MUMBAI, India–”Teri khoj talash main dekh piya ham kitne kaale kos chale.” (How many dark and vast distances must I wander in your pursuit?)- Gulzar.
“Gulzar”, the mere mention of his name conjures up myriad emotions in the hearts of the connoisseurs of Indian art and cinema. He is after all one of the most admired lyricist and poet in India. In addition, he is a director, screenwriter, producer and a short story writer as well.
The Hindi movies he has directed include some of the best cinematic expressions of recent times: Aandhi, Ijaazat, Koshish, Machis and Angoor to name a few. He also is credited for directing a masterpiece television serial: Mirza Ghalib. In 2008, he received an Oscar and a Grammy for the international blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire. One thing, however, is less known about Gulzar saab is his love for astronomy, intergalactic, milky way and NASA though it has been profusely expressed through his poems, phrases and songs.
In 2006 when International Astronomical Unit decided to strip Pluto off its reverent “Planet” status, NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons was already on its way to a 9-year long journey towards the end of our solar system for a “Date with Pluto”. The act of abandonment didn’t go well with many; groups were formed, protests were initiated and blogs were written. Gulzar Saab was amongst one of them. He penned: “Teri khoj talash main dekh piya ham kitne kaale kos chale”. (How many dark and vast distances must I wander in your pursuit?)
Disheartened by this sudden dethroning he decided to dedicate his next book, a collection of poems “Pluto Se” to Pluto.
This August I had an opportunity to sit down with Gulzar Saab where he is most comfortable, amidst his books in his library at “Boskiyana”. Unlike the conventional libraries that people house, Gulzar Saab’s library is very intimate and cozy, his hand written notes, post-its and the Ipad on the table make it extremely convivial as well.
People like Gulzar Saab cannot be “interviewed.” You just put yourself in “neutral” and watch the time sashay along. We did begin our
tête-à-tête with Pluto but as the conversation went on we walked the entire Universe while making some detours to discuss the mystery of 116 moonlit nights, the intricate art of catching the moments, the discernible lack of literature around the tragedy of Kashmir and the eternal struggle of humans to create “formula” based living patterns. In the words of Gulzar Saab “Agar baarish mein bheege hee nahi to kya
kiya”. There was a somber moment for me when he recited a small poem on Kashmiri Pandits. If you have ever wondered what makes this octogenarian very relevant and reverent then this conversation, or rather I should say guftagu, is for you.
Sunayana Kachroo: In this fast paced life sometimes we may not even know who our neighbor is, what made you drift so far in the Universe to find a friend in Pluto?
Gulzar: Well, I didn’t anticipate that Pluto will end up enticing so much curiosity. I try to stay informed and connected with the space related discoveries on a regular basis and NASA actually happens to be my favorite website. I get new images on my ipad every day from the Hubble and even from the new space camera that they have installed. I diligently follow all that is happening in space research, so it’s a natural thing for me to wander around in Space. I have been weaving poetry around space for a long time.
Raat mein jab bhi aankh khuley
Nange paaon hi nikal jaata hoon aakash utar ke
Aasmano se guzar jaata hoon
Kehkashaan (Milky way) chu ke nikalti hai jo ek pagdandi
(Excerpt from the nazm- Raat main jab bhi aankh khuley)
Pluto is a natural extension of that quest, since it is the farthest planet (dwarf) in our solar system. We recently sent probes on Mars and the probe to Pluto -New Horizons has finally reached there after 9 years and started sending us real images of Pluto. So while all this was happening in the outer space, my collection of poems got published as well. I think all of this coming together has intrigued people “Ki yeh kahan ki dosti kar li Pluto se”
SK: Why did you decide to name your book Pluto?
Gulzar: If you read the book I have alluded to the reasons and also talked about my relatability with Pluto at an emotional level. There are also some threads that have come from the imaginary weave of a poetic mind because to tell you the truth Poets do have this habit of dramatizing ordinary events. We create some vague connection and find ways and means to justify it as well. Like in this case I did have a narrative that Pluto was ousted from his family and treated as an outsider and the truth is that I have felt the same. In some ways I could relate to that abandonment. So it is probably a poetic expression of a fact based connection between two entities in the Milky Way.
