GULZAR

IN HIS MOST PER­SONAL INTERVIEW EVER “PEO­PLE AS­SUME AN URDU POET CAN’T WEAR SHORTS AND PLAY TEN­NIS. I DO!”

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - BY KAUSAR MU­NIR AN HTBRUNCH EXCLUSIVE

My ap­point­ment is for 3pm, but I ar­rive at ‘Boskyana’ half an hour early – part nerves, part ex­cite­ment. I step into the por­tico of the grace­ful Pali Hill bun­ga­low and feel as if it knows my name. As if it’s softly call­ing out to me in a gen­tle bari­tone, “Kausar… Kausar…”

I turn around and there he is, Gulzar, in his sig­na­ture starched white kurta-py­jama, pro­nounc­ing my name per­fectly, ush­er­ing me into his study.

THE TRUE POET

“Why white?” I ask.

“Achha lagta hai,” is the straight­for­ward an­swer. “I’ve been wearing white since my col­lege days. I like colour, but if I wear coloured clothes now, it would feel like I’m be­ing false. And that’s the worst thing I could be. Some­thing other than my­self. Ei­ther in work, or in life.”

So you’re most your­self in a kurta-py­jama?

“But I have never worn a py­jama! This is a reg­u­lar pair of trousers, with the front crease and ev­ery­thing. Ear­lier, I wore a dhoti quite of­ten, and thank­fully, no­body ever pulled it down,” he laughs. “I still wear a shal­war on it­vaar (Sun­day), the Pun­jabiPathani one, like they wear in my home town of Deena, now in Pak­istan. It’s just be­cause I’m an Urdu poet that peo­ple as­sume I’m wearing a py­jama with my kurta. You can fi­nally break this mis­con­cep­tion.”

What else do peo­ple as­sume about an Urdu poet?

“That he can’t wear shorts and play ten­nis. They imag­ine him on a run-down bi­cy­cle rather than driv­ing around the coun­try in his own car. They have an im­age of him spouting only Ghalib and are sur­prised when he men­tions St­ing is an in­spi­ra­tion,” he says with­out a trace of frus­tra­tion.

No dis­ap­point­ment at such as­sump­tions?

“None at all,” he smiles. “I do play ten­nis in shorts, I have driven across the length and breadth of the coun­try from Khardung La pass to Kanyaku­mari in my beloved Am­bas­sador car, and I did com­pile my 100 Lyrics book, in­spired by Lyrics by St­ing. I don’t sub­scribe to any def­i­ni­tion of an Urdu poet.”

“PEO­PLE AS­SUME THAT AN URDU POET CAN’T WEAR SHORTS AND PLAY TEN­NIS, THEY PICTURE HIM SPOUTING ONLY GHALIB”

THE GULLYMOHALLA POET

There is an im­pos­ing mar­ble bust of Ghalib in the cor­ner of his study, but Gulzar’s large writ­ing-ta­ble is laden with in­ter­na­tional lit­er­a­ture and works in sev­eral In­dian lan­guages.

“You ask how I stay rel­e­vant even af­ter more than five decades of writ­ing?” He points to his ta­ble, “By feel­ing the pulse of the gully-mo­halla, the na­tion, the globe that I live in. Be­ing mas­ter of Urdu doesn’t in­ter­est me, be­ing part of the global so­ci­ety does, breath­ing hope into that so­ci­ety mat­ters to me”.

A case in point is his lat­est book Foot­prints on Zero Line. Even though it deals with his painful first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of par­ti­tion, a theme Gulzar keeps re­turn­ing to, it’s im­bued with a sense of pur­pose­ful his­tory.

But how does one breathe hope into a self­de­struc­tive world?

“We have to ‘es­pe­cially’ now,” he says sur­prised at my pes­simism. “Aren’t you a poet? It is the job of a poet to give back, to breathe oxy­gen into the suf­fo­ca­tion of so­ci­ety. In Haider, even though it’s bur­dened, my Jhelum is look­ing for a ki­naara, it’s not drown­ing it­self… In Yuva, the Dalit voice says ‘ thok de killi’, our time has come… Even in Mere Apne (1971), my first film as di­rec­tor, I’m us­ing a tongue-incheek ap­proach to make a po­lit­i­cal state­ment with ‘ Haal chaal theek thaak hai’. My songs are not an­gry or bit­ter, be­cause I am not bit­ter. I’m hope­ful, and as an artist I have to be, not just for my fu­ture or for the fu­ture of my chil­dren but for the whole world.”

THE CHIL­DREN’S POET

As a ’90s kid, I grew up on Gulzar’s fas­ci­nat­ing potli of rhymes and jin­gles and jhubli jhi­nak jhaains. And I’m dy­ing to know does Ch­henu vaali jhunnu ka baba have any­thing to do with Ch­henu, Sha­trughan Sinha’s char­ac­ter from Mere Apne?

“No, no,” he laughs. “It’s just sounds…sounds of a dafli, of a jhaan­jhar… sounds and spirit of chil­dren. Upen­drak­ishore Ray Chowd­hury’s Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne has been a huge in­spi­ra­tion. If you no­tice, many great artists have been in­spired by chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture. It’s where the world un­folds, else ev­ery­thing will seem like a blind al­ley.”

I feel like Alice in Won­der­land as I delve deeper into Gulzar’s tap tap topi topi of en­chanted words. Where does this in­ven­tive­ness comes from?

“It comes from you, the chil­dren. See what a good job I did of rais­ing you. How hard I’ve worked to keep you amused,” he says with twin­kling eyes. “Even now I’m writ­ing con­tin­u­ally for chil­dren’s theatre, col­lab­o­rat­ing with the won­der­ful theatre di­rec­tor Salim Arif. We re­cently did an adap­ta­tion of Pinoc­chio which was per­formed at the Indira Gandhi Sta­dium in Delhi. Around 200 chil­dren did Kathak to a full live or­ches­tra. No recorded mu­sic. You should come and watch us some­time.”

