MONOJIT LAHIRI reviews Gulzar’s PLUTO POEMS, translated by Nirupama Dutt, a collection that takes the brilliant, powerhouse poet’s vision to another stratosphere.
I have known Gulzar for over four decades, first meeting him at the premiere of Mere Apne (1971) and then through my cousin Colin Pal, famed film publicist of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and of course, family friend Hrishikesh Mukherjee. The funny part is that the man hasn’t changed one bit! Blending scholarship with market forces, an acute sense of curiosity and concern about the human condition, a non-negotiable communion with both heart and mind that dictates words that touch the soul, a world view that salutes the past while energetically and enthusiastically embracing the future, a total sense of artistic integrity and single-minded belief that words must be respected because they are agents of change and create magic, living as they do in a special, sublime world of their own. Gulzar continues to remain a class act, hymned and celebrated by anyone with sensibilities and leaning towards nuance, layers and unopened windows of the mind. Poet, author, lyricist film-maker, screenplay writer, Gulzar remains a hugely respected figure in the world of cinema, art and literature. A towering presence in the area of Indian literature, he is also rated as one of the finest Hindustani/Urdu poets with a collection that includes Pukhraj, Raat Pasmini Ki, Triveni, Yaar Julahe. His English translations include Selected Poems, Neglected Poems and Green Poems. He has also written several short stories and enchanting stories for children. This collection, Pluto Poems, emerged from a lamentation of the planet falling off the constellation, triggering verse of a kind only Gulzar can pen.
But, to begin at the beginning, what is Poetry? Is it a form of delirium, an opiate to dull the pain of living, a prayer, incantation, gentle nostalgia for a lost world of innocence, an anguished cry from the heart or a new explosive to blow up an imbecile world, a clarion call to a change of heart and mind? Gulzar, for his turn, sees it “as a kind of energy that sits within you at some stage in your life. If you bring a pot of water to full boil, the pot will inevitably fill with steam. With the build-up of steam, the lid will start to rattle because it needs an outlet. This inner energy can flow into anything…music, sculpture, painting…for me, it was writing poetry.”
In Nasreen Munni Kabir’s wonderfully engaging and insightful book In Conversation With Gulzar, the poet confesses that his leaning towards poetry didn’t get his conservative father to do handstands. “He did not believe I would make a living as a writer. Yeh Bhaiyon se udhaar mangega aur Gurdwara ke langar mein khaana khayega!” was his sweeping observation.
He has other interesting things to share too. While he believes that things have changed—for the better—for the artist with musicians and painters going beyond All India Radio and painting hoardings, the poet’s place, tragically, hasn’t moved beyond mushaira.
His explanation of his writing is also very charming. “When I write a poem, I first read it aloud to myself to see whether the emotional experience I am trying to convey is coming through. I put the poem away and do not look at it for a while. So, when I read it again, I hope to have some degree of objectivity and only then can I tell if the words are communicating what I intended to say. Before a story or poem is finished, I must believe it has ripened…haan pak gayi!”
The Pluto Poems certainly have ripened and it shows from his Note on Pluto, which prefaces the collection, where the orphaned aspect comes centre-stage, gently driving the soul of this exquisite bunch of gems, celebrating what the excellent translator Nirupama Dutt describes as “the metaphor of exile”, through the sensitive prism of a heightened poetic impulse. To the purist and rigid, the English translation may appear a tad lustre-less, but embraced in the larger spirit of the endeavour, it is likely to attract many more positives.
Gulzar’s charming wit flows from his first stroke, Verification, where he charmingly and categorically indicates his date of birth! I have a few personal favourites—Sometimes, Tell Him, Lost & Found, Nowhere to go, Tattoo, Sunlight, Dreams, Cracked Cup, Crossings, Blank Page, My Friend, the Poet—and, of course, “If it bleeds, it is but a wound, otherwise every hurt is a poem.”
The beauty of his poetry lies in his uncanny ability of tilting the scales of reality towards some transcendent equilibrium and entering an illuminating space that touches the heart while caressing the soul. In fact, to sensitive people, so intimate is this exploration, recapturing moments of bliss, anguish, pain and rapture that the reader may easily feel at times, like a voyeur encroaching private territory!
It is amazing that time has not tranquilised his passion, emotions, sentiments and feelings, even of faraway and long ago and they continue to retain a seductive, lyrical edge that both cuts and cures. It is poetry that offers violence from within to protect us from violence from without. Add to this glorious experience, his sketches (God, I honestly never knew the man sketches, but, I guess, surprise and delight is his USP!) and this Harper Collections collection at Rs.299 is indeed a steal for anyone who treasures word-pictures that race to the frequently neglected, ignored, overlooked and dismissed (fragile) space between the heart.