Gulzar: Painter of Words

Sri Aurobindo, in his seminal essay “The future of poetry” observes that “Truth of poetry is not Truth of philosophy or Truth of science or Truth of religion only because it is another way of self expression of infinite Truth so distinct that it appears quite another face of things and reveal quite another side of experience”.

This quote must referred again and again while dealing with Gulzar’s poetic corpus in this essay. For that matter, this quote, shall serve as light beacon for any reader who ventures to read Gulzar on his own. Gulzar’s poetry is undoubtedly the revelation of Truth, but the poetic truth and this fact shall not be lost sight of while one intends to study him. One must also bear in mind T. S Eliot’s observation that he made in his path breaking essay “Tradition and the individual talent” that “No poet, no artist of any art, has his meaning alone.

His significance his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists “. If on one hand Aurobindo’s quote is worth noting vis a vis truth that Gulzar’s poetry claims.On the other hand Eliot’s quote is equally important to understand the stress and strain of tradition verses modernity, in his poetry, wherein he stands like an unbreakable connecting link.

Born in one of the oldest towns of Punjab, Dina, of which he says “From Kalowal I emerged behind Mangla To the city of Dina, Near Kurlan. I was born there”

Like others he too was, made to cross the line of fire and blood drawn at the partition of 1947, at the age of thirteen. It is this crossing of line, leaving behind the tattered childhood memories, undergoing an unprecedented existential jerk, which serves as a theme that has shaped his entire poetic canvas. It has made him to fight the “demon of nostalgia” and this obsession with nostalgia reverberates in his entire poetic universe.

His poem “Eyes don’t need a visa” remind us of same nostalgia. He writes : – “Eyes don’t need a visa Dreams don’t have a border Eyes closed, I cross the border everyday To meet Mehdi Hassan

 I have heard that his voice is injured And the ghazal sits in front of him, mute

Her lips tremble When he says ‘The flowers have dried on the pages of books My friend Faraz too is gone, will meet him in my dreams perhaps’! Eyes closed, I often cross the border Eyes don’t need a visa Dreams have no borders “

One of his translators, Rakhshanda Jalil pertinently observes that “Gulzar witnessed the horrors of partition first hand and it is a theme that he has gone back to again and again in his writings”.In one of his poems, “Bhameri “, he thus restates his deepest attachment to the past

“We were all running. We were refugees Mother had worn all the jewellery she possessed My choti, six years of age, Had been fed fully and given milk I had my Rustic toy Tucked up in my pajamas We were fleeing from our village in the night We were refuges We had crossed a shrieking jungle of fire and smoke, Running through burning vistas Our hands tore through intestines of a storm Its jaw open wide, its eyes barking Mother had vomitted blood as she ran God knows when chotis hand slipped from mine There, that day, I discarded my childhood But in the hush of the deserts at the border, I have often seen A bhameri (Rustic toy) still dancing

And a top still spinning “

Gulzar’s poetry spans over the entire oeuvre of time. In his Ghazals, he sounds classical and a vanguard of traditional Ghazal. He is thus, truly deemed as the ambassador of classical ghazal in modern jargon. They carry element of romanticism, rhyme and rhythm, which is so much characteristic of classical ghazal. His ghazals like “Shaam se aankh mein”, ” koi baat chalay”, “Hai Lau Zindagi” and countless other instances place him in the league of Mir, Ghalib, Siraj and Jigar.

