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Life sans cheap thrills

There is a story behind Because He Is?, a book written by Meghna Gulzar on the life of her father, poet-filmmaker Gulzar, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

books Updated: Jan 27, 2004 12:12 IST

There is a story behind Because He Is…, a book written by Meghna Gulzar on the life and times of her illustrious father, poet-filmmaker Gulzar. The completed manuscript was duly handed over to a leading publisher who had commissioned the book. The latter, however, sat on the manuscript for weeks and then sought major alterations. He found parts of Meghna's account too tame. What he was obviously looking for was "explosive" inside information on Gulzar's personal life, but both father and daughter were clear in their minds about where the line was to be drawn. Because He Is…, released a month ago, was finally published by Rupa & Co in the form in which it was originally written.

The above story is certainly not without precedent. Publishers have often invested in biographies in the hope of giving readers "value for money". That raises a relevant question: must a biography ofa celebrity be crammed with salacious details for it to be readable and commercially viable? Meghna lets many secrets lie in the family cupboard, but Because He Is… is none the worse for it. It informs the book with a certain dignity.

Admittedly, when a daughter seeks to make sense of her celebrity father's eventful life, the exercise can be fraught with serious limitations. What stands out in this book is that Meghna Gulzar is acutely aware of the pitfalls that she must skirt around. At the very outset, she minces no words: "An objective account is almost impossible when the subject is so dear. Try I will. But if I fall short what you will get is a very personal and emotional insight into the man the world knows as Gulzar."

Meghna indeed delivers on her promise without ever really "falling short" of the goals she sets for herself. Because He Is… is the sort of book that one can read at a single, effortless go and, at the end of it, emerge with a far better understanding of the man behind the creative powerhouse than one can ever hope to. If that isn't a measure of the book's efficacy, what is? There is enough in Gulzar's life to hold a serious film and literature buff's interest for Meghna to able to play down intimate aspects of her father's life without compromising on the book's readability quotient.

Of course, the constraints Meghna must work within remain all too apparent all through Because He Is…. There is a clear line - a sort of laxman rekha -- that she cannot cross when it comes to exploring questions and seeking answers pertaining to deeply personal aspects of Gulzar's life. As a doting daughter she respects her father's prerogative to hold back just a bit of him from public scrutiny. For seekers of sensationalism, that might be a bit of dampener. But for those looking for truths embedded in a life well lived, Because He Is… is a marvelous read.

Perfectly illustrative of that understandably deferential approach are the lucid passages devoted to the Gulzar-Raakhee romance and their eventual separation. "Only destiny knows when and why two people come together… or drift apart," ruminates Meghna.

To her credit, Meghna is not the least bit hamstrung by the unwritten "privacy" rule - she parlays it into her strength and uses the purity of the dynamics of a very special father-daughter relationship to provide glimpses of her own rock solid bond with a parent who has always been more a friend than a guardian as she does of an important facet of Gulzar's personality. He is a man who incessantly pours his inner emotions and feelings into his poems, stories and films but believes that certain zones of his heart and mind are too sacrosanct to be laid bare.



About Gulzar's well-known proximity to Meena Kumari, with whom the sensitive poet-filmmaker perhaps shared more than just a passion for poetry, Meghna writes: "It was an awkward moment for me to be discussing this with Papi (that is what she calls Gulzar) as I'm sure it was for him. But theirs was a deep and emotional association which cannot be glossed over." The author does touch upon all friendships, relationships and professional collaborations that define Gulzar not just for the whole world but also for people close to him. But even as she gives special attention to her father's ties with Meena Kumari and Rakhee, Meghna stops just shy of adopting any pretence of omniscience.

Perfectly illustrative of that understandably deferential approach are the lucid passages devoted to the Gulzar-Raakhee romance and their eventual separation. "Only destiny knows when and why two people come together… or drift apart," ruminates Meghna. "…Speculations are aplenty, as are the reasons. I would like to believe that they are two good people who were just not good together. And since nobody questioned why they came together, they needn't have to explain why they parted."

There can be absolutely no quarrel with that line of argument for privacy is a right that even public figures should inalienably be allowed to enjoy.

First Published: Jan 27, 2004 12:11 IST