Poetry is Gulzar’s first love and having opted out of film direction, he spends his time in the company of verses and he has completed two ambitious poetry projects that he took upon himself some years ago.
In an informal conversation at the Jaipur Literature festival, he said: “It took me many long years to be accepted as a poet and prose writer because I was typecast as a lyricist and film director. However, discussions on my songs and films seem to chase me even at literary film festivals.”
The poet of many seasons revealed that he had completed a translation of three volumes of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry which will be released in the coming March. Gulzar recounted how he made acquaintance with Tagore’s poetry in his adolescence. “We were refugees from Pakistan trying to start afresh in Delhi’s Subzi Mandi . After school I was entrusted with the task of working at the family shop and I slept in the store behind the shop lit by a kerosene lamp. I was barely 13 and to pass my time alone at night I started borrowing books from a lending library of old volumes set up by another refugee.”
He added, “I would borrow detective novels at the rate of 25 paise a week for as many. The owner was angry that I read as much as one novel a night so one day he thrust a tattered volume of poetry on me. These were Tagore’s poems in Urdu translation and these were to change the course of my life and awaken the poet in me.”
The second translation project is ‘A Poem a Day’ in which Gulzar has translated some 400 poems by 270 writers of 32 different Indian languages into Hindustani consulting the poets when a language gap occurred. Stressing the need for translating Indian literature in
different Indian languages, he jested “This was homework given to me by publisher V Karthika and I hope that I have done it well.”
This volume too comes out this year and Gulzar revealed that the most dynamic poems in this collection were from the North-East.
On Saturday evening ‘An Evening with Gulzar’ was organised by Harper Collin’s to celebrate his book ‘Pluto Poems’. This is a collection of short poems dedicated to the Pluto planet when it was ousted from the galaxy. When asked in an aside that since NASA had revised its decision on reinstating Pluto, did it have anything to do with his poems, Gulzar laughed and said: “Well, poetry does have power and now I may be inspired to have a collection called ‘The Return of Pluto’!”
Sunday mid-morning saw Gulzar enthralling the teeming crowds in the front lawns of Diggi Palace with his verses in a session titled ‘Nazm Uljhi Hui Hai Seene Mein’ and vibrant conversation with Pavan K Varma.