cigarettes would mingle in the air, the breaths too mingled in the air, and words from poems as well, in the air...

I think the air can travel any distance. Even earlier, it used to cover the distance between cities, now it would certainly cover the distance between this and the other world.

(From a later edition of Rasidi Ticket, titled 'Kora Kagaz' - 'Blank Paper - dated November 2, 1980, hurriedly translated by Sundeep Dougal)

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