How a peeved book lender changed Gulzar’s life

  • Nirupama Dutt, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Aug 23, 2016 11:01 IST
“I would borrow detective and mystery novels from a lending library and could read as many books as I could at 25 paise a week,” Gulzar told HT. (HT File Photo)

For Dadasaheb Phalke award winning poet-filmmaker Gulzar, whose translations of Tagore’s poetry will be launched at Panjab University on Wednesday, a tryst with the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore became a turning point in his life when he was just a schoolboy.

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He will be releasing a two-book set ‘Baghbaan’ and ‘Nindiya Chor’ that he has translated into Hindustani.

The twin volumes also have the original Bangla and English translations by Tagore. Tagore came into the refugee child’s life post-Partition via a book lending library in Delhi’s Sabzi Mandi.

“I would borrow detective and mystery novels from a lending library and could read as many books as I could at 25 paise a week. I finished a book a day and this irked the owner. This one time, he thrust an Urdu bookfrom the top shelf and asked me to go away. This book was ‘Maali’ — a translation of Tagore’s ‘The Gardener’. I fell in love with Tagore’s poetry and never returned the book,” he told HT.

It was from there, he said, that he moved to the writings of Bankim Chandra and Sarat Chandra.

Not just Tagore, Gulzar’s deep love for Bengali language, literature and association with stalwarts like filmmaker Bimal Roy and music director SD Burman were to shape his creative talent.

Born Sampooran Singh Kalra in Dina village of Jhelum district in Pakistan Punjab, Gulzar was quick to pick up Bengali and read its literature, in original.

“After joining Bimal Roy as assistant director, I made several Bengali friends and was drawn to the sweetness of the language which is infectious. I picked it up soon and first learnt to speak it and then read and write,” the poet said.

The Bengal influence was prominent in his cinema and he made ‘Maachis’, a film on Punjab as late as 1996. His debut directorial work was ‘Mere Apne’ featuring Meena Kumari and it was based on Tapan Sinha’s ‘Apanjan’ in Bangla. “Two of my films ‘Kitaab’ and ‘Namkeen’ were based on the stories by Bengali writer; ‘Khusboo’ was based on a Sarat Chandra novel.”

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