A friend with a heart of gold

Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal

He was a darling from my student days. An easy going student, mostly with an unshaven look. He dressed in an untidy way. He appeared lovelorn, holding a crumpled notebook in hands and a pen or two in his pockets.
This young man from Poonch was a storehouse of quotable Urdu couplets that kept pouring from his smiling mouth. If he knew that the listener is well versed in the language, he would naturally give out more of the meaningful couplets. In any case, he damn cared even if the listener knew no Urdu !

Jammu Jottings

He had scores of anecdotes about his native Poonch that he narrated with much relish. These anecdotes were, in fact, very meaningful observations of a sensitive mind, made by him. I remember many such anecdotes that inform about the society of his dear Poonch, her people, their concerns and their aspirations.
Conclusively, these anecdotes were like parables that would always give invaluable insights into the minds of his compatriots.
Give him half a chance and he will start his discourse on the prevailing political conditions in the city, state, country and the world at large ! This man from Poonch slowly, but definitely, made roads into my heart. He was jovial, polite, firm and politically aware.
Writing was a passion with him. He had done schooling in Urdu medium schools and loved the language immensely. His knowledge of Urdu language and her nuances, idioms and proverbs was adorable. His spoken and written Urdu prose had the force and flow of the river Ganges.
Right from day one, he had taken a fancy towards me. He would always discuss with me whatever he planned to write. After writing anything, he would start searching for me. He would then read it aloud over a few cups of tea and piping hot samosas !!
He wrote an emphatic script and we named it “Saanp”” (The Snake). I felt this was the time he should go for a kill and enter the world of literature. I was writing regular columns for The Kashmir Times, an English daily. I also used to write in Hindi for some national level periodicals and could easily help him a publication in these two languages.
However, Urdu was a ball game and I had no clue how to make a foray into it. But, I had my anchor in the field of broadcasting. So, I said, why not introduce him to the world of the radio, which enjoyed far better reach than any of the television channels of today could claim.
I took him to RKJ and made him narrate it to the PEX ( Programme Executive) Veer Saxena. Veer was a well known Hindi poet and a very close friend to me. He too liked the script, which was duly broadcast from the RKJ, and with thIs very first broadcast, our friend became a force to reckon with !
Hereafter, in our home, he was invariably mentioned with reference to this script ! For example, I would announce to my mother,” Ma, Saanp is coming home today with me after studies, and he would stay for dinner ” ! Or, Ma may say, “Ask Saanp if he will prefer a sandwich with his tea ” !!
I had introduced him to broadcasting, so that he could earn some quick money, which he did with his abundant talent. And he never looked back ! Such was his literary merit and oratory skills.
He was a friend with great grit and determination. I could blindly trust him for his loyalty and commitment. Friends, this comrade of mine was known by the name of Sham Sunder Anand ‘ Lehar’, a Senior Advocate of Jammu & Kashmir High Court.
During our studentship, my regular forays into broadcasting and journalism made it possible to foot the bills for tea, snacks and lunches we would have together on almost daily basis. But, whenever he could afford, he would like to return friendly gestures made to him through offers of tea and snacks in a unique way.
If there were two of us, he would order ‘one by two’ cup of tea wherein the tea seller will divide one cup of tea into two cups and charge only for one. Now, if another friend happened to join before the tea is served, the same order was changed to ‘one by three’. An order for two egg omlette also met the same fate ! Such special treats were always paid by him with much relish !!
Years rolled by. I became a commissioned officer in the Indian Air Force and he a leading lawyer of Jammu & Kashmir.
During one of our visits to Jammu, he insisted Seema & I join him over drinks & dinner, at Jammu Motel, which we could never refuse. During the course of the evening, he was full of emotions and nostalgia.
Recalling his days of poverty, he narrated to Seema with relish how he had eaten cornflakes, and custard, for the first time in his life, at our home ! And he never forgot to mention the love with which my mother served him meals on innumerable occasions at our home, feeding him dishes he had never heard of.
And all this he narrated in the presence of the manager and the attending staff with no embarrassment, forgetting he was the legal advisor to this very five star establishment.
Even after making formidable amount of money as a leading and well reputed lawyer of Jammu, he remained a simple soul with no tantrums.
During another visit of ours, he insisted we join him for brunch at his home. Knowing our strong bonding with him, he also invited Jagan Nath Azad, the renowned Urdu litterateur based in Jammu. We still cherish that wonderful morning with Azad sahib narrating scores of interesting incidents from his illustrious career.
Sham Sunder Anand “Lehar” attained the coveted status of Senior Advocate at a comparatively young age. Like his debates in the the college, his arguments in the courts were always punctuated and laced with poetic expressions that included choicest couplets from Urdu literature.
Towards his last days in this mortal world, I used to get blank calls from his hand phone. Sometimes, he would just blabber a few words and that was it. For, example, once he said : mohtarim, main dilli high court mein hoon ( O hon’ble One, I am in the high court at Delhi), followed by unnerving silence. How would I know what was the matter ? Nobody ever informed me he was sick.
Felicitated by the Urdu academies of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana, and Bihar, Anand Lehar has authored 12 books that include novels, short stories and stage plays.
He has also written and produced two television serials, namely, ‘Agli Eid Se Pehle’ and ‘Taqseem’ for Kashir Channel of Doordarshan. Lehar’s writings have been translated into English, Hindi, Punjabi, Dogri and Kashmiri.
Anand Lehar was a leading lawyer, a poet, a writer, an orator, and over all, a very good human being. He had a heart of gold.
I write this homage with tears in my eyes, remembering the love of a dear friend who has left us in hurry.
I can still feel the warmth of his tight hugs with which he greeted me each day of our student days, affectionately addressing me as ‘Bhagwun’ and ‘Prabhu’ or ‘Mohtrim’.
Strangely, he never ever addressed me by my first name or surname ! Could you ever find a friend more devoted than Sham Sunder Anand ‘Lehar’ !!