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Twenty-sixth January by Sahir Ludhianvi

“Twenty-sixth January” was originally published in Urdu as ‘Chhabbees Janwary’. Abdul Haye, popularly known as Sahir Ludhianvi, wrote this piece in reaction to the deplorable condition of his countrymen after the coveted tryst with independence. Ludhianvi takes a unique stance in this ghazal. He not only holds the leaders responsible for the country’s deteriorating fate, but he also holds a mirror of self-realization up to all the Indians. It is a moment of reckoning, a time to rethink the past, their dreams, and most importantly their role in the mutual destruction of lives. Until they realize their own faults, the nation, undoubtedly, cannot have a tryst with betterment.

  • Read the full text of “Twenty-sixth January” here along with the analysis.
Analysis of Twenty-sixth January by Sahir Ludhianvi


In “Twenty-sixth January”, Ludhianvi poses a series of questions to his countrymen. His inclusive verse welcomes everyone to ask these questions in order to realize their faults. Until one realizes one’s, conscious or unconscious faults, the door of betterment never opens. He asks about the dreams and their realization. The leaders of India have to answer regarding why there is a stark difference between the poor and rich.

Furthermore, the poet asks what happened with those who devoted their lives for the sake of independence. In this hapless nation, the helpless cannot even cover their nakedness. By seeing the deplorable condition of the poor, unfed millions, Ludhianvi thinks about the titles Indians conferred upon them boisterously. Do these titles really have any significance where most part of the populace cannot even fulfill the most basic necessities?

Wherever Ludhianvi’s weary eyes focus, he finds blood. It seems the brutal and barbaric acts are never going to end. Amidst this situation, Ludhianvi wanders aimlessly, unlike the romantic clouds in Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”, in the “wilderness of gloom”. At last, the poet says he is not the only sinner. The hands of leaders are also hued red.

Structure & Form

Ludhianvi’s “Twenty-sixth January” is a ghazal, a type of ode. It consists of ten couplets. There is no specific rhyme scheme or meter in the text. Hence, it is a free-verse lyric that is written from the first-person point of view. The speaker of this piece is none other than Ludhianvi himself who speaks from a collective perspective. In this poem, each couplet presents a series of rhetorical questions except the last one. Here, the poet makes a forceful, ironic statement. This poem closely resembles the form of a dramatic monologue. Here, the audience is the silent listener and the poet proves their hearts by using back-to-back interrogations.

Poetic Devices

Ludhianvi makes use of the following poetic devices in his ghazal “Twenty-sixth January”.

  • Rhetorical Question: This poem consists of a chain of rhetorical questions that Ludhianvi asks every Indian.
  • Metaphor: In the “street of the gallows”, the poet metaphorically compares the streets that led several protestors of the freedom struggle to the deadly gallows. Furthermore, readers can find metaphors in “blood of martyrs”, “malady of religion”, “field of flames”, etc.
  • Irony: The poet uses situational irony throughout the text. He hints at past dreams and contrasts them with reality. The use of understatement can be found in “Cherisher of democracy, friend of humanity, wisher of peace/ What happened to all those titles we had conferred upon ourselves?”
  • Apostrophe: The poem begins with an apostrophe. Here, Ludhianvi addresses readers. In the last couplet, he directly addresses the “leaders of the nation”.
  • Polysyndeton: It occurs in “What happened to those friends and comrades and fellow travellers?”
  • Metonymy: The phrase “silks and brocades” is a metonym for prosperity.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “field of flames”, “precious prescriptions”, etc.

Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-4

Come, let us ponder on this question

What happened to all those beautiful dreams we had dreamt?

When wealth increased why did poverty also increase in the country?

What happened to the means of increasing the prosperity of the people?

The poem “Twenty-sixth January” begins with a direct address to readers. Through this piece, Ludhianvi welcomes Indians to participate in this self-interrogation in order to accept their faults first.

He tells his fellow countrymen to “ponder” on the questions he is going to present here. The first question bolts like an arrow and shoots for the hearts of Indians. They dreamed of a better nation, a country where peace, mutual understanding, and communal harmony flourished. Those “beautiful dreams” had turned into nightmares after horrendous events like the partition and communal riots.

In the second couplet, he broods much upon the history of partition. Rather he returns to the question of economic disparity. He asks why there is a huge income difference between the rich and poor. Have the Nehruvian ideals of a socialist nation gone astray?

He points at the rising capitalism in the country. The idea of a welfare state faded beyond imagination. Only the rich minority of the country was becoming prosperous.

Lines 5-8

Those who walked beside us on the street of the gallows

What happened to those friends and comrades and fellow travellers?

What is the price being set for the blood of martyrs?

What happened to the punishable ones for whom we were ready to lay down our lives?

In the third couplet, the poet remembers the days of freedom struggle. At that time, people irrespective of their age came out on the streets in reverence of the high Gandhian ideals. He asks what happened to those who selflessly gave their lives for the country. After independence, their lives became more deplorable than ever. No leaders recognized their contribution or even cared to listen to their plea.