(There are many Nazms (poems) that deserve to be mentioned here but the one that is my favorite in this genre is the one where he reasons out with the God on behalf of Human Race/Science —Poorey ka poora aakash)
SK: How about the poems, why did you dedicate your very short, pint sized poems to Pluto?
Gulzar: Look at Pluto, it is so cute. So far..So small. Smallest in fact, sitting alone at the edge of the Milky Way. The decision to dedicate my smallest poems to this cute little ex-planet is based on this fact. However, it amazes me now that people are fascinated and intrigued by it.
SK: Probably just like the mystery around the cryptic 116 moonlit nights referenced in “Mera Kuch Samaan.”
Gulzar: Exactly. Every time people ask me about it I have to seek forgiveness for the mistake that led to my counting up to 116. So I just say that it’s a counting mistake. May be it was 115 or less or more. I don’t think there is a need to overthink the mathematics of 116.
SK: There are so many theories around 116, some based on lunar cycles and calculations. Research that’s almost worth a doctorate!
Gulzar: We can never predict what people will get hooked on to. Sometimes people get stuck on something very ordinary or a mundane phrase, while you may have crafted the most titillating phrase few words later. But they hold on to the ordinary one and dig deeper. They find pauses and interludes in some spaces, deeper and farther than what I could have imagined.
SK: That surprises you as well?
Gulzar: Naturally, reactions from people bring in another aspect. For me it was just a normal phrase but the reaction is very insightful.
Occasionally, I hide a narrative in a word like a tease and amuse myself with the thought that no one will catch it. But then people do find that too, no matter how cleverly you layer it. Sometimes people also get stuck to some word before even reaching the point that I, the poet wanted to convey. I think that this happens in all types of fine arts. A painter can never tell how his creation will be interpreted and that is the beauty of the fine arts.
SK: Do you mean mystery?
Gulzar: Yes the mystery and the unpredictability is what makes fine arts so beautiful and it is not just fine arts this in fact is the fun of the entire life. The vagueness and randomness of moments cannot be predefined. The beauty of life lies in the fact that it is not predictable. Predictability makes life quite boring and bland. It is the vulnerability to the unknown that keeps life interesting. Sometimes this experience brings pleasure and sometimes not. Unpredictability is the beauty of life and catching those moments is the beauty of Fine arts.
(I was totally lost in the thoughts when Gulzar Saab hauled me back to life by asking me “Kuch maine aapke sawaal se zyada hee bol diya”.)
SK: Why do we struggle to “define” life? This struggle is the cause of misery.
Gulzar: From the beginning of our civilization we have been striving to create processes to define life. In fact for centuries we have been trying to define and demystify life. So basically we are trying to come up with a formula that can explain and predict life. Before it rains- buy a raincoat, fill the gaps in your roof with the charcoal, get your umbrella fixed. But if you didn’t get drenched in rain, didn’t experience getting soaked inside-out, then what is the point of living. To avoid any kind of pain we have been enslaved by this urge to create a formula for everything and actually end-up missing out on experiencing the texture of life. Pain doesn’t always bring distress sometimes it’s a source of bliss too.
Sunayana: Maybe we are trying to manage the risk?
Gulzar: Probably, for example people who lose hair try to grow it. Often when I meet Jaya (Bachchan) she comments “Bhai both you and I are grey haired” . Well the thing is that it has taken us a long time to earn the silver shade in our hair, this has not happened in a day. So Life gives you everything in its own time. Life hands you only what you can physically, mentally and spiritually endure and at the right age. At the age of 50 if you act like a teenager you will be called a retard.
(He pauses and realizes that we are no longer on Pluto and have walked the entire Solar system and are now probably somewhere right here
closer to the life on Pali-Hill so reminds me to have chai.)
Sunayana: You have a unique relationship with Nazm, you have been able to catch its pulse and touch its soul better than most of us. Like a skilled craftsman you have chiseled and carved nazms very uniquely. In fact you written nazms on nazms too. How would you describe this relationship?
Gulzar: I think most poets write nazms on nazms, so I have not done anything unprecedented. However, the topics that I have written-on have been wide-ranging. Like there is one which I have written on Wimbledon.
Sunayana: “Lost and Found 1 and 2” the two short poems in Pluto are unusual subjects for a poem.
