“100 Lyrics” is out. But Gulzar’s pen is in no danger of going dry.

He who has tasted life shall taste death too. We are all, as Gulzar says, made of unbaked clay. But it all begins to ooze when it is full, only to find fulfilment in a warm embrace. A touch poetic in an age of material gratification? Maybe, but trust Gulzar to find poetry when he lights a beedi, when he comes across lovers at sunset point, or has to juxtapose an old townships’ travails to a woman waiting for her beau. A bridge across the generation of Kaifi Azmi and Majrooh Sultanpuri to the one of Prasoon Joshi and Sayeed Qadri, you can never travel down Gulzar’s lane enough. He, indeed, is the highway between lyrics and poetry.

Having given up film direction for almost a decade, today he is tranquil as a river in plains. And just as profound. Speaking hours before being conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Osian Cinefan Festival in New Delhi, Gulzar says, in his inimitable, self-deprecatory way, “I have reached a point in life when awards are more, achievements are less. And for some years now I have had a feeling that time is limited and I have a lot to accomplish.”

Films, a full-time job

His fifth book in a little over a year, “100 Lyrics” with translation by Sunjoy Shekhar, has just been published by Penguin. But Gulzar is in no mood to be smug or content. “I have become prolific as far as books are concerned by design. It is not incidental. To write poetry and to pen stories for children, I have stopped directing films because every film takes about a year-and a-half. Films take away so much time. They are a 24-hour job, much like writing. You cannot write poetry by skipping lunch and the like. I don’t have endless time. I realise there is a fixed span of life. Ab nahin to kab? I have to write a lot of books still. I have written for children in the past. I am doing it again. You know why? Simply because nobody writes better nonsense than me!”

That could well be mock self-contempt but isn’t Gulzar responsible for bringing about more than an iota of depth to otherwise inane film lyrics? In fact, such is the subtlety of his craft that if you don’t pay attention, you might just get lost to the beat of the song and even hum the opening line without realising that it is the succeeding lines that carry all the meaning! “Yes, in many of my recent songs you have to scratch the surface, the first layer and you will find much. But the masses don’t go beyond the first layer! I realise that the pace of life has changed. At one time I could spin a song out of a Ghalib couplet, ‘Dil dhoondta hai phir wahi fursat ke raat din’. Today’s generation, however, sways to the beat. For instance, the opening track of ‘Kaminey’, ‘Kya kare zindagi’. The youth in the 1970s could say, ‘Dil dhoondta hai’. Today’s youth says, ‘Pinjare mein chand la ke do’.”

So, a man who started his career with “Mora gora ang laiye le” for Bimal Roy’s “Bandini”, is speaking to Vishal Bhardwaj’s dark alley goons in their language? Gulzar has a good laugh, and merely admits, “I adapt my language to the characters. I use words to go with the characters. Also words that are used by today’s generation. For instance, in the poem Sunset Point, I use English word ‘sunset’ because that is the way the youth would look at it. As far as choosing a hundred lyrics for the book goes, it was a challenge. Less for me, more for my colleagues, each of whom wanted his favourite song to be included in the book. Some wanted songs from ‘Aandhi’, some from ‘Ijaazat’, some from ‘Lekin’. I realise I have spoiled many people! I was at times outraged by the choice of songs and lyrics. But the bottomline was to include songs with a literary bend.”

Does that explain the inclusion of songs from the relatively lesser known “Maya Memsaab” in the collection? “It had beautiful songs. They have poetry, they have some meaning. I am quite fond of them.”

Well, from the looks of the 270-odd page book readers might just get fond of them too. So, how did it all come about?

“I read a book of Sting. My daughter had picked it from an airport in the U.S. I read the foreword and used the same analogy of words and music being like mannequin and clothes, the former being naked without the latter. But I turned the analogy around. People have sung my songs even without identifying with the picture. Of course, there have been times when the imagery has added to the song.”

In his 40-odd years in the film industry, does he have any fond memories of some songs or their picturisation that still stay with him?

“Yes, for my first film song, Sachin Dev Burman, the music director of ‘Bandini’, prohibited me from singing the song ‘Mora gora ang’ to Bimalda, saying my rendition will spoil the song, the imagery! How right was he! Incidentally, in this song, I have talked of a fair skinned girl longing for the dark complexion of Shyam. Recently when I went to Shimla, a noted artist from Chamba Vijay Sharma presented a beautiful miniature painting to me in which Radha is ‘sanvli’ (dark) and Krishna is fair. The song has brought about a greater revolution than I expected. If it has given me a run of almost 50 years in the industry and made me Gulzar, I don’t think I could have asked for more from a song.”

Indeed. But books, lyrics, songs, they all provide merely a comma in Gulzar’s life. The likes of Kaifi and others might have had their long illustrious innings before retiring to eternal sleep, but Gulzar has found new friends, new guys who understand his pulse. Today, he is working with Vishal Bharadwaj. “He understands poetry, he is sensitive. Only problem is he is stuck with success.”

That is a problem Gulzar knows only too well of! So, “Aa chale doob ke dekhe, Ekdo chand se koode”. Here is to a literary journey to heavens with Gulzar, a wordsmith all his own.