To say that the reverence filmmaker-lyricist Gulzar’s evokes transcends generations is like saying there are seven notes in music! Or, that Pluto’s the smallest planet in the solar system. But reading the master raconteur’s poems in English? Unchartered territory, you’d say.
Perhaps not. The noted filmmaker and lyricist’s new book, Pluto, is a collection of his poems, translated into English by Nirupama Dutt. We caught up with the wordsmith par excellence to get him to open up on a range of thoughts close to his heart: on why he sees a similarity between the derecognition of Pluto as a planet and his own ouster from the business family he was born into, flying kittens, Hindi’s lehza (tone), and many other things.
Admittedly, the first attempt to open him up didn’t succeed: I was told, in advance, that it was a tough task. But when he did decide to talk, he agreed, disagreed and explained at length about Pluto, the book and the planet!
First things first Gulzar sahab. You’re an established name in the world of poetry for a long time now. But getting your work poems translated into a different language takes it to an entirely new area. Pluto begins with a chapter called Verification which goes like:
Ask about the chassis
Its date of manufacture
Else, the salesman will cheat.
The date on mine reads:
18 August, 1934!
Are you satisfied with the translation?
Gulzar: Interestingly, chassis is closer to English than Hindi.
Is it the same idea with which it has been used in Hindi?
Gulzar: Well, I don’t think this way. Most of the keywords in this one are English, so it’s more English that way, no?
Then what do you think about this one called Runway:
As the airplane took off,
A crane, pecking for grains in the grass,
Cocked his neck at the smoke and sound,
Looked at the streak of fire at the tail,
And turned to its mate.
She assured him, ‘It’s still a baby.
It’s learning to fly.’
Gulzar: That you tell me. How can I decide? I liked the translation. You know both the languages, so you decide. See, Hindi has a different tone (lehza), that you can’t find in English. Also, if you will keep the same ‘lehza’ in English also, will it be a good translation? And, if you want to hear Hindi in English, then you’re mistaken. English should carry its own diction, only then it’s fun.
Here’s another one:
Birds On The Runway.
The birds on the runway are not afraid.
It simply surprises them to see man
Try on wheels in a race to get ahead.
And fly away with the entire coop.
Daintily resting her neck on one of her wings
The wise female philosophises to her mate:
‘The poor fellows have no wings, you know.’
Is it about the difference in thought process between two species?
Gulzar: Ye bilkul theek hai. Aapne jo samjha hai wo bilkul theek hai (That is right. What you've understood is absolutely right). Birds are born fliers; man is now learning to fly. How old is this for man, may be 200-250 years, so respect that, don’t be arrogant.
Is it also the reason why you made small pets like Minki cat the protagonist in one of the poems?
They call the cat Minki
From the wall she mews: ‘May I?’
Kanchi’s mother boils rice still
Strains it through Kanchi’s veil.
Minki leaps into the courtyard and
Onto the mahua tree, surveys the scene below.
Everyone is hungry again.
The mahua blossoms are flowering once more.
Gulzar: It’s the same for everybody in the family. There is a mention of a tree which signifies the time. Everything has come back to its routine including pets, vegetation and the human beings.Minki’s point of view has been used for a purpose!
Gulzar: I think you’re only using technical jargons. A poem should just be seen as a poem.
While sharing your personal space, sometimes you dwell on a political statement as well. I am talking about this poem:
He was like a cup
With a crack running through it.
Its handle broken
And ready to singe
Lips that sip, fingers that hold.
‘Away, wretched Dalit,’ the boss yelled one day,
Throwing him out.
Every face in the office now bears a crack!
Gulzar: It comes naturally to me that’s why I react and write. These are personal to me. This is more of a social comment than political.
Now, what about this poem ‘Man-Eater’, the whole ‘piece of me’ idea.
It is a man-eater
That red letterbox
In that corner out there.
Voices emerge from its cavernous belly
And yesterday, as I fed it a letter,
It gobbled up my fingers too!
The red letterbox in the corner out there.
Gulzar: Correct. You’re interpreting every poem correctly.
A book is a proof in time while the whole idea behind calling it Pluto was that it has ceased to exist.
Gulzar: Pluto lost its status as a planet and I lost my status in the family. I was born in a business family; similarly Pluto was a part of the solar system. Now, it has been pushed aside from its status in the family of nine planets.
Do you regret that you’re not considered as a member of the business family anymore?
Gulzar: No. That would be like taking it too far a statement where I am comparing myself with Pluto. Even Pluto is not regretting yet. Pluto is now again considered as one of the members of the solar system. I am also being reconsidered. (Smiles)
You’re expressing your opinion, I am expressing mine. If you don’t like Pluto, call this something else and then read. We may differ, no?
(Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha)