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Book review: I swallowed the Moon

'I swallowed the Moon: The poetry of Gulzar' is an insightful book on Gulzar’s poetry that shows why his work appeals to both, the masses and the elite, writes Rana Safvi.

india Updated: Dec 07, 2013 10:41 IST
Rana Safvi

Saba Mahmood Bashir, the author of “I swallowed the Moon”: The poetry of Gulzar, provides the reader a glimpse into the quintessential Gulzar through the pages of her book. The man and his artistic sensibilities are juxtaposed and finely woven together in poetry. He believes that poetry should be in the language of the day, the voice of the people, and Bashir takes us painstakingly and lovingly through that journey of a young boy fleeing with his bhamree tucked into his pyjamas during Partition to the man he is today.

Bashir discusses the various themes Gulzar uses and brings to our notice the poet’s fascination with the image of the moon, what he calls “his copyright on the moon”, which gives the book its title. One of the few poets who has been able to weave together the different flavours of India, Gulzar’s poetry is simultaneously rustic and contemporary. No book on him would be complete without an exploration of the unusual imagery he uses which connects him to the masses and the elite alike. This Bashir accomplishes with ease.

That this book, written for her PhD thesis, is a work of love is amply clear when she professes to being a Gulzar fan. It is that admiration which adds flavour to the book as she gives us a historical perspective of not just Gulzar, but also of the origin and decline of Urdu, the use of Hindustani in Hindi cinema, and the work done by lyricist poets to preserve it.

Bashir’s interview with Gulzar takes us into the mind of a poet who can write multi-layered verse and brought about the evolution of a new form of poetry called Triveni. Bashir also touches on the influences of the poet’s childhood, the cultural mileu he emerged from, the changes of the post Partition period, his mentors, and the effect of regional literature. Gulzar’s responses to Bashir’s questions are, for me, the highlight of the book. Here, in his theory of the scope of modern poetry as opposed to the issues touched upon by classical poets, he discusses his use of unusual themes, many from mundane daily life.

Perhaps it is beyond the scope of this book but I would have loved to read a serious comparison of Gulzar’s sensibilities and style in relation to that of other PWA (Progressive Writer Association) poets who wrote film lyrics as well as serious poetry.

The author has done an excellent job with the translation of the poems. The compilation of all of Gulzar’s work to date is the cherry on the cake for Gulzar fans.

Rana Safvi is founder and moderator of #shair, a popular forum for poetry lovers on Twitter. She tweets as @iamrana