Gulzar Saheb, you might find it weird that I am quoting your own lines to you but I have no other expression to get started. There is a reason why I pick up this line. Not just because on the 8th of July, 2012 in Mangalore I used this line as a take off point to ask you a question, during the discussion following your lecture on poetry but also because this line, in a way, captures what I feel about that day when you were in Mangalore.
When I asked you, “what Urdoo means to you?” because of your expression, “Urdoo ki tarha” you said, “Urdoo is my love,” and spoke on the lines of, “Urdoo speak to me. My emotions speak to me in Urdoo.” Then you went on to say how the song is soofiyaana and remembering the line, “Main hawaa pe doondhoo uske nishaan,” said that the song was about the invisible existence of a “yaar” like the “kushboo.” To think about it, how true! The fragrance exists and we all know of it yet cannot be seen with naked eyes. It is there, yet it isn’t there. You too were like kushboo, to me in Mangalore.
Let express my anger and my unhappiness now. I asked for an interview slot and I was denied. It hurt me. Yes, deeply. I felt it was an insult to my years of love admiration for you and the years of my reading and living/ breathing of your works. But the magic was this- when you began with your lecture one by one you answered the opening two questions I had written down for you. I had come with 16 questions (yes too long but do you think I am not selfish?) and your lecture answered the first two.
What is a poetic moment? Was my first question to you, in my questionnaire. It is from a very general that I wanted to get into more specific. Though I never got to conduct the interview, you did answer my first few questions. You said what a poetic moment is. “When a lady lights a lamp in the evening, wiping her tears cries saying- jab charaag jaltaa hai toh poora aangan roshan hota hai, dil jalta hai toh sirf dhuaan kyuna uth’ta hai?” you narrated and went to describe how the flame, after fighting to stand up while the wind is blowing, stands up and then challenges, “Aaye ab koi jhonka.” When you were explaining how a flame stand up on its feet, moving your hand slowly in the air like painting in the canvas of air (hawaaon pe likh doon) I had my answer- there is poetry in every moment, it just requires a third eye to see it!
I also loved the way you entered the question of a poetic moment by answering the question what poetry is. You said that the question “what is poetry?” is like the question, “what is life?” for which none of us have a definitive answer even when we all are alive and live life. I had once asked my teacher H.S. Shivaprakash a similar question, “What is a good poetry? How do you judge a good poetry?” to which he had counter questioned me, “Who is a good human? How do you judge as to who is a good human?” I was reminded of my conversation with my teacher when you spoke.
My second question was to be- what is it in poetry that makes it poetry? You answered this question so beautifully. You said poetry was walking and initially rhymes was following it and after a while poetry thought to itself, “yeh toh mere palle pad gaya hai,” and casted it off. Then you said it casted off meters too. So, what is it in poetry that makes it poetry? There is no specific answer that you gave. But your repeated mentioning of “ehsaas” makes me read that as an answer. Or probably it is essentially to bring something to life. For example the way you narrated the history of poetry as though poetry was walking on some street with rhymes and meter following it like some “paaltoo billi,” to use your own word. It could have been said in a matter of fact fashion. But you gave life to that information and yes, you made it poetic!
When you answered the opening two questions of mine, without knowing that I had those two questions for you I was thrilled. I felt like you had heard my unvoiced question and were answering me. But did I ask those questions to you? Did you actually hear the unasked questions? Wo Yaar Hai Ko Kushboo Ki Tarha…
Once you put a full stop to your lecture the floor was open for discussion and I used that opportunity to ask a couple of more questions. I asked you how the lyricist in you tackles writer’s block. I wanted to know this because a poet doesn’t have deadlines and “tukda ek nazm ka” can remain “din bhar saanson mein …” waiting for that moment when poems become ripe. But that is not the case with a lyricist. The lyricist has to work within deadlines. Your answer was this: “Writer koi aasmaan sey utraa hua shaks nahi hai. A writer is also a professional like any other professional and he has to know his job and do his job.” You said every profession has its own block but one has to tackle it. “Yahaan ticketbik gayi hai aur log hall mein aa chuke hai. Ab artist yeh thodi na keh sakta hai ki ab mood nahi hai, ab gaa nahi sakoonga. Writing is like any other profession and you have to work like a professional.” Your answer broke the aura around the writer. And your approach to writing as a profession like any profession was a required answer to every other writer and aspiring writers.
My other question to you was about how your writing preserved its delicate nature even after your close association with PWA and IPTA. Going through the art works of PWA and IPTA one can easily sense the difference in their craft. They are quite loud, quite explicit. But your works have maintained that delicacy and that ambiguous nature. Take for example the poem that you recited after saying Mangalore is known for its ‘tensed’ environment:
Nazm kaagaz pe rakha
Toh kuch lafz phoote
Kuch dhuaan uthaa kuch chingaariya
Dango Kay Shehar Mein Baitha Shaayar
Ab karein Bhi toh kya karein
Lafzo se aag nahi bujhtaa
Nazmo sey zakhm nahi bharte
(Apologies if I got the words wrong. I am recollecting it from my memory. Did not make notes while listening to you being absorbed completely in listening)
How beautiful. Without getting explicit and worse, getting to sloganeering, you speak of the inability of art to heal wounds and speak of the violence prevailing outside poetry. It is political without speaking of politics and not a single pixel of compromise with aesthetics. The delicacy, which is quintessential Gulzar, is so evident and so unlike most of the others associated with the politically charged group of writers.
