Gulzar takes a poetic journey with Ziya Us Salam

It is said in Delhi every other stone is witness to history, every other tree is sacred. Only to be expected off a city that has grown by Nigambodh Ghat – Knowledge Bank. Whisper that into the ear of the peerless Gulzar and he would dismiss all the talk of the past with the ease of wiping dust from a lapel. A shade surprising considering he might have earned his spurs as a reluctant lyricist in the dreamsellers’ world of Bollywood but he has never gone too far away from Delhi, the place that once gave him a roof over his head post the traumatic Partition. He still finds warmth and joy in its fond embrace though, and comes back to the city for his fix of poetry, camaraderie and drink. He counts the irrepressible Pavan Varma among his friends.

And it is at one such friendly jousting that “Neglected Poems”, his newest book brought out by Penguin, took shape. It so happened that Gulzar was teasing Varma that they were all the time dishing out “Selected Poems” but never spared a thought for “Neglected Poems”! “I told him if we have published ‘Selected Poems’ it somehow conveys the impression that they are the best of the lot which may not necessarily be true. Why must we neglect other poems? I said in jest though Pavan ji took it seriously.”

The result? A collection of stray thoughts, random scribbling and some whims penned down to form a book that is engaging in its own ways. And in many others, it reminds one of some of the verses penned half a century ago. For instance, Gulzar's couplet “Awaaz ki shakal utarti nahin” in the poem “Ek Naqal Tujhe Bhi Bhejunga” reminds one of the words of Sahir Ludhianvi in M. Sadiq's Taj Mahal. Wrote Sahir, “Rango mein tera aks dhala tu na dhal saki…saanson ki anch jism ki khushbu na dhal saki.”

The book has some 50-odd poems, but Gulzar picks the opener “Meghana” as his favourite. He calls it his tribute to women. “It is about the child to be born, what all the baby goes through, what all the mother goes through, what the father goes through but essentially the idea is the father can never understand what the mother goes through in labour.”

Talking of favourites, there was a time when the legendary Asadullah Khan Ghalib was ready to exchange his entire collection for one couplet of Momin, “Tum mere paas hote ho goya, jab koi doosra nahin hota.” Has Gulzar too felt something similar about another poet, for somebody's one couplet he would barter away his entire works?

“No, not really. But I have loved and admired many poets and many of them have been much superior to me. But if I were to really envy somebody for a couplet that has to be Bahadur Shah Zafar and his shair ‘Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar do gaz zameen bhi na mili….' It was beautiful, soulful. Sometimes I wonder why I cannot write something like that. Then I was told ‘that was another age, you will have to reproduce that era for that kind of poetry'. Now, I am in a happy space. I ask how can I write, ‘Mora gora ang lai le' if we are doing an Omkara. See, the picturisation of the song ‘Beedi jalai le' and visualise ‘Mora gora ang'. It just won't work.”

Fair enough, but he has become very prolific as an author-poet in recent times, almost making up for the lost years in Bollywood when the poet in him was reduced to a lyricist. Doesn't he feel the writer in him was neglected because he was involved with filmmaking?

“Sometimes I do feel so, but I also understand that whatever I am is at least partly because people know me through films. I consider it destiny. I don't look back with longing, just take as part of destiny's plan. Allah Miyan ko yahi manzoor thha.”

What, however, certainly works with God's grace is his new project “Tera Bayaan Ghalib”. Here he gets a chance to pay a tribute to Jagjit Singh, his good friend and confidant, and doff off his hat to the poet whose letters and ghazals bring up the two-CD collection. But isn't Gulzar being a good friend to remember Jagjit shortly after he passed away? “Achcha dost to hona hi chahiye. Jagjit too was one for me,” Gulzar offers, then adds, “I had done the serial Mirza Ghalib with Jagjit more than 20 years ago so it was only appropriate that I use his voice here.” For the CDs brought out by Sa Re Ga Ma, Gulzar has focussed on the letters of the legendary poet. “Whenever anybody thinks of Ghalib they think of his ghazals, his nazms but his letters have been largely ignored. Through these letters I discovered that during the Uprising of 1857, Ghalib was a very lonely figure.”

Ghalib was lonely in 1857. He would have been lonelier today had he lived to see the change in the language of social discourse. Gulzar though feels, “We cannot be speaking Urdu like Ghalib.” Indeed, if somebody were to write Persianised Urdu, he would cut a forlorn figure. Much like a poet's predicament, “Zubaan mili hai magar humzubaan nahin milta”. “We are living in an age when people call ‘khhat' as ‘khat' and ‘dawakhhana' as ‘dawakhana'.” So Gulzar's brand of emerging Urdu with a fair sprinkling of words for other languages works well with today's generation. Does he feel that only posterity will be able to judge his contribution to Urdu, how he has not only added a few words to the language but also made it workable with today's lifestyle? “I don't know about that but I certainly feel a language has to be dynamic to survive. Aur Urdu mein to bahut diggaj log hain is zabaan ko aage pahunchane ke liye.” Among them is Gulzar himself who was conferred the D. Litt (Urdu) by Hyderabad's Maulana Azad National Urdu University this week. A doctorate in Urdu for a man who has carved out a career chiselling songs for Hindi movies? No surprises there. It is only to be expected from the man who spent the early years of his life not too far from the Knowledge Bank!

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