THE PRO­GRES­SIVE POET

It’s not just chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture. The name Gulzar is syn­ony­mous with break­ing po­etic tra­di­tions to cre­ate brand new ways of see­ing things. It’s what he’s most loved for.

“And most crit­i­cised for,” he re­minds me. “Right from the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer.”

Re­ally? “Ji haan,” he in­sists. “You re­mem­ber the song Humne dekhi hain in aankhon ki mehekti khush­boo from Khamoshi (1969)? It’s a per­sonal favourite. I have even ro­manced my wife with this song. But at the time, many ex­perts found it most ob­jec­tion­able that I

“MY SONGS ARE NOT AN­GRY OR BIT­TER BE­CAUSE I AM NOT BIT­TER. I’M HOPE­FUL, AND AS AN ARTIST, I HAVE TO BE.”

should at­tribute a sense of smell to the eyes. The scholar-writer Dr Rahi Ma­soom was most dis­pleased with my ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with po­etic-gram­mar when I wrote the song Naam gum jaayega. In the case of Mera kuchh saa­maan from Ijaazat (1987), I faced a lot of flak ini­tially for my free verse… But now some­one like A. R. Rah­man con­stantly breaks the struc­tures of mu­sic and that’s why I en­joy work­ing with him. Also Vishal Bhard­waj. He un­der­stands po­etry, that even the mu­si­cal phrase ‘ Dhan te nan’ can be a po­etic ex­pres­sion. This gives me free­dom to cre­ate. Be­cause for me, just as there’s no def­i­ni­tion of a poet, there’s no def­i­ni­tion of po­etry.”

Isn’t that a stance only a Gulzar Sa­hab can af­ford to have? Lyricwrit­ers to­day have no choice but to ‘crack hook-lines’ and write to the tune of the mu­si­cal pow­ers that be?

“When I write, the only thing I have in mind is the script,” he says. “It’s only be­cause of the un­usual script sit­u­a­tions and char­ac­ters that I can come up with new images. If the char­ac­ter is a drunk gang­ster in Mum­bai, I can’t have him be shaa­yaraana, he will sing ‘Goli maar bheje mein’.”

But not all scripts are as uniquely tex­tured as Satya (1998). Right?

“I had three re­leases around the same time in 2016, Mirzya, Ran­goon and OK Jaanu. All largely love-sto­ries. Had I not paid close at­ten­tion to the char­ac­ters and taken my cue from their unique worlds, they’d all have ended up sound­ing the same and hav­ing generic love songs,” he ex­plains.

But isn’t it an­noy­ing when peo­ple damn the songs of to­day for not be­ing ‘as good as they used to be’. How can one fight with nos­tal­gia?

“Don’t fight, don’t be an­noyed, re­spond as a writer and write for the world you’re liv­ing in to­day,” he in­stantly calms the dis­grun­tled lyri­cist in me. “Even pop­ulist songs can be worth­while. For ex­am­ple, peo­ple may see Beedi jalayi le as an item song, but it is ac­tu­ally my take on the za­min­daari sys­tem… ‘aise kaate ke daant ka nishaan chhod de, ye kataayi toh koyi bhi kisan chhod de’. The dif­fi­culty arises when writ­ers are not well versed with the lan­guage they’re writ­ing in. It’s only when we are writ­ing for the movies by learn­ing from the movies that the work is su­per­fi­cial. Learn from life first and bring that knowl­edge to your writ­ing.”

THE AGE­LESS POET

Which makes me won­der. With al­most 55 years of pro­fes­sional writ­ing be­hind him, what more can Gulzar give to writ­ing?

“A lot more, and nearly not enough,” says the 83-year-young mas­ter poet.

“For the last few years I’ve been work­ing on this vi­sion, a book on the con­tem­po­rary po­etry of In­dia. I’ve trans­lated around 500 po­ems, of 300 po­ets from 32 lan­guages of our coun­try. No masters, just con­tem­po­rary po­ets. I want to make our po­etry young again.”

Po­etry, then, is his first love?

“Yes, po­etry re­mains clos­est to me of the many things I’ve done in life. And lan­guage is no bar.”

“Nor is age,” I say, “clearly.”

He smiles at me and asks me to send him a copy of my piece to see how ‘I’ve worked him out’, and I quickly ask for a picture with him. He’s happy to oblige, but as I fish out my phone, he gently says, “Let’s take a proper picture, not a selfie.” I do leave with a proper picture of Gulzar Sa­hab in my mind – strong and sub­lime at the same time, in shades of splen­did white.

I sus­pect not even ek sau so­lah chand ki raatein will com­pare to this

rooh- warm­ing Novem­ber af­ter­noon.

“EVEN POP­ULIST SONGS CAN BE WORTH­WHILE...PEO­PLE MAY SEE ‘ BEEDI JALAYI LE’ AS AN ITEM SONG, BUT IT IS AC­TU­ALLY MY TAKE ON THE ZAMINDARI SYS­TEM. ”

The au­thor is a lyri­cist who has penned for pop­u­lar films like Se­cret Su­per­star, Dear Zindagi, Ishaqza­ade, Ba­jrangi Bhai­jaan among more. She is also a script writer and was a lan­guage con­sul­tant in Sridevi-star­rer English Vinglish.

Kausar has writ­ten pop­u­lar songs like MaanaKeHumYaarNahin ( Mer­iPyaar­iBindu), BharDoJholi Meri ( Ba­jrangiBhai­jaan), and Love YouZindagi ( DearZindagi)

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