In the next couplet, Ludhianvi inquires about the “price” or physical value set for the “blood of martyrs”. Through this line, he ironically comments on sectarianism. The party in power favored those who were from their party more than their counterparts. After getting to power, they even let the punishable ones loose. Ludhianvi says that they would have sacrificed their lives in order to save their country from the hands of those culprits. In this way, he hints at the corruption in Indian politics.

Lines 9-12

The helpless cannot even afford a shroud to cover their nakedness

What happened to those promises of silks and brocades?

Cherisher of democracy, friend of humanity, wisher of peace

What happened to all those titles we had conferred upon ourselves?

In the fifth couplet, Ludhianvi taps on the issue of poverty in India. After independence, there was no sign of improvement in the poor people’s lives. They were stuck in the heinous cycle of suffering. According to the poet, they didn’t even have a cloth to hide their made bodies. This line can also be treated as a pun. The poet might be insinuating the mental “nakedness” of leaders. They were like the “Naked King” of the popular folktale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

The poet asks them of the promises they made to emancipate Indians from poverty. He uses the symbols of “silks” and “brocades” to signify the chimeric nature of their promises.

Furthermore, the poet alludes to a number of titles such as “Cherisher of democracy”, “friend of humanity”, and “wisher of peace”. India was conferred with those titles in the past. However, the rash events after independence made Indians come out of their dream.

After independence, democracy gradually crumbled down inwardly. The high ideals of humanity were stained with blood. While “peace” kept herself aloof from the chaos happening across the country.

Lines 13-16

Why is the malady of religion still without a cure?

What happened to those rare and precious prescriptions?

Every street is a field of flames, every city a slaughterhouse

What happened to the principles of the oneness of life?

Ludhianvi refers to the long-lasting communal violence originating from the colonial era. He compares it with a “malady” or disease that is still without a cure. At first, it was a tiny scar and gradually it turned out to be incurable inflammation. The poet asks what happened to the dream of “unity in diversity”. He is of the view that those “rare” and “precious” prescriptions to cure this ailment had failed.

In the following line, he metaphorically compares every “street” to “field of flames” and each “city” to a “slaughterhouse”. Through the metaphor of “field of flames”, the idea of people running with torches to burn their others or their belongings is portrayed. The term “slaughterhouse” refers to how people killed each other in the name of religion. In this way, Ludianvi describes how Indians forgot the principles of “oneness of life”, a metaphorical reference to brotherhood and equality.

Lines 17-20

Life wanders aimlessly in the wilderness of gloom

What happened to the moons that had risen on the horizon?

If I am the culprit, you are no less a sinner

O leaders of the nation you are guilty too

India had realized its dream of a free nation. But, it failed to notice the underlying inhumanity in people’s hearts. For this reason, the country has turned into a “wilderness of gloom”. The poetic persona cannot find a ray of hope here. People are running aimlessly in this jungle of brutality. There was no moon of hope that had risen in the sky of India. Here, the poet symbolically portrays “moon” as a representation of hope and fulfillment of one’s dreams.

In the final lines, Ludhianvi says that he can be held responsible for the deteriorating fate of his country. But, the leaders of the nation are no less a sinner. They are guilty too as they forgot the promises they made to people. According to the poet, until each Indian realizes their guilt, the country is never going to come out of the “wilderness of gloom”.

Historical Background

The poem “Twenty-sixth January” was translated from the Urdu ghazal ‘Chhabbees Janwary’ by Sahir Ludhianvi. It was first published in Aao Ke Koi Khwaab Buney in 1971. The poem is written long after India’s independence. In this poem, Ludhianvi looks back at the past happenings starting from 1947. He evaluates the condition of his countrymen and makes them realize their faults. By posing a series of questions, he tries to convey how people thought in the 1970s. Their minds were filled with pessimism and questions only, nothing else.

This poem was translated by Rakhshanda Jalil, a modern Indian writer, critic, and literary historian from Delhi. It was published in Looking Back: The 1947 Partition of India, 70 Years On in 2019.


Why is the poem titled “Twenty-sixth January”?

On 26th January 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect. From then onwards, this date is marked as the Republic Day of India. It is a celebration of the determining event of India’s history concerning the transfer of power from the colonial government to the people of India. Through the title, Ludhianvi alludes to this event in order to evaluate how things turned out after the transfer of power.

Why does Ludhianvi suggest readers ponder on his questions?

In “Twenty-sixth January”, Ludhianvi poses a series of questions to every Indian. They have to think upon these questions to recognize and accept their faults.

What type of poem is “Twenty-sixth January”?

It is a free-verse lyric poem consisting of ten couplets. The main Urdu text is an ode (ghazal) to the people of India.

What is the theme of this poem?

This poem taps on the themes of disillusionment, perception vs reality, inequality, corruption, and horrors of communal violence and the partition.

What is the tone of the poem?

The tone of this piece is interrogative, angry, sad, and ironic.

External Resources

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