In a class of his own – Gulzar

Throughout his career nobody has accused Gulzar of profligacy. However, four books have been published by the master poet-lyricist in a little over four months. Par for course in a world of relentless overstatements, one would say. But more than a pleasant oddity for Gulzar, a man who weaves words with as much skill and patience as a weaver strings together a piece of cloth. Remember, he is the one who penned Girahein or “Weaver”! “A book a month. That is not how I had planned it,” Gulzar says as he talks of Selected Poems, his work translated by Pavan K. Varma and published by Penguin recently.

Stranger things have seldom happened in Bollywood: Amitabh Bachchan has played second fiddle to Navin Nishchol, for instance. “I don’t know how I happened to get so many books through. You cannot do it with effort or planning,” insists Gulzar, self-effacing in his modesty.

Hallmark humility

It is the same humility that has stood him in good stead in the film industry where he is the link between the generations of Sahir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi to the present Prasoon Joshis and Piyush Mishras. “My poetry is a part of my sensibility. You cannot plan or compartmentalise life. It is instinctive. Just be yourself. That is the easiest way but also the most difficult. There are so many pressures, demands, lehaz karna padhta hai. But if one is honest to oneself, there is always a way out. If you are yourself, nobody can say you are wrong.”

He continues, “I don’t know so much of life that I can advise. Many times you have to think inside you, you feel comfortable.” It was a feeling he had when he said yes to Bimal Roy’s proposal to him for writing lyrics. “I felt like saying yes, when I said yes. Similarly I wanted to be in literature.”

He is into literature all right. He has not made a film for long: his last foray, “Hu Tu Tu” was a disaster at the box office due to a combination of factors that rankled the sensitive Gulzar. And then, of course, he had to take time out for his own writing too.

“The failure of Hu Tu Tu did not stop me from writing what I wanted. And how would I give you all these books if I were to make films all the time? The reason I have been away from films is I like to write, particularly for children. I have done a few musical ballets, like ‘Agar Magar’, ‘The Man Who Says No’. If I were to make films when will I do all this? The days still consists only of 24 hours. Poetry remains my shelter. I can hide inside it. It remains my own expression. And when I had a guy like Pavan Varma who has translated my latest book, it thrilled me because he has caught the fibre correctly. He narrated my own poems to me. He has that spontaneity. We did not plan to sit down and discuss every poem. He worked out on his own. At times, he even improved my poems.” (This is a great lesson not only for budding translators, but for the experienced ones too!)

Talk of Selected Poems and Gulzar feels better. “Pavan has done a really fine job with poems ‘Fuel’, ‘’Jab Hum Chhote Thhe’. He has seen that life, lived that life, the kind of things I talk of…the soil of the land, the chulha, the koela, the raakh, the dhuaan. He has projected it so well. Also in ‘Dastak’, he has done everything naturally. All the poems carry the fragrance of our culture.”

But don’t things come easy at a time of life when accolades and awards find a lasting place on a man’s shelf? After all, Gulzar has won awards even for “Beedi jalai le”.

Beedi jalani padh gai. But even there, I was able to communicate to people and revive the usage of some words the youngsters had forgotten or never heard of. Words like lihaf, ghilaaf. Then I wrote lyrics like “aanchal dhoop ko pakde”. I know this medium and never do anything for the sake of doing it. However, it is the imagery I worked out in “No Smoking” that cannot be easily done by anybody. It was an abstract kind of film. There are some expressions I use which people don’t understand any more. But I still use them. Words like raan, (thigh) find space in my works.”

Isn’t he in danger of becoming a relic in a changing world?

Reflecting the times

“No, I have learnt to adapt. Change is always for the better. Our poetry has to depict the reality of our times. No poet uses words like radio, car or telephone today. But poetry has to reflect the changing life. Unfortunately, we still long for gav-takia. Our attitude to poetry is limited. There is a bit of two-facedness when it comes to Urdu poetry today. You can accept changes in English but not in Urdu poetry. I wonder why Urdu poets still use expressions like Phansi ka takht and shamsheer se sar qalam when these things are long dead in real life?”

So, how does it feel when every journalist or even compere introduces him as the man from Delhi’s Sabzi Mandi area, a guy called Sampooran Singh who worked as a car mechanic and became a celebrated poet as Gulzar?

“Now, you don’t bring up the Sampooran Singh bit. You know Majrooh as just Majrooh. Let me be. When I called myself Gulzar, my fellow poets said it seemed adhura, incomplete without a surname. Now, after all these years, it is complete. Just Gulzar. I always wanted to be just Gulzar.” Indeed.

(Source: The Hindu)

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