Gulzar: I am amazed that when man landed on moon the whole humanity took a stake at the claim that “Man has landed on Moon”. We
didn’t say that an American has landed on moon but when Neil Armstrong passed away no one outside of the American literary circles thought of writing anything for him. No one reacted to it! Did he not represent the entire human race ! I decided to write a poem on him. I think a lot depends on your own awareness. How aware are you of not just the rest of the world but also of the being within yourself. I find that very strange that some people think that there are only defined topics for nazms.
(The topic digressed to Kashmir when Gulzar Saab in his witty tone asked me)
Gulzar: Is it ok if I talk in English in between, I am sure you do know English but I am not so sure ofyour Kashmiri?
SK: I had been wanting to ask you. In fact it is my complaint that there isn’t much been written by the writers on Kashmir and Kashmiri Pandits?
Gulzar: I have been on a lookout for a story of a Kashmiri Pandit for a play “Talaash” which Salim Arif is directing and is based on
Kashmir. In my research I felt that the existing literature on Kashmiri Pandit exodus is mostly real-life incident based but seems quite similar in its narrative, something which I had noticed during the partition days as well. Trust me, I am very conscious of their plight and although I have not written anything detailed yet I was able to write a small piece by placing myself in their shoes..
Kashmir se aaye hue pandit
Apne naam par gharon ko khat likhtein hai
Taaki mere choote hue ghar main
Koi aata jaata to rahega.
Then I tried to create a short story but that didn’t work out. So my search is still on for a human story on Kashmiri Pandits. The inner feel of a human being has not come out.
SK: “Chand”(Moon) has been a theme of many of your nazms. Why?
Gulzar: When you explore the universe you realize that we are not the center of the universe, we are -what is called as a “suburban galaxy”.
So we are a small galaxy around a small sun because even our sun is called a dwarf sun. Koi bohat bada suraj bhi nahi hai aapke paas.
We have not seen other moons but the set-up of the moon in our sky is very colorful. In this vast blue sky midst the other innumerable suns that we call stars, this moon shines and the softness of its tone is visually very appealing. Another interesting fact is that the position of moon is not fixed, it keeps changing and its backdrop keep changing too. It’s shape and size also keeps changing. It could even be that a different moon is being sent on duty every day, how does one know? Well the only way to find out would be to arrest it.
(Nazm-Behrupiya Chand is a very interesting take on Moon and who would resist being arrested by Gulzar Saab- not even the Moon. Moon has been alluded to in many phrases too like in this sizzling one “Main chand nighal gayee daiyaa re” or in this flirtatious conversation between Moon and Clouds “Mora gora ang leilay”)
SK : You are dedicating a lot of your time now to create literature for children. You are doing Tagore’s translations especially for
kids. Is that your passion?
Gulzar: I have this habit of going back to my childhood probably to around the age of 8-9 and then I play around with that mental state. I do sound like a retard and in fact I have also written about going back to my childhood in a nazm. I have made these compartments or timeslots when I go back to my childhood and when that happens the age gap between Samay (grandson) and his grandfather seems to fade out.
We become one. The fact is that this play is actually happening within you and is not with anyone outside of you. Sometimes even the child is looking at the adult and wondering why is the adult talking like a child! I have talked about this in the book Bosky ki Gappein.
One kid is talking to his friend about his parents and saying:
“Aapas main to theek lagtein hain mummy daddy jab mere saamne aatein hain to
pata nahi kyun totne lagtein hain. I don’t know what to do”
I see the world from child’s point of view and try to never lose the sense of wonder.
“I see the world from a child’s point of view”, no wonder he is one of the most informed and relevant poet in Mumbai and very busy one too. Known for his punctuality and discipline, he holds his post like an old wise and witty Oak tree and yet he is also this “fun and cool “ person to be around.
Gulzar Saab runs a very busy schedule. There were people already waiting for a radio interview with him. As I head out, he insists that I finish my chai “Baith Kar” and not rush it. I agree. Yeh lamha filhaal jee lene do. While I sip my chai with Gulzar saab we talk about the other Plutoid, my 5-year old who supports Pluto’s planethood claim only because it is Mickey’s dog. Well what do I say? Pluto you are one lucky planet.