Answering my question you said, “It’s easy to go with the flow but you have to remain true to what you feel and remain yourself.” My answer is even the shorter- because he (you) is…- Gulzar!!!
Gulzar saheb, I had more questions to ask. I wanted to continue the same question and ask you about aesthetics, politics, political aesthetics, aesthetic politics because your approach is different from other PWA and IPTA members that I am slightly familiar with. While many are aesthetic and political at the same time the politics takes and upper hand and in you aesthetic takes an upper hand and politics flows beanath.
I wanted to ask you about your earliest visual and auditory experiences (because your poems are very visual and have an auditory imagination) and how they have shaped your craft. I wanted to know about the craft of poetry by asking you about the translations you have made of Tagore, Sukrita, folk songs and also the alterations of the poems written by Meena Kumari. Wanted to know how expressions find a form and know how and why about the new form you invented i.e. Triveni and the new kind of music albums that you cut with Abhishek i.e. Udaas Paani and Raat Chaand aur Main, about the new form that you are planning to venture into i.e. drama. I wanted to know if art can help in healing wounds, especially because you once said unconsciously the memories of partition pushed out poems from you and hence I am curious to know what poetry does to a poet after taking wings from the poet, especially in the context of historical violence. There was a question on how second childhood has changed your writing for children. So many other questions too. ..
Some more questions I had but all remains unanswered for me. But still a portion of my interview was done. Kushboo ki tarha… Interview is done, yet not done. Gulzar saheb, it’s like this- a couplet in a gazal is complete in itself yet couple of couplets don’t make a gazal complete. Similarly couple of questions answered but the interview remains incomplete. The interview is there yet not there. Wo Yaar Hai Jo Kushboo Ki Tarha…
Answering one of the audiences you said that some poems remain incomplete. You said at times while drawing water from the well the rope slips our hand and the pot with the rope goes into the well… You said at times when dipping a biscuit into a cup of coffee the biscuit stays inside and only the undipped part of biscuit remains in hand… You said similarly some poems remain incomplete. That is how incomplete it was- my interview of yours… It was a dream lived and a dream incomplete also because again, as it happened once before, when breathing the same air with you, standing next to you, I was speechless and my voice was stuck in my throat… The dream to converse with you remained incomplete… Not that I did not converse with you. But nothing complete. I did converse yet did not converse… Wo Yaar Hai Jo Kushboo Ki Tarha…
My conversation with you began with a smile, as I opened your biography and placed it in your hand and taking out the pen from my pocket and handing it over to you… I said, “Printed hai. Zaraa saans bhar deejiye haatho sey likh ke…” you smiled and signed…
But my dream was to converse more. I wanted to tell you how you had captured my imaginations and how I hated you in my teens because you gave me complex by writing extremely romantic verses, at your age, which put my teen age romantic poetry to shame. But words were stuck “galey mein” like, “kaanch ka tukda”… I spoke to you yet did not speak to you…
Dreams half lived or unfulfilled- I cannot explain. Things were incompletely complete. Dreams shouldn’t come true Gulzar saheb… They must not come true. As you said in one of your poems, “Jaag Jaayega Toh Khwaab Marr Jaayega.” If dreams come to life, they will die… The incompletion of it makes me dream of another tryst… Will there be another tryst, I don’t know. But yes for now I can take shelter in your unusual English poem:
I have tossed a moon in the sky
Hold it when it comes back.
If it falls on heads
You will meet me again.
If it is tails
I shall wait for you.
Cause all that goes comes back
That’s the law of gravitation: In love.
Yes, you were like “kushboo” for me… But at the same time you were “Urdoo ki tarha” and that is where you won me, again and again. Your small gestures were “Urdoo ki tarha.” You taking the garland from your neck and walking straight to the small kid among the audience and garlanding the kid… You apologizing, in public, to an unknown journalist after denying an interview… Sitting on the dusted stairs and having chai… These all made you appear “Urdoo ki tarha” to me and not as “koi aasmaan sey utraa hua shaks.”
When I handed you my old copies of your book to take your signature you wrote on them: “to you with love <signed Gulzar>” and now I feel my name if YOU.
I read it as a lesson in poetry. I have to become YOU and not just remain ‘I’ to become a poet. The ‘I’ should be inclusive of ‘You’. Else I will not be able to understand what a lady lighting the lamp in the evening has hidden in her heart and I will not be able to listen to the flame saying, “Aaye ab koi jhonka.” Its only when I imbibe the YOU that I will be enriched. Thanks for the lesson… Take a bow, Master, from this disciple.
With all my love I have for you and I can possibly give you…