‘Jis ehad mein lutt jaye faqeeron ki kamayi, Uss daur ke Sultan se kuch bhool hui hai.’ In an era where beggars are robbed of their belongings, The ruler of that era must have made some mistake.
These were the words scribbled by Saghar on the foil paper of a cigarette pack and sent to President Ayub when he had desired to meet Saghar. The story of Saghar Siddiqui is a tragedy that is a mirror for this country. He was born in Ambala in the year 1928 with the name Muhammad Akhtar into a middle-class family. In his early years, he was tutored by a family friend whom he later grew very fond of because of their keen interest in poetry and literature.
At a very tender age, he had started writing poetry. To earn better, he moved to Amritsar Punjab, and started doing odd jobs like working at paan shops. He used to make wooden combs and write poetry. By the age of 15, he had frequently started attending mushairas (literary gatherings). It was during such a fateful evening in 1944 when he got the chance to attend a mushaira as a poet that the crowd recognized this young talent for the first time and could not stop themselves from clapping and bowing in front of him out of respect. Later, he became the beating heart of all the mushairas held around Punjab.
When the Partition took place, he was 19 and had to migrate like millions of others leaving behind his past life. He refused to take over the properties left behind by Hindus and Sikhs when the government offered and started spending his days living in shabby hotel rooms. Within a few years of the emergence of Pakistan as a new nation, he could already see corrupt government officials sucking the life out of it like leeches and he lost all hope. He was at the peak of his career as a poet when he surrendered to the solitude which lived inside him and the ruination everywhere around him and became a drug addict.
When even cheap whiskey didn’t seem enough, he discovered morphine to numb his mind and heart with. Hardly making ends meet, he started selling his poetry to magazines. It was reported by many poets that on some nights their doorbell would ring, and they would see him lying in front of their houses begging for money to buy drugs and they would give him money in return for his poetry. The reflection of this dark phase of his life and what instigated it can be seen in many of his ghazals. For instance, in one of his poems, he wrote:
Mein talkhi-e-hayat se ghabra ke pi gaya, gham ki syaah raat se ghabra ke pi gaya. I drank scared by the crudeness of life; I drank scared by the dark night of sorrow.
In a poem of his, he appears to be writing about downfall and ruins in the following words:
Kal jinhein choo nahin sakti thi farishton ki nazar, aaj wo ronak-e-bazaar nazar aatey hain. Yesterday, those whom even the gaze of angels couldn’t fall upon, Today they seem to appear as the entertainment of the town
Eventually, his financial situation deteriorated so much that he was forced to come out on the streets of Lahore. Every now and then he would be spotted on a street corner in Anarkali or a Mazar in the deadly cold and foggy winter nights, sitting huddled up in a shawl along with a stray dog that he had befriended, with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth staring into nothingness. A fan of his once reported:
“One night I was out on the road in my car on a cold night when the radio started playing a song the lyrics of which were written by Saghar. I was lost in the music when suddenly I spotted a thin figure sitting on the road with long hair. It was Saghar.”
He used to write poetic verses on cigarette packs and would later burn them and see them turn into ashes while trying to keep himself warm. Sometimes the Mazars on which he used to beg, he would be seen reciting his poetry to other fellow beggers and bhangis. His loneliness and sadness started becoming bigger and bigger with each passing day, following him like a shadow everywhere until one night it swallowed him up whole and he was found dead on a street corner in July 1974.
It was reported that for one whole year, his pet dog kept sitting in the same spot where he died and eventually it died there too. He was buried at Miani Sahib graveyard in Lahore. His grave is marked with a commemorative shrine which was built later. The world abandoned Saghar and Saghar abandoned life. Although, his poetry is available online but much of it was lost on unknown streets and stumbled upon by many feet. We as a nation failed him the least, we can do now is to not forget him and keep him alive through his words.