A not-so-well-known novel that he wrote as ‘riyaaz’ (practice), a home left behind, but still inside him, and a knack for ‘shararat’, mischief — facts and feelings mingled effortlessly as Gulzar released the English translation of his poetry collection ‘Pluto’ here on Friday night.
As the questions about the art of translation ruled many minds, he described it as only he could: “Yun lagta hai ki mere kapde istri ho gye hain; warna main toh kuchde-muchde hi pehne firta tha. (It feels someone ironed my clothes; else I wore them rather shabby).” Art historian BN Goswamy released the translation — by author and journalist Nirupama Dutt — along with Panjab University vice-chancellor Arun Kumar Grover.
In the interaction that followed, at the Government Museum in Sector 10, he was asked about his rather risqué songs such as ‘Namak Isq Ka’ (Omkara), and he was disarmingly charming in reply: “Aapne mujhe sharif kab se samajh liya? Main jitna nazar aata hun, utna sharif hun nahin (Why did you think I was all innocent? I am not how I look.)” He followed it up with an explanation about how any writer only reflects what he sees, and how he could no longer write what he wrote in the ’60s.
When someone brought up ‘Geeli Mitti’, a novel not many knew about, and sought to confirm if he had indeed written it, Gulzar recalled how he had written “four pages a day” when he worked in a motor garage in Delhi. “Now it’s like opening an old trunk. Jo topi thi tab, ab woh angoothe pe hi poori aati hai. (The hat of a younger me now only covers my thumb).” He said a publisher had planned to publish it but did not when he did not revise it. “They can publish it once I am gone. Zara kachcha hai... log padheinge ki yeh aisa bhi tha (It’s not fully formed... People will read and know I was like that too).”
Gulzar and Nirupama recited some of the poems from ‘Pluto’, named thus as he considers the “ouster of Pluto from the family of planets” an equivalent of how he was the odd one out in his family, a poet in a family of businessmen. The parallel recitation of English and Urdu/Hindustani also brought out how two languages find it exceedingly difficult to convey the same emotion to the same degree. He later also addressed a packed hall at Panjab University, where he is to receive an honorary doctorate on Saturday.
Early in the interaction at the Sector-10 venue, a member of the audience from Pakistan brought up how Gulzar had left his visit some months ago to the country incomplete after visiting his ancestral village of Dina. Gulzar explained how he was “guilty” of having “disrespected” their hospitality. But he was for once short of apt words to describe how he had left as he could not hold his emotions in. He said his ancestral place lived inside him, and Pakistan was a part of his everyday life thanks to his friends. “... Aap wahan se hain, main wahin se hun,” he said. It is hard to translate that, but he basically meant that while people could belong to a place, he could belong only to that one place. firstname.lastname@example.org