The fabric of his life

From working at his father’s cloth shop to becoming an admired poet, Gulzar spoke to author Nasreen Munni Kabir about his writing and his life... via a Skype connection set up by AR Rahman! Deepa Gahlot reports.
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Updated on Jun 29, 2013 02:07 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By Deepa Gahlot

In the company of a poet: Gulzar....
By Nasreen Munni Kabir
Rupa Publications
Rs. 495 PP 208

Gulzar is a wonderful raconteur, as anyone who knows him would testify. The added advantage is that he is a poet, a writer, a lover of words and a filmmaker who can make the most mundane sound vivid and exciting.

A book of conversations with him was a great idea, and Nasreen Munni Kabir was fortunate that she managed to get Gulzar to chat with her in a friendly, informal manner, but since the interviews were done over Skype, recorded and transcribed, they read just a little bit stilted. Also, the warmth, humour and sense of mischief that Gulzar conveys when he speaks in Urdu or Hindustani is missing in the English answers.

Kabir wisely decided to limit the scope of the book to his writing, with just a sprinkling of his personal life — enough to give a glimpse of where he comes from and the influences that shaped his extraordinary imagination and felicity with words. His films are just mentioned in passing. There are already two or three books on Gulzar and his films, and it does seem like a daunting task to encapsulate the man and his work.

Kabir has worked with Indian cinema (TV shows, books) in the past and is familiar with Gulzar’s writing, which allows her to ask specific questions about the stages in his writing career as a poet, lyricist and screenwriter — and veer off occasionally to get his comments on random subjects. Some of the translations of his lyrics are a bit off though.

“Tujhe se naraaz nahin zindagi hairan hoon main” is translated as “I feel no anger at life, only bewilderment,” which does not quite capture the meaning!

Kabir writes that the genesis of the book sounds “preposterous”, that she had dreamt of Sahir Ludhianvi and Shailendra bidding her to tell Gulzar to write something with her on their work. She called Gulzar and narrated the dream to him. It must have appealed to the poet, and the book was on. The conversations were conducted on Skype, which, interestingly, was installed on Gulzar’s computer by AR Rahman, so that they could discuss their songs, living as they do in different cities.

Gulzar’s beginnings were humble, and he says that if it wasn’t for a serendipitous move to Mumbai, he would have been selling fabric in his father’s shop. He reveals that his daughter Meghna’s pet name Bosky came from a kind of silky fabric that used to be very popular at one time. When he was asked what he would have named a son if he had one, with typical Gulzar humour, he said “Latha” which is the white cotton used for salwars and pajamas.

He goes on to talk a lot about his childhood, his passion for reading, his entry into films, Bimal Roy, who gave him his break, the thoughts and technique behind some of his famous songs and that of other poets, and his friendships. There are a lot of anecdotes — though not as many as this reviewer would have liked, knowing how wonderful Gulzar’s observations of people and events can be.

Perhaps this is because a certain distancing is inevitable when a conversation is conducted long distance. In a face-to-face meeting, it is possible to take a thought further, to read the tone and expression on Gulzar’s face when he says something effortlessly funny, and to add descriptions of the ambiance and the mood to make readers feel like they were present.

This is especially so when he talks about how his experience of writing scripts led him to direction: “Once you understand how to make an omelette, you have to break the eggs, don’t you?” Incidentally, NC Sippy, producer of Gulzar’s first film, Mere Apne, summoned him at 4 am, just to check if he really was keen on directing a film.

One can only imagine how marvellous and how like a delicate tapestry Gulzar’s story would be if he wrote it himself. Sadly, he says he won’t do an autobiography because others have written about him, and, “My life history cannot change for the sake of an autobiography. Finally it’s the same story.”

Of course, if he did decide to write his story, it would probably not fit into a single volume. Admirers of Gulzar’s work have to make do with small slices, like this book. And it serves as an appetiser… in anticipation of a feast.

Deepa Gahlot is a journalist and Head Programming, Theatre & Film, National Centre for Performing Arts

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021