Coming to his Nazms, they are contemporary and carry a deep sense of socio political awareness and thus bring literature to the service of social ends to take stock of human condition (In existential sense). The canvas of his Nazms is witness to his own statement that “There was a time when I thought everything under the sun is a subject for poetry. It took me light years to discover that even above the sun and around it there are worlds more poetic and full of romance”. His poems are a unique blend of romance and revolution. He speaks of issues of utmost seriousness, but in such a subtle language that one is often straddled between subtlety of form and depth of content. Let’s take a look at few of his poems which bring home his social sensitivity and his mindfulness to the mileu to which he belongs . In his poem “Rape”, he excruciatingly portrays the moral abyss touched by humanity, without sounding like moralistic. Gulzar Writes :-

“Nothing happens as it always does in films No rains, No winds, nor a forest scene No moon in the sky to ignite passionate frenzies No cascading spring, nor the sighhs of a rustling river Nor music in the background to whim up a storm of feelings Nor was she a seductive goddess drenched in rain Just a woman, weak, vulnerable Four men, only because they were men Pinned her against a wall and raped her “

In his poem , valley of Kashmir, he employs rhetorical polyvalence and says :- ” How sorrowful is this valley Someone is choking its life out It breathes, and yet cannot

Trees grow here as though wondering if they should For the first to raise its head shall be the first to have it chopped off”

His poems like “Baghdad,” Gujarat “, ” New York “, and his entire anthology titled” Green poems ” bear witness to his socio-political and ecological consciousness, a privilege missed by many poets. If poetry is revelation of being, Gulzar is truly, prophet of existence, who, by virtue of his poetic unravelling, introduces us to ever newer Horizons of existence.

Then lastly, come to his Trivenis – Three liners which is an invention of his own. He at once, breaks apart from the autotelic approach to art and assumes a didactical role. If his Ghazals remind us of what “is”, his Trivenis tell us “What ought to be”. Thus, as one proceeds from his Ghazals to Trivenis, there is a growing note of prescription and diminishing element of description. His intermediate Nazms, serving as moderating and mediating links between the two. Let’s take this Triveni as an exemplar :-

“Come, let’s all wear mirrors We will only see our faces then Everyone will appear attractive to the other”

Regarding his poetic techniques, he employs varied range of similes, metaphors, allegories and parables. He experiments with as many field as diverse as stretching from romanticism to realism and even to stream of consciousness. This spectrum is well depicted by his poems which bring to their fold – love, life, God, Universe, man and dozens of other themes that concern the concrete individual. His poetry evokes subtle and ethereal emotions that are at once cathartic as well as purgatory. Sanjukta Sharma notes “through his years writing lyrics and his own books, Gulzar has retained his priority as a poet and lyricist who is concerned primarily with the ability of words to evoke imagery and moods. As actor Naseeruddin Shah, who played the role of Mirza Ghalib in Gulzar’s television series on the Urdu poet, tells Hashmi in her book on Ijaazat, “He writes poetry like doing a painting.”

He spins , by virtue of his poetic artistry, a universe of his own,that is both traditional, contemporary as well as futuristic. To use Sanjukta Sharma’s Phrase , Gulzar is, “Eternally contemporary”.

As far as traditional element of his poetry is concerned, as stated earlier, he stands as a legitimate heir to the legacy of the rich tradition of Ghazal. His Nazams bear witness to his contemporaneity as much as in he makes existential and civilisational issues that confront us, a subject matter of his poems. Thus we refer back to Aurobindo and Eliot, as quoted in the beginning vis a vis Gulzar’s poetic cosmos. His poetic truth can’t neither be put in the weighing balance of physicist, nor can theologian bear with his snippets on human condition.He transcends, in one poetic leap, all the demarcations of life and speaks about it in humanistic spirit. This humanism, which is vivid both in his poems and trivenis puts him in the league of Kabir, Tulsidas and Meera Bhai, though one may avoid attaching the label of “Bhakti poet” to his name. He belongs to all schools and all genres of poetry and at the same time transcends them all. For his poetry, in its true essence is the poetry of man and man is the measure of all things, standing above and transcending every thing . Gulzar says thus :-

“While composing a line of a poem

When I am able to penetrate the jungle of words And break off a special meaning My hands are scratched And my fingers bruised

But The moment that word is on my tongue A relish dissolves in my mouth!”

The author is Srinagar Based Columnist, R&D Engineer and a Comparative Studies scholar.