By Malashri Lal
Gulzar saab’s versatile genius inspires yet another book, Shailja Chandra’s The Moonsmith Gulzar: Orbiting the Celebrated Words. It is innovative, bold and fearless, one might say, as she presents Gulzar the poet as a philosopher, a public intellectual, and an exemplary mentor. What better way to learn about emotions and relationships, God and Infinity, memory and hope than by reading the resonant lines of Gulzar’s inimitable verses? Located in Sydney as a radio broadcaster and sustainability consultant, Chandra’s devotion to Gulzar is heartwarming, and she is the new generation acolyte of a poet who has charmed readers for over fifty years. Moreover, she is the confidently bilingual generation, refusing to translate the Urdu-Hindi poetry into English, and also preserving the delightful speaking voice of Gulzar as he transits comfortably between languages. The effect of such a bilingual text can be unnerving on the page till one realizes the authenticity residing in it. Further, Chandra’s method is an assertion of Indian languages in coexistence, without hierarchy. It’s an appealing book to peruse though a difficult book to categorize. I like the words “Moonsmith” and “Orbiting” in the title. Gulzar’s subtle and transcendent vocabulary is far beyond that of a “wordsmith” which emphasizes a technical correctness. When Shailja “orbits” the poetry, returning often to familiar nazms, new meanings emerge from the context of the conversation.
Shailja Chandra presents Gulzar’s life-philosophy through a series of interviews, mostly conducted at Boskiyana, the poet’s iconic home in Mumbai. The material is deployed under attractive chapters such as “Conversations with Erratic Khuda” or “Aaina of Truth and Reality.” Steeped in the flair of nazms, the interviewer glides easily from one poetic reference to another to elicit Gulzar’s detailed and honest views on the human predicament. And he opens up with candid, wistful musings, a prodigious memory for detail, and an earnest desire to communicate the complexities. For instance, the lines on love: “tumhi se janmoo to shayad mujhe panha miley”, are elaborated by Gulzar, “Your beloved is sometimes just like a mother and sometimes like a child…and there are times when you just put your head into her lap and hold her… it’s an experience of total surrender.” Another form of surrender is to God/ Khuda, or ‘Bade Miyan’ as Gulzar often addresses Him. An intimate friend who is also arbitrary and unpredictable, Bade Miya appears in many forms which the poems from “Raat Pashmine Ki” and “Paaji Nazmein” illustrate. “It is a voice in which readers easily find their own affinity, curiosity, and doubts about the nature of God and religion,” says Chandra.
This book is not analytical about Gulzar’s poetry but builds an effective bridge of familiarity between the poet and his audience. Gulzar has chosen to remain creative and contemporary, adapting to what he calls “SMS aur Facebook ke zamane mei”. “Our poetry has to depict the reality of our times. Change is always for the better” … “Waqt ki aakh pe patti nahin bandhi ja sakti” (you cannot blindfold Time) – he says in an interview. He further explains the notion of time as interconnected and fluid, “Pipile Lamhe…A moment is not a sheer moment. A moment has entire time caught in it. And: a moment gives birth to another moment and another—they are all pregnant.” This has fascinating connotations if one looks back to Gulzar’s emotive work on the Partition, and his famous poem “Toba Tek Singh”. Is its shadow still there? Is time a scrambled sequence for all of us but we try to hold on to a linearity?
Moonsmith encourages such dialogue with Gulzar saab as Shailja has the uncanny knack of asking questions on behalf of a new readership. Environment, climate change, sustainability are her interests and she gathers Gulzar’s poetry into the basket, specially the collection Green Poems. The much loved lines about the cutting down of trees: “morh pe dekha hai weh boora sa ek perh kabhi?…” (Have you see that old tree at the corner?), open further to drying rivers and disturbed cycles of nature. Says Gulzar, “I want this generation of children to know what environment is and why it is important to preserve our environment.” His views are progressive, thoughtful and participative. Though he says that the creative process is like “being in a cave”, the poet in public space is beautifully social and communicative. Gulzar embraces the benefits of technology and social media in saying, “Technology aap jisko kah rahee hain—it is not a separate existence. It is you placing yourself in it—that is why it is running. It is your extension.” Inter-relatedness is a value that comes through the conversations with Shailja, a shared humanism across language, culture and geography.
Shailja Chandra internationalizes Gulzar through this exchange from Australia and also by linking the poet’s philosophy and quest with a range of other writers: Khalil Gibran, Alan Watts, Carl Sagan and Hannah Arendt, among others. Through its friendly format the book will engage several admirers of Gulzar quite readily. However, scholars and researchers will miss a bibliography. Shailja Chandra’s orbiting has revealed some less known aspects of Gulzar saab’s convictions and welded them with his magnificent imagination and unforgettable words.
Malashri Lal, an academic, editor and writer with sixteen books to her credit, retired as Professor, Department of English, University of Delhi. Her specialisation is in literature and gender studies. She is currently Member, English Advisory Board, Sahitya Akademi, and serves on the advisory committee of three international journals.
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