Yours, Gulzar


Renu Sud Sinha

At 86, Gulzar has achieved almost everything in the field of words, but is still not ready to rest on his innumerable laurels. Driven by his love and passion for poetry, Gulzar was 76 when he started off on yet another uncharted path — to gather contemporary poetry in Indian languages in one volume. A decade later, what emerged was a labour of love and passion — 365 poems, a poem for every day of the year — reflecting the ethos of a nation born some 70 years ago.

The book starts with verses of hope tinged with the rosy glow of freedom, but soon turns into disappointment of expectations not met. The feminist movement, emergence of Naxalites and their struggle, the trials and tribulations that Punjab went through — in short, it is the poetic journey of a nation and its testing times.

‘A Poem A Day’ is a massive 968-page book ostensibly “for anyone who likes poetry and is interested in the use of words and language”, as the author’s note says in the beginning. However, as this child of Partition, growing up on classical poetry of undivided Punjab, experienced the turning and tossing of his era in the poetry of his times, he wanted the Indian youth of today to experience the joys of contemporary poetry so as to relate it to their times and not the verses of Tagore or Ghalib of bygone eras they read in their textbooks.

So, the grand old man of letters waded through Indian regional poetry, literally from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, starting from 1947 to 2017, to sift through the works of contemporary poets rooted in their soil, (apni zameen se judey, as he says in his inimitable style), and translated most of them into Hindustani and English.

Because language has no borders, there were also poets from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, all foreign lands now, as well as languages and dialects without scripts of their own, written in scripts of better-known languages.

Poets from the land of his birth

Born in Jhelum district of undivided Punjab, Sampooran Singh Kalra may have been particularly fascinated by the poets and poetry of North-East, but was always connected with those from his own land despite moving to Bombay.

Amrita Pritam and her Partition-based “Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nu” was an obvious choice, as were Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Paash, Sukhbir, alias Balbir Singh, Lal Singh Dil, Mohan Singh, Surjit Patar and Ustad Daman (Pakistan) among the contemporary names from Punjabi poetry.

Many poets and writers, who could not find a place in the book due to space constraints, remain etched in his consciousness and he talks about them with much admiration — Navtej Singh, Harnam Singh Naz, Gurmel Pannu and S. Swarn.

Timeline of a nation

Poems written in all 34 languages since Independence have been included in a chronological order, capturing and reflecting the journey of a nascent nation through its evolution. It starts with verses of hope tinged with the rosy glow of freedom, but soon turns into disappointment of expectations not met. The feminist movement, emergence of Naxalites and their struggle, the trials and tribulations that Punjab went through — in short, it is the poetic journey of a nation and its testing times, through the eyes of the poets who spoke in the voice of masses, yet had a limited reach.

The journey

The hurdles were countless — lack of proper scripts, non-availability of translations and sometimes translators, even the English translations of Punjab’s most popular poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi were hard to come by. So what kept Gulzar going? A simple yet burning desire to bring to the young their poetic heritage.

And who were the people who helped him traverse the path? He makes particular mention of Ananth Padmanabhan and Udayan Mitra from the publishing house for their support but at home, it was daughter Meghna who kept her “Papi”, as she fondly calls him, from burning the candle at both ends at the “young” age of 86.

The indulgent father speaks of her and the women poets included in the book with much admiration. Shefali Debbarma, Mamang Dai, Mamta Kalia have found a special mention at various foras where he has talked about the book. And he refuses to bind their words within their gender, as he feels women, in their poetry, have achieved the equality they may not have found in reality.

He also refuses to burden Meghna with the task of carrying forward his legacy, as he feels she has the capability to forge her own legacy and imprint. He fondly talks of her capacity for detailed research and hard work, her feminism — reflected in her works like ‘Filhaal’ and ‘Talvar’.

A peek into the future

After this mammoth project of capturing the past, what’s on his mind? The confining months of lockdown may have provided a requisite pause but have also brought home the problems of the common man whom he lovingly calls “Murari Lal”. His troubles and struggles will feature in “Murari Lal ki Nazmein” in the coming months.

