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Updated: December 31, 2013 00:03 IST

Seeking the eternal in the ephemeral

Hari Narayan
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I SWALLOWED THE MOON — The Poetry of Gulzar: Saba Mahmood Bashir; HarperCollins Publishers, A-53, Sector 57, Noida-201301. Rs. 399.
I SWALLOWED THE MOON — The Poetry of Gulzar: Saba Mahmood Bashir; HarperCollins Publishers, A-53, Sector 57, Noida-201301. Rs. 399.

‘A primer to appreciate Gulzar’s poetry’ is how the book can be termed

Gulzar. A poet who makes the average poetry lover find depth in his own day-to-day drudgery. An auteur who handholds the reader in locating the profound in the mundane; the microcosm in the minutiae; the numinous in the nebulous. One who makes even a cynic have rendezvous with the romantic within.

I swallowed the Moon is but a baby step which acquaints the reader with Gulzar’s poetry, helping him discover that hidden romantic. A romantic who takes pleasure in savouring every moment, just like the poet himself has done in his illustrious life.

As Gulzar says in an interview toward the end of the book, “I am a greedy poet. I keep munching life all the time. Sweet, sour and bitter moments.” And he continues to munch, to the reader’s delight!

Having had the privilege of doing her doctoral research on Gulzar saab’s poetry, the writer Saba Mahmood Bashir chooses to introduce us to his oeuvre. ‘A primer to appreciate Gulzar’s poetry’ is how the reader is tempted to term the book.

It gives an outline of Gulzar’s experiments with poetry, the influences in his life that have made him carry out these experiments and the ways in which he has found expression to those experiments. It also talks about the blurring of lines between his film and non-film poetry and how he finds blank verse liberating, free as it is from the constraints of rhyme. And the best part of the book is where it speaks of the images and themes he has chosen to deal with in his career, and real life.

It has snippets from his work — most of them from his collections Pukhraj and Raat pashmine ki. As an epilogue, it has Bashir’s interview with the master and a painstakingly conjured up anthology of his poems and songs that make it a must-add to the Gulzar section of one’s bookshelf.

So, for starters, what makes Gulzar the poet he is? He has spoken about that in his previous interviews, including those given for In conversation with a poet by Nasreen Munni Kabir. That he writes to give expression to the suppressed energy within. That he conjures up imagery to share his awareness of the world he inhabits.

What he has not mentioned before is that, in the process, he also helps the reader find richness in his own world, helping an admirer discover the eternal even in the ephemeral.

And just like any other poet, Gulzar dreams. Speaking of dreaming, he gets it spot on when he says that it is very difficult to try running while dreaming. He challenges those difficulties by dreaming with eyes open.

These are topics that Bashir mentions in brief. The best part of her book comes when she talks of the imagery in his poems and tries to give them themes.

But is that easy?

As Vinod Khaitan said in umr se lambi sadkon par, another tribute to the legend released a few years ago, Gulzar’s poems don’t lend themselves to easy categorisation. Khaitan himself engaged in the arduous task of neatly arranging Gulzar’s songs, labelling them and placing in different baskets. To his dismay, he found the songs jumping from one basket to another.

That is because Gulzar is someone who creates dastaan (a narrative) with each lamha (moment). So how is it possible to comparmentalise his corpus?

Leitmotifs

One can surely try. In essence, there are some leitmotifs under which the songs, the poems would find themselves content to be categorised.

And Bashir touches on three of them - the Moon; water; and eyes.

The most notable of the three is the Moon. The myriad ways in which Gulzar’s poetry has given life to the celestial body are worthy of a separate book. He surely seems to have a ‘copyright on the Moon’ as he tells Bashir.

The Moon became Gulzar’s muse very early in his career. In his very first released song for Bandini, Gulzar indicted it for invading into the privacy of the lady protagonist. Later on, his very first released poetry collection was titled Ek boond chaand [a droplet of Moon].

The Moon, in his imagination, takes different moulds, different traits, and different parts of speech. In one situation, the Moon acts as a pillow under which dreams – to be traded – are hidden. In another, Moon becomes a bed.

In one, it is a bowl using which the impoverished night begs; in another, it becomes a shiny 50-paise coin. In one, the Moon is a boat on which travellers want to spend their time, traversing through a beautiful night’s journey; while in another, it is just another halting point in a long journey.

In one, a shaayar (poet) chews on the moonlight throughout the night, using it as a stimulant to his creativity. In another, Moon is a naughty but innocent kid who sustains injuries while playing with incorrigible, truant stars.

And the master seems to have copyright not only on the art but also the science of the Moon. As Bashir points out, Gulzar found the Moon wet (geela sa chand) in Libaas. This was a good two decades before man could spot the presence of water there!

In the Moon, in its warm, soothing light, Gulzar always finds some solace, enabling him to escape the dazzle of the Sun and stars.

Another of his favourites is the human eye. In his vision, the thin dividing lines between different human senses – those of smell, sight, hearing, touch, taste — get blurred. In one situation, he sees the fragrance of a protagonist’s eyes; in another, there is a confluence of seashores in her eyes; in one, eyes assume wings of their own; while in another, he can hear ‘eye-tapping’.

A well-known example here (which also gained him a lot of criticism) is the song from Khamoshi where the protagonist asserts that he has seen the fragrance of his lover’s eyes (humne dekhi hai un aankhon ki mahakti khushboo).

Speaking of themes, it is endearing to find Bashir giving importance to the vast corpus of children’s literature he has written. His childlike creativity tempts even the common adult to bring out the child in himself.

He has given creative inputs to karadi tales and written books like Bosky ka panchtantra . And of course, there are songs like lakdi ki kaathi and hum ko man ki shakti dena for films and jungle-jungle pata chala hai for serials. However, mention of less-known poems from books like yaar julahe adds greater value to the book. It is interesting to note that he has even worked on Tom and Jerry (which he has given the cherubic name Billoo-Pilloo).

Another facet that marks the creative restlessness in him is his habit of constantly revising his output, not just while adapting poetry for screen but also while giving approval for a fresh edition of his book. He is one who believes in being with his work all the time. To cite an example, when he rewrote the maut poem for Anand, nazm became kavita.

This restlessness is perhaps what made him come out with triveni – his own genre.

Having once felt that he could write poetry on anything under the sun, he went on to explore the universe, his favorite bedside companion, of course, being the Moon whose dim, pleasant, milky light he constantly chews on, feels, savours.

Philosopher Michel de Montaigne is said to have said: “to philosophise is to learn how to die”. It can be said in the same vein that: “to poetise is to learn how to live”. And none better to expound this than the Wordsmith who swallowed the moon.

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