The living legend is also mulling over publishing the leftover verses that could not be accommodated in this book — poems on universal emotions such as death or poems on the poem itself. His legions of fans await.

REUTERS

The plight of migrant labourers plodding home during lockdown, hoping to escape the pandemic, hunger and misery, is reflected in this unpublished, untitled poem that Gulzar, who still writes in longhand Urdu, has shared with the readers of The Tribune:

Mahamaari lagi thee

Gharon ko bhaag liye the sabhi mazdoor-karigar

Machinein band hone lag gayin thee saree

Unhi se to haath-paaon chalte rehte the

Warna zindagi to gaon mein hee bo ke aaye the

Arre, sagaayi, shaadiyaan, khalihaan, sookha, baadh

Harr baar aasmaan barse

naa barse

Marenge to wahin jaakar jahaan par zindagi hai

Yahaan to jism laakar plug lagaaye the

Plug nikaale sabhi ne

Chalo ab ghar chalein sab

Sab chal diye

Marenge to wahin jaakar

Jahaan par zindagi hai.


I Have Seen This Scene Before
by gulzar

I have seen this scene before

A whole army standing entrenched

With guns on shoulders, ready to fire

And, in front, a crowd of people

Waving hands;

Perhaps it is 1919, and Amritsar

Somewhat like Jallianwala Bagh.

Or maybe it is the scene of Lahore in 1936:

The day of the freedom struggle’s annual assembly.

So much in this scene seems to be familiar

The faces appear to be known

The despondency and anger on their faces

Their ages, their emotions

All of this, I am acquainted with.

Maybe, it is 1942 in Allahabad:

In a railed – off island

In the centre of the town square

An entire army in readiness

Lines drawn, their guns ready to fire

And in front a mob of people

Waving hands;

Their fists clenched

The same flag in their hands

The same slogans on their lips

The bullets fired in the same way

Some people dying as they died before

Blood flowing the same way on this very street.

  • (Translated from the Urdu by Pavan K Varma)

My Mother and My Poem
by surjit patar

My mother could not understand

my poem

although it was written in my

mother-tongue.

She only gathered that

there was some grief in her son’s mind.

But wherefrom his grief came

while I am here.

My illiterate mother scanned my poem with great care

and said to herself: look, people, look

the sons whom we gave birth from

our wombs

tell their grief to the papers not to us.

She took the page to her breast hoping

perhaps it is the only way

of getting close to her son.

  • (Translated from the Punjabi by the poet)

Will Be Killed
by rajesh joshi

Those who not participate in this

madness

Will be killed

Those who oppose, will be made to stand in the witness box

Those who speak the truth

Will be killed

It will not be tolerated that someone else’s shirt

Be whiter than ‘Their’ shirt

Those wearing spotless shirts

Will be killed

Pushed away from the world of Art

Will be those who are not bards

Those who do not plod

Will be killed

Flying the flag of religion

Those who do not participate in the rally

Will be shot brutally

Will be named atheist

Biggest crime this time is

To be unarmed and to be innocent

Those who are not criminals

Will be killed.

  • (Translated from the Hindi by Nirupa Joshi)

Alibi
by ranjit hoskote

Wipe your fingerprints from the air,

rinse out the mug from which you drank

last night’s coffee.

Clear the view in the window

with a sweep of plush curtain

that takes cloud, sky and mountain with it.

Cut the photograph from the frame,

grab the red hair-band from the onyx jar,

the spectacles from the desk.

Cover your tracks.

Walk through water.

You were never here.

(Written originally in English)


Rain
by ramakanta rath

As I was about to go out

to meet you

it rained.

How could I,

dripping with water,

meet you? I came back.

It hasn’t rained for a long, long time,

but you’ve moved away.

A drop of water will no longer fall

on this bone-dry body of mine.

  • (Translated from the Odiya by the poet)

— Excerpted from ‘A Poem A Day’, selected and translated by Gulzar, with permission from HarperCollins.



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